Archive for the ‘ Book Reviews ’ Category

Hollow Inside?

Chapter eight of Mark Steyn’s America Alone has so much substance that I don’t wish to demean it by trying to force it all into one post. Let’s just cover the first part of the chapter today. The title? “The Unipole Apart: America vs. Everyone Else.”

Steyn begins the chapter with this question: “Can America win its ‘long war'”? He then proceeds to offer reasons to doubt the fire within America to maintain such vigilance. Keeping in mind that he wrote this before the “surge,” and before Iraq was relegated to the back pages of the New York Times, he nevertheless hits a nerve with his analysis because the root of the problem he perceives remains.

Four months after the fall of Baghdad, America, he says, was viewed as the “strong horse.” But that changed, he believes.

It was a range of factors, from the West’s defeatist media to the Bush administration’s wish to be seen as, so to speak, a compassionate crusader. Nice idea. But to the Arab mindset there’s no such thing. So the compassion got read by the locals not as cultural respect but as weakness. And the quagmiritis diagnosed by the media from Day One suggested that a hyperpower of historically unprecedented dominance didn’t have the stomach for a body count that in the course of a year added up to little more than a quiet week’s internal policing for Saddam. By comparison, some four million people died in the Congo in the couple of years either side of the turn of the century—and how many books or TV investigations have you seen on that subject?

“America is extremely good at destroying tanks,” Steyn comments. But that seems to be as far as it goes. The enemy in Iraq was not convinced that he was “finished.” Why not? He saw the squeamishness of American policy.

Washington made a conscious choice to give every Iraqi the benefit of the doubt, including the fake surrenderers who ambushed the U.S. Marines in Nasiriyah. The main victims of Western squeamishness in those few weeks in the spring of 2003 turned out to be not American or coalition troops but the Iraqi civilians who two years later were providing the principal target for “insurgents.”

America was a Gulliver that had awesome power, but lost the willingness to use it. That type of Gulliver becomes “ensnared by more motivated Lilliputians.” Steyn continues,

Do you remember when that statue of Saddam came down? It proved to be hollow. The Islamists think Western Civilization’s like that: tough exterior, but empty inside; protected by a layer of hard steel—the U.S. military—there’s nothing underneath.

What trend does Steyn see? He says all we have to do is look at what he calls “one trivial example”:

Just before Christmas 2003, Muslim community leaders in California applauded the decision of the Catholic high school in San Juan Capistrano to change the name of its football team form the Crusaders to the less culturally insensitive Lions.

Meanwhile, twenty miles up the road in Irvine, the schedule for the Muslim Football League’s New Year tournament promised to bring together some of the most exciting Muslim football teams in Orange County: the Intifada, the Mujahideen, the Saracens, and the Sword of Allah.

That’s the spirit. I can’t wait for the California sporting calendar circa 2015: the San Diego Jihadi vs. the Oakland Culturally Sensitives, the Malibu Hezbollah vs. the Santa Monica Inoffensives, the Pasadena Sword of the Infidel Slayer vs. the Bakersfield Self-Deprecators, the San Jose Decapitators vs. the Berkeley Mutually Respectfuls.

Unbelievable? Too far-fetched? Don’t count on it.

More from Steyn in a future post.

Worthwhile Reading

If you have been a regular reader of this blog, you can’t have escaped noticing that two of my academic interests are Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers. I have worked for a number of years on a book comparing the two; the manuscript is finished now, and I’m in the process of trying to find a publisher.

That may be a backward way of writing a book, but I never knew when or if I would actually have time to complete it, so I didn’t actively seek a publisher ahead of time; I decided to wait until I was done, then trust that God would open a door. For those of you who pray, this is a formal request for any prayers you might want to offer.

The goal of the book is to compare Reagan’s sometimes overwhelming optimism concerning the future of freedom in both America and the world with Chambers’s equally dominant pessimism on that topic. I found it a fascinating study, in which I read every scrap of writing by and about Chambers that I could find; for Reagan, I not only read nearly every book available on his life and beliefs, but I took notes on every speech he made as president. It was a labor of love.

Until that book is published, if you are interested in reading some of that research, I did have portions of three chapters published in an online journal called First Principles. One covers Reagan’s stylistic debt to FDR [if not his policies], a second delves into the university education Chambers received at Columbia, where he entered a budding Christian conservative and emerged a communist, and the final one deals with the optimism-pessimism comparison. You can find those in my listing of articles—click “My Articles” either at the top of this page or in the sidebar.

