Steyn recants his recantation of the Bush doctrine—in the same article
When I wrote that Mark Steyn takes no responsibility for his previous position when he changes to a new one, it had not occurred to me that he would switch from one position to its opposite within the same article. But that indeed is what he has done in his August 28 New York Sun column (“Achilles’ Heel”) that I discussed earlier today. As a result, I must take back my report that Steyn has finally spoken the truth about Islam, i.e., that Islam itself—not some fictitious Islamic fascism—is the problem. It is embarrassing but instructive that even I, a relentless critic of Steyn’s who is constantly alert to his game-playing, fell for his trickery. How did this happen?
As I mentioned, a friend had read the entire piece to me on the phone. Most impressive was when Steyn quotes Muhammad’s final words to his disciples:
I was ordered to fight all men until they say, “There is no god but Allah.”Steyn then quoted Osama bin Laden:
I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah, and his prophet Mohammed.Steyn then commented:
It’s hard to argue direct quotation is a “distortion” of the “religion of peace.”Based on these and other passages, Steyn was clearly saying, and so I wrote, that today’s militant Islam is not some weird, unrepresentative, ideological offshoot of Islam (which of course is the way the establishment sees it), but is the same Islam that has been around for 1,400 years, the Islam that was founded by Muhammad, and therefore the notion of some “radical Islam” or “Islamic fascism” which is a “corruption” of the real Islam is false. In short, Steyn had abandoned the fundamental premise of the Bush Doctrine, that Islamic societies are reformable because the radical Islam that is dominant today is not the real Islam.
But Steyn didn’t stop there. Just one paragraph after the passage quoted above, he has a final long paragraph which, when my friend read it to me, was so convoluted and incoherent I couldn’t make sense of it, and it also didn’t seem relevant to what he had said before, so I didn’t attempt to decipher it. Also, of course, it did not occur to me that Steyn, having unambiguously called bin Laden a follower of true Islam, would instantly retract the statement. Later in the day, however, I read the article on my own and realized I had missed something crucial. Here is the final paragraph in its entirety:
Which means there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that Islam will soon be able to enforce submission-conversion at the point of a nuke. The good news is that any religion that needs to do that is, by definition, a weak one. More than that, the fierce faith of the 8th century Muslim warrior has been mostly replaced by a lot of hastily cobbled-together flimflam bought wholesale from clapped out European totalitarian pathologies. It would have struck almost any other ruler of Persia as absurd and unworthy to be as pitifully obsessed with Holocaust denial as President Ahmadinejad is: talk about a bad case of Europhile cultural cringe. But in today’s mosques and madrassahs there is almost as little contemplation of the divine as there is in the typical Anglican sermon. The great Canadian columnist David Warren argues that Islam is desperately weak, that it has been “idiotized” by these obsolescent imports of mid-20th century Fascism. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but, if Washington had half the psy-ops spooks the movies like to think we have, the spiritual neglect in latter-day Islam is a big Achilles’ heel just ripe for exploiting.While it is not easy to follow, what he is saying is that the militant Islam of today is not true Islam, after all. Radical Muslims mostly don’t believe in God, they are following a stew of European totalitarian ideologies that has largely replaced Islam. It follows that we are not facing an unappeasable jihadist foe who emulates Muhammad. We are facing a weak, confused opponent who has no firm ground of belief and could presumably be won over by our efforts to democratize him and assimilate him into the modern world. Thus the Achilles’ heel of the article’s title.
What happened then to Steyn’s seemingly definitive observation, appearing just two paragraphs earlier, that Osama bin laden and other militant Muslims are followers of the original jihadist religion of Islam? He just dropped it. Like a small child with a ten second-long attention span, Steyn picks up an idea, plays with it lovingly, then throws it aside and forgets about it. He says one thing, then he says its exact opposite, with no transition or argument leading from the first position to the second. Yet the fact that Steyn is baldly reversing himself is not instantly clear to the reader, because of his manner of writing “riffs”—in the present instance, a very tortuous riff—rather than speaking in conceptual speech.
Steyn’s fans have an “experience” reading him, which, as one can gather from the swooning tributes that issue continually from the conservative elite as well as from the conservative masses at Lucianne.com, seems more like the response of fans to a pop star than the response of intelligent readers to a writer on politics. “Oh, that Steyn, he’s so wonderful, so brilliant, I’ve just have to have my Steyn fix for the day, he’s so great…” This experience seems to be based at bottom on Steyn’s skill as a riff artist, not on anything coherent and useful he has to say about the world. But for a reader like myself who attempts to make sense of what he is reading, it’s becoming apparent that Steyn is not worth the trouble to read him, because he takes no responsibility for what he says. Pronouncing on some of the gravest matters of our age, he turns them into a goof, veering from one idea to another as his fancy or his opportunism dictates, even reversing himself by 180 degrees, as in the present article. His readers feel they are mastering the confusions of our time while having a good time, when in reality they are only being mesmerized by flimflam. He is, as I said once before, a trickster and a pied piper. When a writer is subject to no rules of truth or consistency, when he feels he can say anything he likes, even if it flat-out, in-your-face contradicts what he has said elsewhere, even elsewhere in the same article, it ceases to be worthwhile to read him.
Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Steyn is very popular and influential, and therefore it is necessary to keep track of what he’s saying, if only for the purpose of warning others of his trickery.
Derek C. writes:
A charitable read on Steyn’s muddled last paragraph is that Islam IS the problem, but that the faith’s supporting homiletics have been reduced to crude reiterations of secular European heresies, like Holocaust Denial. So, if the historical basis of Islam were seriously questioned, such as the divine origin of the Koran, the whole thing would fall apart. This because, unlike Christianity, which has responded to modernity by developing its theology and homiletics in an atmosphere of free debate, Islam has been closed off from all criticism.LA replies:
Pretty clever.Derek replies:
Well, like it or not, Steyn does influence a lot of people on the right. So it is worthwhile to parse his writing, not so much to determine what his beliefs are (that’s a vain pursuit), but to get an idea of where he (and his followers) may be drifting.Carl Simpson writes:
Sorry, I guess I’m getting obsessed too.LA replies:
But all my efforts to explicate and critique liberalism are based on the assumption that liberalism is intelligible. :-)Jeff writes from England:
Look, I agree with you about the contradictions of Steyn. He cannot seem to blame Islam itself for more than two paragraphs. That must be pointed out and you are doing just that. I in no way am I ciritcising your criticism of Steyn and others or calling for you to stop it. But I again implore you to keep in mind the “bigger picture.”
Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 29, 2006 11:29 PM | Send