Freedom of Speech

Mark Steyn, Cole Porter and Free Speech

steyn III’m cruising down New England country lanes that criss-cross towns that look like Norman Rockwell theme parks—on my way to find Mark Steyn—but I’m not allowed to tell you exactly where I am.

My destination is the equivalent of a military bunker—a hidden television studio where, later today, they’ll be installing the concert grand piano Steyn will be using when he launches his variety talk show. Even though I’m less than an hour from the Canadian border and ninety minutes from Montreal, and even though the last battle fought here was in 1777 (the Green Mountain Boys routed some Brits, Hessians and Iroquois under German command), tactical secrecy is the order of the day.

Mark Steyn is under a fatwa.

In a sane world I would be hoping to find Steyn in a good mood so I could ask him whether he really thinks Gypsy is the greatest musical ever staged, because many people believe that despite the stunning score by Jule Styne (“There’s No Business Like Show Business”, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, “All I Need Is the Girl”) and the delightful lyrics of Stephen Sondheim (before he became the mononymous bore Sondheim), the book by Arthur Laurents is, after all, a backstage story, which is the typical refuge of the journeyman Broadway playwright looking to establish excuses for downstage centre belting. I’m of the opinion that, since Laurents was also the director of the best Gypsy revival, the one in the early 1990s starring Tyne Daly as Mama Rose—who was, by the way, far superior to both Ethel Merman and Rosalind Russell—and since the Eleven O’Clock Number, “Rose’s Turn”, was spun entirely from the best scene in the book (“I thought you did it for me, mama”), it’s obvious that Laurents was constantly sacrificing his dialogue to the staging and choreography of the original director, Jerome Robbins.

But, alas, we don’t live in a sane world, so I can’t justify spending valuable interview time asking the author of America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It—the apocalyptic best-seller about how Muslims are taking over the world and destroying Western civilisation—whether the songs of Harry Warren would someday be recognised for their genius, despite the novelty lyrics of “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and “I’ve Got a Gal from Kalamazoo”. Steyn is indeed the author of Broadway Babies Say Goodnight—in my opinion one of the greatest works in the rarefied world of musical theatre journalism—but spending all our time on it would be, under the circumstances, equivalent to interviewing Ronald Reagan about the nuances of Knute Rockne, All American.

“But you do really think Gypsy is the greatest musical?” I manage to wedge in later. And, to my great satisfaction, he says, “Yes, I really do.”

But back to the Islamic apocalypse. Apparently Steyn was radicalised by the events of 9/11, because on that day he ceased being a nerdy theatre critic, crooner and exponent of the American songbook, and became instead the Cassandra of Western democracy, doling out an avalanche of columns, articles, books and radio programs telling us that we have given up our Anglo-Saxon Enlightenment souls while the vanguard of the Islamic menace has been advancing toward Kansas. That he’s managed to do so without sacrificing any of the acerbic humour he displayed while describing the libretto of Les Miz or the eccentricities of Andrew Lloyd Webber makes him, sui generis, our singing dancing Tiresias, or, perhaps more accurately, that guy who stands on the side of the road in every Friday the 13th movie, saying “Turn back! Turn back now! Before it’s tooooooo late!” but, in Steyn’s case, with a Catskills-comic rimshot to further confuse the heedless libertines on their way to perdition.

Mark, glad to meet you, you’ve written one of the happiest books I’ve ever read and one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read.

I did say something to this effect when Steyn at length showed up, ambling into a construction site full of exposed electrical wires and bare support beams where, in a few days, The Mark Steyn Show would go into tryouts on the CRTV network. (Be careful when you Google it: CRTV is also the acronym of the national television network of Cameroon.)

“But it’s all part of the same package!” says Steyn with enthusiasm. “The point of politics is to free up time for what really matters in life.”

Like Cole Porter?

“Like Cole Porter.”

Steyn is a large man—above six feet, burly, with a fuzzy red beard that makes him look as if he should be handing William Wallace a halberd at Falkirk, not tinkling piano keys while sipping a Tom Collins—but then that’s his whole point.

“What I’ve learned since 9/11 is that the small pleasures—music, theatre, film—have to be earned. In the Muslim world, there is no music. In Libya they destroyed all the musical instruments—music was considered an abomination. When the demography changes, there will be no concert halls. Artists who take a multicultural view should be aware of this. Count the number of covered women in London’s West End. In Birmingham, where I went to high school, you have a provincial symphony orchestra in a Muslim city—I’m not sure it will survive. All art, all popular culture, is endangered by Islam, because there’s no room for it. It’s considered libertinism. And I’m not even talking about Miley Cyrus twerking at the music awards. What turned Sayyid Qutb against the morality of the West is that he attended a church dance in Greeley, Colorado, which was a dry town in 1948, and he heard the song ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’. He thought it was evil. And now things are getting a lot worse. Ugly things are happening.”

