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Hitchens: Facing the Islamist Menace

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At City Journal, Christopher Hitchens has a thoughtful criticism of Mark Steyn’s excellent book America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It:

Facing the Islamist Menace.

In the prologue to his new book, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It, Mark Steyn sarcastically alludes to two people whom, in different ways, I know well. The first is novelist Martin Amis, ridiculed by Steyn for worrying about environmental apocalypse when the threat to civilization is obviously Islamism; the second is Jack Straw, formerly Tony Blair’s foreign secretary, mocked for the soft and conciliatory line he took over the affair of the Danish cartoons. The dazzling fiction writer and the pedestrian social-democratic politician are for Steyn dual exemplars of his book’s main concern: the general apathy and surrender of the West in the face of a determined assault from a religious ideology, or an ideological religion, afflicted by no sickly doubt about what it wants or by any scruples about how to get it.

I might quibble about Steyn’s assessment—Amis has written brilliantly about Mohammed Atta’s death cult, for example, while Jack Straw made one of the best presentations to the UN of the case for liberating Iraq. But it’s more useful to point out two things that have happened between the writing of this admirably tough-minded book and its publication. Jack Straw, now the leader of the House of Commons, made a speech in his northern English constituency in October, in which he said that he could no longer tolerate Muslim women who came to his office wearing veils. The speech catalyzed a long-postponed debate not just on the veil but on the refusal of assimilation that it symbolizes. It seems to have swung the Labour Party into a much firmer position against what I call one-way multiculturalism. Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed the shift with a December speech emphasizing the “duty” of immigrants to assimilate to British values. And Martin Amis, speaking to the London Times, had this to say:

There’s a definite urge—don’t you have it?—to say, “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.” What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation—further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan… . Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children… . They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs—well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people.
I know both of these men to be profoundly humanistic and open-minded. Straw has defended the rights of immigrants all his life and loyally represents a constituency with a large Asian population. Amis has rebuked me several times in print for supporting the intervention in Iraq, the casualties of which have become horrifying to him. Even five years ago, it would have been unthinkable to picture either man making critical comments about Islamic dress, let alone using terms such as “deportation.” Mark Steyn’s book is essentially a challenge to the bien-pensants among us: an insistence that we recognize an extraordinary threat and thus the possible need for extraordinary responses. He need not pose as if he were the only one with the courage to think in this way.

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