Thursday, February 23, 2006


The storm over the Danish cartoons has been mistakenly described as a debate over the limits of free speech. One of the milder posters carried during a Londonistan anti-cartoon protest read "FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IS WESTERN TERRORISM." The coverage in the mainstream American press has ranged from the banal to the bizarre, depicting broad-minded Danes and Dutchmen as raving xenophobes for refusing to tolerate Muslim intolerance.

But the controversy is actually about a struggle for power involving Muslim intimidation and the mandatory multiculturalism of the European political class. Flemming Rose, the Jyllands-Posten editor who published the cartoons in response to ongoing self-censorship by a cowed European press, has explained that what the rioters and their politically correct apologists are demanding is not "respect" but "my submission."

Judging by the craven response of the British government and most of the European political class, they are succeeding. The Islamist leadership across Europe seems now to have largely achieved veto power over the press - except in Denmark - while in the name of multiculturalism, Muslims are subject to no such restraints.

"They think they have won the debate," a British researcher and a convert to Christianity who attended a madrassa as a child in his native Guyana, Patrick Sookhdeo, said. "They believe that the British Government has capitulated to them, because it feared the consequences if it did not." The lesson for Europe's Muslims, he said, is that violence and the threat of violence work.What will follow, according to ICM Research, well-respected pollsters of British Muslims, is a demand in England (and elsewhere) for Islamic extraterritoriality, granting official government recognition to Shariah law in predominantly Muslim areas.

This is not from an essay; it is from a book review. But one of the two books under review is by Bruce Bawer, an American who lives in Scandinavia, speaks the local languages, and keenly watches the local scene. Unlike too many voices of Americans who have chosen to live in Europe, he is not a strident Bushitler conspiracy nut. The Philadelphia Inquirer describes him as "a gay, neoconservative American literary critic from New York who has lived in Amsterdam (now more than half non-Dutch) and, since 1997, in Oslo," though "neoconservative" is a rather loose insult these days, and what sexuality has to do with it is beyond my ability to comprehend. Except maybe to explain why an American not utterly contemptuous of America would voluntarily prefer to live in Europe.

They both make it clear that part of the problem of the European welfare states is not so much that Muslim integration has failed but that it has never really been tried. Immigrants to Britain, notes Ms. Berlinski, don't need to learn English. Social-service pamphlets are translated into their languages by an already large and growing social-service bureaucracy that lives well off the failure to incorporate the newcomers. For his part, Mr.Bawer describes the numerous methods by which Muslims have actively resisted integration. There is the practice known as "dumping," in which Muslim parents send their children back to the home country to be "educated" at schools where the Koran is virtually the only text. Similarly, women accused of leading a "European life" are sent back by their families or clans to their native lands for re-education. In their place, brides steeped in Islamic tradition are imported from the old country. The effect is that growing populations are in Europe but not of it. To make matters worse, the rigid structures of the European economies make it difficult to get work while an easy access to welfare makes it unnecessary, so that the newcomers aren't even integrated into the workplace.

Still, despite Europe's slow growth and generous benefits for not working, many thousands of dark-skinned Hindus in England, Armenians in France, and Poles in Germany are climbing the European ladder. But Muslims are different, notes Mr. Bawer: They see themselves as having a God-given authority that has "made them superior to infidels."

If the review is this clear-headed, I can't wait to read the book.

Behind the self-loathing is the sense that after World War I, totalitarianism, and World War II, there is only a botched civilization that can provide the security of the welfare state but not much more than a bureaucratic identity.

Consciously or not -- I suspect consciously -- it evokes Ezra Pound's grim post-WWI vision:

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.
Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,
For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

Which segues, at least in my mind, with this explanation of the much-maligned Leo Strauss. He grappled, in his own way, with the same dark world that so beclouded Ezra Pound. Pound fell, at last, into the trap of fascist utopianism. Strauss has been accused of crypto-fascism. This article separates his reality from that charge, but outlines the reason so many people think that of him:

But what about the ancient concern with excellence? How does that fare in the modern liberal state? Strauss's answer is gloomy. Liberalism shifts the accent from the question "is it good?" to the question "is it within my right?" This latter question tends over time to occlude or absorb the former, so that in the end all moral problems are reduced to problems of law. Liberal theory is concerned not with virtue, but with the construction of institutions that will secure citizens their rights even in the absence of virtue. Nor is it concerned with truth. In its eyes, all opinions are of equal value, provided they do not disturb the peace. Ultimately, liberalism degenerates into relativism, a standpoint from which different moral and religious convictions appear as mere items on a menu. There is an inevitable if ironic progression from the original meaning of liberalism to the derogatory sense it has acquired in America today.

Liberalism expresses the mundanity of the modern age, its mistrust of heroes and ideals. In Strauss's words, it deliberately "lowers the goal" of political life to increase the chances of its attainment. But liberalism's neglect of excellence is in the long run self-destructive. No regime, not even a liberal one, is mechanically self-perpetuating. Each rests ultimately upon the wisdom and courage of its leaders. In neglecting this, liberalism jeopardises its own survival. Liberalism suffers a further, specific disadvantage in comparison with its totalitarian rivals: it extends to them a tolerance which they do not reciprocate. The collapse of the Weimar republic was confirmation for Strauss of this shortcoming. Churchill demonstrated that only the residually heroic element in liberal democracy could save it from destruction.

How can the levelling tendency of the modern age be counteracted? How can greatness be restored? Unlike many European conservatives, Strauss did not look to the hereditary nobility, a class non-existent in America. His was an aristocracy of spirit, not of rank. Hence the vital importance he attached to education. "Liberal education," he wrote, "is the counterpoison to mass culture, to the corroding effects of mass culture, to its inherent tendency to produce nothing but 'specialists without spirit or vision and voluptuaries without heart.'… Liberal education is the necessary endeavour to found an aristocracy within democratic mass society. Liberal education reminds those members of a mass democracy who have ears to hear, of human greatness."

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