This is what’s simultaneously frustrating and fascinating about talking to Mark Steyn—he understands the connection between Frank Loesser, the creator of Guys and Dolls, and Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood leader executed for plotting the assassination of Nasser. If the Islamic extremists weren’t out there meddling with the canon, we could have spent the next hour discussing the various versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, which Loesser wrote for the Esther Williams movie Neptune’s Daughter. What Steyn failed to mention is that, after six decades as a Christmas standard played over department-store public address systems, the song suddenly became ostracised two years ago because certain moral police officers in various social media fora decided it’s an anthem for date rape. (Apparently the National Organization for Women has more in common with the Muslim Brotherhood than either party would like to admit.) The idea is ludicrous, not only because the song is light-hearted and romantic, but also because it’s been consistently interpreted and reinterpreted to make either sex and both sexes desperate for nookie. Even the original movie uses the song twice—once when Ricardo Montalban is trying to seduce Esther Williams, but again when the man-crazy Betty Garrett is trying to seduce Red Skelton! Not to mention that Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé recorded a video version lip-synched by pre-pubescent actors dressed up as 1920s swells—should they be prosecuted for child abuse?—and, in the Lady Gaga version with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, she is aggressively trying to have sex with him.

But then sometimes Mark Steyn seems like the only conservative you can discuss these issues with, because most Republicans think popular culture is beside the point, if not downright dangerous. Steyn, on the other hand, has performed “Kung Fu Fighting” before thousands of people in civic auditoria more accustomed to Mary Kay Cosmetics conventions, so he gets it.

“Social conservatives are always editing pop culture,” says Steyn, “and it’s completely pathetic. Conservatives play to the caricature. Mention a French movie and the crowd turns on you. It’s a reductive view of the world. There are ideological enforcers casting aside works of art because they contain bad words or uncomfortable associations. It’s one of the biggest abdications of the American right. Who gives a crap about who gets elected to the Congressional district in Ohio?—that’s not going to change the culture. It’s movies that move the culture. And if you abdicate that space, you lose. Jeb Bush spent a billion dollars to get 2.8 per cent of the vote in Iowa. Mitt Romney and people like him who have a billion dollars—don’t spend it on politics, buy a TV network! Theatre, movies, music, that’s where the battles are fought. They’ve abdicated that space in the schools. As a result, my kid had to sit through Al Gore’s lousy movie three times. All effective storytelling is inherently conservative—because your choices have consequences. For the Left, nothing has consequences. But the trends are all in the Left’s direction, because the Right got out of the game—they chose to make themselves culturally irrelevant. If you’re not in the same room, having the conversation, there’s not gonna be a solution.”

Of course, now that Steyn lives 300 miles from the Palace Theatre and 3200 miles from the Barbican, he’s more or less out of the game as well. Steyn has a bucolic spread near a village in New Hampshire, where, rumour has it, he’s installed a “Beware of Pig” sign in order to taunt those Islamic extremists who would have him assassinated. It’s a strange homestead choice for a baptised Catholic, born in Ontario, confirmed in the Anglican church, three generations removed from a Jewish heritage, who speaks with a Brummie accent and sometimes sits in for Rush Limbaugh—and it all happened because he noticed the slogan on the New Hampshire licence plates.

“I was taking a Montreal-to-New-York train in the early nineties,” he said, “and it broke down in this general area. A van took us to an inn, and I thought it was nice here. I liked the way it looked. At first we just had a weekend place for skiing—we liked the hills and lakes. But you see these licence plates every day—LIVE FREE OR DIE—and I thought, ‘Right. That’s where I want to live.’ You know what they put on the licence plates of Ontario? ‘Yours to Discover’—about as lame as a licence plate can get. I prefer ‘Live Free or Die’. A place with town government. A place where you can still participate at the lowest level of government. Herman van Rompuy, the ‘President’ of Europe, says that we live in the age of global governance. New Hampshire is the diametric opposite. Add to that the landscape around Lancaster, New Hampshire, which is perhaps the most beautiful spot I’ve ever seen on earth, and I’m just very sentimental about the place.”

Part of the delight in reading Mark Steyn, or listening to him talk, is that you don’t know exactly where he came from or where he’s going. He’s an urban Canadian living in rural America who talks like an upper-class Brit while occasionally going on sold-out speaking tours to places like Melbourne’s Institute of Public Affairs. He’s like a professional wrestler. There’s a certain hyperbole and ambiguity to his performances—part of it’s true and classically reasoned, and part of it is the equivalent of Wild Bill Longson executing a piledriver finish, which is turning your opponent upside down and driving his head into the mat, a move that’s both illegal and enormously fun. Steyn doesn’t really keep an arsenal of sophisticated weapons in his farmhouse, ready to blow away the Chechen assassins sent to dispatch him, or maybe he does. Wrestlers and satirists never really let you know which parts are the pulled punches and which are the ones where they really do bleed and get injured, but Steyn has suffered more than his share of written attacks, verbal attacks, staged protests and—in one notorious case—a prolonged prosecution by three “human rights tribunals” in his native country.

