I'm none too well at the moment, and it so happens my preferred position in which to write causes me severe pain - which is presumably some kind of not so subtle literary criticism from the Almighty. But I'm back, more or less, with lots to catch up on. There were two big elections in recent days, with dramatic results: in Alberta, the Tories were wiped out; in Scotland, the Labour Party was slaughtered; in England, the Liberals were crushed. Strange times.
I'll have more to say about the elections in the days ahead, but for now let me offer a whole-hearted good riddance to Ed Miliband, the now departed Labour leader who, in a desperate last-minute pander, offered to "outlaw Islamophobia". That was the British political establishment's contribution to a rough couple of weeks for free speech, culminating in the attempted mass murder in Garland, Texas.
That's what it was, by the way - although you might have difficulty telling that from the news coverage. The Washington Post offered the celebrated headline "Event Organizer Offers No Apology After Thwarted Attack In Texas", while the Associated Press went with "Pamela Geller says she has no regrets about Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest that ended in 2 deaths". The media "narrative" of the last week is that some Zionist temptress was walking down the street in Garland in a too short skirt and hoisted it to reveal her Mohammed thong - oops, my apologies, her Prophet Mohammed thong (PBUH) - and thereby inflamed two otherwise law-abiding ISIS supporters peacefully minding their own business.
It'll be a long time before you see "Washington Post Offers No Apology for Attacking Target of Thwarted Attack" or "AP Says It Has No Regrets After Blaming The Victim". The respectable class in the American media share the same goal as the Islamic fanatics: They want to silence Pam Geller. To be sure, they have a mild disagreement about the means to that end - although even then you get the feeling, as with Garry Trudeau and those dozens of PEN novelists' reaction to Charlie Hebdo, that the "narrative" wouldn't change very much if the jihad boys had got luckier and Pam, Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer and a dozen others were all piled up in the Garland morgue.
If the American press were not so lazy and parochial, they would understand that this was the third Islamic attack on free speech this year - first, Charlie Hebdo in Paris; second, the Lars Vilks event in Copenhagen; and now Texas. The difference in the corpse count is easily explained by a look at the video of the Paris gunmen, or the bullet holes they put in the police car. The French and Texan attackers supposedly had the same kind of weapons, although one should always treat American media reports with a high degree of skepticism when it comes to early identification of "assault weapons" and "AK47s". Nonetheless, from this reconstruction, it seems clear that the key distinction between the two attacks is that in Paris they knew how to use their guns and in Garland they didn't. So a very cool 60-year-old local cop with nothing but his service pistol advanced under fire and took down two guys whose heavier firepower managed only to put a bullet in an unarmed security guard's foot.
The Charlie Hebdo killers had received effective training overseas - as thousands of ISIS recruits with western passports are getting right now. What if the Garland gunmen had been as good as the Paris gunmen? Surely that would be a more interesting question for the somnolent American media than whether some lippy Jewess was asking for it.
As for the free-speech issues, some of us have been around this question for a long time. I wrote a whole book about it: "Lights Out: Islam, Free Speech And The Twilight Of The West" - well worth a read.
On page 123 I write about Jyllands Posten and the original Motoons:
The twelve cartoonists are now in hiding. According to the chairman of the Danish Liberal Party, a group of Muslim men showed up at a local school looking for the daughter of one of the artists.
When that racket starts, no cartoonist or publisher or editor should have to stand alone. The minute there were multimillion-dollar bounties on those cartoonists' heads, The Times of London and Le Monde and The Washington Post and all the rest should have said, "This Thursday we're all publishing the cartoons. If you want to put bounties on all our heads, you'd better have a great credit line at the Bank of Jihad. If you want to kill us, you'll have to kill us all..."
But it didn't happen.
The only two magazines to stand in solidarity with the Danish cartoonists and republish the Motoons were Charlie Hebdo in Paris and my own magazine in Canada, Ezra Levant's Western Standard. Ezra wound up getting hauled up by some dimestore imam before the ignorant and thuggish Alberta "Human Rights" Commission whose leisurely money-no-object "investigation" consumed years of his life and all his savings. But he was more fortunate than our comrades at Charlie Hebdo: He's still alive.