Meanwhile, may I suggest another book that might whet your appetite about Chambers? I recommend Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary by Richard Reinsch II. I wrote a review of the book in a journal, but it is by subscription only. Others, though, mirror my views on its value. As George Nash, the preeminent historian of conservatism, has stated,

Richard Reinsch has written an elegant and discerning study of one of the literary giants of modern conservatism. At a time when the American Right is striving to recover its intellectual bearings, the profoundly spiritual perspective of Whittaker Chambers is worth pondering anew. Reinsch’s timely volume brings Chambers’s thought into arresting focus.

So, get a copy of Mr. Reinsch’s book, then move on to mine when it finally sees the light of day. His is definitely worthwhile; we’ll have to wait a while to see if mine measures up.

The Root Cause of All Root Causes

How about a little more commentary on Western blindness today? On this subject, I always like to allow experts to speak. Mark Steyn, in America Alone, provides enough ammunition to carry the day. As many of you know, I’ve been chronicling Steyn’s book over the last few weeks. We’re now up to chapter eight, “The State of the Art Primitive: The Known Unknowns vs. the Knowingly Unknowing.” If that title puzzles you a little, let me—or rather Steyn—shed some light.

Steyn quotes Edward Said, “the New York-based America disparager and author of the bestselling Orientalism,” as deploring what he calls “the tendency of commentators to separate cultures into … ‘sealed-off entities,’ when in reality Western Civilization and the Muslim world are so ‘intertwined’ that it was impossible to ‘draw the line’ between them.” In other words, Westerners have this bad habit of saying there is a clear distinction between the cultures when none really exists.

Steyn responds,

Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, wasn’t impressed by this notion. “The line seems pretty clear,” he said. “Developing mass commercial aviation and soaring skyscrapers was the West’s idea; slashing the throats of stewardesses and flying planes into the skyscrapers was radical Islam’s idea.”

We are neglecting one startling fact: they hate us.

Take the example of the strife between Israel and the Palestinians:

For one side, there is no common humanity, even with people they know well, who provide them with jobs, and much else: Wafa Samir Ibrahim al-Biss, a twenty-one-year-old woman who has received kind and exemplary treatment at an Israeli hospital in Beersheba, packs herself with explosives and sets off to blow apart that hospital and the doctors and nurses who’ve treated her.

We in the West are always looking for the “root causes” of the outrage in the Islamic world. Steyn says there are no root causes to seek, or at least not in the ordinary sense. He notes,

Five days before the slaughter in Bali in 2005, nine Islamists were arrested in Paris for reportedly plotting to attack the Metro. Must be all those French troops in Iraq, right? So much for the sterling efforts of President Chirac and his prime minister, the two chief obstructionists to Bush-Blair-neocon-Zionist warmongering since 2001.

The French continually criticized the United States after 9/11, “yet the jihadists still blew up a French oil tanker. If you were to pick only one Western nation not to blow up the oil tankers of, the French would surely be it.” When asked later, the spokesman for the radical jihadists explained, “‘We would have preferred to hit a U.S. frigate, but no problem because they are all infidels.'”

Now we get down to what might be considered the root cause of all root causes, one that escapes the Western illuminati: they attack us because we are not them. Steyn continues,

When people make certain statements and their acts conform to those statements I tend to take them at their word. As Hussein Massawi, former leader of Hezbollah, neatly put it, “We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.” The first choice of Islamists is to kill Americans and Jews, or best of all an American Jew like Daniel Pearl, the late Wall Street Journal reporter. Failing that, they’re happy to kill Australians, Britons, Canadians, Swedes, Germans, as they did in Bali. No problem. We are all infidels. You can be a hippy-dippy hey-man-I-love-everybody Dutch stoner hanging out in a bar in Bali, and they’ll blow you up with as much enthusiasm as if you were Dick Cheney.

The Soviet Union and other totalitarian states at least played a game of pretending they weren’t what they were—they would refer to themselves as “People’s Republics,” which was a way to try to paper over their true nature. Radical Islamists don’t bother to pretend.

