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- Lecture Series by Hillsdale College
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Lights Out on LibertyMark Steyn - Author and Columnist
About - Mark Steyn
The following is adapted from a lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on March 13, 2008, while Mr. Steyn was in residence as a Eugene C. Pulliam Visiting Fellow in Journalism.
Much of the West is far too comfortable with state regulation of speech and expression, which puts freedom itself at risk. Let me cite some examples: The response of the European Union Commissioner for Justice, Freedom, and Security to the crisis over the Danish cartoons that sparked Muslim violence was to propose that newspapers exercise "prudence" on certain controversial subjects involving religions beginning with the letter "I." At the end of her life, the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci—after writing of the contradiction between Islam and the Western tradition of liberty—was being sued in France, Italy, Switzerland, and most other European jurisdictions by groups who believed her opinions were not merely offensive, but criminal. In France, author Michel Houellebecq was sued by Muslim and other "anti-racist groups" who believed the opinions of a fictional character in one of his novels were likewise criminal.
In Canada, the official complaint about my own so-called "flagrant Islamophobia"—filed by the Canadian Islamic Congress—attributes to me the following "assertions":
America will be an Islamic Republic by 2040. There will be a break for Muslim prayers during the Super Bowl. There will be a religious police enforcing Islamic norms. The USS Ronald Reagan will be renamed after Osama bin Laden. Females will not be allowed to be cheerleaders. Popular American radio and TV hosts will be replaced by Imams.
In fact, I didn’t "assert" any of these things. They are plot twists I cited in my review of Robert Ferrigno’s novel, Prayers for the Assassin. It’s customary in reviewing novels to cite aspects of the plot. For example, a review of Moby Dick will usually mention the whale. These days, apparently, the Canadian Islamic Congress and the government’s human rights investigators (who have taken up the case) believe that describing the plot of a novel should be illegal.
You may recall that Margaret Atwood, some years back, wrote a novel about her own dystopian theocratic fantasy, in which America was a Christian tyranny named the Republic of Gilead. What’s to stop a Christian group from dragging a doting reviewer of Margaret Atwood’s book in front of a Canadian human rights court? As it happens, Christian groups tend not to do that, which is just as well, because otherwise there wouldn’t be a lot to write about.
These are small parts of a very big picture. After the London Tube bombings and the French riots a few years back, commentators lined up behind the idea that Western Muslims are insufficiently assimilated. But in their mastery of legalisms and the language of victimology, they’re superbly assimilated. Since these are the principal means of discourse in multicultural societies, they’ve mastered all they need to know. Every day of the week, somewhere in the West, a Muslim lobbying group is engaging in an action similar to what I’m facing in Canada. Meanwhile, in London, masked men marched through the streets with signs reading "Behead the Enemies of Islam" and promising another 9/11 and another Holocaust, all while being protected by a phalanx of London policemen.
Thus we see that today’s multicultural societies tolerate the explicitly intolerant and avowedly unicultural, while refusing to tolerate anyone pointing out that intolerance. It’s been that way for 20 years now, ever since Valentine’s Day 1989, when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against the novelist Salman Rushdie, a British subject, and shortly thereafter large numbers of British Muslims marched through English cities openly calling for Rushdie to be killed. A reader in Bradford wrote to me recalling asking a West Yorkshire policeman on the street that day why the various "Muslim community leaders" weren’t being arrested for incitement to murder. The officer said they’d been told to "play it cool." The calls for blood got more raucous. My correspondent asked his question again. The policeman told him to "Push off" (he expressed the sentiment rather more Anglo-Saxonly, but let that pass) "or I’ll arrest you." Mr. Rushdie was infuriated when the then Archbishop of Canterbury lapsed into root-cause mode. "I well understand the devout Muslims’ reaction, wounded by what they hold most dear and would themselves die for," said His Grace. Rushdie replied tersely: "There is only one person around here who is in any danger of dying."
And that’s the way it’s gone ever since. For all the talk about rampant "Islamophobia," it’s usually only the other party who is "in any danger of dying."
War on the Homefront
I wrote my book America Alone because I wanted to reframe how we thought about the War on Terror—an insufficient and evasive designation that has long since outlasted whatever usefulness it may once have had. It remains true that we are good at military campaigns, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our tanks and ships are better, and our bombs and soldiers are smarter. But these are not ultimately the most important battlefronts. We do indeed face what the strategists call asymmetric warfare, but it is not in the Sunni triangle or the Hindu Kush. We face it right here in the Western world.
Our democratic governments today preside over multicultural societies that have less and less glue holding them together. They’ve grown comfortable with the idea of the state as the mediator between interest groups. And confronted by growing and restive Muslim populations, they’re increasingly at ease with the idea of regulating freedom in the interests of social harmony.
So don’t worry, nothing’s happening. Just a few gay Muslims frustrated at the lack of gay Muslim nightclubs. Sharia in Britain? Taxpayer-subsidized polygamy in Toronto? Yawn. Nothing to see here. True, if you’d suggested such things on September 10, 2001, most Britons and Canadians would have said you were nuts. But a few years on and it doesn’t seem such a big deal, nor will the next concession, or the one after that.
Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College