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The Self-Hatred of the Anti-Pluralist


s.z., writing about Mark Steyn’s upcoming book, notes this curious argument from the jacket: “The future, as Steyn shows, belongs to the fecund and the confident. And the Islamists are both, while the West–wedded to a multiculturalism that undercuts its own confidence, a welfare state that nudges it toward sloth and self-indulgence, and a childlessness that consigns it to oblivion–is looking ever more like the ruins of a civilization.” You will recognize Steyn’s argument from the Cold War–in the 70s and early 80s, remember, neocons were convinced that the C.I.A was underestimating the strength of the crumbling Soviet Union. A common error of the jingoist is a paradoxical underestimation of the strength of liberalism as a political system. Henley:

Much of the rhetoric about “dhimmitude” confuses, out of cowardice or ambition, the inability to impose Western will on Muslim territories with the inability to resist Muslim aggression. Take the recently concluded (or paused, if you’re a pessimist) Israel-Hezbollah War. Actually, take the 1982-1990 Israel-Hezbollah War. In 1982 Israel went into Lebanon intending to impose a particular order in the country’s South. Hezbollah was able to frustrate that aim and, a couple of decades later, compel Israel to quit the country entirely. What it has always been unable to do, and remains unable to do, is to take and hold even an inch of Israeli territory for so much as a day.


The notion that the Islamic Way of War could achieve grandiose objectives, like imposing the much-feared “dhimmitude,” is just laughable. Forget for a moment that, if push comes to shove, we still have enormous stocks of conventional and nuclear weapons. There’s nothing inherently “Islamic” about TIWOW. Simply put, we could do it too if we had to.

This is quite right. Islamic terrorism is quite incapable–even with the formidable power of the graduate seminar–of creating a “spread of totalitarianism” that could get anywhere near liberal democratic states. Indeed, I think Henley concedes too much when he says that “The 3/11 atrocities in Spain were ambiguously successful in convincing Spain to quit Iraq.” Granting the “ambiguously” qualifier, the fact is that the Iraq war was extremely unpopular in Italy Spain [although the original was accurate!] prior to 3/11–its citizens apparently being rational enough to understand that installing an Islamic quasi-state in Iraq would not be an effective way of combating the legitimate problem of terrorist attacks. To the extent that 3/11 mattered, it was almost certainly because of the government’s dishonest attempt to pin the attack on Basque secessionists rather than some desire to engage in appeasement. At any rate, while terrorists are capable of inflicting isolated but horrific attacks, it’s equally clear that Al Qaeda’s goals are utterly unachievable. Liberal democracy, with its recognition of the fact of pluralism, is in fact a considerably more robust system of government than authoritarianism.

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