Ed Driscoll

Bookending 9/11

Ezra Levant explores Yale University’s cowardly decision not to publish the Danish Mohammed cartoons. He writes that “the fatwa against those cartoons, issued on the streets of Damascus and Teheran, did more damage to our North American culture of liberty than did 9/11 itself.”

We’ll get to Ezra’s post in just a second, but it seems to me that a pair of otherwise unrelated incidents that bookend 9/11 help to place it, and the cultural fear it created amongst the American left into perspective.

First up, the incident that Mark Steyn once described as “the defining encounter of the age”:

WITH hindsight, the defining encounter of the age was not between Mohammed Atta’s jet and the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, but that between Mohammed Atta and Johnelle Bryant a year earlier. Bryant is an official with the US Department of Agriculture in Florida, and the late Atta had gone to see her about getting a $US650,000 government loan to convert a plane into the world’s largest crop-duster. A novel idea.

The meeting got off to a rocky start when Atta refused to deal with Bryant because she was but a woman. But, after this unpleasantness had been smoothed out, things went swimmingly. When it was explained to him that, alas, he wouldn’t get the 650 grand in cash that day, Atta threatened to cut Bryant’s throat. He then pointed to a picture behind her desk showing an aerial view of downtown Washington – the White House, the Pentagon et al – and asked: “How would America like it if another country destroyed that city and some of the monuments in it?”

Fortunately, Bryant’s been on the training course and knows an opportunity for multicultural outreach when she sees one. “I felt that he was trying to make the cultural leap from the country that he came from,” she recalled. “I was attempting, in every manner I could, to help him make his relocation into our country as easy for him as I could.”

So a few weeks later, when fellow 9/11 terrorist Marwan al-Shehhi arrived to request another half-million dollar farm subsidy and Atta showed up cunningly disguised with a pair of glasses and claiming to be another person entirely – to whit, al-Shehhi’s accountant – Bryant sportingly pretended not to recognise him and went along with the wheeze. The fake specs, like the threat to slit her throat and blow up the Pentagon, were just another example of the multicultural diversity that so enriches our society.

For four years, much of the western world behaved like Bryant. Bomb us, and we agonise over the “root causes” (that is, what we did wrong). Decapitate us, and our politicians rush to the nearest mosque to declare that “Islam is a religion of peace”. Issue bloodcurdling calls at Friday prayers to kill all the Jews and infidels, and we fret that it may cause a backlash against Muslims. Behead sodomites and mutilate female genitalia, and gay groups and feminist groups can’t wait to march alongside you denouncing Bush, Blair and Howard. Murder a schoolful of children, and our scholars explain that to the “vast majority” of Muslims “jihad” is a harmless concept meaning “decaf latte with skimmed milk and cinnamon sprinkles”.

Until the London bombings. Something about this particular set of circumstances – British subjects, born and bred, weaned on chips, fond of cricket, but willing to slaughter dozens of their fellow citizens – seems to have momentarily shaken the multiculturalists out of their reveries. Hitherto, they’ve taken a relaxed view of the more, ah, robust forms of cultural diversity – Sydney gang rapes, German honour killings – but Her Britannic Majesty’s suicide bombers have apparently stiffened even the most jelly-spined lefties.

At The Age, Terry Lane, last heard blaming John Howard for the “end of democracy as we know it” and calling for “the army of my country … to be defeated” in Iraq, now says multiculturalism is a “repulsive word” whereas “assimilation is a beaut” and should be commended. In the sense that he seems to have personally assimilated with Pauline Hanson, he’s at least leading by example.

Where Lane leads, Melbourne’s finest have been rushing to follow, lining up to sign on to the New Butchness. “There is something wrong with multiculturalism,” warns Pamela Bone. “Perhaps it is time to say, you are welcome, but this is the way it is here.” Tony Parkinson – The Age’s resident voice of sanity – quotes approvingly France’s Jean-Francois Revel: “Clearly, a civilisation that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”

Of course, “the New Butchness” quickly evaporated back into the same old cultural dissipation. Flash-forward six months to the Great Cartoon Fatwa that began in early 2006, about which Ezra Levant writes today on his blog:

A number of American publications reprinted the cartoons. Going from memory (which is always risky), the Weekly Standard did, the Rocky Mountain News did, the Philadelphia Inquirer did, the Atlantic Monthly did, and a half-dozen other large media. That’s not a lot, and it was a scandal that the New York Times didn’t — or for that matter, my favourite U.S. magazine, National Review. But my point is, enough U.S. media did run them to show that Yale’s concern about violence is completely misplaced. None of the American media that reprinted them were subject to violence. And even if they had: since when does Yale silence the truth at the demand of threateners?

Yale is protected by campus police, “real” police, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Defence. More to the point, Yale is not located in Syria or Iran, where those two countries’ secret police whipped up staged anti-Danish riots as public distractions from their own political problems. (As we have seen in both of those countries, spontaneous political rallies are crushed by the secret police; the cartoon riots were orchestrated by those governments.)

I’ve said it before, and this is depressing proof of it: the fatwa against those cartoons, issued on the streets of Damascus and Teheran, did more damage to our North American culture of liberty than did 9/11 itself.

