Mark Steyn says it’s time for limp, languid Tory toffs to join the fight for freedom
On the eve of the Iraq election, the Times treated us to a riveting columnar collaboration: ‘We need to fix an exit timetable, say Robin Cook, Douglas Hurd and Menzies Campbell’ — in perfect harmony. To modify Churchill, defeat may be an orphan, but defeatism has many fathers, and these three were in tripartisan agreement about what a disaster Iraq had been.
You’d have got a better idea of how election day was likely to proceed from that week’s Speccie, which blared across its cover ‘Iraq — the unreported triumph: Mark Steyn says that things are going Bush’s way’ — though I got the vague feeling the editors intended the headline parodically and were setting Humpty Steyny up for a helluva fall. One of the unsettling aspects of the post-9/11 world is that, while my columns in US newspapers merely have to heap scorn and derision upon Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Michael Moore and Barbra Streisand, in the United Kingdom I find myself principally in disagreement with Lord Hurd, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Sir Max Hastings, Sir Simon Jenkins, Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, Mr Matthew Parris and (according to what side of bed he’s gotten out of) Mr Michael Howard. Even The Spectator most weeks. This crowd are all supposedly, to one degree or another, conservatives. So am I. Clearly, one of us has got the wrong end of the stick.
The obvious difference between my kind of conservatives and, say, Sir Peregrine’s is that mine are in power and his aren’t, a distinction likely to endure for the foreseeable future. To be sure, there are prominent American conservatives who are a little queasy about Bush’s plan to liberate the entire world whether it wants it or not, and several of the colossi from the first Bush administration had misgivings about the whole Iraq business from the get-go. My colleague Taki even founded a magazine for anti-war right-wingers, The American Conservative — though it seems somewhat short of either, dependent as it is on contributors Canadian (the veteran Toronto Sun doom-monger Eric Margolis) and British (our own Stuart Reid) plus a few fringe isolationist libertarians to make up the native numbers.
But that’s the point: in America, anti-war conservatives are small in number and, for the most part, wary and suspicious rather than openly hostile. You can find the odd NIONist (Not In Our Name) on the Australian Right, too — most notably Malcolm Fraser, the former prime minister. But in the Anglophone democracies, only among British conservatives is antipathy to the great challenge of the age widespread, if not getting on for near universal.
As a result, the Tory party looks a lot more like the Democratic party and the Australian Labor party than its nominal ideological soulmates. For one thing, they’re losers. Last year, after the Spanish election, after the failure to find WMD, after new commissions and reports every other week, and the sense from the press that the ‘BUSH LIED!!/ BLAIR LIED!!!!’ stuff could be made to stick, they fell for the received wisdom that Iraq would prove an electoral liability for the three musketeers of the Anglosphere. Instead, John Howard won big, and so did Bush, and so will Blair. Meanwhile, Iraq is more of a liability for their oppositions: the Democrats are split between a noisy anti-war faction (Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy) and a bunch of pusillanimous, jelly-spined, finger-in-the-windy weathervane pols who don’t know whether they’re for it or against it until their consultants run it by the focus groups (Kerry, Edwards, 2008 contender Evan Bayh). And somehow the Conservatives have wound up in the same position, divided between those who are agin it (like Do-Nothing Doug Hurd, fast becoming the Ted Kennedy of the Tories) and those who no longer know what they think about it and have fallen into what Janet Daley calls ‘post hoc equivocation’.
As John Kerry learnt, that’s unlikely to be rewarded on Election Day. It’s even less likely when things are broadly, as the Speccie’s cover had it, ‘going Bush’s way’ — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Even the tsunami confirmed the superiority of ‘coalitions of the willing’ (the Aussie-American relief effort) over the approved transnational mechanisms (the UN humanitarian press conferences announcing that, in another week or two, they’d be flying someone into the general area to hold an on-location press conference to announce the setting-up of an assessment team to assess long-term needs for more press conferences). For a good example of how the naysayers are simply getting left behind in the past, look at Sir Simon Jenkins’s churlish post-election column: ‘The neocon bragging over a “beacon of democracy” now being raised over the Muslim world is absurd,’ he wrote. ‘There were active, contested elections in Palestine in 1996, Egypt in 2000...’.
Whoa, hold it right there. C’mon, man, the winner of Egypt’s 2000 election was never in any doubt (though I note that in the 1995 Egyptian elections more people were killed than on Iraq’s polling day). As for Palestine, Sir Simon complains that ‘America refused to acknowledge Yasser Arafat as a democrat’. Maybe that’s because he was elected in 1996 to a five-year term: you do the math. He stayed on till he died — and, indeed, if the rumours coming out of that French hospital were true, for several days after he died. If he hadn’t been carried out by the handles in the ninth year of his five-year term, he’d doubtless be planning big public festivities to mark its tenth anniversary. If Bush were to stay on till, oh, 2011, I doubt that Sir Simon would be eager to acknowledge Dubya as a democrat. The fact is the Europeans’ willingness to string along with that kind of sham ‘democracy’ is one reason why Arafat felt under no pressure to change his ways.
Arafat fetishisation was embarrassing enough when the old monster was still around to slobber all over fawning emissaries from the EU and the Vatican and teary-eyed BBC correspondents. But the thing is he’s dead now. Even the Palestinians have moved on. Contempt for the Iraqi electorate is all very well, but frantically trying to jump-start Arafat’s corpse to prove your point makes you look as dead as he is. You can’t flog a dead horse, even if it’s an Arab. And you don’t have to subscribe to popular regional theories that the Zionist Entity poisoned him to recognise that Arafat did more for ‘the Middle East peace process’ by dying than he’d done in the previous 40 years. If any kind of peace is to be forced on the Palestinians, it’s going to be closer to the Bush-Rice vision of things than the EU Arafat-pandering.
