Archive for the ‘ Book Reviews ’ Category

The Missing Ingredient

In 2005, Britain finally took one of the most incendiary imams in the country to court. Abu Hamza was well known in the UK due to stories about him in the tabloid newspapers. They called him “Hooky” because he had lost his hands in an “accident” while in Afghanistan in 1991. As Mark Steyn relates in America Alone,

On trial in London for nine counts of soliciting to murder plus various other charges, he retained the services of a prestigious Queen’s Counsel, who certainly came up with an ingenious legal strategy: “Edward Fitzgerald, QC, for the defence, said that Abu Hamza’s interpretation of the Koran was that it imposed an obligation on Muslims to do jihad and fight in the defence of their religion. He said that the Crown case against the former imam of Finsbury Park Mosque was ‘simplistic in the extreme.’ He added: ‘It is said he was preaching murder, but he was actually preaching from the Koran itself.'”

If the Koran permit, you must acquit? Brilliant. To convict would be multiculturally disrespectful: if the holy book of the religion of peace recommends killing infidels, who are we to judge? SIAC, the United Kingdom’s anti-terrorist court, found in 2003 that a thirty-five-year-old Algerian male had “actively assisted terrorists who have links to Al Qaeda.” But he was released from Belmarsh Prison the following year because jail cases him to suffer a “depressive illness.”

By Western standards, every Islamic terrorist is “depressive”—for a start, as suicide bombers, they’re suicidal. What’s impressive about these “unassimilated” Islamists is the way the pick up on our weaknesses so quickly—the legalisms, the ethnic squeamishness, the bureaucratic inertia. The courtroom evens the playing field to the enemy’s advantage.

Is this what we’ve come to in our quest to make everyone feel good? Are we being multicultured to death—literally?

As commentators flail around in their attempt to explain what’s happening, most, even from the conservative side, miss the key ingredient in our demise: the loss of a Biblical Christian worldview to inform us of eternal right and wrong, of the distinction between righteousness and evil.

As a society, we are generally blind to the real problem; therefore, we don’t know the real solution. Only the reestablishment [not by the government, but by earnest persuasion/argumentation] of a Biblical foundation for our thinking can set us back on the path to genuine knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

War, Not Lawbreaking

Last Monday, I shared more from Mark Steyn’s brilliant book America Alone, which dissects the radical Islamist problem. I didn’t know as I was writing the post on Sunday that before it appeared on Monday, we would get the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Does that then make Steyn’s book irrelevant? Only if you believe, against all evidence, that the death of one terrorist leader will be so dispiriting to his followers that they’ll all go back to their caves to meditate for the rest of their lives.

That’s not going to happen. They are energized not by a single man, but by an ideology of hatred. What Steyn has written has continuing relevance, particularly because he clearly identifies the weaknesses of the West. Yes, we acted boldly last week and won a battle in this war on terror; but there is an underlying worldview in this current administration that threatens to turn that victory into a blip on the radar screen of the ongoing war.

Steyn, in his eighth chapter, “The Unipole Apart,” focuses on one aspect of that worldview that is ripping the heart out of the war on terror: the tendency to see this as not a war, but rather a judicial problem. We don’t treat the terrorists as terrorists, this worldview declares, but simply as lawbreakers who can be put through our judicial system.

Steyn reminds us that Zacarias Moussaoui, the man who would have been the twentieth hijacker on 9/11, and who did go through the system and got life imprisonment, famously commented after receiving his sentence: “America, you lose.” How could he say that? Steyn says it’s hard to disagree with Moussaoui’s perspective:

On the day Mr. Moussaoui was led out of court to begin his sentence, some pompous member of the ghastly 9-11 Commission turned up on one of the cable shows to declare proudly that jihadists around the world were marveling at the fairness of the U.S. justice system. The leisurely legal process Mr. Moussaoui  enjoyed had lasted longer than America’s participation in World War Two. Around the world, everybody was having a grand old laugh at the U.S. justice system.

The wheels of justice seem to turn very slowly, and there is the fear that they may not turn at all if some legal technicality can dismiss a case. When Eric Holder, our current attorney general, wanted to try Gitmo detainees—remember, these were enemy combatants captured on the battlefield—in New York City courts, he faced such a firestorm of resistance, he finally had to back down. Common sense won that round, but there’s no guarantee it will in the future.

Steyn notes further,

It’s a very worn cliché to say America is over-lawyered but the extent of that truism only becomes clear when you realize how overwhelming is our culture’s reflex to cover war as just another potential miscarriage-of-justice story. In the Moussaaoui case, the first instinct of the news shows to the verdict was to book some relative of the September 11 families and ask whether they were satisfied with the result, as if the prosecution of the war on terror is some kind of national-security Megan’s Law on which they have inviolable proprietary rights. Sorry, but that’s not what happened that Tuesday morning. The thousands who died were not targeted as individuals: they were killed because they were American, not because somebody in a cave far away decided to murder Mrs. Smith. Their families have a unique claim to our sympathy and a grief we can never truly share, but they’re not plaintiffs and war isn’t a suit. It’s not about “closure” for the victims; it’s about victory for the nation.

Unless we take seriously what Steyn says here, we will be going down a self-destructive path. War is war; it is not the equivalent either of breaking-and-entering or the revenge killing of a particular individual. Radical Islamists want to wipe out Western civilization. Let’s not help them by minimizing their actions as mere lawbreaking.

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.