They say what they mean and they mean what they say—and we choose to stay in ignorance. Blow up the London Underground during a G-8 summit and the world’s leaders twitter about how “tragic” and “ironic” it is that this should have happened just as they’re taking steps to deal with the issues—as though the terrorists are upset about poverty in Africa and global warming. Even in a great blinding flash of clarity, we can’t wait to switch the lights off and go back to fumbling around on the darkling plain.

We continue to pretend that we are all the same, and that we can work together, even when the “other side” clearly states its goals. We wait around for cooperation and wonder why it’s not forthcoming.

We are blind because we have a foundation of spiritual blindness, and spiritual blindness begets all other types of blindness. The radicals condemn the West because it is “Christian civilization.” If only that were the case.

Is There Anything Left to Die For?

Chapter six of Mark Steyn’s America Alone, “The Four Horsemen of the Eupocalypse,” has some poignant comments on the state of modern Europe and its reluctance to deal with the radical Islamic threat. Without too much commentary of my own, I just want to share some of his insights with you.

What do you do to make terrorists like you? Germany has one answer:

In 2005, responding to Islamist terrorism in Britain and elsewhere, Germany was reported to be considering the introduction of a Muslim public holiday. As Mathias Döpfner, chief executive of the media group Axel Springer, put it: “A substantial fraction of Germany’s government–and, if polls are to be believed, the German people–believe that creating an official state Muslim holiday will somehow spare us from the wrath of fanatical Islamists.” Great. At least the appeasers of the 1930s did it on their own time.

Meanwhile, over in France:

As the Guardian reported in London in 2005: “French youths fired at police and burned over 300 cars last night as towns around Paris experienced their worst night of violence in a week of urban unrest.”

Ah, those “French youths.” You mean Pierre and Jacques and Marcel and Alphonse? Granted that most of the “youths” are technically citizens of the French Republic, it doesn’t take much time … to discover that the rioters do not think of their primary identity as “French,” and likely never will. … Since the beginning of this century, French Muslims have been carrying on a low-level intifada against synagogues, kosher butchers, Jewish schools, etc. The concern of the political class has been to prevent the spread of these attacks to targets of more, ah, general interest. They’re losing that battle. Unlike America’s Europhiles, France’s Arab street correctly identified Chirac’s opposition to the Iraq war for what it was: a sign of weakness.

So does this mean that all Europeans are oblivious to the threat? Not so, says Steyn, but the system works against those who speak out:

The peoples of Europe may not be willing to go as far down the appeasement path as their rulers, but Europe is a top-down construct, so the rulers will get quite a long way down before the masses start to drag them back. One observes, for example, that brave figures who draw attention to these trends—men and women such as Theo van Gogh, Bat Ye’or, and Oriana Fallaci—are either murdered, forced to live under armed guard, driven into exile overseas, or sued under specious hate-crimes laws. Dismissed by the European establishment, they’re banished to the fringe. Ayann Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian, spoke out against the ill-treatment of Muslim women, a subject she knows about firsthand, and found herself under threat of death. Her neighbors, the justice system, and the Dutch government reacted to this by taking her to court, getting her evicted from her home, and announcing plans to revoke her citizenship. Boundlessly tolerant Europe, which finds it so hard to expel openly treasonous jihad-inciting imams, finally found one Muslim it’s willing to kick out.

Steyn closes the chapter with this little anecdote:

After September 11, I wondered rhetorically midway through a column what we in the West are prepared to die for, and got a convoluted e-mail back from a French professor explaining that the fact that Europeans weren’t prepared to die for anything was the best evidence of their superiority: they were building a post-historical utopia—a Europe it would not be necessary to die for.

But sometimes you die anyway.

All of these comments have centered on Europe. Where does America stand today? How close to this European brand of suicide have we come? Why do we continue to refer to Islam as a religion of peace when the evidence shows otherwise?

Perhaps we’ve not yet succumbed entirely to this dangerous brand of political correctness. The administration’s goal of trying terrorists in American civil courts brought such an outcry that Obama and Attorney General Holder had no choice but to backtrack:

There may still be hope for us.

The Transatlantic Divide

This is another installment of my ongoing series on Mark Steyn’s book America Alone. Previous posts have highlighted the problems facing Western society, particularly in Europe, with respect to the possible takeover of that society by radical Islam. Chapter 7 of his book is called “The Four Horsemen of the Eupocalypse: Eutopia vs. Eurabia.”

