Resist the call of denial and appeasement
I'm currently making my way through the first volume of Winston Churchill's history of the Second World War, The Gathering Storm, a chilling account of the spineless fatuity of western elites in the face of Hitler's growing aggression. It's so dismal I wondered if I could stand to read this story if I didn't know how, against all odds, it ended well. To test this, I picked up Bruce Bawer's book Surrender, a chilling account of the spineless fatuity of western elites in the face of Islamists' growing aggression. It was frightening and discouraging.
For one thing, given the current state of discussion, I probably need to pre-empt criticism by saying Bawer is gay. He's not your typical backward-right-wing-easy-to-caricature bad person. But he has opened his eyes to Islamists' grotesque hostility to homosexuality (which, he notes, carries the death penalty in five Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran). And with them wide open, he stares in horror at the bewilderingly obtuse attempts of multiculturalist, gay-friendly, feminist progressives to ignore the scope and toxicity of radical Islam. Consider a poll he cites: 36 per cent of young British Muslims want Muslims who convert to another faith killed. OK, so 64 per cent didn't express this opinion out loud to pollsters. But imagine the reaction if a survey found similar numbers for, say, American Jews or Canadian Christians. Picture the angry headlines, scornful punditry and grovelling by establishment clerics and politicians.
Grovelling. There's the rub. Bawer produces an appalling catalogue of how western elites -- academic, cultural and political -- grovel before Islamist threats and abuse. Like French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who in 2002 said Saladin managed to "liberate" Jerusalem from the Crusaders, as though it had not been in Christian hands for centuries before Muslims seized it by force and then sulked for nine centuries over a failed attempt to get it back the same way. If Raffarin did not know this history, he is an appalling ignoramus. If he did, what possible combination of moral and mental defects can explain his grovelling?
Bawer presents an amazing series of examples, while Churchill, in The Gathering Storm, catalogues his efforts during the 1930s to warn about Britain's weakness and Germany's growing strength, and to challenge the incredibly foolish conventional wisdom. For instance, when the British government surrendered key naval bases to the Irish Republic in 1938, The Times of London blithered that it "releases the Government of ... the onerous and delicate task of defending" those bases "in the event of a war." Of course, it really meant dangerously longer routes for escort vessels protecting convoys from the dreadful U-boat menace. Attempting to combat this tide of soothing fatuity was, Churchill wrote, "like being smothered by a feather bed."
Today there are some sharp bits in the mattress, like agonizingly politically correct human rights tribunals keen to sweep away ancient, western, bourgeois patriarchal liberties like a fair trial at the behest of our jihadist enemies. But it was hard in the 1930s too; Malcolm Muggeridge got fired as a journalist for exposing Stalin's famine and Churchill was kept out of office from 1929 until 1940.
I'm no Churchill or even a Muggeridge. But I appeal to readers to put The Gathering Storm and Surrender side by side and wonder what's the matter with our elites. (Bruce Bawer will also be speaking in Ottawa on Sept. 14 at the invitation of the Free Thinking Film Society.)
Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky once called modern liberalism "an extreme mental aberration best described by the Russian saying: that it is like a dog in reverse because it barks at its own folks and wags its tail in front of a stranger." Too harsh? Then ask yourself why so many progressive activists, respectable pundits and left-of-centre politicians are far more upset about Guantanamo Bay than about Saudis executing gays or clitorectomy. Better yet, ask them. It seems disquietingly similar to people calling Churchill a warmonger in the 1930s while ignoring Hitler and praising Stalin.
I grant that as a political program Islamism has a fatal flaw: It can no more govern successfully than Bolshevism or, I expect, Nazism. Over time such regimes would probably, like the U.S.S.R., collapse due to internal contradictions. But look at the dreadful human cost of the Soviet experiment, and of waiting until the last moment to stop Hitler. Why run such risks and pay such prices? Neither caution nor honest error are adequate explanations for what Churchill and Bawer catalogue.
Why, then, this disgusting urge to grovel before those who hate us? The Cannes committee may yet show steel and hurl that Hamas movie back into the filthy abyss. I'm afraid we'll see gold instead, glittering but soft.
[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]