Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton

Wednesday, November 30, 2005  

Sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists. It is no answer to say, with a distant optimism, that the scheme is only in the air. A blow from a hatchet can only be parried while it is in the air. — Chesterton

Now and then we get a good look at the drab horror of the tyranny of political correctness. Like much that is evil, it strikes the active mind as both awful and banal. Recently in France its malicious gaze fell upon the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut.

Those who know him say the 56-year-old Finkielkraut has been in distress for the past four years, since Jews have become targets of North African immigrants.

The November 18 Haaretz interview with Finkielkraut, who has said in the past that harm coming to Jews reminded him of the dark days when Jews were taken from their homes to concentration and death camps, did not surprise many Jews.

Finkielkraut’s interview touched upon, of course, the recent riots in France.

Finkielkraut said in Haaretz that the message of the rioters was “not a cry for help or a demand for more schools or better schools. It’s a desire to eliminate the intermediaries that stand between them and their objects of desire. And what are their objects of desire? Simple: money, designer labels, sometimes girls.”

He was also quoted as saying: “In France... they teach colonial history as an exclusively negative history. We don’t teach anymore that the colonial project also sought to educate, to bring civilization to the savages. They only talk about it as an attempt at exploitation, domination and plunder.”

Le Monde excerpted the interview, and then

Only hours after publication, leftist organizations were vying with each other over who would be first to sue him or file a police complaint against the philosopher for incitement to racism.

Thursday, after receiving death threats, the philosopher decided to respond and repent. In an extensive interview in Le Monde yesterday, he said he “despised” the man who appeared in the article (in Le Monde). “He is he and I am I. To my shock, since Wednesday, it appears that he and I share the same name.”

Finkielkraut, who went out of his way to praise the immigrants, said his original statements had been an attempt to force the political echelon to take responsibility for what was happening in the poor suburbs. “Integration is our obligation,” he said.

We ought to have no illusions about the goals of the p.c. faction, which gains power daily, not merely in distant and decadent Europe, but here in our dear and decadent America: It wants to criminalize our views, to silence us by coercion, to break us as free men possessed of free minds. It will happily imprison a man for opinions once the proud heritage of common sense.

It is tyranny when to criticize anarchic rioters is to “incite to racism.” It is tyranny when organizations are empowered to launch lawsuits and police complaints for the opinion that colonialism might not have been all bad. And it is the foulest tyranny to force a man to debase himself, to renounce his own free thought, in short to denounce himself, as the leftist-Muslim tyranny of France has done to Alain Finkielkraut.

Half of the words written here would be subject to this tyranny if the p.c. faction had its way. Remember that, and remember Mr. Finkielkraut, when you feel inclined to scoff political correctness.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:26 AM |

Tuesday, November 22, 2005  

SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: “National Shame,” declared a New York tabloid headline in six-inch type. The Times carried a long op-ed by New Orleans author Anne Rice: “But to my country I want to say this: during this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us ‘Sin City,’ and turned your backs.” America turned its back by watching and praying day and night, by sending tens of thousands of volunteers, by opening its cities and homes to hundreds of thousands of refugees, by donating nearly a billion dollars through churches and voluntary organizations, not to mention more than $200 billion in federal aid and reconstruction. Callous, unfeeling, hard-hearted America.

— Richard J. Neuhaus, First Things, November 2005.

posted by Paul Cella | 9:50 AM |

Tuesday, November 15, 2005  

Here we have a typical article involved in a typical daydream. The argument it makes concerning the problems that European nations face with their Muslim populations, and how to begin to solve those problems, is considerably less important that its single major assumption. In short its argument is superficial because it fails to penetrate to the crucial premise upon which it is based — a premise that is certainly not self-evidently true.

“The French,” avers Mr. Frederick Kempe, the columnist, “live in denial over the dangers posed to themselves and the world from their common inability to integrate growing Muslim minorities.” And later:

For the moment, the 577-member French National Assembly has no Muslims representing mainland France. They are strikingly scarce as well on national television. French officialdom, to its credit, is increasing merit scholarships, training schemes and apprenticeships for troubled youths. What will be more difficult will be implementing what's most needed — tough antidiscrimination laws or affirmative action programs in a country where racism is rampant but whose official ideology still doesn't allow registration of minorities.

He also speaks of a French economy that, “has failed to create the growth and jobs that would do most to integrate Muslim youth,” and of the need in Europe to “produce minority role models of the sort the U.S. has in abundance: from Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to a host of business and academic leaders.”

