My wife Marni provides this guest review of America Alone (2006, Regnery Publishing) by Mark Steyn:
It’s spicy, definitely not politically correct, often laugh-out-loud humorous, and hits you between the eyes with a 2×4. Like some of my other favorite books (which Steyn gleefully pokes fun at) – Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, New Edition by Jared Diamond, and The World Is Flat [Updated and Expanded]: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Centuryby Thomas Friedman – America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It attempts to explain big picture trends we see in our world and what causes them. Steyn’s tone is perhaps less scholarly than these other works, but his extensive use of quotes, historical data, and demographic statistics enhance his credibility. A lengthy, helpful index substantiates the scholarship behind his claims. While it is tempting to dismiss his somewhat doom-and-gloom claims as conspiracy theory drivel, I simply couldn’t. His arguments are too compelling, too well-supported by data, and simply explain too well what we see in the world today. I kept seeing and thinking of more recent items in the news that support his thesis, and that, no doubt, he would have included if he were writing this book today.
Steyn makes the case that the Western world is vulnerable to Islam in several ways. He begins with a compelling discussion of demographics. Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and Australia are all not having enough babies to replace their current population. Of the Western democracies, only the U.S. is maintaining its population level (and, might I add, Alex and I are expecting our 2nd child in September. Just doing our part.). Meanwhile, the Muslim community is reproducing quite rapidly through both childbirth and conversion. It is the fastest growing religion on the planet.
We are also vulnerable in terms of culture. Followers of Islam share a strong, comprehensive ideology to which most Muslims are proudly committed. Some would like to see the whole world live under Islamic (Sharia) law — and this “some” are generally more vocal, and gain substantial followings. Conversely, a large percentage of Westerners feel guilty about their own culture and religion — a guilt compounded by a sense that all cultures in the world are equally praiseworthy. A western, pluralistic bias to accept others (a good thing) can lead to an unhealthy sort of “tolerance” for even misogynistic and violent tendencies in Islam. When a bombing occurs, we wonder what we did wrong. Should we be giving more benefits and entitlements? Is our culture too intolerant? Should we change “The 3 Little Pigs” to “The 3 Little Puppies?”
In other words, we non-Muslim Westerners — in contrast to many Muslims — tend not to see the value of our own culture. Instead, we feel guilty about past and present oppression, racism, environmental damage, etc. (but oddly not about same-sex domestic partnerships or pornography). So we are willing to make accommodation after accommodation for our Muslim neighbors, thinking that if we don’t publish cartoons of Mohammad, surely they won’t bomb us. But Steyn (rightly) argues that Muslims aren’t looking for more concessions. In fact, many are looking to destroy our culture and impose Sharia law. Meanwhile, we don’t even realize our culture is worth saving. Our culture, which (though highly imperfect) values freedom, truth, rights, and pluralism, and has spawned some of the greatest improvements in education, health care, standards of living, and religious freedom.
Steyn shows that it’s not Britney Spears, Coke, and Big Macs which need to be exported to the world (our success herein notwithstanding), it’s our culture and our values (i.e., celebration of tolerance within moral boundaries, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and the accountability of government officials to the governed). When Saddam was deposed in Iraq, we should have been focusing on spreading the values of liberty, entrepreneurship (capitalism) and pluralism in the schools — to both children and adults! We needed to tell them what was so great about liberty. I laughed reading this, since we don’t even confidently teach the benefits of our own culture in U.S. schools.
But wouldn’t it be cultural imperialism to teach our culture to the people of Iraq? Steyn answers that question with the example of suttee in colonial India. Suttee was the practice of burning a widow alive with her husband. The English colonial government abolished the practice. As General Napier said:
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.
I cannot discern if Steyn is an evangelical Christian from reading this book, but many of his arguments are naturally appealing for those of us with a passion for seeing unreached Muslim peoples in the 10-40 window won for Christ (and learn to read, develop their economy, enjoy better health care, etc.). What was surprising is that it may be “easier” to share the gospel and establish churches in some of the more moderate portions of the 10-40 window than it may be now or soon in Europe or the U.S., where Muslim children are being trained in the more extreme sect of Wahhabism through schools funded by the money we pay to the Saudis for oil.
While I care deeply that we are good stewards of creation, I do not buy into much of the environmentalist movement’s claims today of global warming, etc. However, Steyn makes some excellent points about our needing to be careful in considering where oil dollars are going, and what they are funding. It is lamentable that many oil-rich countries are using their revenue not to diversify their economy, but rather to spread extreme, violent versions (Wahhabism or Salafi) of Islam throughout the world.
(Reading this book I did have some moments of real fear that my 1-year-old daughter, Karis, will someday be required to wear a burqa to go outside of her home in the U.S. But then I remembered I’ve been praying for her all along to be the kind of person willing to wear a burqa voluntarily, sacrificing many of her “rights”, to share with others that Christ died to set them free.)
In conclusion, America Alone makes a strong case that (in a sense) we have been far too “humble” about the blessings of American Culture. We should have been courageously teaching the Iraqis since 2003. How else could they know about the blessings of our culture? Britain, Europe, and even Americans are often so ashamed of our past, and our values, that we don’t even teach them to kids here. So Western children grow up feeling guilty for destroying the environment, killing the Indians, etc. Therefore, we try to accommodate all other cultures (ironically, except ours?). Westerners (especially in Europe) may be moving toward Islamic laws (by default) due to a multicultural, politically correct ethic which is loathe to make any value judgements. Instead, we must present an alternative and confidently prove the benefits of a free press. We need to export American culture (liberty, freedom, pluralism, capitalism, etc.) and not just pop music and french fries.