9/11 killed thousands of people and cost countless dollars. But other than those who were killed that day and their families, and those in our volunteer armed forces, 9/11 really didn’t change our lives other than perhaps the frustrating kabuki we go through at airport security. What’s different in our daily lives?

The Danish cartoon riots, though, had an enormous effect. They planted seeds of fear in the minds of thousands of editors, publishers, producers, journalists, professors, politicians and other “public intellectuals” — the dealers in ideas, the opinion leaders. They have chilled the intellectual climate of the West. They have made us disarm ourselves — or at least gag ourselves, which is a step towards intellectual disarmament. To cause Yale, with the beautiful motto “truth and light”, to censor the truth that was going to shine a light on a dark subject, is a staggering blow to the heart of the American academy. Imagine Yale’s reaction had such a publication ban been issued by an American court or legislature: they would have shrieked censorship and invoked the First Amendment, and with good cause. But a publication ban issued by fatwa from the ayatollahs of Iran and their colony in Syria? It was obeyed with the zeal of a convert by the appeasers at Yale.

It is not fear of violence; and if it is, it is not acceptable. It is fear of being politically incorrect. It’s fear of being unfashionable. It is self-abnegation; self-destruction; voluntary, pro-active cultural suicide; it is a willing embrace of sharia before sharia is even forced. It is the renunciation of the western, liberal, enlightment values that created Yale, and an embrace of Islamic fascism and its intellectual closed-mindedness.

And as The Copenhagen Post noted in the fall of 2007, the clerics who started the riots didn’t even see them before declaring their jihad:

Danish director Karsten Kjaer travelled throughout the Middle East to investigate who and what was responsible for the wave of violence released from the cartoons for his documentary ‘Those Damned Drawings’ (‘De Forbandede Tegninger’). He said the primary theme of the film is freedom of expression and its boundaries.

‘I’ve sought to be objective about the crisis’ factual events,’ Kjaer told public broadcaster DR. ‘But it is also a very personal film that portrays my travels around the Middle East and my own impression of both the causes and consequences of the conflict brought about by the 12 drawings.

The film suggests the crisis began full-force when the man many consider to be Islam’s most powerful figure, Sheik Yussuf Al-Qaradawi, declared 3 February 2006 as ‘Anger Day’ on his TV programme. A wave of violent protests across the globe unleashing followed in the wake of that transmission.

In the documentary, Kjaer shows the Mohammed drawings to Al-Qaradawi, who views them for the first time.

Kjaer also shows the cartoons to Ali Bakhsi, the Iranian who spearheaded demonstrations in Tehran that led to the burning of the Danish embassy there. Bakhsi laughingly says the drawings look nothing like Mohammed but rather like an Indian Sikh.

And of course, not bothering to look before seething works both ways, as Roger Kimball writes today, asking “why did the Yale University Press so ostentatiously abridge Professor Klausen’s academic freedom?”

It turns out that that is not so easy a question to answer.I spoke by telephone with Professor Klausen in Denmark yesterday. A couple of days ago, The New York Times, in a typically craven piece, took the side of YUP, noting that the decision to censor (not their word) Professor Klausen’s book had been taken only after consulting “two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism.” But why would the YUP have done that? Professor Klausen told me that the book had already gone through a rigorous vetting. Readers’ reports — including two from Muslim scholars — were unanimously enthusiastic. The only Muslim member of the House of Lords, Baroness Kishwer Falker, enthusiastically endorsed the book: “This tells the story that had to be told,” she said. “Deeply researched and sensitively written, it answers the questions of how and what really happened. A must read!” The book had been vetted by YUP’s legal counsel and received the old nihil obstat. The YUP’s publications committee unanimously and enthusiastically recommended the book for publication. So why call in another “two dozen authorities” on the veritable eve of publication?

And note this: according to Professor Klausen, none of that quire of “authorities” actually read the book. So how authoritative was their recommendation? Call Linda Douglass! Here’s something that really is “fishy.”

Professor Klausen, who teaches at Brandeis, began smelling it in July when John Donatich called her and suggested they have “a cup of coffee” in Boston. Oh, by the way, he informed her later, Linda Lorimer, Vice President and Secretary of the University, and Marcia Inhorn, a Professor of Anthropology and chairman of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale, would be joining them.

Uh oh.

Their two-hour cup of coffee on July 23rd was not a pleasant occasion. Professor Klausen was told about the recommendations of those anonymous “authorities.” Unfortunately, her book about the Danish cartoons could only be published without the cartoons. Moreover, Professor Inhorn told her, that depiction of Mohammed in hell by Doré would have to go. How about the less graphic image of Mohammed by Dalí? she suggested.

Nope. No-go on that either. In fact, Yale was embarking a new regime of iconoclasm: no representations of that 7th-century religious figure were allowed. (I rang Professor Inhorn at Yale to ask her about the event. She said she’d call me back. I’m still waiting.)

The recommendations by those nebulous “authorities” were eventually codified in a 14-page memo. Professor Klausen has been read snippets of the memo but hasn’t seen the whole thing because she refused to sign a confidentiality agreement (a “gag order” she called it) not to reveal its contents or the names of the authorities. Why would Yale insist that she sign a confidentiality agreement?

Clerics and their aides, knowing and unknowing, often demand silence.

Update: “Your Veritas Sux If It Ain’t Got the Lux.”