Integration, in brief, is the solution that Mr. Kempe offers to the problem of the French insurrection. He goes on at some length discussing how it might be better accomplished, why it has thus far failed, what must change, and suchlike.

What he does not do — does not, it think it safe to conjecture, even contemplate doing — is ask whether integration is possible. The major assumption, the hidden premise, upon which the whole discussion hangs, is that effective integration of Islamic minorities is an achievable goal.

But that is big question, is it not? That is the whole huge throbbing difficulty behind all of this genteel conversation. And Mr. Kempe is hardly unique in avoiding it. He is actually rather typical. (I note the irony that Mr. Kempe holds out as the great American example two “minority role models” who have been the subjects of savage vituperation from the community from which they emerged. Both accomplished statesmen, and admired leaders, it is nonetheless true that their office as minority role models is hardly undisputed.)

It is fair to distrust the sagacity of commentators who resolutely decline to take up the question that really needs addressing. It is fair to question the judgment of counselors whose advice rests on arguable assumptions of supreme importance. The great preponderance of our opinion-shapers have been quite unwilling to subject to searching scrutiny the audacious and even dubious assumptions that underlie their views on this matter; until that changes, their work will amount to a vast evasion.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:32 PM |

Wednesday, November 09, 2005  

A journalist named Paul Belien, writing on the website The Brussels Journal (it’s motto is fitting: “all the news that never gets printed”), reads like a cool breeze in the stifling air of Western self-censorship. But what he has to say is hard and grim.

What is happening in France has been brewing in Old Europe for years. The BBC speaks of “youths” venting their “anger.” The BBC is wrong. It is not anger that is driving the insurgents to take it out on the secularised welfare states of Old Europe. It is hatred. Hatred caused not by injustice suffered, but stemming from a sense of superiority. The “youths” do not blame the French, they despise them.

Mr. Belien quotes a “young and charismatic” Arab leader in Brussels, one Dyab Abou Jahjah: “We reject integration when it leads to assimilation. I don’t believe in a host country. We are at home here and whatever we consider our culture to be also belongs to our chosen country. I’m in my country, not the country of the [Westerners].” The press is finally talking about this attitude of rejection, but only grudgingly. The staid German paper Der Spiegel admits the possibility of a “nightmare scenario of entire neighborhoods and communities separating themselves from the state and essentially declaring their independence” — but then submerges this admission in a sea of enervating conventional wisdom.

Otherwise thoughtful men strain to heroic yet disastrous ends to deny that this insurrection might ultimately spring, not from social exclusion or penury, but from the religion of Muhammad and the culture formed around it. We are told that jihad is not what it is. We are told that history is not what it was; that conquest and subjugation from Persia to Spain, from Indonesia to Byzantium, accompanied the expansion of Islam as a mere coincidence. We are told reassuringly that Islam prohibits the murder of innocents; but we are never told that under jihad, no infidel who has heard the call to submission can ever be innocent, that warfare under jihad simply does not recognize the category of innocent as Western man has conceived it, that, in short, the infidel is judged guilty by his unbelief.

Our detestation should be particularly aroused by the absurd and pitiful spectacle of Marxism providing the standard analytical framework for this insurrection. It is as if, under the pressure of an unfamiliar and terrible creed, the demoralized Westerner retreats to the chants of our antique street protestors: Blah blah blah POVERTY! Blah blah blah UNEMPLOYMENT! Blah blah blah ALIENATION!

Did we not refute this Rationalist gibberish 25 years ago? Have we forgotten the brilliant critique that issued from the first generation of neoconservatives, and truly, whatever has become of that word today, accomplished change for the better? Do we forget what James Q. Wilson and Irving Kristol and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Commentary and The Public Interest and all the rest taught us — that the reason a community or a city degrades into lawlessness is not economics but culture? In America that culture can be isolated (if oversimplified) in one word: fatherlessness. Rend the family asunder, tear fathers away from mothers and children, introduce sexual license — and you will have squalor and despair; you will even have poverty, unemployment and alienation.

