Media Echoes: From The Spectator, May 4, 2002
Who’s ugly now?
Mark Steyn argues that Americans are more compassionate and law-abiding than violent and cynical Europeans
Editor’s Note: The following is copyrighted material owned by The Spectator Magazine and used without permission. It is copied here in case the link to this article fails in the future; it is simply too important to be forgotten by the Internet with its .3 second attention span. The original link as of May 2, 2002 could be found here.
On 12 September 2001, the New Yorker’s theatre critic, John Lahr, musing on the events of the day before, wrote, ‘I do smell destabilising violence in the wings. In fear, the nation, to my mind, has always proved mean-spirited and violent.’
Mr Lahr is American but lives in London. And, among both his European neighbours and members of America’s Lahrfable tendency back home, this view was widely held. Though Rana Kabbani, writing from Paris for the Guardian, piously offered the hope that ‘the painful lesson that Americans have had to learn is not drowned out by cowboy ravings about “getting the bastards”’, it was more or less assumed that the Yanks’ crude, xenophobic, redneck instincts would quickly reveal themselves. Members of the Muslim American community, if they weren’t all rounded up, would be forced into hiding. Some feminist groups began organising a network of safe houses for Muslim women, on the assumption that ‘women of cover’ (as President Bush calls them) would soon have to go into deep cover.
Well, sure enough, the crude, xenophobic rednecks did assert themselves. But not in America — in Europe. Muslims kill thousands of Americans in America, and there’s a big anti-Muslim backlash …in France! Oh, and also Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal and those other provinces of the land of sophistication where explicitly Islamophobic parties are now a significant part of the political calculus. What d’you reckon Le Pen’ll get this weekend? Just his 17 per cent base? Maybe 20? And how many voters will stay home? France’s domestic intelligence agency has apparently advised the government that Le Pen will pull at least 30 per cent. That seems rather high for a chap BBC announcers, demonstrating their famous impartiality, describe as ‘virulent’. There can’t, surely, be that many French electors willing to vote for M. Le Virulent, can there? I mean, this isn’t Mississippi, is it?
For the Europhiles in the US media, the events of recent weeks are bewildering. It’s barely two months since they were reporting approvingly every snotty crack by Chris Patten and Hubert Vedrine and regretting that Washington was so out of step with Europe. But then the synagogue attacks became too frequent to ignore, and M. Le Pen whupped Jospin’s sorry ass, and frankly, if you can pick only one place to be out of step with, Europe’s an excellent choice. Like the man almost said, I do smell destabilising violence in the wings. In fear, the Continent, to my mind, has always proved mean-spirited and violent. M. Le Pen is certainly ‘mean-spirited’; the synagogue burners and kosher-butcher shooter-uppers and Jewish schoolbus stoners are certainly violent. And somehow, when Messrs Patten and Vedrine were deploring American ‘simplisme’, it never occurred to us that their idea of sophistication was a culture in which the most interesting political question is which strain of anti-Semitism — anti-Jew or anti-Arab or anti-both — is more potent.
The rise of the anti-immigrant parties in France, Belgium, et al. is supposedly due to crime. It’s true there seems to be a lot of it over there. You’re six times more likely to be mugged in London than in New York. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has a worse crime rate than Harlem. In the Los Angeles Times, Sebastian Rotella was perplexed: ‘As crime has dropped in the United States in recent years, it has worsened in much of Europe, despite generous welfare states designed to prevent US-style inequality and social conflict.’
‘Despite’? Try ‘because of’. In December in this space, I lent my support to Mickey Kaus, the thinking conservative’s thinking liberal, who advanced the theory that welfare causes terrorism. Among the examples I cited was Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called ‘20th hijacker’, who became an Islamofascist nutter while living on welfare in London. What else is there to do all day? Go down the pub? Lie on the floor listening to Capital FM? If you’re putting in a ten-hour grease-monkey shift at Fat Dave’s Auto Body, you’re too wiped out to wipe America out. But in the fetid public housing of London, Paris, Frankfurt and Rotterdam the government will pay you to sit around the flat all day plotting world domination.
