As Douglas Murray writes in The Spectator:
Hardly anything is less likely to keep people reading than to mention an exciting evening in Toronto. But stick with me.
And stick with me, too, if you will. It was a more rambunctious night than I expected at Friday's Munk Debate on Europe's "refugee" crisis. (If you missed it on CPAC or C-SPAN, you can watch it here.) There is always un peu de l'esprit d'escalier after such an event and, seeing Mme Arbour across a crowded post-debate cocktail party, I remembered too late the devastating retort I should have made to one of her points. And I'm sure she felt the same catching my eye. Such is the way of these things. I was nimbler in my schoolboy debating-society days, but also even more obnoxious, if you can believe it.
Be it resolved, give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...
Former UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour and distinguished historian Simon Schama proposed the motion. UKIP leader Nigel Farage and hatemonger cat-vocalist Mark Steyn stood con. And the official result was:
Con wins with 22% vote gain.
I've become a bit concerned, in the crepuscular gloom of our civilizational death spiral, about the need to persuade a few more folks over to this side of the aisle. So that's not bad for an audience of just under 3,000 upscale Toronto liberals. Breitbart News reports "Farage and Steyn Win Toronto Munk Debate on EU Migrant Crisis":
Following Arbour's suggestion that the wave of Muslims from very conservative cultures might transform society for the better Steyn blasted back by asking which aspects of Afghan, Syrian and Sudanese culture she would like to see adopted, pointing to the countries' records on LGBT and women's rights, child brides, FGM and commitment to free speech.
Referring to the lines in Lazarus' poem that Arbour drew heavily from in her speech Steyn points out that rather than "yearning to breathe free", this wave of people from repressive cultures are driven by economic motives and the influx is resulting in unprecedented waves of sexual violence on European women.
Revealing the horrifying realities on the ground in Europe, as a result of the presence of more than a million refugees, Steyn described how "a fortnight after acing a training course on treating women with respect" a 15 year old Afghan dragged a Belgian caterer at a refugee centre down to the basement and raped her.
Crediting her as the first prosecutor to charge rape as a crime against humanity and the author of several reports on rape as a "weapon of war". Arbour looked uncomfortable as Steyn pointed to the 500 cases of sexual assault on just one night in Cologne and the gang rape children as young as 7 and even just 3 years old that have resulted from this refugee influx.
Breitbart's Virginia Hale has helpfully included a few links so that nice boys like The Globe & Mail's Doug Saunders, who dismisses the above as "urban myth", and my old National Post comrade Jonathan Kay, who less confidently dismisses the above as "dubious" and "very dubious", can bring themselves up to speed. Simon Schama likewise scoffed at the epidemic of gang-rape and child rape, much to Jonathan's approval:
A spirited Simon Schama just called out Mark Steyn for his "X-rated horror" vision of Muslim fact in Europe.
Louise Arbour decided she'd like a piece of the calling-out action, too, as TVO's Steve Paikin noted in his blow-by-blow account:
That was too much for Arbour, who taunted Steyn and Farage, calling them "these newborn feminists over there." Schama piled on, adding "I'm struck by how obsessed with sex these guys are. It's a bit sad actually." Some in the audience laughed at the comments.
Watching in London, the Speccie's Douglas Murray was far shrewder on how Mme Arbour and Professor Schama's "spirited" response was likely to end up:
Another common insinuation â€“ better described as a low gag â€“ comes this time courtesy of Simon Schama. This trick pretends that any male opponent concerned about the mass-rape of women is in fact just 'obsessed with sex'. It suggests that these people don't in fact care about women being raped across the continent, but just don't get enough nookie themselves and mention the mass-rape and genital mutilation only to get off on it in some weird way...
Watching Arbour and Schama try these tricks on Steyn and Farage, I was (like a lot of viewers, I'm sure) champing at the bit. So what a thing of beauty it was to see Steyn's riposte to all this. It begins at 38:25. That's where Steyn begins by congratulating Schama and Arbour for getting 'such big laughs on gang-rape'. It grows from there.
Earlier, Professor Schama had said in the afternoon pre-interview that he would eat our lunch if we didn't know the difference between "sufism vs salafism", which I could do 40 minutes on in my sleep while tap-dancing to the cast album of La Cage Aux Folles. But in the end he decided to keep the cool Islamo-jargon all to himself. Laura Rosen Cohen:
They have all these euphemisms for the terrorists, Simon Schama went to great pains to describe the jihadis as "salafists". All those "salafists" are the threat!
I'm not sure how many takers he'd find to expound on "sufism vs salafism" if he were to ask the excitable lads of Molenbeek, but each to his own.
Steve Paikin concludes:
It was a powerful debate, expertly moderated by Rudyard Griffiths, featuring four brilliant speakers. When the, one assumes, somewhat left-of-centre downtown Toronto audience was asked to vote again, a massive shift in sentiment was revealed.
The Farage-Steyn duo clearly moved the most votes.
For Kathy Shaidle, writing in Taki's Magazine, the heady scent of triumph did not linger:
My obnoxious victory dance at the after-party aside, I remain pessimistic. Another friend surveyed the crowd and muttered, "These assholes are still the ones who run everything."
That "four brilliant speakers" bit is awfully generous of Mr Paikin - although one has the vague feeling that if the other side had clobbered me and Nige it would have been "two brilliant speakers" plus a couple of "controversial" "gadflies" not quite up to it. Still, he's not wrong about my teammate. Nigel Farage, who took time out of the Brexit campaign to come and participate, is a very surefooted debater. He's in command of his facts, and he wears them very lightly. He's extremely real by comparison with many members of the western political class, doesn't stand on ceremony, is happy to talk to anyone, and, when he does, invariably connects with them to one degree or another. That's what he did on Friday night - and brilliantly.
It was a hard-fought debate with honourable opponents, and, as several observers remarked, as the evening progressed there was more common ground between Simon Schama and Nigel and me than one might have expected. Not so much with Louise Arbour, but no one can complain that she was not perfectly honest and straightforward about her position.
We'll round up some more commentary in the days ahead.