Something in the final paragraph of a recent Mark Steyn column brings to mind a short story (really a kind of poem) by Franz Kafka. Here’s Steyn:
We’re collapsing our own skulls here — the parameters in which we allow ourselves to think about abortion, welfare, immigration, terrorism, Islam shrink remorselessly, not least at the congressional level. Maybe if we didn’t collapse the skulls of so many black babies in Philadelphia, we wouldn’t need to import so many excitable young Chechens. But that’s thinking outside the box, and the box is getting ever smaller, like a nice, cozy cocoon in which we’re always warm and safe. Like — what’s the word? — a womb.
What Steyn did throughout the preceding paragraphs was to link the murder trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell with a culture that is tempted to blame itself for not doing enough to convince the Boston terrorists not to kill its people. As he puts it, “Dzhokhar and Tamerlan were raised in Cambridge, Mass., a notorious swamp of redneck bigotry where the two young Chechens no doubt felt ‘alienated’ and ‘excluded’ at being surrounded by NPR-listening liberals cooing.”
The link between the two is the terms in which we’re allowed to think about the thorny issues of our time. In Boston, we can’t challenge the shibboleths of multiculturalism, and so the answer right before our faces becomes an impenetrable mystery. In Philadelphia, we can’t challenge the dogma of abortion, so (to the extent it’s discussed at all) talk about “collapsing the skull” and “right to choose” makes it difficult to offer moral argument as to why it’s wrong for a “doctor” to fully deliver the baby before severing his or her spine with scissors and then chopping off hands and feet as keepsakes.
This is where Kafka comes in, with the story in its entirety:
“Alas,” said the mouse, “the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into.”
“You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.
There are many hungry felines awaiting a wealthy, decadent society busily tying its own hands, but among the most proximate to the above discussion is radical Islam. Americans should familiarize themselves with the concept of jizya, which Andrew McCarthy illustrates as follows:
[Raymond Ibrahim] recounts how a Salafi sheikh has explained that U.S. aid to Egypt is considered jizya. That is the tax the Koran requires non-Muslims to pay for the privilege of living in a sharia state. As Allah directs in sura 9:29, it is not enough for conquered infidels (usually referred to by the dehumanizing term, kuffar) merely to pay this tribute; they must do so “with willing submission” in a manner that makes them “feel themselves subdued” — the humiliating condition of dhimmitude. The same reasoning applies to social welfare payments — they, too, are jizya.
One might object to this suggestion by noting the relative positions of power, here. U.S. friendliness and wealth is surely threatening to insecure Egyptians of an Islamicist bent who seek world domination, and so they’ll rationalize it away, telling their followers that they, in fact, are the strong horses in the battle. “Look how we’re winning!” they proclaim. In this view, Americans needn’t care what the powerless say of them.
Except that Boston shows that we do, or at least that they aren’t quite powerless.
The killers, there, were accepting those jizya social welfare payments, and they were quite destructive. Reviewing the “Lessons of Boston,” Ralph Peters points out that the United States welcomed the brothers, allowed them to be radicalized within our own society (apparently failing to make a compelling counter-argument to radical Islam), and then hobbled an entire city for days in response to “two amateur terrorists.” For an international movement with a culture of suicide bombing, that’s got to look like a pretty substantial victory.
There’s a corollary on the American side, too, and it harkens back to the narrow corner into which we’re running. Boston native Michael Walsh challenges the “Boston Strong” brand:
What we saw instead was a city cowering in fear, led by two particularly pusillanimous toads in Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Mumbles Menino, who had the services of some 10,000 armed personnel — literally, a small army — to take down… wait for it… a wounded teenager with a gun, and maybe some self-detonating explosives.
In a country that sets for its philosophical model a grade school playground — where the children are free to romp however they like, provided they stay within the spatial and interpersonal boundaries that the kindly domineering teachers prescribe — bravery is “sheltering in place” while your neighborhood is invaded by a legion of door-to-door-knocking men clinging to tanks. Walsh may miss the mark in his closing, however:
I’ve long said that the relationship between the American Left and Islam is that of masochist and sadist; the perfect Suicide Cult meets the Death Cult of its dreams. No wonder they got along so well together, right up to the moment when they didn’t.
It seems likely to be more the truth that the Left isn’t a death-wish mouse charging the corridor toward the awaiting teeth, but rather fancies itself another cat. The statists, after all, who desire a controlled, planned society seek a dominating power. At first blush, their ambitions seem strictly national, not international, like the Islamists, but a broader view shows them eager to work with other statists in other nations, ultimately setting up another kindly planning commission (backed with military force and monetary authority) to govern the entire planet.
And so, when the Left meets radical Islam, it isn’t the masochistic yin seeing its sadist yang, but rather the predator seeing its own reflection. The difference is that the carnivores of the West have learned from experience that aggressive totalitarianism tends to meet opposition or flame out, so they’re developing a passive version that “leads from behind,” so to speak.
Just as the Left strives to direct eyes away from a morally intolerable illustration of what pro-choice euphemisms cover up, it must direct eyes away from the imperialism and power-lust evident in the global jihad. Strength is weakness, and if the American people would just cower in their homes a little bit better and play a little bit nicer and speak a little bit softer, all will be well. Our tanks on your street make you strong.
The comfortable, secure dead end is close at hand. Just a little bit farther.