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Jewish World Review Feb. 27, 2003/ 25 Adar I, 5763

Mark Steyn

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Death wish

Liberals are in denial about the threat posed to their most cherished values by militant Islam |
I think Hal David's great lyric pretty much sums it up:

What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
In fact, if instead of al-Fie it were al-Qa'eda or even al-Jazeera, it would be the theme song of the age. When you look at what happened on the streets of the West's great cities last weekend, that's really the only thing at issue: what's it all about? Not in the sense that 'It's all about oil'. Yes, it's all about oil - for the French, whose Total Fina Elf boys have just signed a big bunch of contracts with Saddam. But, for everybody else, what's really going on here?

Barbara Amiel said in these pages that the London anti-war march was an 'anti-America, anti-free enterprise, anti-Israel display'. Her fellow columnist, Vicki Woods, evidently thought Barbara was bonkers. She reckoned the massed ranks of demo virgins were there because they were 'anti-Blair'.

They're both right. It's clear that the organisational muscle in the 'peace' movement is provided by the crack troops of the West's self-loathers - those who believe Amerikkka and capitalism are responsible for all the evils of the world. The heavy dependence on clapped-out D-list celebs like Bianca Jagger, Jesse Jackson and Harold Pinter tends to support the Amiel thesis. On the other hand, if you'll pardon a colonial's assessment of the mother country, I'd say the reason the Vicki Woodses of the world lined up behind them is the simple fact that life in sad, grey Britain is so bloody miserable. From my recent limited experience of your wretched hospitals and crummy trains, I can understand why it must be supremely irritating to switch on the TV night after night and hear that Tony Blair will be tied up indefinitely rebuilding Iraq rather than, say, Humberside. Of course, this presupposes that it's the job of the head of the national government to run every geriatric ward and suburban rail line, a theory not all of us subscribe to. But if like most Britons you do subscribe to it, Mr Blair's priorities must be infuriating.

In the rest of the West, by contrast, the 'peace' movement seems more to do with pre-9/11 contentment. Up in my part of the world, there were 'Bridges to Peace' demonstrations on the spans across the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont. They just about got enough demonstrators to hold hands across the bridge if they all stretched out at arm's length. But it was a freezing cold day and, especially if you were smack dab in the middle of the bridge with a pre-windchill temperature of 20 below, you couldn't hold that position for very long. All the demonstrators were 'flatlanders' - that's to say, people born elsewhere who'd come to the mountains because they liked the idea of small-town life, rural pursuits. Some had their snowshoes and cross-country skis with them, accessories for the activities that would occupy the rest of their weekends. They were a soccer-mommish crowd, the kind of women who run recycling programs and so forth. They loved the Nineties because you never heard a thing about macho stuff like war: it was all micro-politics, new regulations for this, new entitlements for that - education, environment, 'social justice'. Bush, Cheney and Rummy are from Mars, these demonstrators were from Venus, and they want to go back to talking about Venusian issues. I think that's also true in Australia and much of western Europe. This war is an unwelcome intrusion on what large numbers of people had assumed to be a permanent post-Martian politics.

The other day the Independent's Joan Smith wrote a column headlined 'It's About Time the US Got Over 9/11'. That presupposes 9/11 is itself over - that it was just a one-off, a freak, like a bad tornado or the record-breaking snowstorms that hit New York and Washington this week. The storm has passed and normal life resumes. That's more or less what happened after the first attempt to take out the World Trade Center in 1993: America got over it, very quickly. So they bombed it again.

Ms Smith mocks the way the 9/11 obsessives are quivering in an 'advanced state of paranoia'. Funnily enough, this was the way her side chose to live during the Cold War, when CND were expecting the mushroom cloud any minute and Raymond Briggs made a fortune with his post-nuclear droner When the Wind Blows. In those days, only five guys had their fingers on the nuclear button - Britain, America, France, China and the Soviet Union - but because two of those fingers belonged to Ron and Maggie the Left was convinced the apocalypse was just around the corner. Now we're at the dawn of the freelance nuke era, and the Left is positively insouciant about it.

