Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Hitchens on Steyn

The Corner tipped us off to a most valuable confluence of thoughtful analysis and serious attention to the threat of Islamist terrorism, over at City Journal. For there, Christopher Hitchens reviews what he (or the editors at City Journal) characterizes as a welcome wake-up call, in Mark Steyn’s America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It.

I’ve just finished Steyn’s scrappy call to arms. I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone with a serious concern about militant Islamic theology, Islamic inspired terrorism, and the global propaganda networks that spread hate and violence to a world-wide audience.

Hitchens, though appreciative of Steyn’s cultural analysis and equally alarmed about the threat in general, faults Steyn for what he sees as an inadequate comprehension of divisions and “conflicts of interest” within the Muslim community, as well as overly simplistic (perhaps jingoistic?) prescriptions for what we ought to do about it, once we acknowledge the danger.

I am a big fan of both these writers, and account them both among the most important voices among those who see the threat for what it is, and advocate an aggressive Western response to that threat. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their differences.

Hitchens scolds Steyn for an overly simplistic assessment of the Bosnian war. I’m not sure that Steyn’s suggestion that “The problem that Europe faces is that Bosnia’s demographic profile is now the model for the entire continent,” was anything more than a rhetorical comparison versus precise analogy. Hitchens even dilutes his own criticism by suggesting that demographic considerations don’t properly explain anti-Semitic and anti-American animus, that European ultra-Nationalist movements mix in with their anti-immigration ideologies. I really don’t think Steyn would suggest that alarm over the threat of non-assimilated immigrants was the only motivation for ethnic cleansing and similar European aberrations.

Similarly, Hitchens faults Steyn for perceiving European muslim communities monochromatically:

Yet Steyn makes the same mistake as did the late Oriana Fallaci: considering European Muslim populations as one. Islam is as fissile as any other religion (as Iraq reminds us). Little binds a Somali to a Turk or an Iranian or an Algerian, and considerable friction exists among immigrant Muslim groups in many European countries. Moreover, many Muslims actually have come to Europe for the advertised purposes—seeking asylum and to build a better life. A young Afghan man, murdered in the assault on the London subway system in July 2005, had fled to England from the Taliban, which had murdered most of his family. Muslim women often demand the protection of the authorities against forced marriage and other cruelties. These are all points of difference, and also of possible resistance to Euro-sharia.

Yet in the course of his challenge of Steyn’s perspective on European Muslims, Hitchens states that:

The main problem in Europe in this context is that many deracinated young Muslim men, inflamed by Internet propaganda from Chechnya or Iraq and aware of their own distance from “the struggle,” now regard the jihadist version of their religion as the “authentic” one.

Indeed, and this is precisely a by-product of the dynamic Steyn illuminates: a not at all subtle or covert attempt to indoctrinate and militarize the entirety of the Muslim world by the Islamic terror masters. Hitchens describes this deferential elevation of Jihadism among younger, “deracinated” youth as a mere aberration, and that the real threat is the non-Muslim European establishments:

Compounding the problem, Europe’s multicultural authorities, many of its welfare agencies, and many of its churches treat the most militant Muslims as the minority’s “real” spokesmen. As Kenan Malik and others have pointed out in the case of Britain, this mind-set cuts the ground from under the feet of secular Muslims, encouraging the sensation that many in the non-Muslim Establishment have a kind of death wish.

Hitchens sees more cause for hope within the worldwide Muslim Diaspora:

Millions have become aware of the danger—including millions of Shi’a Muslims who now see the ideology of bin Laden and Zarqawi as a menace to their survival. Groups and cells that might have gotten away with murder have wound up unmasked and shut down, from Berlin to Casablanca.

Of course, these have not been the only consequences of September 11 and its aftermath. Islamist suicide-terrorism has mutated into new shapes and adopted fresh grievances as a result of the mobilization against it. Liberalism has found even more convoluted means of blaming itself for the attack upon it. But at least the long period of somnambulism is over, and the opportunity now exists for antibodies to form against the infection.

Aside from the dubious claim that we’ve somehow woken up to the threats, that we  aren’t still sleeping walking towards the Apocalypse, I don’t share Hitchens’ hope. Does it matter how willfully European Muslims will submit to Sharia? Or how complicit is the Governmental surrender to Islamic usurpation of civic life and public expression, inevitably aided by maladroit European multiculti law? The end result is, Muslim youth surrender authority to Islamic oppression, aided and abetted by European jurisprudence and governance.

Steyn touches on this precise point, albeit not directly, in America Alone. By Hitchens’ own admission, Steyn makes an “immensely convincing case” that “demography and cultural masochism, especially in combination, are handing a bloodless victory to the forces of Islamization.”

Steyn is at his best as he diagnoses the symptoms and prognoses outcomes, if not when he prescribes the cure for what ails us. Hitchens finds Steyn’s plan of action “slapdash” with at least one “makeweight” point to round out the 10 points of his plan.

So as to do more than criticize without alternative, Hitchens helpfully provides a thoughtful action plan of his own, and contents himself to only identify 8 points:

·        Declare an end to “one-way multiculturalism and to the cultural masochism that goes with it.”

·        Commit to “A strong, open alliance with India on all fronts, from the military to the political and economic, backed by an extensive cultural exchange program, to demonstrate solidarity with the other great multiethnic democracy under attack from Muslim fascism.”

·        Forge the same bonds with oil rich countries in Western Africa under similar theological attack.

·        Have the UN make some declaration on self-determination, even for Muslim peoples. (Talk about makeweight, Hitchens might have hesitated with this one.)

·        Actively and aggressively support Iranian opposition and continue to play the hero directly on behalf of the Iranian people.

·        “Unconditional solidarity, backed with force and the relevant UN resolutions, with an independent and multi-confessional Lebanon.”

·        Rather than try to eradicate it, buy Afghanistan’s opium crop and convert for medicinal purposes.

·        Bring the consequences of interethnic tension-making to bear upon its perpetrators, such as Iran, Pakistan, and Syria. If that sounds like a threat, describe it more of as a promise.

I hate to sound like a conciliator between these two, but I have to say, I like both their lists.

Though Steyn may not have responded to Hitchens criticism, he plausibly could make similar kinds of criticisms about Hitchens peripheral objections to Steyn’s thesis, and for all intents and purposes, he has in America Alone (as indeed have the more serious of Hitchens’ many critics).

Consider Hitchens the more nuanced of the two analysts, and Steyn the guy who prefers to toss rhetorical grenades. Yet for all that Hitchens may see more complexity and variation within features more monochrome to Steyn, in the end, they conclude their arguments quite closer to each other, and sound similar calls to action.

That they don’t see entirely eye-to-eye, that they might perhaps tut-tut each other’s rhetorical excesses, in my view is no discredit to either. Listen to either, but heed them both, would be my advice. Get a copy of America Alone, and read Hitchens’ critique. We need them both if have any hope of winning this thing. As Hitchens concludes:

The Islamist threat itself may be crude, but this is an intricate cultural and political challenge that will absorb all of our energies for the rest of our lives: we are all responsible for doing our utmost as citizens as well as for demanding more imagination from our leaders.

Well said. My thanks to both these Gentlemen.

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