He’s also been excoriated for using the pronoun “we” when discussing American or British or Australian affairs, since he’s never altered his citizenship (“Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people with multiple passports”), but, in his defence, he was often blindsided by editors claiming his opinions as native as he toiled simultaneously for the Chicago Sun-Times, the American Spectator, the National Post of Toronto, and the British Spectator.

“It always depended on what point the editors were trying to make,” he explains, “and I was often unaware that the change had been made. ‘We’ could be used to distinguish ‘us’ from ‘you Brit losers’, but it could also be used to distinguish ‘us’ from ‘you crazy Yanks’. Canada is the country that, if I ever needed one, I would always call home, but I use ‘we’ to mean Western civilisation. Because the important thing is not the difference between Idaho and Denmark—the important thing is the West versus barbarism. Nigeria, for example, drifted from ‘we’ to ‘them’. Now half the country is under sharia. Beer trucks are destroyed in the name of Islam. I think ‘we’—meaning the English-speaking West—have common citizenship as originating in the British Empire. First of July, Fourth of July, I celebrate both. But America is important to me because it’s the indispensable nation of our times. To be born in America is a rare and precious gift.”

At this point, playing the clueless American, I made a game attempt to say But, Mark, aren’t you overstating the advance of Islam? Haven’t they been trying to scale the ramparts for ten centuries? Don’t they always get turned back at the last minute? Don’t we always wake up and defeat them at Poitiers or the Kahlenberg Mountain?

“In the Balkans you have the toughest hombres on the planet,” Steyn snapped back, “and they couldn’t hold the line. People who are optimistic because the Belgians or the Swedes will hold the line are holding a fairly deluded view.”

And, of course, he’s right, because, once again, the menace is no longer an Ottoman army but an erosion of the belief that there’s anything worth defending.

“What we lack in the West is cultural confidence,” says Steyn. “We think our inheritance is horrible. American students think America invented slavery. In Britain people think they’re responsible for imperialism, colonialism, racism. We’ve lost our cultural ideals. There’s a big hole where our sense of self should be, and so instead we concentrate on climate change and transgender bathrooms. If your parents immigrated to the United States, you’re taught in school that your new country is racist and that what we call bedrock Western principles are, in fact, evil and misguided. So what do you do? You no longer look to your new nation for moral guidance—you look for meatier stuff. And radical Islam is much meatier.”

But, Mark, aren’t we all well served by a questioning academic world that tries to shoot down basic assumptions, as opposed to what we used to have—a fawning Victorian ivory tower full of privileged dons who upheld God, country, and the bromides of Samuel Johnson? (I said this well before the riot in which an angry mob at nearby Middlebury College forced political scientist Charles Murray to flee for his life, in the process sending the scholar who was hosting him to the hospital with a back injury.)

“The modern world,” answers Steyn, “was built by people from a very narrow tradition. Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, London, Magna Carta. Not a perfect tradition, but less flawed than anybody else. Yes, Cromwell’s admonition to paint ‘warts and all’ is a good thing, but that’s not what we do. We paint only the warts. And, of course, there are no takers for free speech—they think that’s hateful. We’re becoming a civilisation that is not willing to defend itself, and that is a civilisation that cannot survive.”

But, I start again, Monotheism! Children of Abraham! Common heritage at Ur of the Chaldees! Surely there’s common ground spiritually if not culturally.

“You’re right,” he says, “it shouldn’t be different for Islam, but we make it different. Muslims fought for king and empire in both world wars. Muslims were the backbone of the Indian army. Ataturk’s Turkey was an example of Muslims functioning perfectly well in a modern democratic society—but Ataturk’s Turkey is going away. We don’t have that trust any more. It was a Wahhabi who assassinated the chief justice in British India, and that is more or less the only brand of Islam exported today—extremist Saudi-style Wahhabism. All these giant mosques you see going up in cities all over the world are not paid for locally, they’re paid for by Saudi Arabia. They’re trying to make it one-size-fits-all Islam, and a type of Islam that regards the West as its enemy, instead of the mom-and-pop Islam of the past.”

So you’re saying the problem is not Islam, the problem is Wahhabism?

