Mark Steyn: Mugged by reality?
July 25, 2005
WITH hindsight, the defining encounter of the age was not between Mohammed Atta’s jet and the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, but that between Mohammed Atta and Johnelle Bryant a year earlier. Bryant is an official with the US Department of Agriculture in Florida, and the late Atta had gone to see her about getting a $US650,000 government loan to convert a plane into the world’s largest crop-duster. A novel idea.
The meeting got off to a rocky start when Atta refused to deal with Bryant because she was but a woman. But, after this unpleasantness had been smoothed out, things went swimmingly. When it was explained to him that, alas, he wouldn’t get the 650 grand in cash that day, Atta threatened to cut Bryant’s throat. He then pointed to a picture behind her desk showing an aerial view of downtown Washington – the White House, the Pentagon et al – and asked: “How would America like it if another country destroyed that city and some of the monuments in it?”
Fortunately, Bryant’s been on the training course and knows an opportunity for multicultural outreach when she sees one. “I felt that he was trying to make the cultural leap from the country that he came from,” she recalled. “I was attempting, in every manner I could, to help him make his relocation into our country as easy for him as I could.”
So a few weeks later, when fellow 9/11 terrorist Marwan al-Shehhi arrived to request another half-million dollar farm subsidy and Atta showed up cunningly disguised with a pair of glasses and claiming to be another person entirely – to whit, al-Shehhi’s accountant – Bryant sportingly pretended not to recognise him and went along with the wheeze. The fake specs, like the threat to slit her throat and blow up the Pentagon, were just another example of the multicultural diversity that so enriches our society.
For four years, much of the western world behaved like Bryant. Bomb us, and we agonise over the “root causes” (that is, what we did wrong). Decapitate us, and our politicians rush to the nearest mosque to declare that “Islam is a religion of peace”. Issue bloodcurdling calls at Friday prayers to kill all the Jews and infidels, and we fret that it may cause a backlash against Muslims. Behead sodomites and mutilate female genitalia, and gay groups and feminist groups can’t wait to march alongside you denouncing Bush, Blair and Howard. Murder a schoolful of children, and our scholars explain that to the “vast majority” of Muslims “jihad” is a harmless concept meaning “decaf latte with skimmed milk and cinnamon sprinkles”.
Until the London bombings. Something about this particular set of circumstances – British subjects, born and bred, weaned on chips, fond of cricket, but willing to slaughter dozens of their fellow citizens – seems to have momentarily shaken the multiculturalists out of their reveries. Hitherto, they’ve taken a relaxed view of the more, ah, robust forms of cultural diversity – Sydney gang rapes, German honour killings – but Her Britannic Majesty’s suicide bombers have apparently stiffened even the most jelly-spined lefties.
At The Age, Terry Lane, last heard blaming John Howard for the “end of democracy as we know it” and calling for “the army of my country … to be defeated” in Iraq, now says multiculturalism is a “repulsive word” whereas “assimilation is a beaut” and should be commended. In the sense that he seems to have personally assimilated with Pauline Hanson, he’s at least leading by example.
Where Lane leads, Melbourne’s finest have been rushing to follow, lining up to sign on to the New Butchness. “There is something wrong with multiculturalism,” warns Pamela Bone. “Perhaps it is time to say, you are welcome, but this is the way it is here.” Tony Parkinson – The Age’s resident voice of sanity – quotes approvingly France’s Jean-Francois Revel: “Clearly, a civilisation that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”
And yet, The Age’s editor Andrew Jaspan still lives in another world. You’ll recall that it was Jaspan who objected to the energy and conviction of certain freed Australian hostage, at least when it comes to disrespecting their captors: “I was, I have to say, shocked by Douglas Wood’s use of the ‘arsehole’ word, if I can put it like that, which I just thought was coarse and very ill-thought through … As I understand it, he was treated well there. He says he was fed every day, and as such to turn around and use that kind of language I think is just insensitive.”
And heaven forbid we’re insensitive about terrorists. True, a blindfolded Wood had to listen to his jailers murder two of his colleagues a few inches away, but how boorish would one have to be to hold that against one’s captors? A few months after 9/11, National Review’s John Derbyshire dusted off the old Cold War mantra “Better dead than red” and modified it to mock the squeamishness of politically correct warfare: “Better dead than rude”. But even he would be surprised to see it taken up quite so literally by Andrew Jaspan.
Usually it’s the hostage who gets Stockholm Syndrome, but the newly liberated Wood must occasionally reflect that in this instance the entire culture seems to have caught a dose. And, in a sense, we have: multiculturalism is a kind of societal Stockholm Syndrome. Atta’s meetings with Bryant are emblematic: He wasn’t a genius, a master of disguise in deep cover; indeed, he was barely covered at all, he was the Leslie Nielsen of terrorist masterminds – but the more he stuck out, the more Bryant was trained not to notice, or to put it all down to his vibrant cultural tradition.
That’s the great thing about multiculturalism: it doesn’t involve knowing anything about other cultures – like, say, the capital of Bhutan or the principal exports of Malaysia, the sort of stuff the old imperialist wallahs used to be well up on. Instead, it just involves feeling warm and fluffy, making bliss out of ignorance. And one notices a subtle evolution in multicultural pieties since the Islamists came along. It was most explicitly addressed by the eminent British lawyer Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, QC, who thought that it was too easy to disparage “Islamic fundamentalists”. “We as western liberals too often are fundamentalist ourselves. We don’t look at our own fundamentalisms.”
And what exactly would those western liberal fundamentalisms be? “One of the things that we are too ready to insist upon is that we are the tolerant people and that the intolerance is something that belongs to other countries like Islam. And I’m not sure that’s true.”
Hmm. Kennedy appears to be arguing that our tolerance of our own tolerance is making us intolerant of other people’s intolerance, which is intolerable. Thus the lop-sided valse macabre of our times: the more the Islamists step on our toes, the more we waltz them gaily round the room. I would like to think that the newly fortified Age columnists are representative of the culture’s mood, but, if I had to bet, I’d put my money on Kennedy: anyone can be tolerant of the tolerant, but tolerance of intolerance gives an even more intense frisson of pleasure to the multiculti masochists. Australia’s old cultural cringe had a certain market rationality; the new multicultural cringe is pure nihilism.
Mark Steyn is a regular contributor to The Australian.