Friday, February 09, 2007

David Solway and Mark Steyn: the West has jihad it!

In the December issue of Books in Canada – the one with that 27,000-word (!!) defence of Conrad Black – there is a review by poet David Solway (also an associate editor at BiC) of Mark Steyn's America Alone. It's a doozy.

Solway wastes no time calling Steyn "intrepid and politically incorrect" – so almost immediately, even somebody with fading batteries in his bullshit detector should know what he is in for.

Solway chastises squishy-liberal rags like, um, the Globe for not taking seriously Steyn's message, which is essentially that (American) might makes right, and that unless Judeo-Christians start breeding faster than the ullulating hordes, we're going to be up to our ears in car bombs and burqas. Solway also makes clear he's with Steyn on the idea that "moderate" Islam is only vicious, murderous jihadi Islam with a smiley face.
In this view, the term "Islamic fundamentalism" is a kind of tautology. Since Muslims believe the Koran is the literal word of Allah which pronounces on matters both sacred and profane and governs their conduct in the world, it follows that all genuine Muslims are by definition fundamentalists who, as Muslims, must consent to the indivisible unity of religion and politics. "Moderation" merely provides the framework within which the ostensibly "extreme" forms of Islam can prosper and, so to speak, receive scriptural asylum. For Steyn and his congeners, the distinction we like to make in the interests of political correctness between Islam and Islamism is a specious one.
So the problem is that Muslims "consent to the indivisible unity of religion and politics?" Given that the U.S. had an Attorney General for five years who used to anoint himself with cooking oil and who once said "I don't particularly care if I do what's right in the sight of men. The important thing is for me to do right in God's sight. . . The verdict of history is inconsequential; the verdict of eternity is what counts," I'm guessing that Solway used up all of his appreciation for irony in his poetry.

The whole thing is worth reading as well as marvelling over for its breathtaking ignorance and naïvety. The best part, for me, comes right near the end:
For the decadent benevolism of the modern state deprives the individual of his autonomy and thereby infantilises him, reducing him to a supine appendage on a vast administrative organism. If we do not recover our backbone as responsible citizens, we will find ourselves living in an invertebrate world that is no match for a supple and aggressive antagonist who has our demise at heart.
Or, as Steyn himself says: "The majority can never replace the man. And no more than a hundred empty heads make one wise man will an heroic decision arise from a hundred cowards."

Oh no wait, that was Hitler, who also said "Mankind has grown strong in eternal struggle, and only in eternal peace does it perish." Which is not at all akin to Solway writing that
by expropriating many of the basic "functions of adulthood," the welfare state has proceeded to neuter its citizens, creating an inverted pyramid or Ponzi scheme in which fewer children support more and more oldsters while simultaneously sapping their will to confront an implacable adversary.
Actually, to be honest, it wasn't the image of Hitler that kept coming to mind while reading Solway's review, it was the one below:

21 comments:

Zachariah Wells said...

Solway and others have been peddling this Zionist propaganda in BiC for some time now. I've always found Solway to have interesting--if tendentious--things to say about poetry, but he's proving himself to be a latter-day Canadian Pound--another brilliant naif--in his political promulgations. Nice takedown, Nathan.

Steven W. Beattie said...

I agree with Zach: Solway is fine when he's discoursing on poetry or Michel Houellebec, but his more overtly political pieces leave me feeling discomfited at best.

Still, while I may not agree with what he says, I'll defend to the death his right to say it, and yadda, yadda, yadda.

nathan said...

I have to admit that it's at least refreshing to see a Canadian writer spout opinions that would be out of place on afternoon CBC Radio. It would be hyprocritical of me, especially after the things I wrote about Alberto Manguel, to condemn Solway for not not ideologically signing up with the NDP.

On the other hand, Mark Steyn is a willfully ignorant, racist laughingstock with zero credibility. (Frank magazine did a very funny piece recently (titled "Hey Nostradumbass!"), listing some of Steyn's useless predictions about the Iraq war, etc.

As for Solway, he doesn't seem to get that it is possible to express anger at liberal-bureaucrat norms without falling in with preening closet fascists and their "memories of Mein Kampf" fantasies.

Zachariah Wells said...

Yeah, lots of entertainment value in Solway, that's for sure. I'd never say he should be silenced. The worst thing you can do to crazy talk is censor it. Tho I'd note, Steven, that Solway used his essay on Houellebecq to go on another anti-Islam spree. It's not that I'm anti-Islam, either, just that I'm also anti-Christian and anti-Jewish, which Solway isn't. He may not be signing up with the NDP, but he sure as hell is toeing a party line.

Steyn's a hack apologist. An articulate one, which is the worst kind. Nick Naylor?

You familiar with Godwin's Law, Nathan? I hear what you're saying, but there are more credible ways of discrediting this garbage than playing the Nazi card.

nathan said...

Zach,

Godwin's Law, as far as I know, was a result of people on discussion boards and the like posting things like "BUSH IS A FUKKING NAZI!!!" The whole point of it is to highlight lazy analogies and argumentation. Saying it applies for all Nazi references is just as lazy, and can easily be used to silence legitimate criticism. Personally, I find knee-jerk anti-religious comments just as lazy as knee-jerk Nazi references. (After all, it was a prominent anti-religionist, Sam Harris, who recently wrote that "it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right" and that "The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.")

