Mark Steyn says that the US President’s ‘transformational’ response to Muslim fundamentalism can save the Old World; European ‘managerialism’ can’t
Last July, speaking to the United States Congress, the only assembly on the planet in which he’s still assured of a warm reception, Tony Blair remarked: ‘As Britain knows, all predominant power seems for a time invincible but, in fact, it is transient. The question is: What do you leave behind?’
Excellent question. Britannia will never again wield the unrivalled power she enjoyed at her imperial apogee, but the Britannic inheritance endures, to one degree or another, in many of the key regional players in the world today — Australia, India, South Africa — and in dozens of island statelets from the Caribbean to the Pacific. If China ever takes its place as an advanced nation, it will be because the People’s Republic learns more from British Hong Kong than Hong Kong learns from the Little Red Book. And of course the dominant power of our time derives its political character from 18th-century British subjects who took English ideas a little further than the mother country was willing to go.
A decade after victory in the Cold War and end-of-history triumphalism, the ‘what do you leave behind?’ question is more urgent than you might think. ‘The West’, as a concept, is dead, and the West, as a matter of demographic fact, is dying. On the first half of the question, whoever makes the late Osama bin Laden’s audio cassettes these days showed a shrewd understanding of the situation in offering a ‘truce’ to any European nation that distances itself from America. Hard to see how some of ’em could distance themselves from America any more short of relocating to Mars, but that’s the point. Though many commentators see the offer as a sign of al-Qa’eda’s weakness, the jihad boys are being rather cunning. Just because they’re insane death cultists doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy winding up Old Europe as much as Rumsfeld does.
Look at it as a simple question of how big a bang for the buck:
September 11th: Within two months of attacking New York and Washington, the Americans have overthrown your pal Mullah Omar, your Afghan training camps are all closed down, and General Musharraf’s hitherto lethargic armed forces are harassing what’s left of your leadership all over Waziristan.
March 11th: Within one month of attacking Madrid, the Spaniards obligingly overthrow George Bush’s pal, European bigwigs start saying this terrorism business is really more about law enforcement than a ‘war’, and Mo Mowlam calls on Tony Blair to sit down to face-to-face negotiations with al-Qa’eda — preferably in London rather than Waziristan, so he’ll at least have a sporting chance of coming back alive.
And, as a bonus prize, it turns out (as Bruce Anderson noted last week) that a handful of timely Islamist bombs have done what all the Gallic hauteur of Giscard d’Estaing failed to do: eliminated the fiercest opposition to the absurd European constitution and thus made it a near certainty, which means that next time the hated Bush is looking for allies to attack a Muslim country he’ll have to pitch it to the ‘European Foreign Minister’ rather to than Tony Blair.
If that isn’t a productive ten minutes’ carnage, I don’t know what is. Given the dramatically different reactions to the Islamists’ transatlantic provocations, even the most doctrinaire jihadist can see there’s something to be said for muffling the death-to-all-infidels line in a bit of old-fashioned divide-and-conquer. As Mr Blair observed in that speech to Congress, ‘The political culture of Europe is inevitably rightly based on compromise.’ Al-Qa’eda’s PR department is learning how to talk to continentals in a language they can understand.
Most European politicians see Islamist terrorism as a managerial problem. After September 11th, George W. Bush opted to approach it transformationally. Around the world Islam is expanding, and around the Islamic world a radicalised form of Islam is expanding. Bush determined to tackle the problem at source: he decided — as I heard Condi Rice say last week at the US Naval Academy — to turn the map of the Middle East ‘upside down’. He would bring liberty to a region that had never known it. The Spectator thinks this is a mug’s game, and its editorial had some sport with the forthcoming Iraqi election: ‘Men and women with large rosettes and wide grins will be walking the streets, kissing babies and expounding on their plans for schools and hospitals. Thereafter, the members for Baghdad South and Basra Central will engage in raucous but civilised debate over the sale of council allotments and the merits of congestion charging.’
First, the Honourable Members for Baghdad South and Basra Central evidently sound pretty funny to my colleagues, but why are they inherently more hilarious than, say, the Honourable Members for Kandep (Mr Jimson Sauk, CMG, former minister for police) and Kairuku-Hiri (Sir Moi Avei, minister for petroleum and energy) in the Papua New Guinea parliament? All over the world people manage to practise Westminster democracy despite a shocking dearth of Old Etonians to put up for the nominating committees.
Which brings me to my second point: those who mock Bush’s ambitions for Iraq and beyond seem to imply that there’s something about Arab Islam that makes it uniquely inimical to freedom. They may be right. But, if so, that makes it a pressing problem not for Iraq but, giving current demographic trends, for Western Europe right now.
The editor of this magazine recently described an encounter he’d had with a ten-year-old girl who was distraught because Tony Blair was going around telling anyone who still listens that we were all in ‘mortal peril’. I think we can all agree that there’s no point going around scaring schoolgirls, except on Hallowe’en when I like to dress up as Justin Timberlake. Nevertheless, as Bill Clinton used to say, it’s about the future of all our children. Admittedly the former president was a little bit indiscriminate with this expression, applying it to the Highway Appropriations Bill and the mohair subsidy and the necessity for him to be able to have non-sexual relations with various parties without folks impeaching him for it. But for once it really is about the future of all our children. Picture that ten-year-old schoolgirl when she’s the age Boris is now — sometime in the 2030s, say.
