At first glance Melanie Phillips' Londonistan, seems a little off-putting. The prose is shrill, the point repetitive and relentless, the outrage so ceaseless that it quickly grows tiresome and, worse, unbelievable. Yes, you find yourself saying, the British let Muslim culture in England develop in seriously disturbing ways--to the point that the French intelligence services coined the word "Londonistan" to describe the Islamic terrorists' English base. And yes, elements of European culture has grown sick to the point that it would rather allow bombers to flourish in its cities than have anyone accuse it of racism. But surely that can't be the whole story.
In person, however, Phillips is much more persuasive. And the extract published this morning in the London Times lays out her case with skill. At root, she believes, the British government has had a systematic inability to see religion as a factor in the rise of Islamo-fascism. "Ministers and security officials prefer to think of it as a protest movement against grievances such as Iraq or Palestine, or 'Islamophobia.'...The doctrines of multiculturalism and minority rights, themselves the outcome of a systematic onslaught by the British elite against the country's own identity and values, have paralyzed the establishment, which accordingly shies away from criticizing any minority for fear of being labeled as bigoted. As a result, it ignored the radicalization of many British Muslims by extremist Islamic institutions."
Indeed, "Minority-rights doctrine has produced a moral inversion, in which those doing wrong are excused if they belong to a 'victim' group, while those at the receiving end of their behavior are blamed simply because they belong to the 'oppressive' majority....This was disastrous because Islamist violence is fuelled by precisely this false sense of victimization. The mendacious message preached by Islamist leaders, that Britain and America are engaged in a war on Islam rather than a defense of their societies, is a potent incitement to terror by whipping up a hysteria that Muslims are under attack. So any attempt by the West to defend itself against terror becomes a recruiting sergeant for that terror. The more atrocities committed against the West, the more the West tries to defend itself; and the more it does so, the more hysteria among Muslims rises that they are under attack, and the more they are thus incited to hatred and to terrorism. The circle is completed by British fellow-travelers who promulgate the same morally inverted thinking, and thus help further to incite both Muslim extremism and Western defeatism. After the London bombings, this gave rise to the widely expressed view that the major problem was not Islamic terrorism but Islamophobia."
As the recent arrests in Canada show, there is a lesson for more than England.
"The conservative politics of the Bush administration forced me to have an abortion I didn't want," writes the semi-anonymous "Dana L." in the Washington Post. The article is a lawyer's report on her surgical abortion, caused, she says, by her inability to get a "Plan B" abortifacient when "in a sudden rush of passion, I failed to insert my diaphragm" during intercourse with her husband, and it is an astonishing read. Some very strange denial seems to swell every sentence. Some deep need to blame someone--President Bush, in fact--for her actions. Some profound wish-fulfillment for a world in which nothing ever troubles her. Dana L. seems to be the person that Sandra Day O'Connor had in mind when she wrote in the Casey decision of an entire generation of women that had grown relying on legalized abortion. But Dana L.'s story is curiously illustrative of the success of the pro-life movement. In the end, Dana L. wants to insist that there can be no conscience exemptions for doctors and pharmacists opposed to abortion. There can be no abortion-clinic protesters. There can be no criticism of any kind, even implied, or the entire abortion license is threatened. And she is right--we can only keep doing this as long as everyone is guilty and silence reigns.
I've never much liked fiction. Writing it, I mean. Reading it is another matter, of course. How else is anyone supposed to get through life? A few years ago, I wrote a story--sort of bad Thorne Smith-like, light-1920s comedy--as a birthday present for my wife. Much later, when a friend who edits a journal called Doublethink asked for something, I had nothing else to give him, so I sent it along, and it's just come out. You can read it here if you're desperate for prose. For me, I think I'll stick to writing about the stuff.
In addition to which:
Father Neuhaus will be discussing his new book, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth, at a book signing on Thursday, June 8, at 7:30 at Barnes & Noble, 720-30 Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He says he would be delighted to see you there. For information, call 610-520-0355.
In the June/July issue of First Things, Jason Byassee, assistant editor of Christian Century, examines the sad story told by his former teacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book Leaving Church. Byassee writes: "For those younger than Taylor, it seems apparent that for any interesting rebellion we have to leave the deconstructive work and reembrance historic Christian doctrine and practice. I'm glad Taylor helped teach me what a joy that embrace can be--before she herself left the Church." Isn't it time for you to subscribe to First Things?