Steyn already has pointed to the demographic demise of Western Europe and how the loss of Christian faith has led to a spiritual vacuum in those nations—a vacuum being filled by Islamism. He’s also shown how many Europeans kowtow to Islamic pressures by appeasing Islam, even to the point of dressing as a Muslim to avoid trouble.

In this new chapter, he comments on the growing split between Europe and America. Keep in mind he wrote this while Bush was president, but it’s pretty prophetic when he states, “The transatlantic ‘split’ has nothing to do with disagreements over Iraq, and can’t be repaired by a more Europhile president in Washington: you can’t ‘mend bridges’ when the opposite bank is sinking into the river.”

As I said, how prophetic. We now have that “more Europhile president” who promised to mend those bridges he declared had been destroyed by Bush, yet what do we see? He is held in contempt, not only by European “allies,” but by the Muslim world he sought to placate. His influence is next to nothing.

Steyn continues with more distinctions between America and Europe:

Europeans work fewer hours than Americans, they don’t have to pay for their own health care, they don’t go to church and they don’t contribute to other civic groups, they don’t marry and they don’t have kids to take to school and basketball and the 4-H stand at the county fair.

So what do they do with all the time?

Europe, in fact, is a society devoted to leisure, all the while denigrating American capitalism. Slow down, the European mindset counsels, and do what you inner child tells you to do.

“When life becomes an extended picnic, with nothing of importance to do,” writes Charles Murray in In Our Hands, “ideas of greatness become an irritant. Such is the nature of the Europe syndrome.” The Continent has embraced a spiritual death long before the demographic one. In those seventeen European countries that have fallen into “lowest-low fertility,” where are the children? In a way, you’re looking at them: the guy sipping espresso at a sidewalk café listening to his iPod, the eternal adolescent charges of the paternalistic state. The government makes the grown-up decisions and we spend our pocket money on our record collection.

These wealthy societies, Steyn sadly concludes, “expect to have total choice over their satellite TV packages, yet think it perfectly normal to allow the state to make all the choices in respect of their health care.” He calls this “a curious inversion of citizenship” when people demand total control over “peripheral leisure activities” yet contract out to the state the big items like health care. His final quip is direct:

It’s hard to come up with a wake-up call for a society as dedicated as latter-day Europe to the belief that life is about sleeping in.

I’m not done with this chapter. More later.

Multicultural, Relativist Mush vs. Radical Islam

On Saturday, I shared some thoughts from chapter five of Mark Steyn’s book America Alone, but couldn’t finish that chapter without writing a tome of my own. The central message of that post was how the West gives in to radical Islam with scarcely a murmur. I ended the post with the question, “What is the underlying problem that allows this abject cowardice to flourish?” The rest of the chapter is Steyn’s answer to that query.

The bottom line to his answer is that we now live in a post-Christian West, particularly in Europe. Due to that religious vacuum, many Europeans are either becoming Muslim or at least accommodating to it because they have no deep-seated belief themselves to counter it. For the reverts [that’s what Islam calls a convert because it believes everyone is naturally Muslim, but they just don’t realize it yet], Islam “provides the sense of identity that the happy-face nothingness of multiculturalism declines to offer.” For those who choose to accommodate … well, it’s just more comfortable that way.

Steyn relates that he heard from Dutch and English women that they’ve begun going out “covered.”

The Dutch lady lives in a rough part of Amsterdam and says when you’re on the street in Islamic garb, the Muslim men smile at you respectfully instead of jeering at you as an infidel whore. The English lady lives in a swank part of London but says pretty much the same thing. Both felt there was not just a physical but a psychological security in being dressed Muslim. They’re not “reverts,” but, at least for the purposes of padding the public space, they’re passing for Muslim. And as more of the public space becomes Muslim it will seem more and more comfortable to do that.

The mainstream church—as opposed to the real one—is no help in countering the Islamist assault on society. After the London Tube bombings, one Anglican bishop assured his flock that this atrocity had “nothing to do with any of the world faiths.” Another Anglican priest explained to his parishioners, “There are no Muslim terrorists. There are terrorists.”On a personal level, Steyn informs us,

Even in America, the interim pastor at my local church in New Hampshire on the Sunday morning of September 16, 2001, was principally concerned to warn us not to attack any Muslims, even though in that notably undiverse corner of America finding any Muslims to attack would have involved a three-hour drive. That’s why the Church of England and the Episcopal Church and the Congregational Church and the United Church of Canada and many others are sinking beneath the bog of their own relativist mush, while Islam is the West’s fastest-growing religion. There’s no market for a faith that has no faith in itself.

