Threats to civilization abound, even if they can’t be seen out your window


National Post - Wednesday August 27th, 2014

The ISIS terrorist that executed James Foley spoke to the world with a British accent. News reports tell us that his identity may soon be revealed. But we already know that British-born and raised jihadists have become a commonplace and that there are hundreds of them known to the authorities. The idea that such fanaticism is being enabled in western nations—in some countries to a greater degree than others, but none is immune—should frighten us all.

I was therefore troubled to read a Facebook thread in which a conservative friend expressed fears of homegrown jihadism in Canada, and a liberal friend dismissed it out of hand. He wrote that the Muslim friends he hangs out with only want to talk about mortgage rates and tennis and the like. I was astonished at his naiveté, what I would call his reverse NIMBY-ism—that is, if it is not happening in my back yard, It is not happening at all.

His remarks put me in mind of the English journalist Melanie Phillips’s 2013 memoir, Guardian Angel: My story, my Britain. The book describes her journey from boilerplate left-wing idealist, admired and cosseted by her colleagues and editors, to professional pariah associated with the Right, a niche where she is lionized for her courage, but which she occupies with discomfort (she considers herself a realist, not a right-winger).

Phillips’ estrangement from the left was inevitable, once her intellectual acuity and moral integrity forced her to espouse public positions—on multiculturalism, feminism, family breakdown and its consequences, and Israel, to name a few—that challenged the received wisdom on all these subjects by the postmodern left—a departure, she makes clear, from the classical liberalism she grew up on and still believes she represents.

In 2006, Phillips recalls in this memoir, she was interviewed about her then newly-published book Londonistan by (hostile) Guardian journalist Jackie Ashley. An exchange that did not appear in the recorded interview blew Phillips’ away and “for me encapsulated the chasm between myself and the left.”

The subject under discussion was a niche topic for Phillips, the breakdown of family life as the result of “debauched and disorderly culture of instant gratification, with disintegrating families, feral children, and violence, squalor and vulgarity on the streets.”

Phillips writes that Ashley, contemptuous of Phillips’s critique, “waved her hand dismissively at the window and said, ‘I see no feral children. Where are they?'” Phillips was incredulous. The two of them happened to be sitting at that moment in a chic café in a posh area of London. Of course there would be no feral children there. The feral children were in “veritable cultural deserts” in the north of England, in places where Guardian journalists never set foot if they could help it.

How, Phillips asked herself in wonderment, could Ashley not be aware “that there were now two Britons, one that was part of society and another that had largely detached itself from it? How could such misguided complacency possibly be considered progressive?”

She realizes she should not be shocked. Phillips had now been long aware that she lived in an upside down world, ideologically dominated by the Left, where unpleasant truths that conflict with progressive theories of gender, class, race, and human rights are simply waved aside or denied. Indeed she would in 2010 publish a book about it: The World Turned Upside Down.

Ashley’s stunningly parochial remark says much about many progressives’ mindset.

Many secularists find all religions charming but their own. They don’t see militant Muslims, radicalized in certain mosques, learning to despise westerners and hate Jews, because ‘I don’t see any jihadists at my tennis club.’

Many feminists—either childless or happily partnered with a responsible man with whom she is raising children—wave away statistics about fatherless children, because ‘I don’t see any at-risk children of single women in my children’s excellent private or neighbourhood school.’

Many multiculturalist academics are proud of their “diverse” collegial relationships with modern, western-educated South Asians. They are impervious to stories of female genital mutilation, sex-selection abortions, forced marriage, and honour killings, because ‘I don’t see any culturally-rooted misogyny in my humanities department.’

Many anti-Zionist students, ignorant of history and unashamed of their ignorance, and far from the Middle Eastern fray, simply “know” that Palestinians are always victims and Israelis are by definition Nazis, because ‘I don’t see any inherently Judeophobic Arab terrorism that has nothing whatsoever to do with settlements or any other political policies in my student union.’

If I actually believed that the world’s and my country’s security was governed by the kind of people I see out my “window”—those amongst whom I am privileged to live, work, socialize and vacation—I too would assume I was living in a golden age of peace, tolerance, egalitarianism, and civic enlightenment. But I am not a progressive. That way self-delusion lies.