It’s a scheme worthy of a Bond villain: flood high-unemployment Europe with unassimilated low-skilled young men, whom the state is obliged to put on welfare just to keep them from rioting, and hey presto, your enemies will be funding their own downfall — ON HER MAJESTY’S SOCIAL SERVICE. Say what you like about that so-called ‘American Taleban’, John Yoko Ashram Fonda Country Joe and the Fish Walker Lindh, but at least his loopy Marin County parents put him through terrorist training school on their own nickel and not at the taxpayers’ expense. At the moment, alongside the ranks of Europe’s terrorist welfare queens, Jihad Johnny has the distinction of being the West’s only private-sector Islamabaddy.
It’s gradually beginning to dawn on US Europhiles that the Continent has done everything the American Left has wanted for years and it doesn’t seem to be working out. Thanks to Erfurt and Nanterre, you’re currently outpacing the Yanks at high-scoring gun massacres. At the last attempted US massacre, at the Appalachian School of Law in West Virginia, there was a gun-totin’ student on hand to pin down the would-be mass murderer until the cops arrived. But in Europe — ‘a gun-control utopia’, as the Los Angeles Times sees it — there’s no one to stop the corpses piling up.
Americans have gun massacres because Americans have guns — masses of them, on every bedside table, in every glove pocket. Americans have guns because, philosophically, they believe that deterring crime is the citizen’s responsibility. If you’ve a yen to steal, say, Stephen Glover’s TV set in London, you’ll probably get away with it. If you try to steal mine in New Hampshire, I’ll blow your head off. So what in London is a 50-quid robbery would be a gun death over here. I say ‘would be’ because, while Stephen is highly likely to get his TV stolen, my end of the deal will remain strictly hypothetical: the chances of an occupied property being broken into in my part of northern New England are statistically insignificant. That’s the trade-off: a slightly increased risk of gun death in exchange for a dramatically reduced rate in everything else — hot burglaries, street crime, sexual assault, fatal stabbings. It takes some considerable skill to wind up, as Europe has, with every indicator going haywire: total gun control plus rapidly increasing gun violence plus stratospheric property crime.
Whose fault is all this? Hey, that’s easy! According to Charles Pasqua, a former French interior minister, ‘There is a general climate of violence that has developed over the years and an American-style evolution of French society.’ According to Vicente Verdu, writing in El Pais last Saturday, it’s the McDonaldisation of crime. The Big Mac was invented in America, but now it’s everywhere; likewise, the Big Massacre. This is a familiar argument. When I was TV critic at the Evening Standard, I sat through innumerable gabfests at which media grandees and Labour arts spokesmen would explain that, without the BBC licence fee, we’d wind up with nothing to watch but ‘lowest common denominator American-style quiz shows and soap operas’. At that time, there were no soaps or gameshows on US network primetime but there were a ton of them on UK telly. Almost every ‘American’ nightmare the elites warn against is, in fact, an already well-established European reality: downmarket TV, xenophobic electorates, Wild West lawlessness.
Of course, the BBC licence fee does fund upmarket fare such as …Tom Paulin, obscure poet but prominent telly personality. Though his lively interview with Egypt’s Al-Ahram was characterised as anti-Jew, it also managed to be anti-American. While he evidently has little regard for Israelis in general, he reserves especial vehemence for those ‘Brooklyn-born’ settlers on the West Bank, who ‘should be shot dead …They are Nazis ...I feel nothing but hatred for them’. Mr Paulin will be delighted to hear that Al-Ahram’s Palestinian readers have risen to his challenge. Last Saturday, Palestinian ‘activists’ murdered four settlers, among them five-year old Danielle Shefi, who was shot in her bed in an attack that left her mother and two brothers wounded. I don’t believe Danielle was ‘Brooklyn-born’, but maybe her parents were and that’s close enough. What matters is that the little Nazi moppet was ‘shot dead’, just as Mr Paulin wants, and, in another blow to vulgar American culture, her Mickey Mouse sheets were left soaked in blood. Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine both claimed responsibility for this glorious victory, so presumably one of them’s lying, perhaps just to impress Mr Paulin. Only four gone, Tom, but it’s a start. Maybe time to give another interview?
