Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), and most recently, America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books) and, publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
Everyone Knows . . .
There is a decidedly arrogant claim engendered by the horde of progressives which starts with the words "everyone knows." For example, everyone knows the Tea Partiers have a racist agenda. And everyone knows patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.
Presumably if everyone knows, evidence to buttress one's argument is unnecessary. Dissent is a function of those conservative know nothings, the grass roots mob wallowing in ignorance. If the Tea Partiers display none of the characteristics attributed to them, the labels still persist. After all, "everyone knows." If demonstrators avow their loyalty to the nation, but disavow President Obama, they are ipso facto scoundrels. Who doesn't know that?
That there is a natural order to opinions is manifest in what elitist ideas embrace. Free speech is desirable until you say something elite opinion-makers disapprove. Suppose you say homosexuality is related to nurture, not nature; observe how the panjandrums of free speech use their free speech placards to beat you into submission. When "everyone knows. . . ." dissent is beside the point.
It takes courage to stand up to the bromides masquerading as current truth. Until the environmental movement was unmasked over global warming, those who challenged the prevailing sentiment were perceived as cranks. That tag hasn't evanesced despite evidence of wrong-doing by the so-called environmental scientists.
Similarly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg invokes libertarian principles when he wants to burnish his liberal credentials, then considers it appropriate through ukase to impose his views on what New Yorkers should eat and drink. While he doesn't quite say "everyone knows," it is implied in his public commentary. "Everyone knows transfats are bad for you."
President Obama is not inoculated against this condition. In fact, his economic policies are usually defended as "everyone knows." Everyone knows something had to be done to save the nation from financial ruination after "the destructive policies of the Bush administration." It is too bad I hadn't received this doctrinal statement in my morning reading fare.
It is also axiomatic that everyone knows steps had to be taken to control the increase in healthcare expenditures and to provide insurance coverage for the uninsured. The fact that Obamacare increases healthcare expenses and imposes insurance on those who may not want it, is merely a pettifogging critique. After all, everyone knows it had to be done.
The experts in foreign affairs know that everyone knows the U.S. cannot afford to play its traditional role of stabilizing global influence. Of course defense spending is 4.5 percent of GDP and pales in significance to entitlement expenses, but not everyone knows that.
There is little doubt that "everyone knows" is a conversation stopper. It puts the naysayers in the penalty box. It says you cannot possibly have an informed opinion. It is comparable to reading a Frank Rich column or a New Yorker article in which the cognoscenti contends "everyone knows" the truth.
That there may be other points of view, that no one has a monopoly on the truth, are conditions rarely considered by those who reflexively invoke "everyone knows" in argumentation. Needless to say, the reliance on this phrase isn't an argument, but for those who assume their positions are in the orbit of natural order, it seems likely that this phrase will continue to be relied on.
The Mullen War Strategy
Recently the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said there are "new ways of deterrence that address those factors that make individuals vulnerable to coercion. . . ." In a speech delivered at the Hoover Institution, Admiral Mullen noted that the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaida can be deterred by a traditional method of military retaliation and by nontraditional means of attacking extremism at its core. "Attacking the humiliation, the hopelessness, the illiteracy, and abject poverty which lie at the core of the attraction to extremist thought will do more to turn the tide against terrorism than anything else," he announced.
Presumably an understanding of the Koran, rather than an interpreter's view, a higher standard of living, and understanding wives and friends will convert swords into plowshares.
Surely Admiral Mullen must be aware of several incontrovertible conditions: Muslim leaders who espouse violence are often from wealthy families, vide: Osama bin Laden; being able to read doesn't translate into understanding; sitting on a couch with a psychologist who identifies with your angst may be comforting, but as a strategy for peace it lacks staying power.
The admiral's psychobabble has as much validity as alchemy. In fact, one wonders what happened to a military culture predicated on "kill or be killed"? No sensible person wants the bloodshed of war, but there have been times in history when the choice is slavery or battle. Some, perhaps many, prefer battle.
As it turns out Admiral's Mullen's words were turned on their head in any case. In Iran, one headline noted that Admiral Mullen wants the "U.S. to deter Qur'an followers." Hezbollah T.V. in Lebanon reported, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mile Mullen says "people learning the way of the Qur'an are the subject of new American deterrence." And the Iran Broadcasting Station accused Mullen of using "insulting words against Islamic scholars."
Apparently Admiral Mullen has forgotten the incident at Fort Hood in which a Muslim physician wantonly killed fellow soldiers at the base. Was he suffering from deprivation, a lack of understanding, a low standard of living? The part of this equation Admiral Mullen doesn't address, the part he intentionally ignores, is that violence is inherent in Islamic thought as Verses of The Sword suggests.
How can one deter an enemy when there is a refusal to understand him? Even those in the Arab world are perplexed. Middle East tradition indicates you side with the "strong horse." But if you do not know how to apply your strength, you become the "weak horse." At the moment, U.S. psychologizing is having a paralyzing influence in fighting a war against radical Islam.
