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Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Mark Steyn has an excellent article here about the need to define our countries and cultures as more than just our shared entertainment interests. Being an American is not defined merely as someone who enjoys apple pie, baseball or football, and movies with guns and explosions. We need to teach our children the grand history of our nation and the ideals that have made it great.
The British went through this routine in the days after the London tube bombings--perpetrated, you'll recall, by British subjects, born and bred. For a moment, this shocked the opinion-makers: we need to teach our young persons to feel British, they twittered. And what does being British involve? Drinking 28 pints after the Man United game and then staggering down the street baying and mooning and urinating in people's gardens before passing out in a pool of vomit? Er, well, no, that's too British. But golly, how about fish'n'chips and cricket and liking caterwauling popsters? Then a picture of the four bombers appeared on the front page of the tabloids: they were whitewater rafting in Wales. They were dressed as any other young Britons. They loved cricket and fish'n'chips. One of them left a video message to be broadcast on al Jazeera. He did all the usual jihadi-blather but in a broad Yorkshire accent: "Eee-oop, Allahu akbar!" If Coronation Street had been looking to introduce an Islamist cell into the Rover's Return, he'd have been perfect. These men were entirely assimilated--if being assimilated means chips and cricket.

The Dutch, on the other hand, acknowledged that there's more to being a citizen of a pluralist democratic state than junk food and sports teams. Four or five years ago, I had a fascinating conversation with some Dutch cabinet ministers about the need to ensure that immigrants understood what they would be required to assimilate with. So I was interested to see what they'd come up with. It turned out to be a video which they distributed to every embassy around the world to play to anyone thinking of moving to the Netherlands. It showed a topless woman on the beach and two guys kissing. Message: If you're uncomfortable with this, you might prefer to emigrate somewhere else. Except that they added a rider to say that, if you are uncomfortable with this because you're a Muslim or whatever, then you don't have to watch it. And that pre-emptive negation of the entire point of the exercise said more about the real state of the Netherlands than anything on screen.

Islam is a challenge to the West because of the assumption behind the Mississauga lady's injunction: being Muslim is not just a religious but a civil identity. There is historically no distinction in Islam between rendering unto God and rendering unto Caesar. By contrast, to be Canadian or British or Dutch seems less and less a civil identity and more and more just a smattering of local colour. If you're a travelling salesman who likes donuts in Toronto and chips in London and a spliff with a legalized prostitute in Amsterdam, presumably you're impeccably Canadian, British and Dutch.

This is a sad and reductive idea of national identity. And it's the vacuum into which pan-Islamism flowed--not for everyone, not for all Muslims, but for enough for it to have metastasized around the world into the most profound challenge to the nation-state. Another Dutch cabinet minister remarked a few months ago that if a majority of the electorate voted to introduce sharia that would be OK. In other words, as long as the tyranny is ushered in constitutionally (as it was in Germany three-quarters of a century ago), it's fine by him. Not by me. Liberty is a 24/7 condition, not merely a trip to the voting booth every few years. If a cabinet minister in a settled parliamentary democracy doesn't understand that, then why be surprised when the fire-breathing imams don't get it?

The nullity of the modern multicultural state is the heart of the problem. We talk airily about "moderate Muslims," but the reality is that Islam is moderated mainly by the overarching culture--often a dictatorial culture, such as the Soviet Union or the Suharto regime in Indonesia, but sometimes something less so. There is no reason for Islam to moderate itself in a land that declares we worship only donuts or topless sunbathers. We have to teach our children an "heroic national narrative" (in the splendid words of Australia's John Howard), one that teaches them their history warts and all, as opposed to (as now) warts only. A nation cannot survive as merely a big zip code: it has to be understood as the physical expression of certain ideas and the ongoing projection of a grand inheritance. If we can't articulate why sharia is wrong even if it's legitimized by plebiscite, then we fully deserve to end our days living under it. It's not about Islam. It's about us.


Luke C. said...

So, what would you put in a video showing potential immigrants what becoming American means?

Darius and Elisabeth said...

Good question... this article was dealing more with teaching our own people and children about what makes us "American" and how that will naturally flow into better assimilated immigrants when we can articulate what makes us tick, but answer your question: I would say show our government's history (fight for independence, fight against slavery, etc... in other words, the fight for freedom) and our religious history. Of course, many Americans today are so illiterate regarding our history, they think that we invented slavery - rather than ended it - and that we've quashed more liberties than brought about. Thankfully, America doesn't have half the problem with national pride that places like Britain now do (as evidenced by the non-stop attempts of terrorism), but we are quickly going downhill, thanks to the liberal arts departments at our universities.

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The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables

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