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October 16, 2006

The man who likes to poke the world in the eye

Filed under: Freedom of expression, Media, Opinion — limewoody @ 5:10 pm
Linda Frum
National Post

Long-time readers of the National Post will know that former columnist Mark Steyn is one of Canada’s most gifted political writers, a man weirdly able to provoke laughter while forecasting the end of the world.

In his newly released book, America Alone, he argues that without vigilance and the unapologetic assertion of American force, we will all soon be living under Sharia law. And while Mr. Steyn muses in his book that he may not mind picking up a few extra wives, he worries that the rest of us may not like the system as much.

Mr. Steyn lives in rural New Hampshire with his (only) wife and three children.

LF You were born in Toronto, but live in the U.S. Are you still a Canadian citizen?

MS I’m a citizen of Canada, never been anything else. I don’t believe in dual citizenship.

LF So if you ever require rescuing by the Canadian government, you’ll deserve it?

MS I can assure you that if I’m ever calling the Canadian consulate in some godforsaken hell demanding that HMCS Toronto come and get me, it won’t be because I’ve called five other embassies in the previous 20 minutes.

LF In your new book America Alone you argue that: “America should proclaim the obvious: We do have a better government, religion and culture than our enemies, and we should spread America’s influence around the world.” On a spiritual/emotional level do you consider yourself an American?

MS Well, I don’t want to get into a whole kind of Michael Ignatieff pronoun-trouble thing. I’m sympathetic to him on that, because when I say “we” I generally mean “the West,” or “the civilized world,” or — more broadly — “the good guys.” I feel I’ve got a stake in the United States because I’m a resident and a taxpayer and I have my children in the public school system in the State of New Hampshire. So if I was writing about public education, I feel it would be quite reasonable to say “we.” It doesn’t mean I’ve tossed out my passport and signed up with the Great Satan once and for all.

LF Is there a quick answer as to why you live in New Hampshire of all places?

MS Long ago I was on an Amtrak overnight train from Montreal to New York and it broke down halfway, and they tossed us all off the train in the middle of the night. They sent a little bus to take us to a neighbouring inn, and I woke up the following morning and thought, “Actually, it’s quite nice around here.” I like New Hampshire because it doesn’t have a state income tax or a state sales tax, and it has a very limited government done at a very local level, which is my preference. On the other hand, there are great disadvantages. If you want to get a decent dinner, your best bet is to drive an hour and a quarter up

I-91 and eat in almost any small Quebec town.

LF Let no one say you are a self-hating Canadian. What a terrific endorsement for our cuisine.

MS I love Quebec. I’m not opposed to Quebec independence. I think it would be a huge laugh. The fact of the matter is they have a ridiculous independence movement, and they’re never going to go. Even if you threw a sovereign state at them, they’d refuse to take it. They’re no different from the Palestinians in that respect.

LF One of your best qualities is that you’re so insensitive. For example, when writing about what you call the most important fact of our time — the explosion of the Muslim global population — you say: “Those self-detonating Islamists in London and Gaza are a literal baby boom.” Making offensive jokes like that takes guts. Where do you get the courage?

MS Being offensive actually has its merits. An excessive deference to sensitivity is very harmful, particularly when you’re dealing with people so ready to take offence. I didn’t really think of it in an Islamist context until the fall of 2002, when I said in the National Post, something like: “Is it just me, or does Ramadan seem to come around quicker every year?” The point is Ramadan is every eleven and a half months. And of course I immediately got all these humourless letters from people saying, “Oh, you complete idiot! Are you not aware that under the Islamic calendar Ramadan comes…” Of course I’m aware! I’m making a cheap joke about it! It’s my standard Ramadan joke, and I’m going to do it every 11-point-however-many-months for as long as I live. I seriously do believe that it’s very hard to have a functioning society if you can’t make cheap jokes about each other all the time. One of the key signs of a shared culture is if you can all cheerfully abuse each other. In the space of the last five years the multiculturalists seem to have internalized the psychology whereby it’s taken for granted that you make whatever abusive jokes you want about Christians, but none of those same jokes can be made about Muslims. Well, the minute you accept that, I think you’re doomed.

LF Islam is the second-biggest supplier of new Canadians. Does it matter?

MS Well, I think at some point a profound question mark goes up about where a society is going. If you drive around certain parts of town you’ll see more headscarfed women. It’s the sort of thing nobody really thought about much before September 11th. We all assumed that everyone thinks the same, that everyone who gets off the plane at Pearson is coming because they want to be part of a multicultural, pluralist, liberal democracy. But what proportion of people are opposed to that view of society for it to become a problem? We’re not at that stage in Canada, but they’ve already reached that stage in Belgium, in the Netherlands, in France, in Scandinavia and in many other parts of Europe. I don’t want to see Canada having the incompatibility, the tensions that are now the absolute fundamental political dynamic in the Netherlands and Belgium.

LF Now that Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, is America still alone?

MS On that January night when he kind of snuck across the finishing line I didn’t think that Canada had voted for a Conservative revolution. Through the quirks of the Westminster system, Harper found himself in power. Since then he has not done what all the so-called realists and smart guys would have advised, and certainly not what the Mulroney government would have done. At every opportunity he has been incredibly grown-up about the realities of the world we live in and about the responsibilities that wealthy, powerful — and Canada is powerful, or would be if it would get over this kind of sissified, “My name is Joe and I drink Molson” view of the country — Canada is a potentially powerful country and needs to play its role in the world. I think the best thing about a man like Stephen Harper is that he’s not a revolutionary, but in his own way he’s not wasting any time, dragging us bit by bit to a point that is consistent with our history, consistent with who we are, basically, for the half-millennium before this concocted, ludicrous, completely obsolescent, Trudeau-PM fantasy took hold. Stephen Harper’s view of Canada’s role in the world is about where a serious second-rank power should be, and that’s the kind of country Canada was in 1945. That doesn’t mean he’s getting his orders direct from Bush’s ranch in Texas. It’s consistent with Canadian history.

LF Your book is very gloomy. After I read it, I glanced over at my three-year-old daughter and was filled with fear for her future.

MS Well, I’m in this for the three year-olds. My youngest child is six now, but my little girl and your little girl, when they’re our age, they will find a large number of places in what we think of as the free world, the developed world, far less congenial than we would. I mean, you and I would think nothing of hopping on a plane, going to London, Paris or Berlin. Those are going to be very uncomfortable places for a young, middle-aged Western woman circa 2020, 2030, and it’s precisely because we’ve taken for granted this very unusual period in history. We take it for granted that it’s a permanent state of affairs. It isn’t. It requires incredible vigilance and incredible effort to preserve it.

LF What can we in Canada do about it?

MS It starts in kindergarten. Every time you’re faced with a situation where a grade school teacher is telling your child patent nonsense, you should object. Every Canadian is the heir to a thousand years of constitutional evolution from the one civilization that has done the most to create the world we live in. Canada has very little to be ashamed of in its inheritance. Every country needs a heroic national narrative. Canada has actually got one. Why not tell it?

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