No! Wahhabism is the symptom. The problem is us. We don’t defend ourselves. If you are a woman living alone in a Muslim community in Europe, you do not venture out after 6 p.m. If there are sexual assaults by Muslims, and the allegations are made public by the victims, the accuser is inevitably accused of racism. Nobody disputes that it happened, but they’re held to a different standard because the victims are Swedes or Danes and the accused is from a Muslim country. It’s believed that it’s unreasonable to expect decent behaviour from an Afghan or an Iraqi—which is racist. You’re denying the humanity of these people. And so you surrender incrementally. You live in a citadel. You make ridiculous changes to your own culture. In Britain the banks don’t give piggy banks to children any more, because the ‘piggy’ might be offensive. There’s a fetishisation of the burka, which should be regarded as what it is—a prison for women. Why should we abandon our own heritage to barbarism? I’m a nineteenth-century imperialist a hundred years past my sell-by date.”

It’s statements like these that have landed Steyn on various hit lists, including, most famously, those of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal and the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which are strange quasi-judicial bodies that were stirred to action a decade ago by the Canadian Islamic Congress. Between 2005 and 2007 the weekly news magazine Maclean’s published eighteen articles by Steyn, including an excerpt from America Alone, that were all deemed “Islamophobic” by the human rights tsars. Without going into excruciating detail about the various legal jockeying that took place—who knew one country could have this many commissions and tribunals that could all attack simultaneously?—Steyn and Maclean’s were charged with inciting hatred against Muslims, setting in motion an endless process of discovery and hearings.

“We were trying to lose,” said Steyn. “We wanted them to find us guilty so that we could appeal to a real court, hopefully the Supreme Court, and prove that these hate-speech laws are more absurd than any laws outside North Korea. Before I came along, these human rights tribunals had a 100 per cent conviction rate! The fact that we fought back meant that I became an albatross around their neck. The Thought Police were exposed to massive unrelenting publicity for the first time, and they didn’t expect that. They didn’t expect us to push back. But free speech is on the retreat, and this was not a time for a faint-hearted defence.”

The Canadian Human Rights Commission eventually bowed out of their part in the imbroglio, saying the articles were “polemical, colourful and emphatic” but failed to satisfy the definition of writings “of an extreme nature” as defined by the Supreme Court. But the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal was not so sure, holding a five-day hearing during which the Canadian Islamic Congress presented evidence that twenty articles in Maclean’s presented Islam as a violent religion and Muslims as violent people, with the Islamist lawyer using words like racist, hateful, contemptuous, Islamophobic and irresponsible. Mahmoud Ayoub, a Harvard historian of religion, testified that Steyn didn’t understand the meaning of the word jihad and that, of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, less than a million interpreted jihad to justify violence against non-believers. (I don’t know of any other religion in the world that has merely a million devotees willing to kill, but that’s what the man said.)

After almost two years of fighting, the tribunal dismissed the complaint, saying the articles did not violate British Columbia’s human rights law, but then adding that they were full of historical and religious inaccuracies, that they relied on stereotypes, that they were attempts to “rally public opinion by exaggeration and causing the public to fear Muslims”—as though to say, “These are horrible articles that we’re allowing to stand because of the technicalities of the law.”

Steyn was furious. “I will never think of the deranged dominion quite the same way again,” he told the National Post. “It has made me understand just how easily and incrementally free societies, often for the most fluffy reasons, slip into a kind of soft, beguiling totalitarianism. I don’t understand why they lack the cojones to find us guilty.”

But that was not the end of Steyn’s time on the pillory. The third extra-judicial tribunal, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, decided it had no jurisdiction and therefore couldn’t hear the case—but made a statement condemning Steyn anyway! The excerpt from America Alone, the commission said, “portrays Muslims as all sharing the same negative characteristics, including being a threat to ‘the West’,” and so was racist and prejudicial. The chief commissioner then gave interviews to the press indicating she considered the book harmful and irresponsible.

First of all, America Alone does no such thing. It’s a book about radical Islam and its ascendance in the world, and it’s full of verifiable data and quotations directly from the mullahs and imams who set the priorities for their flocks. The fact that Steyn doesn’t stop every hundred words to say, “Of course, I’m not talking about every Muslim”—as though he’s speaking to six-year-olds—is his only crime. Most of the book deals with the demography of Islamic birth-rates, immigration patterns, and the West’s tolerance of murderous rhetoric when it comes from the Middle East. Far from being cowed by the PC dogpile, Steyn followed up with a 400-page sequel, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, detailing the ways in which the United States is showing the same cultural weakness as Europe.

“It probably cost Maclean’s $2 million to fight them,” says Steyn today. “And that’s the point—you have to win, because the process itself is the punishment. They do it so that everybody else gets the message.”

