| Hitchens: bringing up the rear
For an Indian, one of the most instructive things about the response of the West to 9/11 is how swiftly large sections of its liberal establishment circled their wagons against Muslims. Instructive because this manoeuvre illustrates the extent to which Western democracies are based on majoritarian assumptions, assumptions that override the liberal values that in easier times are invoked as the distinguishing features of countries like Britain, France and the United States of America. Even more interesting is the way in which the case for the illiberal, coercive and even punitive treatment of Muslims is made, the way in which the demonization of Muslims as a matter of public policy is presented as a properly liberal project for all but soft-headed, bleeding hearts.
A short essay that illustrates this tendency perfectly is Christopher Hitchens’s review of Mark Steyn’s book, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It which can be read online at this url: http://www.city-journal.org/html/ 17_1_urbanities-steyn.html. Steyn is a hawkish right-winger who argues in his book that the West, with the exception of the US, has surrendered to the jihadist tendency within Islam. Europe, in particular, with its doctrines of multiculturalism and its declining birth-rates, is doomed to be taken over by fast-breeding immigrant Muslims who see its woolly tolerance for the weakness that it really is.
Hitchens, who started his political life as a Trotskyist, decided after 9/11 that he had found a political project worthy of the rest of his life, namely, unrelenting opposition to the menace of fundamentalist Islam for which he coined a term, “Islamofascism”. He supported the American invasion of Iraq for many reasons, one of which was Saddam Hussein’s alleged alliance with al Qaida.
Hitchens likes Steyn’s book, agrees with its main arguments, finds it admirably tough-minded, and praises Steyn for his pioneering work in making people aware of the menace of Islamism. For Hitchens, Steyn makes an “immensely convincing case” for the imminent swamping of European civilization by Muslim migrants who breed much faster than the local white population. This quote from the book (chosen by Hitchens in his review) summarizes Steyn’s argument from demography: “Why did Bosnia collapse into the worst slaughter in Europe since World War Two' In the thirty years before the meltdown, Bosnian Serbs had declined from 43 percent to 31 percent of the population, while Bosnian Muslims had increased from 26 percent to 44 percent. In a democratic age, you can’t buck demography — except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out — as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em. The problem that Europe faces is that Bosn-ia’s demographic profile is now the model for the entire continent.”
Hitchens has a few reservations about Steyn’s conclusions: it’s a reductionist explanation of the Bosnian violence because it doesn’t account for Croation irredentism, and Steyn makes a Muslim-European clash seem inevitable because he mistakenly sees Muslims in Europe as a single monolithic community when, in fact, immigrant Muslims are hugely various. But Hitchens’s differences with Steyn are minor ones: he agrees that Muslim birth-rates are a portent of disaster because Islamists publicly proclaim their intention to take over Europe by outbreeding the natives and these statements feed the paranoia of far-right parties and their adherents. Hitchens is persuaded by Steyn’s main point that demography and liberal guilt (cultural masochism in Hitchens’s words) “are handing a bloodless victory to the forces of Islamization”.
Western liberals who can’t see this, argues Hitchens, are disabled by a knee-jerk, politically-correct reflex: “Any emphasis on the relative birth rates of Muslims and non-Muslim populations falls on the liberal ear like an echo of eugenics.”
The problem with this is that the reason the liberal ear responds the way it does is because Steyn, Hitchens’s hero, explicitly makes a eugenic prescription: “The Serbs figured that out — as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ‘em (italics mine).”
To an Indian, this isn’t language that even the Bharatiya Janata Party would use in public. It’s the rhetoric of explicitly fascist parties: the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal. This ideological convergence in the ideas of the muscular European liberal and the militant Hindu fascist isn’t an aberration.
The one real disagreement that Hitchens has with Steyn, is his dismissal of Martin Amis as a Western surrender monkey rabbiting on about global warming, when the main threat to the world is overheated Muslims. Hitchens defends Amis’s credentials as a liberal soldier in the war against Islamism by offering the following quote from an interview with Amis in the London Times: “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.”
This little manifesto for persecuting Muslims is, for Hitchens, an admirable ability to think outside the liberal box. With that “Don’t you have it'” Amis is enjoying the thrill of saying something vile and simultaneously reassuring other white, non-Muslim people that it’s okay to think this way. But Hitchens sees this as a sign of intellectual courage, a recognition that extraordinary threats call for extraordinary responses.
To single out Muslims for special attention is fine because religious profiling is not the same as racial profiling. Muslims are a religious community not a race, the adherents of an “often ideological religion”, so it’s okay to want to do the things that Amis ticks off. Liberals shouldn’t make the stupid mistake of equating Muslims with dark-skinned Third-Worlders. Except that the man Hitchens has just quoted, Amis, makes an explicit connection between race and religion: you can’t start “strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan” without a racial profile or two in your head.
Towards the end of the review, Hitchens offers the West a ten-point programme for resisting Islamism. High on the list is this suggestion: “A strong, open alliance with India on all fronts, from the military to the political and economic, backed by an extensive cultural exchange program, to demonstrate solidarity with the other great multi-ethnic democracy under attack from Muslim fascism.”
In Hitchens’s bizarre world, the world’s largest pluralist democracy, home to the third-largest Muslim population in the world, would make common cause with the likes of Amis and Steyn whose prescriptions for saving civilization include systematic discrimination against Muslims, collective punishment, deportation and strategic “culling”. Hitchens argues that it’s important for liberals to stake out this rhetorical position because he doesn’t want anti-Islamism (his term for being anti-Muslim in a respectable way) to become the monopoly of fascists. Muscular liberals like Amis and Hitchens would deny them that space.
By a grotesque ideological sleight of hand, Hitchens would join the West to this great “multi-ethnic democracy” using arguments that are only used in India by parties that would, if they could, create an ethnic, Hindu supremacist state. This convergence is not an accident: by making prejudice respectable, by short-circuiting due process, by presuming collective guilt instead of affirming the presumption of individual innocence, Hitchens and Amis have become what they pretend to pre-empt.
It’s not a nice picture: Milosevic, Le Pen, Nick Griffin, Bal Thackeray, Praveen Togadia, Narendra Modi, Mark Steyn, Martin Amis and Hitchens bringing up the rear. Captions occur to me: Group Portrait with Rabies, perhaps, or Christopher and his Kind.