Steyn’s conclusion, in his own inimitable writing style?

Most mainline Protestant churches are, to one degree or another, post-Christian. If they no longer seem disposed to converting the unbelieving to Christ, they can at least convert them to the boggiest of soft-left political clichés, on the grounds that if Jesus were alive today he’d most likely be a gay Anglican bishop in a committed relationship driving around in an environmentally friendly car with an “Arms Are for Hugging” sticker on the way to an interfaith dialogue with a Wiccan and a couple of Wahhabi imams.

The real Christian faith has a backbone. God’s truth changes lives. Changed lives lead to changed societies. You can measure the vitality of a nation’s Christianity by the direction in which society is being changed. As we witness the sad state of Western civilization, one has to ask the question—where does this real Christian faith continue to exist?

The Plight of the Moderate Muslim

I’ve been offering samplings of Mark Steyn’s America Alone over the past few weeks, and today I’m up to chapter five, “The Anything They’ll Believe In: Church vs. State.” There’s just so much meat in this chapter that I’m going to cover only the first part today and save the latter half for another time.

Steyn writes about how Islamists have selectively assimilated into Western culture. What he means by that is they pick and choose what they will adopt as it suits their purposes. He says they have done an excellent job of mastering the following aspects of the West: legalisms, victimology, and the entitlement culture. They sue in court to get special treatment. For example, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled “that the state prison system has failed to justify denying a Muslim inmate special feast-day meats, such as oxen and camel.” While American soldiers have to stomach typical MREs, Muslim prisoners can sue for camel.

The prison system in Britain is now remodeling the bathrooms because “Muslim inmates have complained that the toilets face Mecca and that therefore they’re obliged to ride sidesaddle, which can be very uncomfortable.” Wait a minute. Aren’t they prisoners? Since when do prisoners get special requests? Are we even aware this is happening or will we awaken to a new reality someday?

With respect to the entitlement mentality, Steyn notes, “While it’s not true that every immigrant on welfare is an Islamic terrorist, the vast majority of Islamic terrorists in Europe are on welfare, living in radicalized ghetto cultures with nothing to do but sit around the flat plotting the jihad all day at taxpayers’ expense.”

He then takes aim at the concept of the “moderate Muslim.” If you thought he was being controversial with his earlier statements, he definitely challenges political correctness on this topic:

Still, as we always say, the “vast majority” of Muslims oppose “extremism.” These are the so-called “moderate Muslims.” One is tempted to update the old joke: a ten-dollar bill is in the center of the crossroads. To the north, there’s Santa Claus. To the west, the Tooth Fairy. To the east, a radical Muslim. To the south, a moderate Muslim. Who reaches the ten-dollar bill first?

Answer: the radical Muslim. All the others are mythical creatures.

He goes on to explain why that joke is on target:

The “moderate Muslim” is not entirely fictional. But it would be more accurate to call them quiescent Muslims. In the 1930s, there were plenty of “moderate Germans,” and a fat lot of good they did us or them. Today, the “moderate Muslim” is a unique contributor to cultural diversity: unlike all the visible minorities, he’s a non-visible one—or, at any rate, non-audible.

Steyn then quotes a Muslim apostate who, he says, makes an important distinction: “there are moderate Muslims, but no moderate Islam.” It is true that millions of Muslims simply want to live quietly without causing trouble to anyone. The problem is that “all of the official schools of Islamic jurisprudence commend sharia and violent jihad. So a ‘moderate Muslim’ can find no formal authority to support his moderation.”

Further, why should any moderate Muslim challenge the establishment? What help will he get from the West?

The Iranians declared a fatwa on Salman Rushdie and he had to go into hiding for more than a decade while his government and others continued fawning on the regime that issued the death sentence. The Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh spoke out and was murdered, and the poseur dissenters of Hollywood were too busy congratulating themselves on their courage and bravery in standing up to Bush even to mention their poor dead colleague in the weepy Oscar montage of the year’s deceased. To speak out against the Islamists means to live in hiding and under armed security in the heart of the so-called “free world.”

Steyn doesn’t stop there. He pinpoints the underlying problem that allows this abject cowardice to flourish. What is that? I’ll come back to it in a future post. Return here for the answer.