The disturbing thing to me about the Canadian brouhaha is that, for the most part, Steyn’s fellow journalists remained silent throughout his ordeal, which came immediately after the worldwide riots in January and February 2006 over the Muhammad cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. It was a time when the Western mainstream media had acted like cowards, refusing to reprint the cartoons out of sheer terror that their offices would be blown up, so knowing that a lone-wolf Canadian conservative columnist was about to get put on an Islamic assassination list would have been highly embarrassing for, say, the New York Times, which had approximately one million times the security resources of Mark Steyn but declined to publish the cartoons out of fear.

“They used to pay lip service to the Voltaire argument,” [“I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it”] says Steyn, “but now they say that every other right trumps freedom of speech. The rights of identity groups take precedence. Since there is no document in the British Commonwealth to support free-speech absolutism, as you have in the United States, what’s happened in our time is that there is a view of competing rights. Section 13 in Canada. Section 18 in Australia. Human rights commissions everywhere. And it’s all done in the name of ‘striking a balance’. The minute you talk about striking a balance, you are on the wrong side of the line, because that cure is worse than the disease. We have to take chances with repellent and repulsive speech in order to retain free speech.

“And actually it’s no better in the United States. On the one hand you have the absence of a monarchy and free-speech absolutism, but on the other hand you prostrate yourselves before judges. I’m in the fifth year of a lawsuit that started with a 140-word blog post—there’s not much of a First Amendment when that happens. And then, on your college campuses, you have the debate about ‘acceptable’ and ‘safe’ speech. You have a tiny little Canada on each campus, with the same sort of shrunken, shrivelled public discussion. ‘Safe speech’ is a road to hell. Their goal is the abolition of hate—the abolition of a human emotion. They want everyone to have this glassy-eyed look, celebrating diversity. And they don’t recognise their own totalitarianism.”

Mark Steyn is a brave man. He doesn’t talk about his death threats or his security measures, but his public life speaks for itself. For the fifth anniversary of the Muhammad cartoon controversy, he stood on a stage in Copenhagen with the Danes who were not yet in hiding along with Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist who had survived physical attacks, arson, at least three assassination plots, and an Al Qaeda hit list. Steyn returned for the tenth anniversary observance, a few months after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, but by then no cartoonists were left—they were all in hiding, including Vilks, after yet another attempt on his life.

“I’m always willing to stand with the guys in Denmark,” says Steyn. “But the reason all these left-wing Europeans end up on a stage with an eccentric right-wing Canadian like me is that no real A-list stars will agree to be there. At the tenth anniversary both the American State Department and the British Foreign Office even issued official warnings to their citizens to stay away from the Danish Parliament, where we were holding the ceremony. What kind of signal does that send? Why don’t the artists show up for these things? Why aren’t the movie stars there? When Theo Van Gogh was assassinated, no one at the Oscars had a word to say about it. They didn’t even put him in the obituary montage. And yet they congratulate themselves on their moral courage. George Clooney wears a Je suis Charlie Hebdo pin. Helen Mirren wears a brooch. But they were not with Charlie. Those guys died alone. This is gesture politics. No one would stand with them. I honour the genuine courage of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ayaan’s point is absolutely right—in the end you have to share the risk. Charlie Hebdo supported the Danish cartoonists, but the rest of the world didn’t. If every newspaper had published those cartoons, there would have been no point in killing anyone because there would have been too many people to kill. Instead, nobody stands with them, and so the small publication that does ends up massacred. The writer of the comic strip Doonesbury in America [Garry Trudeau] attacked the decision of PEN to honour Charlie Hebdo. Well, they were lying on the floor, bleeding and dying. I don’t think they noticed.”

The Danish cartoon controversy was actually the first moment the American press had been challenged by Islam and could do something in response—and their reaction was a spectacular failure of will and principle. In several countries around the world, it was actually against the law to publish the Danish cartoons, but many editors stepped up, published them anyway, and suffered the civil and criminal consequences. In the United States—where there was no such law—no major publication would print them.

“Look, I’m not a brave person,” says Steyn, “and I’m not an insane person. I don’t put myself at risk needlessly. When I was in British West Africa, I joined up with some Canadians who were pretending to be Syrians. There were Gambians and Somalis there, so we were pretending to be Syrian. I’m not a fool. But one reason the press and the celebrities don’t stand with the cartoonists and the staff at Charlie Hebdo is that they’re perceived to be freaky weirdo people. Surely we know from history: first they come for the cartoonists, ultimately they move on to everybody else. The provocations, you may have noticed, get lamer and lamer. We are losing our world.”