Here’s the thing. In the days immediately after 11 September, when American Muslim women were supposedly afraid to leave the house, their neighbours took to wearing headscarves in solidarity and standing guard outside mosques. The few anti-Islamic incidents never became a widespread epidemic because the common decency of Americans quickly asserted itself. Are there any BBC viewers so offended by Tom Paulin’s incitement to murder that they’re willing to withhold that portion of the licence fee that goes to pay him? Are there any co-panellists who’ll refuse to sit there kibitzing with him? Or will he get away with it?
Here’s another suggestion, this time for any Berlin readers. The police in the German capital recently advised Jews not to go out in public wearing skullcaps or other identifying marks of their faith. Given that their predecessors were keener to mandate identifying marks — yellow stars, arm tattoos, etc. — perhaps we should look on the Berlin constabulary’s recommendations as progress. But are there any Germans minded to mimic those American women who took up the hijab in solidarity with their Muslim sisters? Perhaps you’d like to protest this rising tide of anti-Semitism by, say, wearing skullcaps in solidarity with your Jewish brothers? Don’t all raise your hands at once.
For Goran Persson, the Prime Minister of Sweden, the point of the EU is that it can be a counterbalance, a ‘moderating’ influence on those wacky Americans. But, for a moderating influence, it’s remarkably immoderate. If you look at that first round of French presidential voting, between Le Pen, the guy who broke away from Le Pen, the Trot, the other Trot and the rest of the cranks, the zany fringe candidates drew about 45 per cent of the vote. No wonder that big Chirac landslide is looking wobblier by the hour. Suppose Pat Buchanan, never mind David Duke, got Jorg Haider’s 29 per cent, or Le Pen’s 17 per cent, or the Danish People’s party’s 12 per cent. Imagine the editorials you’d get from the Continent. You know what Pat got in the 2000 presidential election? 0.42 per cent. Yet the European assumption is always that every American politician is beholden to a vast herd of snarling, knuckle-dragging Calibans: thus, Guantanamo, as the Yorkshire Post saw it, ‘must be some sort of crude appeal to redneck, hillbilly America whose voters have to be kept on board’. So Olivier Duhamel, a socialist MEP, says the problem with French politics is that ‘we’ve gone back to a degenerate democracy of the kind you find in the United States, Austria or Italy.’ Au contraire, the very real ‘destabilising violence in the wings’ is distinctively European. By constraining ‘respectable’ politics to an ever narrower spectrum — the left-of-right-of-left-of-centre Jospin versus the right-of-left-of-right-of-left-of-centre Chirac — the Euro-elites freed up their electorates to frolic on wilder shores, like M. Le Pen’s National Front. In the land of the bland, the one-eyed man is king.
About a year ago, I wrote a column about the Euro-elite for the Wall Street Journal hailing the age of the ‘ugly European’. Back then, the ugliness was strictly rhetorical — the smugness of the Pattens and the Perssons. But in the course of 12 months the ugliness has gotten a lot uglier. Muslims killed thousands of Americans, but America doesn’t have anti-Muslim political parties — just a goofy President who hosts a month of Ramadan knees-ups at the White House and enjoins schoolkids to get an Islamic penpal. America has millions of Muslims, but they don’t firebomb synagogues and beat up Jews, and, if they did, the police wouldn’t turn a blind eye. Meanwhile, France has a presidential candidate who makes oven jokes, a foreign minister who believes in the international Jewish conspiracy, and a number-one bestseller which claims the plane that crashed into the Pentagon never existed. But look on the bright side: Europe may be ‘mean-spirited and violent’, but at least it’s not American.