Can you imagine a strategy in World War II in which we argued the most effective way to deter the Nazis would be classes on Mein Kampf? Or perhaps we should have sent psychologists to Berlin instead of Patten's army.
It boggles the imagination to consider how misguided military strategists have become. From battlefield action based on lethality we have seemingly moved to Dr. Phil on the military couch. The question that remains is whether the U.S. can subdue an enemy committed to our destruction with psychological, economic, and social tactics. Obviously Admiral Mullen thinks we can; I have considerable doubt.
Why Do Modern Women Convert to Islam
Very recently Tony Blair's sister-in-law converted to Islam; the journalist Lauren Booth embraced the faith after what she described as a "holy experience" in Iran. Based on what Ayaan Hirsi Ali has described as the brutal, totalistic character of Islam, one is obliged to ask why any modern career woman would opt for conversion to the Muslim religion.
After all, as so many autobiographies of Muslim women note, the religion bans anything that is fun (haran or the forbidden). No chewing of gum; no bicycle riding, no make-up, no eating in public, no painting of nails, no pets, no questions and, of course, no answering back. For many Muslim women, there is an eagerness to assert independence as soon as adulthood is reached.
How then does one explain Lauren Booth? She notes that in the city of Qom "I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy." What precisely was Ms. Booth seeking and why did she find it in Islam? Although it is difficult to generalize, I suspect that the convert is in a search for meaning in societies where the "anything goes" permissive of the moment proves to be a superficial void. Islam is totalistic; modernity, with all its freedom, is often vacuous.
One convert said Islam allows you to reject fads and fashion and "seek a higher goal." Alas, one, of course, is free to reject fads without embracing Islam. But it is comforting -- I guess -- to have one's life ordered by the ritual impulse of a totalistic religion. As another convert pointed out, "it makes life purer." But does it?
By and large, Islam devolves into extremism, the repression of women, inequality and brutality such as the stoning of adulterers. Converts, however, refer to the celebration of old fashioned family values and hospitality, values which have been eroded in the West. For many, Islam is an escape route from the cultural degradation of Western society. In fact, what converts often confuse is culture and religion. The warmth a family confers is not the same as the demands of religious obedience.
Women in the West may deplore the pressure to act like men by drinking to excess and engaging in casual sex. But, despite the pressure, one is free to make choices, a condition Islam rejects. However it is precisely being the prisoner of action that appeals to many women. They don't have to choose; the religion does it for them. It is the escape route from their vision of a broken society.
While it is easy to appreciate the search for meaning in societies that are culturally barren, the conversion to Islam is comparable to the move from anarchy to totalitarianism. In the '20s and '30s Germany adopted the free and easy moral stance of the Weimar Republic. Life was "a bowl of cherries, don't take it seriously, it's too mysterious." The breakdown of moral order led to a period in which people sought stability, in the form of Nazi dictatorship.
In a similar way, the moral dissolution of the West has many seeking an axis on which to rely, moral compass points. It may well be that the poles in this compass are static and harsh, but at least the limits of behavior are defined. Some poor souls unable "to find themselves" seek refuge in self-selected slavery. They are prisoners of their own vision. The West they see is morally bankrupt; Islam may be violent and harsh, but it does prescribe moral parameters.
Of course, the question that remains is why Christianity doesn't provide moral guidelines so many women are seeking. As I see it, Christianity's unwillingness to assert the limits of behavior -- a loss of confidence if you will -- has given Islam the upper hand with women who are suggestible and vulnerable to propaganda. Some might contend these converts have gone from the frying pan into the fire, but as they see it, Islam has offered meaning in lives without it and has provided strictures for lives that have only known license.
German Schools Embrace Islam
There is little doubt west European governments are engaged in a form of social suicide. Rather than increased efforts to integrate Muslims into German society, to cite one example, German students will be taught about Islam. In a sense German educators will be engaged in proselytizing for Islam.
The German state of Lower Saxony will start including Islam in its schools' core curriculum as part of an initiative to counter growing anti-Islam sentiment in Europe. Dr. Bernad Althusmann, Minister of Education in Lower Saxony, announced that schools in the state will start including Islamic education in their main curriculum. "I think we will be able to start implementation by the academic year after the next," Althusmann said during a visit to an elementary school in the city of Hanover that offers an Islamic education class.
Justifying this approach, Juergen Zoeliner, Berlin Minister for Education, Science, and Research, notes, "For years, society and schools have been faced with a variety of new duties and challenges. One of these big challenges is to have people from different traditions, cultural, and religion affiliations living together peacefully and respectfully."
Of course, whether the program in question leads ultimately to a peaceful result is questionable. One might well ask why did the armies of Europe turn back the Turks at the gates of Vienna 500 years ago when programs, like those instituted in Germany, are handing Islam the keys to the future.