Perhaps because of my own background in film and popular culture, I’m bothered most by this idea of Islamic terrorists attacking the nerds and geeks of the world—the cartoonists, the satirists, the fanzines—simply because they’re defenceless. Fatwas against cartoonists and humour magazine editors don’t get the respect that would be accorded to, say, an organised killing campaign against distinguished foreign correspondents, and there’s an underlying current—outwardly expressed by Garry Trudeau but believed by many others—that the dead and wounded partly deserve their fate, because they stirred up trouble where none existed. This is a stance that would have been unthinkable forty years ago, at the outset of my own American journalism career, when the philosophy was “Publish first and ask questions later.” In 1975 you would not have been able to find a single managing editor at a single American newspaper who would not have published the cartoons. In my view the blood of the Charlie Hebdo martyrs is on the hands of the Western mainstream media.

Surprisingly Steyn himself—who accumulated all that demographic data about the onslaught of the Islamic majority, and who has witnessed people flee his presence so as not to be photographed with him—does have faith that we can hold the line (Belgians and Swedes excepted).

“I’m optimistic in the end,” he said. “I like the Hollywood view of the odds. It’s not a numbers game in the end.”

I didn’t ask him to elaborate, because I suspected he had no data for that view, or that his data was taken from Nellie Forbush:

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow

That we’re done and we might as well be dead,

But I’m only a cockeyed optimist

And I can’t get it into my head.


I hear the human race

Is fallin’ on its face

And hasn’t very far to go,

But ev’ry whippoorwill

Is sellin’ me a bill

And tellin’ me it just ain’t so.


I could say life is just a bowl of Jello

And appear more intelligent and smart,

But I’m stuck like a dope

With a thing called hope,

And I can’t get it out of my heart!

Music by Rodgers, lyrics by Hammerstein, and my nominee for the anthem to be used when the Islamic hordes come over the last hill, confiscating tap shoes and castanets.

On second thought, if we could somehow make our last stand in Greeley, I would like to be singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, and since it’s a duet, I think I’ll gather together all the alternate verses and sing it with a gay man, just to piss ’em off. I haven’t asked Mark Steyn about this stratagem, but something tells me he would approve.

John Bloom is an American journalist who writes mostly under the pseudonym Joe Bob Briggs. He has a website at Extracts from The Mark Steyn Show appear on Mark Steyn’s website,


25 thoughts on “Mark Steyn, Cole Porter and Free Speech

  • Julian says:

    Mark Steyn is fantastic. His ‘America Alone’ awakened me to the problem of deathbed Western demographics due to a combination of excessive feminism, self-loathing, relativism/excessive multiculturalism and ‘tolerance’ , which have created the vacuum into which Islam has come storming in with its higher birth rates and belief in itself. Bravo Mark Steyn for articulating this and for enlightening us all to the problem. It’s depressing sure, but here’s hoping the diagnosis leads to some kind of prevention or cure for our woes.

  • ian.macdougall says:

    I am in total agreement with Mark Steyn here.
    Islam is entry-level fascism. As a philosophy it must be open to critique. As a religion it is implicitly found abhorrent by those who do not seek to convert to it.
    ‘Islamophobia’ is a bullshit term crafted specifically to blur the distinction between Islam and Muslims, and to make it appear that attacking Islam at a philosophical level is attacking Muslims at any and all levels.

  • pgang says:

    I’m afraid I disagree with Steyn’s entire thesis because he’s missed the point. Muslims aren’t destroying the West, they just happen to be in the right place at the right time. And Steyn’s lack of freedom and lack of support from his fellows springs from the source that really is destroying the west: secular humanism and its atheistic/agnostic bedfellows. If we were still Christian the threat of Islam simply would not be.

    Solution? Start going to church and rebuild what’s been lost. Take actions and consequences a little more seriously, and perhaps give the creator his due and stop listening to superstitious fairy tales about the power of nature to self-create.

    If these things can’t be discussed sensibly (and they can’t) then we’re doomed.

    • en passant says:

      Unless you are a christian willing to fight (aka: kill, maim and destroy) then your ‘prayers to your sky dragon will have no effect. Egypt, Constantinople/Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, North Africa, Kosovo, Bosnia, etc, etc were all Christian until the more powerful and murderous islamic psychopath arrived on the scene and pushed out the resident culture.
      What does this tell you about the failure of the christian god and the real solution to the monstrous, murderous, barbarism that is islam?

    • Warty says:

      I couldn’t agree more with you pgang: ‘If we were still Christian, the threat of Islam simply would not be’. I can only add the proviso that I no longer care for anyone to teach me how to pray, nor insist on an immovable liturgy. Unfortunately the Enlightenment taught us to think for ourselves, and yet I cannot bring myself to replace spirituality with a French revolutionary notion of ‘reason’, of a universe devoid of Intelligence, supplanted by the omniscience of decadent, deformed ego-centric man. Whether it be Blackstone’s Commentaries or Shakespeare’s sonnets, they were each informed, instructed by the Bible and the profundities within.
      Whether it be Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilisations, or Roger Scruton’s The West and the Rest, they attest to the fact that a Civilisation that no longer holds to its ‘gods’ is surely doomed. In the West for the last two millennia we held to a monotheistic system of belief, in itself built on heaven knows how long of a not dissimilar Hebraic one. Christ was the crystallisation of that earlier tradition.
      We are now outpacing ourselves to be rid of such a heritage, and Islam will surely instruct us of the errors in our ways, when the transgender creatures amongst us have been duly decapitated and the few remaining Christians taken refuge once again in the catacombs.