Who are the principal customers for these 'dirty nukes'? Ms Smith sneers at the assumption that 'sees al-Qa'eda or Saddam behind every tragedy'. But these days, when something strikingly unusual happens - a nightclub bombing in Bali, a fatal beauty-contest riot in Nigeria, an entirely random sniper in Maryland, a mass kidnapping at a musical in Moscow - you can generally predict there's a Muslim involved. Not necessarily Saddam, not necessarily Osama, but Muslims nonetheless. That suggests, at the very minimum, a certain level of Muslim disaffection with the non-Muslim world.

What might stop them taking out any more skyscrapers or nightclubs or musicals? What do these disaffected Islamist groups want? Well, to take them at their word, they want a new Caliphate, in which the world's infidels convert to Islam and agree to run the entire planet in accordance with the Koran. About a year ago, I came across a Muslim website on which there was a lively discussion on when various Western countries would introduce Sharia: circa 2040 in the Benelux countries, a little later for Scandinavia, etc. On the face of it, that's ridiculous, though, taking into account demographic trends, not entirely impossible.

But more likely to happen is what Joan Smith and the 'peace' crowd want: we 'get over' 9/11, and we opt for a quiet life. In her column, Barbara Amiel wrote:

Laying out the world's changing attitudes to Israel and America so barely, makes it sound like a conscious decision - which is absurd. But changes in the spirit of the times are as difficult to explain as those immense flocks of birds you see sitting on some great African lake, hundreds of thousands of them at a time, till all of a sudden, successively, they fly up and turn in a specific direction. One can never analyse which bird started it and how it became this incredible rush. All you see is the result.
The world is always changing. No one would have thought, a mere 30 years after Britain decriminalised homosexuality, that there'd be mainstream politicians advocating gay marriage. If you're a gay who's been longing to marry since 1968, that's an eternity. But it's a blink in the eye of British social evolution. So what will the 'spirit of the times' look like in the Western world in ten or 20 years' time? Here's a couple of early birds on the lake, plucked more or less at random from recent headlines:

Last month, Judge Beaumont, the common serjeant of London, ruled that, in the case of a Muslim cleric accused of inciting the murders of Jews and Hindus, no Jews or Hindus or the spouses thereof could serve on the jury.

On 21 January, the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten reported that the court of appeals in Eidsivating had acquitted a Middle Eastern immigrant of raping a retarded woman on the grounds that he had only lived 12 years in Norway and so could not be expected to understand her condition.

The man was 22 years old. Thus, he had lived virtually his entire conscious life in Norway. But the court ruled that his insufficient understanding of the language was a mitigating factor. He was a cab-driver and the woman was his customer. She paid for the ride with a 'TT' card - a form of transport subsidy for the handicapped, which he evidently recognized because he accepted it. Nonetheless, because of his 'cultural background', an adult who'd lived in Norway since he was ten years old could not be expected to know that this woman was mentally incapacitated and that he should not assault her.

In the second week of January, Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park cancelled its tour of a specially commissioned new play by Glyn O'Malley called Paradise. The subject of the work was the suicide bombing in March last year by an 18-year-old Palestinian girl, Ayat al-Akhras. You may remember our old friend, the then Saudi ambassador in London, Ghazi Algosaibi, wrote a poem in praise of Miss al-Akhras. O'Malley's approach was a little subtler. His starting point was a Newsweek cover story contrasting young Ayat with one of the Jews she killed, another teenage girl, a 17-year-old Israeli, Rachel Levy. To some of us, this is already obscene - the idea that murdered and murderer are both 'victims'. They're linked only because Ayat couldn't care less whom she slaughtered as long as they were Jews.

But there wouldn't be much of a play in that. So O'Malley did the decent liberal thing and bent over backwards to be 'balanced'. In his play, 'Fatima' gets all the best lines, raging at the Israelis because they should know better: 'How can you do this? You! You who know camps and humiliation and hate and death.' 'Sarah', by comparison, is just a California airhead who's come to Israel for the guys and can't really get a handle on the Holy Land: 'It's, like, old.'

But O'Malley didn't stop there: he moved the scene of the bombing from within Israel proper to one of those 'illegal' West Bank settlements. He even managed to remove any kind of religious component: to dear old Ghazi, Ayat was acting as a good Muslim; in O'Malley's play, 'Fatima' insists, 'This is not about Allah!' This is not some crude Muslim-Jew thing, but instead arises from complex socio-economic issues unconnected to one's faith.

