Bret Stephens’ column in The Wall Street Journal today doesn’t begin well:
Years ago I had a chat with three young Muslim men as we waited in a Heathrow airport lounge to board a flight to Islamabad. I was going to Pakistan to report on the fallout from a devastating earthquake in Kashmir. They were going there to do what they vaguely described as “charitable work.” They dressed in white shalwar kameez, wore their beards in salafist style and spoke in south London accents.
I tried to steer the conversation to the earthquake. They wanted to talk about politics. Had I seen Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11”? I avoided furnishing an opinion about a film they plainly revered. The unvarnished truth about Amerika—from an American. Authority and authenticity rolled into one.
I think of that exchange whenever the subject of Islamist radicalization comes up.
Uh oh, the Tom Friedman notional-man-on-the-street formula. And then, this:
[T]he influence of the [Anwar al-]Awlakis of the world can’t fully account for the mind-set of these jihadists. They are also sons of the West—educated in the schools of multiculturalism, reared on the works of Noam Chomsky and perhaps Frantz Fanon, consumers of a news diet heavy with reports of perfidy by American or British or Israeli soldiers. If Islamism is their ideological drug of choice, the political orthodoxies of the modern left are their gateway to it.
Wait. Haven’t we always been accused of avoiding the obvious by not calling it “Islamic terrorism”? But suddenly Islam “can’t fully account for the mind-set of these jihadists”? What, now we’re supposed to call it “progressive left, multicultural, anti-war Islamic terrorism”?
[The language used by al Qaeda in Yemen in its online publications] isn’t the language of Islam, with its impressive tradition of conquest. It’s the language of the progressive left, of what Jeane Kirkpatrick at the 1984 Republican convention called the “Blame America First” crowd. It fits the left’s view of the West as the perennial sinner and the rest of the world as its perpetual victim. It is the language of turning the page on a decade of war, of focusing on nation building at home.
And so “the moral nihilism of today’s Jihadi Johns is the logical outgrowth of the moral relativism that is the default religion of today’s West.” Excuse me, but what the fuck? In his eagerness to lay the blame for Islamic terrorism at the doorstep of the liberal media and the academic left, Stephens manages to connect “moral relativism,” not with its “logical outgrowth,” but with its logical opposite. Does he or does he not understand that all religious fundamentalism, including radical Islam, is concerned with moral absolutes? Does Stephens let anyone read this crap before it goes into print?
Or is Stephens actually trying to downplay the religious, clash-of-civilizations element of Islamic terrorism—the Manichean, apocalyptic worldview that the WSJ’s chicken hawks have always relied on to gin up support for endless war—in favor of, well, blaming America first? Are ISIS, the poor lambs, merely in thrall to Chomsky and the critical theorists of the American academy? If so, is Stephens suggesting we let Guantanamo’s gates swing wide, while initiating a crackdown on dangerous ideas at home?
I’m sorry, but that is about the dumbest, most confused and self-contradictory piece of shit I have ever read. Let’s give Stephens the benefit of the doubt and assume his epic pundit-fail was brought on by a looming deadline (and maybe also the looming horror of having to vote in the New York Republican primary). Still, not a very good day, even for a not-very-good columnist.