by Mark Steyn • May 9, 2014 at 11:38 pm
It is hard not to have total contempt for a political culture that thinks the picture at right is a useful contribution to rescuing 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by jihadist savages in Nigeria. Yet some pajama boy at the White House evidently felt getting the First Lady to pose with this week's Hashtag of Western Impotence would reflect well upon the Administration. The horrible thing is they may be right: Michelle showed she cared - on social media! - and that's all that matters, isn't it?
Just as the last floppo hashtag, #WeStandWithUkraine, didn't actually involve standing with Ukraine, so #BringBackOurGirls doesn't require bringing back our girls. There are only a half-dozen special forces around the planet capable of doing that without getting most or all of the hostages killed: the British, the French, the Americans, Israelis, Germans, Aussies, maybe a couple of others. So, unless something of that nature is being lined up, those schoolgirls are headed into slavery, and the wretched pleading passivity of Mrs Obama's hashtag is just a form of moral preening.
But then what isn't? The blogger Daniel Payne wrote this week that "modern liberalism, at its core, is an ideology of talking, not doing". He was musing on a press release for some or other "Day of Action" that is, as usual, a day of inaction:
Diverse grassroots groups are organizing and participating in events such as walks, rallies and concerts and calling on government to reduce climate pollution, transition off fossil fuels and commit to a clean energy future.
It's that easy! You go to a concert and someone "calls on government" to do something, and the world gets fixed.
There's something slightly weird about taking a hashtag - which on the Internet at least has a functional purpose - and getting a big black felt marker and writing it on a piece of cardboard and holding it up, as if somehow the comforting props of social media can be extended beyond the computer and out into the real world. Maybe the talismanic hashtag never required a computer in the first place. Maybe way back during the Don Pacifico showdown all Lord Palmerston had to do was tell the Greeks #BringBackOurJew.
As Mr Payne notes, these days progressive "action" just requires "calling on government" to act. But it's sobering to reflect that the urge to call on someone else to do something is now so reflexive and ingrained that even "the government" - or in this case the wife of "the government" - is now calling on someone else to do something.
Boko Haram, the girls' kidnappers, don't strike me as social media types. As I wrote last year:
The other day, members of Boko Haram, a group of (surprise!) Muslim "extremists," broke into an agricultural college in Nigeria and killed some four dozen students. The dead were themselves mainly Muslim, but had made the fatal mistake of attending a non-Islamic school. "Boko Haram" means more or less "Learning is sinful," this particular wing of the jihad reveling more than most in the moronic myopia of Islamic imperialism.
But moronic myopia goes both ways, doesn't it? If the hashtag doesn't work, maybe we could persuade Boko Haram to trade the girls for these guys:
~Arguments about why Hillary Clinton refused to put Boko Haram on the State Department terror list are about as useful as an Obama hashtag right now. But it is worth remembering that the group's first terrorism attack was a recent as 2011. They are, therefore, part of the same metastasization of jihadist violence throughout the northern half of the African continent as the Benghazi assault and the Kenyan shopping-mall attack. This growth of al-Qaeda affiliates went on throughout almost the entirety of Obama's first term, but because Joe Biden had a cute line ("bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive") nobody paid any attention to it. #NothingToSeeHere.
~My former National Review colleague Charles C W Cooke has got himself in a bit of hot water with a column arguing that schools should teach Holocaust denial and be proud of it. This isn't just a whimsical fancy conjured out of thin air, but Charlie's reaction to the news that a California public school had given their Eighth Graders an essay assignment arguing that the Holocaust didn't happen. They have now backed down.
I thought Laura Rosen Cohen had the best response to Cooke, and I urge you to read it. I have my own problems with his piece. I think no subject should be off-limits, and I regard the laws in many Continental countries criminalizing Holocaust denial as philosophically repugnant and practically useless - in that they confirm to Jew-haters that the Jews control everything (otherwise why aren't we allowed to talk about it?) and they enable Muslims and other groups to go around arguing that, if you're prepared to pass restrictions on free speech protecting Jewish sensitivities, why can't we have some, too?
But my main objection to the National Review post is that it's a debater's point. And in that sense it has no more impact upon what's really happening in our world than Michelle Obama's hashtag. I am always astonished at how little American middle school students know, or are required to know. The idea that, in an educational culture that barely teaches the history that actually happened, there should be room to teach Holocaust denial as an intellectual exercise is ridiculous.
Secondly, Charlie seems unaware of what's going on in schools around the world. In that post about Boko Haram from last year, I also wrote this:
Up north, in the crucible of liberal social democracy, City Hall in Copenhagen held hearings earlier this year about the bullying of Jews in heavily Muslim public schools. Seventeen-year-old Moran Jacob testified:
'In eighth grade, his teacher told him to say that he was Palestinian and that his mother was Russian. "I had to lie about who I was," he recalls. But it didn't work. They knew. Eventually, a group of his classmates ganged up on him and stabbed him in the leg. "You can't go here anymore," his teacher said. "I have scars," he told the hearing. "Not on my body, but on my soul . . ."
