The Meme War on Terror

If not a war, how about a vigorous discussion?


When sober middle-of-the-roaders such as Michael Barone and David Brooks peg culture as key to winning—or at least understanding—the terror war, there might be something going on. Indeed, praise of Western culture is breaking out all over. The trouble is that the pro–Western culture pronouncements to which these pundits are prone are maddeningly non-specific. Brooks, while noting the development of a "hyperaggressive fantasy version" of Islam in some places, can only counsel that more smart kids study cultural geography as a way to figure out what is going on. Barone goes a little further, blaming Britain's "multiculturalism" for creating the conditions for the London bombings. According to Barone: Multiculturalism is based on the lie that all cultures are morally equal. In practice, that soon degenerates to: All cultures are morally equal, except ours, which is worse. But all cultures are not equal in respecting representative government, guaranteed liberties and the rule of law. And those things arose not simultaneously and in all cultures, but in certain specific times and places—mostly in Britain and America, but also in various parts of Europe. Alright, but how does that translate into any meaningful policy prescription? Well, one good place to start might be to stop apologizing for Western culture. U.S. colleges and universities are notoriously bad in this respect, which is especially tragic considering how often a campus classroom serves as a gateway to America for those with little direct experience with modern Western culture. A series of summer courses offered by Virginia Tech University illustrates the problem. Tech hosted 60 instructors from King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. The instructors—adults, not undergrads—were taught in sex-segregated classes. "This is the way they teach their courses over there, and this is the way they wish their courses to be taught over here," Tech spokesman Larry Hincker told a local paper. The university chose to respect the Saudi culture "rather than impress our culture on them," he added. That sounds awful lot like apologizing for Blacksburg not being Jeddah, or otherwise not under the dominion of Saudi princes. Besides, it is precisely the mission of institutions of higher learning to "impress" some culture along the way and a few basic tenets of Western civilization—individual rights, religious tolerance—seems a decent enough place to start. If you believe, and I think you should, that foreign nationals' visiting America is a net good thing for America and the world at large, then it seems rather counterproductive to bend over backward to help those visitors cocoon themselves in their native cultures while in America. Once you accept the argument that the mere exposure to cultural difference is offensive, it is hard to clamor back to the position that openness and cultural blending is a good thing for the world. It also seems important to take a stand in favor of pluralism and tolerance as a way to make common cause with Muslims who are out front trying to prod their co-religionists away from extremism. If the West's secular public institutions won't even put in a good word for secularism, who will? Of course, this "good word" or "no apology" standard is still pretty amorphous and, in the hands of a dedicated bureaucrat, could easily be twisted into some sort of hideous indoctrination attempt. Still, it seems pretty important that utter capitulation not to be the first response to any challenge to Western mores and culture. Save that for complaints about cable TV programming.