The point is that the kind of narrow, xenophobic fantasies that people like Solway and Steyn (and Harris) play with are very similar to the kind of things that runs through the-ideology-that-must-not-be-named. After all, who said that the people are best united against a common enemy? I won't say his name, but his initials were A.H.

ognir.rrats said...

If a tree fell in the forest...


No one reads BiC.

Zachariah Wells said...

Actually, I know a lot of people who do and clearly at least two of them are part of this conversation. And a disturbing number of people read Mark Steyn on a regular basis. I'm presently trying to explain to an engineer friend of mine why it's not such a shithot idea to give credence to Steyn's views on global warming.

It's not that I disagree with you, Nathan, it's that using the analogy summons a knee-jerk emotional response in most people, either in agreement or in violent opposition. It's not all that different from the way the Holocaust and anti-Semitism generally are used to mute criticism of Israel or anything Jewish. (Or to put myself in the role of the Pot, the way a certain political party whipped up patriotic fervour with stirring speeches about the fatherland.) You call something reactionary, racist, xenophobic, fascistic even, you're not trading on all that baggage. You say Nazi or Hitler, you are. Regardless of how apt the comparison is, it's not very useful in a discussion because it's instantly polarizing.

Steven W. Beattie said...

If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then chances are ...

While I would not go so far as to equate Solway's ramblings, or those of Steyn and his ilk, direclty to the Third Reich, there is certainly a kind of fascist mentality undirpinning them. I have more regard generally for Harris than you seem to, Nathan, although I agree that at his most egregious he veers dangerously close to this same territory.

And you're right, Zach, that the mere mention of the Nazis is instantly polarizing, but I'm not sure that it's any more polarizing than Steyn's rhetoric, or that of any knee-jerk ideologue on either extreme of the political spectrum. I've come across many Steyn apologists in the mainstream. Hitler apologists, not so much.

nathan said...

The other thing about applying Godwin's Law too widely, or worrying about being "polarizing," for that matter, is that it represents unilateral rhetorical disarmament, which I don't believe in.

The left does this way too much as it is, leaving the entire rhetorical arsenal in the hands of people like Steyn, who know how to use it, and aren't afraid to. Never bring a knife to a gun fight, debate-wise.

Steven W. Beattie said...

Shit. I meant to write "underpinning."

I need more coffee ...

Zachariah Wells said...

Good point, but you can off bullshit rhetoric as effectively--probably more so--with a sniper's bullet as you can with a bazooka at close range. You're more apt to convince the fence-sitters with a subtler approach. Those already polarised are probably unreachable anyway. It's the nature of true belief and that's what Steyn taps into most effectively. He amplifies ideological prejudice.

nathan said...

I hate to explain a joke, but if you back to my original Godwin's Law-breaking post, you'll see that I at least tried to sneak the bazooka into the party before everybody noticed and got polarized.

Plus, better (and funnier) sites than this are break the law left and right:

http://tinyurl.com/2hd7t4

The end of that post sums up my thoughts on people like Steyn perfectly:

"It’s not that these people are violently crazy in all aspects, it’s just that politically, the actions and policies they advocate — not to mention what they imagine but [...] do not say — are so appallingly cartoonish in their supervillainy"

nathan said...

go back to and breakin' the law, that is...

ognir.rrats said...

"Actually, I know a lot of people who do ..."

Uh huh, you and the seven other posters over at Book Ninja.

_Effectively_, no one reads BiC. (Did I really need to delineate that?)

nathan said...

And yet, you read this far and bothered to comment. Twice. Under a pseudonym. About a story you think is irrelevant.

BiC isn't exactly The New Yorker, but the Globe just did two stories on the Conrad Black thing they did. People notice when crazy things get written.

ognir.rrats said...

Probably better not to assume you know why I read (or post) anything here.

nathan said...

Okay, hombre, I get it: you're here to drink your beer and watch the band.

Since I'm the virtual host here, I feel I need to say that we should either keep it friendly or make the hostilities less opaque. I'm happy if anybody wants to scrap, but no trolling, please.

Zachariah Wells said...

I got the joke, it was damn funny, I don't disagree with you for a second about the aptness of the comparison--at least of the rhetoric. But it's precisely the cartoonishness of the supervillainy that makes it easy to knock it over with a feather. Really, all you need to do is quote bozos like Steyn to convince sane and intelligent people that he's a denizen of a DC or Marvel parallel dimension.

Ognir, I have no idea what kind of point you're trying to make or why you're trying to make it. You could say that _effectively_ no one reads just about anything published in this country. I'm not a big fan of the management of BiC (nor is anyone else I know who've written for them), but I talk to all kinds of people who read it at least semi-regularly, and they sometimes have some very good content. It's not as well read as Quill & Quire, I don't think, but it seems to be far more relevant to people in the lit world than, say, LRC. (I've only ever met one person who reads that one.) What review fora, pray tell, are people across the country reading instead? Besides the Globe, which no one is buying for the Books section.

LunaMoth1 said...

Two years on, Solway is writing about Gaza in deranged and solipsistic tones that leave no doubt of a spiritual affiliation with AH. You guys were right.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my, what a typical bunch of intellectually bankrupt lefty moral equivocalism. But nothing really new about that, right? Same old, same old. Orwell bemoaned it 70 years ago. When all the rhetoric is said and done, you lefties always love your fascists. Only makes sense, you both have a lot in common: the cleansing of the "corrupt" in a "regrettable" but necessary siege of terror. But you keep telling yourself you're the clever good guys, if that's what it takes to get yourself up in the morning.

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