In Copenhagen, in Paris, in Garland, what's more important than the cartoons and the attacks is the reaction of all the polite, respectable people in society, which for a decade now has told those who do not accept the messy, fractious liberties of free peoples that we don't really believe in them, either, and we're happy to give them up - quietly, furtively, incrementally, remorselessly - in hopes of a quiet life. Because a small Danish newspaper found itself abandoned and alone, Charlie Hebdo jumped in to support them. Because the Charlie Hebdo artists and writers died abandoned and alone, Pamela Geller jumped in to support them. By refusing to share the risk, we are increasing the risk. It's not Pamela Geller who emboldens Islamic fanatics, it's all the nice types - the ones Salman Rushdie calls the But Brigade. You've heard them a zillion times this last week: "Of course, I'm personally, passionately, absolutely committed to free speech. But..."
And the minute you hear the "but", none of the build-up to it matters. A couple of days before Garland, Canadian Liberal MP (and former Justice Minister) Irwin Cotler announced his plan to restore Section 13 - the "hate speech" law under which Maclean's and I were dragged before the Canadian "Human Rights" Commission and which, as a result of my case, was repealed by the Parliament of Canada. At the time Mr Cotler was fairly torn on the issue. We talked about it briefly at a free-speech event in Ottawa at which he chanced to be present, and he made vaguely supportive murmurings - as he did when we ran into each other a couple of years later in Boston. Mr Cotler is Jewish and, even as European "hate" laws prove utterly useless against the metastasizing open Jew-hate on the Continent, he thinks we should give 'em one more try. He's more sophisticated than your average But boy, so he uses a three-syllable word:
"Freedom of expression is the lifeblood of democracy," said Cotler, who was minister of justice under Paul Martin.
Free speech is necessary to free society for all the stuff after the "but", after the "however". There's no fine line between "free speech" and "hate speech": Free speech is hate speech; it's for the speech you hate - and for all your speech that the other guy hates. If you don't have free speech, then you can't have an honest discussion. All you can do is what those stunted moronic boobs in Paris and Copenhagen and Garland did: grab a gun and open fire. What Miliband and Cotler propose will, if enacted, reduce us all to the level of the inarticulate halfwits who think the only dispositive argument is "Allahu Akbar".
Alas, we have raised a generation of But boys. Ever since those ridiculous Washington Post and AP headlines, I've been thinking about the fellows who write and sub-edit and headline and approve such things - and never see the problem with it. Why would they? If you're under a certain age, you accept instinctively that free speech is subordinate to other considerations: If you've been raised in the "safe space" of American universities, you take it as read that on gays and climate change and transgendered bathrooms and all kinds of other issues it's perfectly normal to eliminate free speech and demand only the party line. So what's the big deal about letting Muslims cut themselves in on a little of that action?
Why would you expect people who see nothing wrong with destroying a mom'n'pop bakery over its antipathy to gay wedding cakes to have any philosophical commitment to diversity of opinion? And once you no longer have any philosophical commitment to it it's easy to see it the way Miliband and Cotler do - as a rusty cog in the societal machinery that can be shaved and sliced millimeter by millimeter.
Do what the parochial hacks of the US media didn't bother to do, and look at the winning entry in Pam Geller's competition, which appears at the top of this page. It's by Bosch Fawstin, an Eisner Award-winning cartoonist and an ex-Muslim of Albanian stock. Like many of the Danish and French cartoons, it's less about Mohammed than about the prohibition against drawing Mohammed - and the willingness of a small number of Muslims to murder those who do, and a far larger number of Muslims both enthusiastic and quiescent to support those who kill. Mr Fawstin understands the remorseless logic of one-way multiculturalism - that it leads to the de facto universal acceptance of Islamic law. All that "Prophet Mohammed" stuff, now routine even on Fox News. He's not my prophet, he's just some dead bloke. But the formulation is now mysteriously standard in western media. Try it the other way round: "Isis News Network, from our Libyan correspondent: Warriors of the Caliphate today announced record attendance numbers for the mass beheading of followers of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ..."