And what was the upshot? At a read-through before invited members of the Jewish and Muslim communities, the latter denounced the work as 'Zionist propaganda'. A few days later, the Jewish director was removed from the production. A few days after that, the play was cancelled entirely.

What normally happens with 'controversial' art? I'm thinking of such cultural landmarks of recent years as Andres Serrano's 'Piss Christ' - a crucifix sunk in the artist's urine - or Terrence McNally's Broadway play Corpus Christi, in which a gay Jesus rhapsodises about the joys of anal sex with Judas. When, say, Catholic groups complain about these abominations, the arts world says you squares need to get with the beat: a healthy society has to have 'artists' with the 'courage' to 'explore' 'transgressive' 'ideas', etc. Yet with this play, faced with Muslim objections, the big, courageous, transgressive arts guys fold like a Bedouin tent. And, unlike your Pi-s Christs, where every liberal commentator wants to chip in his two bits on artistic freedom, pretty much everyone's given a wide berth to this one, except for Christopher Caldwell, whom the Weekly Standard sent to Cincinnati to interview the various figures involved. What was interesting from Caldwell's account was that the Muslim community figures didn't really care in the end whether the play was pro- or anti-Islam: for them, it was beyond discussion. When you soak a crucifix in urine, you may get a few cranky Catholics handing out leaflets on the sidewalk. When you do a play about suicide bombers, who knows what the offended might do? The arts world seems happy to confine its trangressive courage to flipping the finger at Christians.

These are a few straws in the wind, birds on the lake. The great issue of our time is whether Islam - the fastest-growing religion in Europe and North America - is compatible with the multicultural, super-diverse, boundlessly tolerant society of Western liberals. If I were a feminist or a gay or an 'artist', I wouldn't be reassured by these early birds winging their way from Norwegian courts and Midwestern playhouses.

Meanwhile, those of us who talk of reforming Iraq are assured by our opponents that it's preposterous to think that Arabs can ever be functioning citizens of a democratic state. If that's so, isn't that an issue, given current immigration patterns, not for Iraq tomorrow but for Britain, France, Belgium and Holland right now?

What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? Very possibly. Given Europe's birth-rates, the survival of the West depends on conversion - on ensuring that the unprecedentedly high numbers of immigrants to the Continent embrace Western pluralism. Some of us think it would be easier to do this if the countries from which they emigrate are themselves democratic and pluralist. But to say there's no problem here except Texan cowboy fundamentalist paranoia is to blind yourself to reality, to march to suicide as surely as Ayat al-Akhras did.

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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

02/19/03: The curtain will come down on the peaceniks
02/10/03: Let's quit the UN
02/03/03: Columbia reality-check
01/29/03: Go forth and multiply
01/09/03: America's fake identity crisis
12/31/02: GOP underperforms, but Dems are laughable
11/26/02: A bombing pause --- for 12 months!?
10/30/02: Stop making excuses for Muslim extremists
09/27/02: The more inventively you try to ''explain'' the Islamist psychosis as a rational phenomenon to be accommodated, the more you risk sounding just as nutty as them
08/23/02: Battered Westerner Syndrome inflicted by myopic Muslim defenders
08/09/02: Friends in low places
08/02/02: Armageddon out of here
07/26/02: Enjoy the ''scandal'' while you can, lads
07/16/02: Arafat is toast; Bush knows it --- so why doesn't the rest of the world?
07/10/02: Hey, FBI: So, denial really is a river in Egypt!
06/20/02: A fight to the finish
06/11/02: Rock, royalty a good match
05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free
05/14/02: Extreme hypocrisy in the pursuit of 'peace' is ...
05/10/02: The home office of extremism
05/01/02 Slipping down the Eurinal of history: France, the joke is on you
04/23/02 It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
04/16/02 Mideast war exposes 'ugly Europeans'
04/09/02 Arafat has begun his countdown to oblivion. Now it's time to crush the Palestinian uprising
03/27/02 The good, the bad and the Gallic shrug
03/20/02 Grand convocation of the weird

© 2002, Mark Steyn