German shame over Nazi atrocities has made Hitler's heritage the end of German history and identity. But should this shame be replaced by preemptive capitulation to a religion with a relentless imperial impulse?
To be sure the Salafists, with Saudi funding, will follow up on their efforts in the schools. But will the full story of Islam be told including the stoning of adulterers, the execution of homosexuals, polygamy, apostasy as a capital offense, and the belief that Jews are the offspring of apes and pigs?
It is instructive that "diversity education" is predicated on the belief that we in the West have on obligation to understand Islam. However, the reverse doesn't follow. One might presume that Muslims in the West should come to know and appreciate Western Civilization. Moreover, students who are not versed in the history and customs of the polity they find themselves in will be handicapped. Yet curiously integration, that was once the overarching strategy for dealing with immigrants, has been replaced by cultural pluralism, "from the one, many" instead of "from the many, one."
In Germany and throughout western Europe there is an effort to bend over backwards to accommodate the Islamic population. In the process, this effort produces results that counter good intentions. First, the Islamic population believes, with considerable confirmation, that Europeans do not possess the will to assert the importance of their own culture and traditions. Second, the insertion of Islam into German schools suggests tacitly that Islam is on the rise and cannot be denied even in non-Islamic nations.
Preemptive capitulation is nothing more than an attenuated form of defeat. It is noteworthy that Islamic leaders recognize it in this way. The aggressive stance taken by Islamic leaders in Europe is based to an extraordinary degree on the flexibility and weakness of those who might defend the West.
G. K. Chesterton once noted that "an open mind, like an open mouth, should close on something." As I see it, that something should be the traditions of the West, the Judeo-Christian principles that gave birth to our civilization. If people want to live in this civilization, that is what they should be obliged to learn. Anything else, weakens the West and will usher in continual discord.
New York's Traffic Gridlock
A former Commissioner of Traffic several decades ago was asked, "what is the best way to get cross town in Manhattan?" He thought for a moment and said, "Be born there." That statement was made before bus lanes, bicycle lanes, outdoor seating in the middle of Times Square, trains bursting with passengers at all hours of the day, and an MTA that puts most of its money into employee salaries rather than infrastructure maintenance.
New York is now at virtual transportation gridlock. There simply isn't a way to get from point A to point B in the center of this city. As I see it, the best way to get cross town today is to dream about it.
For physicians, the expression "primum non nocere" [first no harm] is axiomatic. But this expression should apply to government officials as much as doctors. In the last three years New York City officials have built 200 miles of bike lanes making First and Second Avenues impassable during rush hour. The attempt to convert New York into a bikers' paradise is bizarre. Only an elitist who doesn't ride a bus or walk the streets thinks that this metropolitan city can resemble Amsterdam.
Some New York residents actually believe bike lanes are pedestrian walkways making them extremely hazardous to your health. Moreover, since there aren't regulations for bikers there is the belief that riding against traffic is permitted. DOT Commissioner Janette Sadikkhan contends, "There's a new street code out there and we need everyone to look out for one another and be safe." Is she kidding? In New York, the code is move if you can and let the pedestrian be damned.
Of course, this is only half the problem. Mayor Bloomberg got the inspired idea that tourists need an outdoor seating area in the middle of Times Square and Herald Square making two of New York's busiest areas into a nightmarish congestion. If God forbid, you need an ambulance or fire truck in these locales to save a life, you can count on dying. There is simply no way to pass.
In addition, our government leaders contend the best way to get around this city is by subway trains, that is if you can get on them. The Numbers 4 and 5 on the east side are always jammed; in fact, I usually consider myself lucky if I can get on the train at all. At the 42nd Street station there isn't enough room to stand with would-be passengers sitting on the steps in the hope they can get on the next train.
Because the east side trains are so crowded I have opted for the R, running along Broadway. However this train is the slowest in the Western world. A trip from the Staten Island Ferry to Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, a trip of roughly six miles took me on hour and twenty minutes last week. I am persuaded I can walk more briskly than that pace.
What this adds up to is a city in transportation gridlock. Roads designed for bikers; avenues designed for tourists and trains designed for sloths. I love New York, but I would like to be able to move in this city before I move out of it. I would like to believe that New York was more than a place for those living in zip code 10021.
You would have to be myopic to design a transportation system as chaotic as ours. The cost of getting around has to be factored into the business equation. The frustration of sitting in traffic has to take a toll on drivers. The congestion of trains must be having an effect on passengers.
But New York goes on blithely as if these conditions are "normal." Let me assure my fellow New Yorkers that the city is coming to a standstill. You will not be able to move crosstown or uptown, traffic will be frozen. At that point, the mayor is likely to say use a helicopter to get from one place to the next. Now there's a practical answer for the city's transportation woes. *
"No country upon earth ever had it more in its power to attain these blessings than United America." --George Washington