On Fox the other day, Bill O'Reilly was hopelessly confused about this issue. He seems to think that Pam Geller's cartoon competitions will lessen the likelihood of moderate Muslims joining us in the fight against ISIS. Putting aside the fact that there is no fight against ISIS, and insofar as the many Muslim countries in the vast swollen non-existent "60-nation coalition" are going to rouse themselves to join the fight it will be because the Saudi and Jordanian monarchies and the Egyptian military understand it as an existential threat to them, put aside all that and understand that Islamic imperialism has a good-cop-bad-cop game - or hard jihad, soft jihad. The hard jihad is fought via bombings and beheadings and burnings over barren bits of desert and jungle and cave country in the Middle East, Africa and the Hindu Kush. The soft jihad is a suppler enemy fighting for rather more valuable real estate in Europe, Australia and North America, so it uses western shibboleths of "diversity" and "multiculturalism" to enfeeble those societies. And it does so very effectively - so that when a British soldier is hacked to death on a London street in broad daylight, you can't really quite articulate what's wrong with it; or that, upon the death of the ugly king of a state where Christianity is prohibited, the Christian ministers of Westminster Abbey mourn his passing; or that, when Australians are held siege in a Sydney coffee shop, the reflexive response of progressive persons is to launch a social-media campaign offering to battle Islamophobia by helping Muslims get to work; or that, when violent Muslims stage their first explicit anti-free-speech attack on American soil, everyone thinks the mouthy free-speech broad is the problem. This soft jihad goes on every day of the week, and Bill O'Reilly doesn't even seem to be aware that it exists.
So on the one hand we have Pamela Geller. On the other we have Francine Prose, a former president of PEN and one of those dozens of novelists who's boycotting the posthumous award to Charlie Hebdo. I've never read one of Ms Prose's books, so this piece by her in The Guardian was my first exposure to her, er, prose:
The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders - white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists - is one that feeds neatly into the cultural prejudices that have allowed our government to make so many disastrous mistakes in the Middle East. And the idea that one is either "for us or against us" in such matters not only precludes rational and careful thinking, but also has a chilling effect on the exercise of our right to free expression and free speech that all of us - and all the people at PEN - are working so tirelessly to guarantee.
This is a writer? This dessicated language is how Ms Prose deploys the tools of her trade? It isn't a "narrative", it's real life. That's real blood of real writers all over the Charlie floor - and it's not all "white European" blood, either: it includes people with names like "Mustapha Ourrad", Charlie's copy editor. Surely he's a fitting victim for Ms Prose as she goes around "working so tirelessly"? But no. The Prose "narrative" is too simple for complicating factors like blokes called Mustapha for whom the point of living in western societies is to live all the freedom of those societies.
If you make the concessions that Francine Prose and Michael Ondaatje are implicitly demanding, what kind of art remains? There was a big fuss a few weeks ago when Steve Emerson said on Fox News that Birmingham, England was a Muslim no-go zone, and the BBC gleefully mocked him because it's only 28 per cent Muslim or whatever. That 28 per cent is pretty spectacular in just a couple of generations. How long before it's 40 or 50 per cent? So, if, circa 2030, you're a PEN member in Birmingham and you want to write a novel about your turf, it will necessarily involve a consideration of the relationship between an ever more Islamic city and what remains of its non-Islamic elements.
But Islam is telling you that subject's closed off. Not long after 9/11, some theatre group in Cincinnati announced a play contrasting a Palestinian suicide bomber and the American Jewish girl she killed. Local Muslims complained, and so the production was immediately canceled - because all the arty types who say we need "artists" with the "courage" to "explore" "transgressive" "ideas" fold like a cheap Bedouin tent when it comes to Islam. The Muslim community complained not because the play was anti-Muslim: au contraire, it was almost laughably pro-Palestinian, and the playwright considered the suicide bomber a far more sensitive sympathetic character than her dead Jewish victim.
But that wasn't the point: the Muslim leaders didn't care whether the play was pro- or anti-Islam: for them, Islam is beyond discussion. End of subject. And so it was.
So what kind of novels will PEN members be able to write in such a world?
Can Islam be made to live with the norms of free societies in which it now nests? Can Islam learn - or be forced - to suck it up the way Mormons, Catholics, Jews and everyone else do? If not, free societies will no longer be free. Pam Geller understands that, and has come up with her response. By contrast, Ed Miliband, Irwin Cotler, Francine Prose, Garry Trudeau and the trendy hipster social-media But boys who just canceled Mr Fawstin's Facebook account* are surrendering our civilization. They may be more sophisticated, more urbane, more amusing dinner-party guests ...but in the end they are trading our liberties.
A final cartoon from Bosch Fawstin:
"Stay quiet and you'll be okay:" Those were Mohammed Atta's words to his passengers on 9/11. And they're what all the nice respectable types are telling us now.
[*His Facebook page is back now.]