'"Jews have learned to keep a low profile," Max Mayer, president of the Danish Zionist Federation, told the hearing. "To not exist in the city…" And they teach their sons to do the same: wear the skullcap at school, but take it off when you leave. This, Mayer said, has become standard practice for Danish Jews: "Don't see us, don't notice us."'
This is liberal, multicultural Europe in the 21st century. As part of his thanks for raising the subject, young Moran Jacob was subsequently set upon by "Arabic kids" on Strøget, the main pedestrian street in Copenhagen, and forced to move away from the neighborhood in which he's lived all his life. He's now considering leaving Denmark...
Listen to how cowed the school principals sound in the Copenhagen story and then figure the chances of anyone addressing the issue honestly. Boko haram, indeed.
To the people who drove that Jewish boy out of his school, arguing that the Holocaust never happened is not a dazzling virtuoso display of Oxbridge-level intellectual gymnastics but just business as usual. As I wrote seven years ago:
Over in London the other day, there was an interesting story in The Mail On Sunday, which began as follows:
"Schools are dropping controversial subjects from history lessons--such as the Holocaust and the Crusades--because teachers do not want to cause offence, Government research has found . . . Some teachers have even dropped the Holocaust completely from lessons over fears that Muslim pupils might express anti-Semitic reactions in class."
Indeed. This was from a study for the Department of Education, which reported: "Teachers and schools avoid emotive and controversial history for a variety of reasons, some of which are well-intentioned. Staff may wish to avoid causing offence or appearing insensitive to individuals or groups in their classes. In particular settings, teachers of history are unwilling to challenge highly contentious or charged versions of history in which pupils are steeped at home, in their community or in a place of worship."
I felt vaguely I'd read this story before, and I had: different country, same discreet closing of the door on awkward corners of the past. In the Netherlands, schoolteachers are reluctant to discuss the Second World War because "in particular settings" pupils don't believe the Holocaust happened, and, if it did, the Germans should have finished the job and we wouldn't have all these problems today.
When these stories crop up in the papers, official spokespersons rush to reassure us that no formal official decision has been made. The Holocaust remains on the national curriculum, no plans to change anything, nothing to worry about. It's just isolated schools here and there where it's become a subject more honoured in the breach, and only in the interests of "avoiding causing offence." Which, let's face it, is what most of us want to do, because if you're "causing offence" it can get pretty exhausting. In the Middle East, for example, I'm like those British and European schoolma'ams: on the whole, I avoid bringing up the Holocaust--in part because in the Muslim world it's a subject impervious to reason, but also because it's very disheartening to meet folks who are bright, witty, engaging, perceptive and then 40 minutes into the conversation you mention the Jews and discover that your bright, witty, engaging, et cetera companion is, at a certain level, nuts.
That's the problem a lot of European teachers are facing. If a large percentage of your class has a blind spot, it's easiest just to move on to something else. Hizb ut-Tahrir, a prominent voice among European Muslims, tells its adherents that "the Jews are a people of slander . . . a treacherous people" and that Islam commands believers to "kill them wherever you find them." Last year, a poll found that 37 per cent of British Muslims agreed that British Jews are a legitimate target "as part of the ongoing struggle for justice in the Middle East." Who wants to argue with that every time you mention the Second World War? Best just to drop the subject.
In 1984, George Orwell wrote, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." The Muslim community in Europe does not yet "control" anything: they are, relatively, small in numbers, though big in certain cities and bigger still in the schools of those cities. Nevertheless, it is significant that, though still quite a long way from formal "control," they are already determining the shape of the future, and thus of the past. The Holocaust did happen. Millions did die. "Facts," said John Adams, "are stubborn things." But not in the Europe of 2007. Faced with serving a population far more stubborn than any mere fact, Continental teachers are quietly putting reality up for grabs.
That's never a smart idea. The California schools superintendent who wanted his Eighth Graders to turn in essays arguing that the Holocaust didn't happen is called Mohammad Z Islam. That's why they got the assignment, not because they wanted to turn themselves into the Oxford Union. As Laura Rosen Cohen pointed out, there are all kinds of lively topics Mr Cooke might propose for our schools: Did Mohammed exist? What's the deal with his nine-year-old bride? But in the real world even mild questioning of whether Islam is a "religion of peace" is beyond the pale, and across the Continent the Holocaust is disappearing from school curricula.
That's the problem. There's no point winning an Oxford debate if the other side win everything else.