Lord Hurd was even less worthy. Take this passage: ‘We should tell the Iraqi leadership now that we draw a distinction between the security threat which they face (as a result of what we have done and left undone) and their central political problem. That political problem of bringing together Shias, Sunnis and Kurds must be for Iraqis to sort out. Our troops cannot be expected to police relations between the majority and a rejectionist minority.’
That’s pretty rich coming from the folks who created their ‘central political problem’ by lumping Shias, Sunnis and Kurds in one state and then giving it to the now ‘rejectionist minority’ to run for 80 years. And, whatever his disagreements with Bush and Blair, I’m sure Do-Nothing Doug is fully supportive of the informal decision to nix any plans for an independent Kurdistan. And, while we’re at it, much of the ‘security threat’ comes from Western pressure to bring everyone ‘together’: the new polic e and military units have been strong-armed by the coalition into taking in dodgy Sunnis who promptly sell ’em out to the suicide bombers and head-hackers.
Lord Hurd evidently thinks ‘nation-building’ is utopian hooey. Maybe it is. But one reason the region is in the mess it’s in is that, in 1922, fag-end British imperialism was too fainthearted to inculcate British ‘nation-building’ values (as in India) but still arrogant enough to complicate their politics, impose weak outside emirs as their kings, elevate minority groups into the ruling class — and then scram. It’s no coincidence that the region of the world that causes the most trouble for the rest is the one the Western imperialists stayed in just long enough to screw up but not long enough to do any good in.
The question arises then: what do you do about it now? When I called this war ‘the great challenge of the age’, I can almost hear Hurd, Rifkind, Hastings, Jenkins, Worsthorne and co. huffing that there’s no great challenge; the whole war-on-terror flimflam is some lunatic fantasy cooked up by Washington. There’s a very, very tiny grain of truth in that. The terrorism is the one eighth of the iceberg above the surface. The other seven eighths are deeper, darker developments. Until the top eighth suddenly materialised on 9/11, very little was written about, say, Islamic immigration to Europe. In these hypersensitive times, it would have been difficult to do so. It’s still difficult, even after 9/11, Bali, Beslan, etc. But at the very bottom of the iceberg is a basic fact: most of the countries with the fastest-growing populations are Muslim, and most of the ones just beginning the demographic death-spiral are Western. So the one thing we can say for certain is that the world of the mid-21st century will be a lot more Islamic and a lot less European. In the space of 40 years, half of Nigeria has gone from living under English common law to Sharia. What’s the tipping point? And why would, say, Belgium be any more resistant than Nigeria?
That takes us to the middle part of the iceberg: not only are there going to be a lot more Muslims but those Muslims are likely to be much more radical. After 9/11, it became fashionable to write columns about how Islam needs its own Reformation; they need to find a way, as Christians did, of adapting their holy book to a modern political culture, etc. This overlooked the obvious fact: a Reformation of a kind is already well under way — the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Taleban and al-Qa’eda, the Saudi-funded madrasas springing up in Pakistan, Indonesia, Chechnya, the Balkans, Paris, London, Ontario, Oregon have all found a way of adapting the Koran to a modern political culture.
In The Spectator in 2002, I quoted Lee Kuan Yew’s observations about the change in Singapore’s Muslims over recent decades: once relatively integrated, they now keep themselves to themselves, cover their womenfolk, and are stricter in their observances. The following year, a senior Dutch cabinet minister told me about the same phenomenon in his country: today’s young Muslims are more fundamentalist and isolated than their immigrant grandparents from the East Indies were in the early Seventies. This is the Islamic Reformation, and it’s happening across the globe, from Scandinavia to Java.
The other day Arthur Chrenkoff, an Australia blogger who does a ‘Good News From Iraq’ round-up for the Wall Street Journal, was in uncharacteristically gloomy mood: he was having a coffee with fellow antipodean author Sophie Masson, who, like Mrs Chrenkoff, was born in Indonesia. The talk fell to how one of the most easy-going of Muslim cultures had changed over the last two decades, as radical Islamism slowly took root.
That’s the seven eighths of the iceberg that the war’s really about: there are more Muslims, and more of those Muslims are radicalised. That doesn’t mean they all want to graduate to the top eighth and fly planes into skyscrapers or release a dirty nuke in Birmingham, but it does indicate that if you’re cooking up a scheme along those lines, you’ve got a much bigger talent pool to draw on — and that at a certain point they won’t need to release dirty nukes, because Islamification will be so advanced that many countries will simply find a way to accommodate it. Look at Holland, where Theo van Gogh’s fellow film-makers reacted to his murder by cancelling the screening of his picture and scheduling some Muslim propaganda flicks. Are these people likely to show any more backbone in 20 years’ time, when Europe’s cities are even more Islamic and even more radically Islamic?
Right now, Bush is the only strategic game in town. He intends to change, by one means or another, the problem regimes in the Middle East — which is almost all of them — and shrivel their ideological exports. It’s an ambitious strategy, but so far it’s working out, and at a level of casualties that any previous generation, in Britain or America, would have recognised as the lowest in history. Maybe the Tory nay-sayers have a better idea, but, if not, elegant, languid, limp toff complacency isn’t going to cut it. British Conservatives should get on side, before there’s nothing left to conserve.