I speak to my fellow Conservatives: for God’s sake do not listen to the Liberals! They are stuck on stupid. The poverty of their imagination astonishes. Economic reductionism will not illumine this problem. Economics can tell us many useful things, and many true things; but it can never tell us the most important things of human politics. We know this, Conservatives. The secularism so dear to the Left (which in this case has become economic determinism) blinds it to the deepest motives and inspirations in men. Arising from those very motivations the Left has made itself ignorant of, a great struggle confronts us, and it appears new but it is extraordinarily old. Rare is the war that occupies the leaders of more than one generation of men; rarer still is the war that occupies leaders of more than one age of men. This one has occupied mediaeval men, modern men, and it will surely implicate postmodern men. Already it implicates us, despite our best efforts to cultivate an intoxicating ignorance. It began in what we call the Dark Age and has not yet ended; it gazed with patient jaded eyes on the battle of Manzikert, the fall of Constantinpole and the Siege of Vienna; the victory of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and her defeat; the break up of Catholic Europe and the decay of Protestantism; and the rise and fall of Feudalism, Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy, each in turn. The very last thing that will help us understand it is a tendentious ideology that drags everything before the tribunal of its pinched Reason, and stands in mute bewilderment, or impotent rage, at anything that will not honor that tribunal. The very last thing we should do, is imagine that all those Marxist pieties, translated through the emollients of Liberalism, which nearly ruined half our great cities forty years ago, should now regain their currency to sooth our distress while dazing our minds.

Not economics: culture. Mr. Belien puts it succinctly:

Unlike their fathers, who came to France from Muslim countries, accepting that, whilst remaining Muslims themselves, they had come to live in a non-Muslim country, the rioters see France as their country. They were born here. This land is their land. And since they are Muslims, this land, or at least a part of it, is Muslim as well. The society they live in is a homogeneous Islamic one. For them that is society, there is no other.

Curse me if you must for implicating Islam itself — which I have indeed done. Denounce me for my pessimism. Answer my argument on its merits with bitter contempt. But, in the name of all that is holy, do not resurrect the most discredited ideology ever conceived by men. Close your ears to the siren’s song of economic determinism. Consider whether you really think it plausible to reduce living men, each possessed of the ineffable gift of Mind, to mere flotsam on the waves of great economic currents. Show some true respect for the religion that has stood against us, now surging, now retreating, for nearly fifteen centuries; the religion that conquered and extinguished great Christian cities with names like Galatia, Ephesus, Antioch, Alexandria; the religion that broke the great Roman Empire and reduced so many of her former dominions.

More than that, learn what jihad is and has always been. It has been truly said (by Richard Weaver among others) that to resist a falsification of history, a man must be possessed of a solid picture of truth. Mere skepticism is not enough.

The resources are available. Purchase and study Dr. Bostom’s book or Miss Ye’or’s books; or Robert Spencer’s less-scholarly but still useful books. Surely they are wrong on some things, and have misinterpreted others; and even if their history is near-perfect, it does not follow that their prescriptions are sound. But nothing could be surer than that we have been deceived about Islam, where we have not been left in ignorance. And I lay it down as a principle and a challenge, that all free citizens of the West are under an obligation to begin (first if necessary an unlearning about Islam and then —) a study of the faith of Muhammad with eyes undimmed by the fashions of our age.

posted by Paul Cella | 8:36 AM |

Wednesday, November 02, 2005  

Few things are as detestable as the treatment given to black Conservatives and Republicans. The civility that makes public life tolerable does not, it seems, extend to them. But it cannot have escaped the notice of these brave men and women, that their opponents exhibit a partisanship quite undimmed by charity, a malevolence of almost tribal concentration, and a poverty of imagination that speaks of simple desperation.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is running for the U.S. Senate. He is a black Republican. Maryland is one of the more reliably Democratic states in the country. Thus, by the logic of this ugly charade, he must be subjected to a level of slander and malice that is not, as one might hope, whispered in shame but bellowed in self-righteousness.

Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, a black Baltimore Democrat, said Mr. Steele invites comparisons to a slave who loves his cruel master or a cookie that is black on the outside and white inside because his conservative political philosophy is, in her view, anti-black.

“Because he is a conservative, he is different than most public blacks, and he is different than most people in our community,” she said. “His politics are not in the best interest of the masses of black people.”

Observe the partisanship compounded by insularity. Note that there is no argument upon which to ground a defense of the attacks; there is only a tendentious assertion. The whole great bulk of American political debate — which usually resolves in the end to a confrontation between Liberalism and Conservatism — is brazenly subsumed into this assertion. It is not necessary to even argue that Liberalism is better for blacks. It is not necessary to even consider the claims of Conservatism when they are made by a black man.

There is not much more that can be said here. We should denounce this cruel vitriol in no uncertain terms. We should wish Mr. Steele well, admire his perseverance, and hope that his example might inspire more like him: that this dreary, depressing episode might one day be a thing of the past, like so many of the other episodes where race threatened to break America.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:47 PM |

Tuesday, November 01, 2005  

Just in case there was any doubt: New Orleans was a basket case before Katrina.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:09 PM |
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