Lamps Out on Liberty

ON AUGUST 3, 1914, on the eve of the First World War, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey stood at the window of his office in the summer dusk and observed, “The lamps are going out all over Europe.” Today, the lights are going out on liberty all over the Western world, but in a more subtle and profound way.

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.
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 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 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. 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.”

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.

Norman Podhoretz, among others, has argued that we are engaged in a second Cold War. But it might be truer to call it a Cold Civil War, by which I mean a war within the West, a war waged in our major cities. We now have Muslim “honor killings,” for instance, not just in tribal Pakistan and Yemen, but in Germany and the Netherlands, in Toronto and Dallas. And even if there were no battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and if no one was flying planes into tall buildings in New York City or blowing up trains, buses, and nightclubs in Madrid, London, and Bali, we would still be in danger of losing this war without a shot being fired.
The British government recently announced that it would be issuing Sharia-compliant Islamic bonds—that is, bonds compliant with Islamic law and practice as prescribed in the Koran. This is another reason to be in favor of small government: The bigger government gets, the more it must look for funding in some pretty unusual places—in this case wealthy Saudis. As The Mail on Sunday put it, this innovation marks “one of the most significant economic advances of Sharia law in the non-Muslim world.”
At about the same time, The Times of London reported that “Knorbert the piglet has been dropped as the mascot of Fortis Bank, after it decided to stop giving piggy banks to children for fear of offending Muslims.” Now, I’m no Islamic scholar, but Mohammed expressed no view regarding Knorbert the piglet. There’s not a single sura about it. The Koran, an otherwise exhaustive text, is silent on the matter of anthropomorphic porcine representation.

Recently, for instance, a London government council prohibited its workers from having knickknacks on their desks representing Winnie the Pooh’s sidekick Piglet. As Pastor Martin Niemoller might have said, “First they came for Piglet and I did not speak out because I was not a Disney character, and if I was, I’d be more of an Eeyore. Then they came for the Three Little Pigs and Babe, and by the time I realized the Western world had turned into a 24/7 Looney Tunes, it was too late, because there was no Porky Pig to stammer, ‘Th-th-th-that’s all folks!’, and bring the nightmare to an end.”

What all these stories have in common is excessive deference to—and in fact fear of—Islam. If the story of the Three Little Pigs is forbidden when Muslims still comprise less than ten percent of Europe’s population, what else will be on the black list when they comprise 20 percent? In small but telling ways, non-Muslim communities are being persuaded that a kind of uber-Islamic law now applies to all. And if you don’t remember the Three Little Pigs, by the way, one builds a house of straw, another of sticks, and both get blown down by the Big Bad Wolf. Western Civilization is a mighty house of bricks, but you don’t need a Big Bad Wolf when the pig is so eager to demolish the house himself.

I would argue that these incremental concessions to Islam are ultimately a bigger threat than terrorism. What matters is not what the lads in the Afghan cave—the “extremists”—believe, but what the non-extremists believe, what people who are for the most part law-abiding taxpayers of functioning democracies believe. For example, a recent poll found that 36 percent of Muslims between the ages of 16 and 24 believe that those who convert to another religion should be punished by death. That’s not 36 percent of young Muslims in Waziristan or Yemen or Sudan, but 36 percent of young Muslims in the United Kingdom. Forty percent of British Muslims would like to live under Sharia—in Britain. Twenty percent have sympathy for the July 7 Tube bombers. And, given that Islam is the principal source of population growth in every city down the spine of England from Manchester to Sheffield to Birmingham to London, and in every major Western European city, these statistics are not without significance for the future.

Leave a Reply