David Frum July 26th, 2005 at 12:00 am
The media love statistics. Statistics are facts, or anyway, they look like facts, and facts are what the media promise to deliver. And when those facts corroborate media prejudices–well, all the better.
Which is why so many European newspapers, including the paper in the tiny Irish village in which I happened to find myself last weekend, splashed across their front pages the startling allegation that 24,865 Iraqi civilians have died violently since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003–at least 9,000 of them, again allegedly, at the hands of coalition forces.
Where did this number come from? It was compiled by a group of anti-war activists, including a university of New Hampshire professor of English, who circulated a notoriously inflated count of Afghan casualties in the fall of 2001. Curiously, while the group’s body count was impressively exact, their explanations of their statistical methods were vague to the point of evasiveness. But that did not matter. What mattered was that there was a number, that it was big, and that it could be used against an American war.
The Iraqi casualty numbers were the weekend’s Story B in the British Isles. Story A was the second London bombing and its aftershock. A survey commissioned by the Telegraph newspaper found that one in four British Muslims expressed sympathy for the subway bombers and that one in three condemned Western society as “decadent” and thought it should be brought to an end.
Is it maybe remotely possible that there is a connection between Story A and Story B? We have been hearing a great deal about the radical anti-Western preaching that emanates from some mosques. But is it not also possible that Muslim communities are affected by the radical anti-Western preaching that they hear outside the mosque: on their TVs and in their newspapers, for example?
In the aftermath of the London bombings and the Telegraph poll, British journalists have gone out to collect quotes from disaffected young Muslims. Many of these young people complain of a Western “double standard” that condemns the killing of innocents in London while ignoring the killing of innocents in Iraq.
Somehow it seems to have eluded these disaffected young people that the bombers who kill innocents in London do so precisely in order to support and aid the people killing innocents in Iraq. When these disaffected British Muslims view images of murder and destruction from Iraq, somehow they do not blame the actual murderers. They blame the nations and the armed forces defending Iraqis against the murderers.
Although this blindness is largely self-inflicted, it is surely worsened by the willingness of much of the European media to indulge the anti-Americanism that produced the Iraqi casualty number.
More and more Europeans will now agree that Western societies are entitled to expect their Muslim minorities to adapt to the countries they’ve migrated to. But it is hardly realistic to expect people to adapt to societies that do not regard themselves as worthy of being adapted to.
Radical clerics tell immigrant minorities that their new homelands are immoral and decadent, that these homelands believe in nothing and tolerate everything, that they are guilty of all kinds of outrages and crimes. And what do many elites in the host societies say of themselves? They plead guilty. Worse, they act as their own accusers.
There is plenty to debate about the conduct of the Iraq war without serving as the jihadists’ publicists and apologists–without distributing false stories and denigrating the work and sacrifice of coalition forces in Iraq.
Olivier Roy, a great French expert on Islamic extremism, observes on today’s pages how few Muslim extremists in the West originate in Iraq. Iraqis recognize that coalition troops, however unwelcome, are defending them against terror and the return of tyranny. It is not coalition forces detinating bombs in front of shrines or driving cars packed with explosives into crowds of children.
But for the often embittered, often underemployed second-generation Muslims of Leeds, Roderdam or Milan, Iraq is not a place. It is a metaphor for their own local resentment. When Westerners like the mayor of London pin the blame for everything wrong in the Middle East on some alleged Western betrayal 80 years ago, or pile accusations against President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, they do not appease the angry people in their midst: They embolden them.
There is an ancient conservative joke: A liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in an argument. We are now engaged not in an argument, but a war–a war with terrible dangers and a long and lengthening toll of casualties. It cannot be won by people who do not believe in their own cause. There is much obviously that must change in the Islamic world. But there is something also that must change in our own. We must rediscover the reasons we are proud to be ourselves.