Thwarting Needed Cultural Changes

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Mark Steyn writes an excellent piece today on the very subject I blogged about earlier -- multiculturalist whitewashing of terrorism -- but from a different and very intriguing angle. He agrees with Thomas Friedman that Moslem society must change fundamentally before the terrorist threat will subside much. But he adds that our overly-solicitous treatment of Moslems is not helping matters.

Terrorism ends when the broader culture refuses to tolerate it. There would be few if any suicide bombers in the Middle East if "martyrdom" were not glorified by imams and politicians, if pictures of local "martyrs" were not proudly displayed in West Bank grocery stores, if Muslim banks did not offer special "martyrdom" accounts to the relicts thereof, if schools did not run essay competitions on "Why I want to grow up to be a martyr".

At this point, many readers will be indignantly protesting that this is all the fault of Israeli "occupation", but how does that explain suicide bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where there's not a Zionist oppressor for hundreds of miles? Islam has become the world's pre-eminent incubator of terrorism at its most depraved. Indeed, so far London has experienced only the lighter items on the bill of fare - random bombing of public transport rather than decapitation, child sacrifice and schoolhouse massacres.

Most of us instinctively understand that when a senior Metropolitan Police figure says bullishly that "Islam and terrorism don't go together", he's talking drivel.

Many of us excuse it on the grounds that, well, golly, it must be a bit embarrassing to be a Muslim on days like last Thursday and it doesn't do any harm to cheer 'em up a bit with some harmless feel-good blather. But is this so?

Why are we surprised that "Muslim moderates" rarely speak out against the evil committed by their co-religionists when the likes of Mr Paddick keep assuring us there's no problem? It requires great courage to be a dissenting Muslim in communities dominated by heavy-handed imams and lobby groups that function effectively as thought-police.

Yet all you hear from Mr Paddick is: "Move along, folks, there's nothing to see here." This is the same approach, incidentally, that the authorities took in their long refusal to investigate seriously the 120 or so "honour killings" among British Muslims.

Just as the police did poor Muslim girls no favours by their excessive cultural sensitivity, so they're now doing the broader Muslim community no favours. The Blair-Paddick strategy only provides a slathering of mindless multiculti fudge topping over the many layers of constraint that prevent Islam beginning an honest conversation with itself.
This is a very important point and it is intimately related to the concept of the "preference cascade," in which the public behavior of large numbers of people who hold a given conviction in private contradicts said conviction -- until some event causes these people to realize that their conviction is, in fact, widely held. To review this idea:
This illustrates, in a mild way, the reason why totalitarian regimes collapse so suddenly. (Click here for a more complex analysis of this and related issues). Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don't realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it - but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.

This works until something breaks the spell, and the discontented realize that their feelings are widely shared, at which point the collapse of the regime may seem very sudden to outside observers - or even to the citizens themselves. Claims after the fact that many people who seemed like loyal apparatchiks really loathed the regime are often self-serving, of course. But they're also often true: Even if one loathes the regime, few people have the force of will to stage one-man revolutions, and when preferences are sufficiently falsified, each dissident may feel that he or she is the only one, or at least part of a minority too small to make any difference.

One interesting question is whether a lot of the hardline Arab states are like this. Places like Iraq, Syria, or Saudi Arabia spend a lot of time telling their citizens that everyone feels a particular way, and punishing those who dare to differ, which has the effect of encouraging people to falsify their preferences. But who knows? Given the right trigger, those brittle authoritarian regimes might collapse overnight, with most of the population swearing - with all apparent sincerity - that it had never supported them, or their anti-Western policies, at all.

Perhaps we should think about how to make it so.
By these lines of reasoning, the multicultural, Pollyanna-ish front our public officials keep putting up after terrorist attacks might be worse than merely annoying: It might be preventing some sorely-needed cultural changes among Western Moslems by forestalling the rise of the so-far elusive "moderate Moslem" on whom such changes, if they are to occur any time soon, will depend. Until it becomes clear that terrorism -- and our society's reaction to it -- are threats to all Moslems, there will be no serious discussion of the issue in the Moslem community. Our governments, by dropping the multiculturalist pap, would make this clear sooner, and, in the process, would let the moderates know that their own government stands behind them.

Yes. I think that Steyn has finally answered the great riddle of why there has been, numerically speaking, so little terrorism from Moslem populations in the West so far, and yet also, so little vigorous condemnation of what terrorism has occurred. Clearly, most Moslems are not terrorists. It's probably even a good bet that large majorities of Moslems within the West hold that simply killing people you happen to disagree with is wrong. More of them should become aware of that fact. Consequently, I fully agree with the points Mark Steyn raises and also think the British government would do well to heed the advice he gives in closing.

Once again, we see that honesty remains the best policy.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Great post! I really enjoyed reading this. It brings up an interesting point: could the greatest enemy of the West be...the West itself? By undermining our own values, could we be setting ourselves up for our own destruction? Of course, the answer is: Yes! And the solution is clear: promote Western values and ideas without any concession to the enemy. By doing this, hopefully as you said, the Islamic world can free themselves.

Your post also reminds me of Winston from George Orwell's 1984-of his drone-like obedience to Big Brother when in fact he did not believe it.

Gus Van Horn said...


I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

One point perhaps needs further clarification on my part. As for Moslems freeing themselves, I am cautiously optimistic.

I do not see any religion AS religion (that is, as a philosophical system demanding blind obedience and self-sacrifice) as being conducive to freedom.

My idea that many Moslems in the West might be open to the idea of living in a pluralistic society assumes, of course, that they resemble most Western Christians in the sense that they value their lives on this earth enough to support freedom when push (the requirements for their own lives) comes to shove (the conflicting demands of their religious beliefs). Moslems I have known from southern India, for example, would loosely fit this description in that many have experience living in a pluralistic society already and at least implicitly appreciate the benefits of same.

By showing zero tolerance for radical Islam and by making it clear that Islam needs to clean up its own house, Western governments would be doing a far better job of impressing upon the Moslems in our midst that, yes, they really would be better off getting with the pluralistic program.

Political freedom is essential for a proper human existence whether some would like to admit it or not.

-- Gus

Anonymous said...


So your aim is more towards Moslems living in the West, not Moslems living in the Arabic (or Pacific or African) world?

I ask this because I got the impression that you were also speaking to the Moslem society at large.

If this is so, how do you make a clear distinction between the "radical" and the "normal"-unless you are defining only the government as radical?

Gus Van Horn said...


Steyn's column discusses Islamic terrorism on a global scale while my post emphasized how Moslem enclaves in Western societies present the problem of "home-grown terrorism" and will continue to do so w/o making some serious changes of their own. (Not that the arguments don't apply to other Moslem societies....)

Examples of how standing up to Islamofascism yields positive results can be seen in such places as Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, all of which have increasingly open public fervor for "democracy" after the Iraqi elections.

The foregin policy angle of this has been discussed widely so far, but Steyn's column stood out to me because he applies the same principle to the problems posed by domestic Moslem enclaves in the West.

The London atrocities, apparently now conducted by Islamofascist terrorists of the home-grown variety, certainly undercore the importance of this problem.

-- Gus

Anonymous said...


I see what you are trying to say now-thank you for taking the time to explain it to me. Best of luck to you in the future.