      • pgang says:

        ‘I can only add the proviso that I no longer care for anyone to teach me how to pray, nor insist on an immovable liturgy.’ I’m not sure what you mean here, but I presume you are saying you don’t like the church. The church is the earthly manifestation of heaven, regardless of its warts (which shows how far God is prepared to stoop to work with us). It’s where Christians gather together in strength and mutual support, and receive the Covenant sacraments. If we don’t tend to it then we we’re not being sincere about following Christ. There’s a lot of things I don’t like about the church, but one thing I do like about going to a Sunday service is that for a few minutes the world stops being about me.

    • Rob Brighton says:

      I was starting to frame an argument but in the end I found myself agreeing with you.

      It is impossible to discuss your belief system sensibly.

      Leave me to my beliefs without censure and I will do the same with you, but you cannot, you wont.

      Its the same head space as shown in an article produced by quality journalism.

      • Warty says:

        Rob, I think your second sentence ‘it is impossible to discuss your belief system sensibly’ would be close to what I’d say to pgang, albeit with a couple of provisos. I’d remove the ‘impossible’ and replace it with ‘difficult’ and throw out the second person possessive and add ‘one’s’, because it then becomes a two way conversation. Then, in opening up a conversation, which is what most of us do here, one either has a chance of connecting with those things others believe in, or one doesn’t. It’s as simple as that. No expectations and as a result no disappointments.
        Another thing I might point out, to pgang, is that if my memory serves me correctly there were only three mentions of Christ going into the temple, the first being when he was a child (after Joseph and Mary had thought he’d wandered off) and then on two other occasions, one of which he got a tad annoyed and threw over the money lenders tables.
        Now, there was a reason for this and it lies in the understanding that he did most of his ‘teaching’ when out and about, whether on a hill top, in the fields, beside the sea or in the streets. He did not carry a prayer book around with him. There was no liturgy. In fact one bloke felt so dissatisfied with conventional liturgy, he asked Christ how to pray, hence the Lord’s prayer.
        So the notion that we might only find the teaching within four walls just doesn’t wash with me. If others find peace, solidarity and understanding in a church, well and good, I’ll not argue with that, but what I can say is that my sincerity is my business: others can question it, but I am comfortable with that aspect.
        I might also say that whether or not the ‘world stops being about me’, or is only centred on me, is entirely reliant on what I practise on a daily, hourly or momentary basis. I can be a stubborn, selfish son of a bitch at times (and usually I become aware of it when I do) or I can be the opposite: outward, encompassing, considerate and sensitive to others’ needs (as opposed to their demands). It is a simple matter of being awake rather than asleep. This vigilance is another thing spoke of in the Bible (new and old testaments) again and again. I can’t think of any passage that requires one to be in church to receive the covenant sacraments.
        The last supper was held in a private room, in the upper level of an inn or a banqueting facility, not a church, and that’s where the ritual was initiated. Back then it wasn’t a ritual, followers made it so.

    • Masculinophile says:

      I agree. Muslim expansionism has always been opportunism to take lands from self-debilitating empires. Take the original innovations of the eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, North Africa and Span. Had the once-invincible Roman Empire been intact in the 7th-8th centuries, Mohammedans would have been stymied. Alas, the Roman Empire had self-demolished, opening the way to Muslim conquest. It appears that history is repeating itself. Steyn recognizes that our problem is Western Civilization’s self-destruction.

  • Doc S says:

    An excellent interview by ‘Joe Bob Briggs’. I find Steyn one of the most eloquent and intelligent commentators and defenders of free speech going around today.

    Steyn was one of the first intellectuals to give voice to the demographics argument on the decline of Western society in general and Europe in particular, echoing what French terrorism expert Oliver Roy predicted nearly two decades ago when he described the first Islamic enclaves being established throughout nearly every major city in Europe. Steyn can quote you the facts and figures off the top of his head which make an undeniable case.