What will London — or Paris, or Amsterdam (for she is after all a citizen of the European Union) — be like in the mid-Thirties? On present demographic projections, it will be far more Muslim — how far depends on whether European politicians make any serious attempt this decade to wean the populace off their unsustainable 35-hour weeks, etc. If they make no attempt at all, then to keep the present level of pensions and health benefits the EU will need to import so many workers from North Africa and the Middle East that it will be well on its way to majority Muslim by 2035. Can a society become increasingly Islamic in its demographic character without becoming increasingly Islamic in its political character?
A few weeks back I was strolling along the Boulevard de Maisonneuve in Montreal when I saw a Muslim woman across the street, all in black, covered head to toe, the full hejab. She was passing a condom boutique, its window filled with various revolting novelty prophylactics, ‘cum rags’, etc. It was a perfect snapshot of the internal contradictions of multicultural diversity. In 30 years’ time, either the Arab lady will still be there, or the condom store, but not both. Which would you bet on?
This is where, I regret to say, the recent Spectator leader ‘We are not at war’ (3 April), managed to go hopelessly awry. It stated confidently: ‘Osama bin Laden is no more likely to march triumphantly down the Mall than is a little green man from Mars. Al-Qa’eda has means but no end.’ Well, no, Osama won’t be going down the Mall, unless it’s his surviving granules of DNA on a gun carriage. But al-Qa’eda’s end — the Islamification of the West — is shared by millions of law-abiding Muslims. Only a tiny minority are prepared to go out and blow up trains to that end, but they move among communities that are broadly supportive of the goal.
The other day, Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad told Lisbon’s Publica magazine that a group of London Islamists are ‘ready to launch a big operation’ on British soil. ‘We don’t make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents,’ he said, clarifying the ground rules. ‘Only between Muslims and unbelievers. And the life of an unbeliever has no value.’ The cleric added he expected to see the banner of Islam flying in Downing Street. ‘I believe one day that is going to happen. Because this is my country, I like living here,’ he said. ‘If they believe in democracy, who are they afraid of? Let Omar Bakri benefit from democracy!’
This is becoming a common line. The other day, who should show up at the airport in Toronto but the son and widow of Ahmed Said Khadr, known as ‘al-Kanadi’ because he was the highest-ranking Canuck in al-Qa’eda. One of Pop Khadr’s sons was captured in Afghanistan after killing a US Special Forces medic. Another has just been released from Guantanamo. Another blew himself up while killing a Canadian soldier in Kabul. Pop Khadr died in an al-Qa’eda shoot-out with Pakistani forces a few weeks back, in the course of which his youngest son was paralysed. So Mrs Khadr and her boy have now returned to Canada so he can enjoy the benefits of Ontario healthcare. ‘I’m Canadian, and I’m not begging for my rights,’ she declared. ‘I’m demanding my rights.’
Treason’s hard to prove in court, but given the circumstances of Mr Khadr’s death it seems clear that he had taken up with what we used quaintly to call the Queen’s enemies. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister of Canada thought this was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate his deep personal commitment to ‘diversity’. Asked about the Khadrs’ return to Toronto, he said, ‘I believe that once you are a Canadian citizen, you have the right to your own views and to disagree.’ That’s the wonderful thing about multiculturalism: you can choose what side of the war you want to fight on. Just tick ‘home team’ or ‘enemy’ when the draft card arrives. Like many enlightened Western leaders, the Canadian Prime Minister will be congratulating himself on his boundless tolerance even as the forces of intolerance consume him.
Even Mr Bush is somewhat constrained. National Review’s John Derbyshire wrote last week about a ‘1945 solution’ for Iraq. This is shorthand for the bombing of Dresden, the nuking of Hiroshima, etc. — the sort of stern measures that let an enemy know he’s well and truly whipped. But, as Mr Derbyshire points out, war abroad is determined by culture at home, and if we were fighting the second world war today, we wouldn’t nuke Hiroshima or even intern Japanese-Americans: the culture will not permit it. Nor will it permit old-school imperialism. Culturally sensitive nation-building is as aggressive as you can get these days. So Bush has gone for the only big-picture scenario available.
The Bush ‘transformational’ approach to terrorism may fail. The EU ‘managerial’ approach certainly will. It’s fine for small, contained, stable populations like Ulster, Corsica or the Basque country. But not for the primal demographic forces sweeping the Continent.
Last week Niall Ferguson called me ‘the Pangloss of Republican humourists’. I wish I was. But I’m not at all Panglossian these days, and I was interested to see that Ferguson, in a recent speech, has become a somewhat belated convert to the Eurabian scenario I’ve been peddling in these pages for a couple of years now. Perhaps he’ll have better luck with it than I’ve had. Meanwhile, in the current issue of Fortune, Philip Longman, author of The Empty Cradle, is even more apocalyptic: ‘So where will the children of the future come from? Increasingly they will come from people who are at odds with the modern world,’ he writes. ‘Such a trend, if sustained, could drive human culture off its current market-driven, individualistic, modernist course, gradually creating an antimarket culture dominated by fundamentalism — a new Dark Ages.’ That ten-year-old girl could have a lot more to worry about than gloomy Blair speeches.
‘What do you leave behind?’ asked the Prime Minister. There will only be very few and very old ethnic Germans and French and Italians by the mid-point of this century. What will they leave behind? Territories that happen to bear their names and keep up some of the old buildings, in the way that the great cathedral of St Sophia in Constantinople is now a museum run by the Turkish government? Or will the dying European races understand that the only legacy that matters is whether the peoples who will live in those lands after them are reconciled to pluralist, liberal democracy? The Bush vision is the best shot.