    But its the breadth of his knowledge and the keenness of his observations, often delivered with great wit, that I find impressive – even astonishing in their prescience – I can’t think many who can address virtually any issue with rational and credible argument like Steyn. His defence of climate scientist Dr Judith Curry appearing before a Ted Cruz chaired Congressional Committee on Climate Change during the Obama administration should be mandatory viewing for ALL science students fed the canard that ‘the science is in’ on climate change – but even that isn’t Steyn at his best. And I think he is at his best on the subject of the relentless attack on our freedoms, particularly freedom of speech, by Islamic zealots and Islam’s many Western apologists. He recorded this a short time after the Westminster attack (SteynPost #12: The Tragedy of the Commons):

    Listening to him you cannot fail to be moved – the horror endured over and over again by innocents – and angered – the simpering duplicity and absolute rubbish spouted by the apologists – at the same time. The defence of free speech and Western civilisation has no greater champion than Mark Steyn. He likes visiting Australia and unlike Ayaan Hirsi Aly or Gert Wilders he is unlikely to be thwarted or prevented from doing so – so when he does again (hopefully soon) go and listen to him. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Jody says:

    Sorry to destroy your illusions; there IS music in the Muslim world. There was a symphony orchestra in Syria and have you heard of the East-West Divan Orchestra with musicians from Jewish Israel and Muslim Palestine?. There are plenty of muslim musicians in international orchestras. Plenty.

    • en passant says:

      The exception does not make the rule.

      Under the Assad regime ALL religions were tolerated and culture flourished. The West resented his standing up to the islamists and taking the appropriate and necessary action to cull the most radical among them. Damascus was a great city just 10=years ago when I was last there.

  • Jody says:

    And “Gypsy” is definitely NOT the greatest musical; that accolade goes to Bernstein’s “West Side Story”, followed by Kern’s “Showboat” (only because “Porgy and Bess” is now regarded as opera). “Gypsy” is a second rank musical. This musicologist says so!!

    • ian.macdougall says:

      Musicologists can say what they like, but all art appreciation is 100% subjective. No way round it.
      There is no objective test you can apply to prove that ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ (which was regarded very affectionately by one WA Mozart) is inferior to Beethoven’s Ninth (which after all, was composed by a man damn near stone deaf.)
      This musician says so!!

    • ian.macdougall says:

      In addition:
      As The Prophet (PBUH!!) forbade depiction of the human form in art, the Islamic world was diverted (and excels) in non-figurative design, as seen particularly in mosques. But the Christian West got helped into its high visual art by commissions for church murals, sculptures, statues etc, and its artists so trained left the Islamic world in their wake.
      But I think the Muslims were on the way towards developing large orchestras, and something eqivalent to Western symphonic music. (The clerics possibly got in their way.) But have a listen to the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan performing Allah Hoo Allah Hoo Full Qawwali By A.Raziq Piracha
      I find it spellbinding.

    • ianl says:

      > Porgy and Bess …

      Summertime, as sung by Ella Fitzgerald and backed by Ray Brown (bass) and Oscar Peterson (piano) is absolutely sublime, a combination of genius. A full lifetime of jazz/blues appreciation says so !

    • Masculinophile says:

      You’re a musicologist. Steyn is a musicologist. Methinks you two should communicate with each other and have great discussions about Broadway musicals.

      I am not a musicologist, butI grew up in the ’50’s with near-constant vinyl LP playing by my mother of Broadway musicals. She loved both WSS and Gypsy, and I did too. I can sing by memory most of the lyrics of West Side Story, and Gypsy. Neither is “the greatest” in my opinion. Updated Romeo and Juliet vs. the upbringing of a stripper.

      My faves, to replay today, are in no order of preference, My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, The Music Man, Oklahoma, and Aladdin. The last was a TV special, but I love Cole Porter, a master of both lyrics and musical composition, a Gentile who studied Jewish music and mastered it. We shall not see his like again in our lifetimes. Jody, if you haven’t listened to Aladdin, do it. You’ll b in for a real treat.

      Meredith Willson is a third cousin twice removed from me. But that’s not why I love The Music Man. It just has gorgeous UPLIFTING sounds and story. I actually prefer the movie soundtrack to the Bway recording, because of one song on the film track. Being in Love, not on the Broadway recording.

  • ianl says:

    “> Porgy and Bess …

    Summertime, as sung by Ella Fitzgerald and backed by Ray Brown (bass) and Oscar Peterson (piano) is absolutely sublime, a combination of genius. A full lifetime of jazz/blues appreciation says so !”

    For some obscure reason this comment (in reply to one of Jody’s comments) is in moderation. Some people would not like the music but I doubt that a censorship algorithm knows that. The only possible issue I can see is the bassist’ last name – perhaps specific colours are regarded as racially offensive.

    So I’ll try the colours of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Oh, and black, white, brown, brindle.

  • Brett_McS says:

    The sentence “Canada is the country that, if I ever needed one, I would always call home.” is a quote from Michael Ignatieff. Mark Steyn used it as a perfect illustration of the out-of-touch elitist that infests the political class in Canada and elsewhere.

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