My cousin David asked me, a while back, if I could post some reviews of the various books I've read. I've wanted to do that for some time, but the task has always seemed a bit daunting (okay... I'll admit it, I have always thought that it would take too long to write book reviews). After reading Greg Koukl's Solid Ground article on How to Read Less More (PDF), though, I think I've come across a method to both read a book, provide a review, and give my humble opinion about it.
That said, here is my review of Mark Steyn's America Alone.
The subtitle of Steyn's book is The end of the world as we know it. On the cover we see a globe, dotted with flags of Islam, and one lonely American flag. The front cover recommendation quote is, "The arrogance of Mark Steyn knows no bounds." - Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Ambassador to the United States.
Those three items alone should give a clear indication of the direction that Steyn is heading: America (as he will define it), alone, stands in opposition to the rest of the world (again, as defined by him). And, the rest of the world is, by all accounts, looking decidedly Islamic.
From Steyn, "Let me put it in a slightly bigger nutshell: much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive the twenty-first century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most European countries."
Prologue - To Be or Not to Be
In the prologue, Steyn tells us that modern societies like to worry, and that they like to worry about issues that are, essentially, not worth worrying about. Take, for instance, the worrying that has occurred (and still does) regarding over-population, nuclear war, global cooling and, now, global warming. Yet, while the long feared nuclear war never occurred, the same elites who fretted over it now appear to be indifferent to the fact that rogue states have nuclear weapons.
What has occurred, in the last generation, is a shift - a shift in population. Between 1970 and 2000, while the developed world declined in percentage of global population, Muslim nations increased. There are three issues that stand out, in this regard:
- Demographic Decline - in which we see that the median age of many Muslin nations is in the teens, and that the fertility rate of Muslim people far out paces that of the West.
- Welfare State - in which we see that states which rely heavily on governmental subsidies, in conjunction with an aging, childless population, must also rely on an alternative workforce to fund its subsidies.
- Civilization Exhaustion - in which we see that Western cultures, mired in pluralism, and too dependent on the state, will be seen as, and are, in fact, weak.
Selected quote -
The longer the war gets, the harder it will be, because it's a race against time, against lengthening demographic, economic, and geopolitical odds. By "demographic," I mean the Muslim world's high birth rate, which by mid-century will give tiny Yemen a higher population than vast empty Russia. By "economic," I mean the perfect storm the Europeans will face within this decade, because their lavish welfare states are unsustainable with their post-Christian birth rates. By "geopolitical," I mean that if you think the United Nations and other international organizations are antipathetic to America now, wait a few years and see what kind of support you get from a semi-Islamified Europe.
Part I: The Gelded Age - Demography, Democracy, Destiny
Chapter One - The Coming of Age: Births vs. dearths
Steyn argues that one of the main reasons (if not the main reason) for the coming change, in the shape of the world as we know it, is the West's dramatically low birthrate. A rate of 2.1 live births per woman is given as the minimum birthrate needed for a society to simply keep existing (i.e., replacement level). Current birthrates for European countries are drastically below this level (e.g., Europe at 1.38). He then correlates the impact of having fewer native citizens with the conundrum of workers needed to fund the socialized state system of government they enjoy. He notes that the U.S. birthrate is currently at 2.11, comparing it to the birthrates of various Islamic countries (e.g., Niger at 7.5, Afghanistan at 6.7, Yemen at 6.6).
Simply put, we are non-reproducing ourselves into non-existence.
Before that happens, however, as their population ages, Western countries will need workers. And a great portion of those workers will come from Islamic countries. The issue that Steyn makes, with regards to the influx of Muslim workers, is that they generally do not want to assimilate into Western culture. Yet, even if only a small percentage are radically opposed to Western culture, it still amounts to a large bloc of people.
Selected quotes -
When my second child was born, a neighbor said, "Well, you've got two. You can stop now." She was being enlightened and responsible. After all, for her entire adult life, the progressive-minded have worried about "overpopulation." And this view became so pervasive that, in an age of hysteria about "dwindling resources," it became entirely normal to look on our greatest resource - us - as a liability. So today we're the dwindling resource, not the oil. We're the endangered species, not the spotted owl.
Go to any children's store in Amsterdam or Marseilles or Vienna or Stockholm. Look at the women in headscarves or full abaya. That's the future.
Chapter Two - Going... Going... Gone: Demography vs. delusion
Reiterating Chapter One's mantra, Steyn essentially states that all countries with birthrates lower than replacement level will vanish, with Islam stepping in to take over. Apathy + non-replacement = being conquered.
He highlights Japan, a country many once thought was ready to take over the world (technologically, at least). Yet what do we now find in Japan? It is high-tech, God-less, productive, and dieing (aging), with more deaths than births (starting in 2005).
He focuses in on Russia, a country with a birthrate of 1.2 in which 70 percent of its pregnancies are terminated. Steyn then asks us to ponder how Russia will deal with a decidedly low male population and a decidedly valuable nuclear weapons infrastructure?
Selected quote -
That's the danger for Washington - that most of what Russia has to trade is likely to be damaging to U.S. interests. In its death throes, it could bequeath the world several new Muslim nations, a nuclear Middle East, and a stronger China.
Chapter Three - Men Are from Venus: Primary impulses vs. secondary impulses
Steyn argues that the feminization of most of the Western world is a contributing factor to low birth rates, social programs, and a general dependence on the state. It's a selfish worldview which worships self gratification over responsibility. So-called progressive countries, as those in Europe, view the U.S. as the aberration yet, for all practical purposes, they are unable to protect themselves, much less care for themselves.
Selected quote -
What then would happen if America were to follow Mr. Hutton's advice and "join the world"? Well, those "40 million Americans without health insurance" would enjoy the benefit of a new government health care system and, like their 250 million neighbors, would discover the charms of the health care "waiting list" - the one year, two years, or more Britons and others wait in pain for even routine operations...
Part II: Arabian Night - Believers, Converts, Subjects
Chapter Four - Flying the Coop: Big Mo vs. Big Mac
Per Steyn, Islam is globalizing its most radical elements, while the West continues to be of the mindset that pluralism is the progressive manner with which to deal with radical Islam. In effect, such a mindset encourages, rather than placates, radical Islam. In reality, taking a pluralistic approach to radical Islam allows it to flourish in our midst because the radical Islamist is not interested in pluralism.
What we need to understand, according to Steyn, is that this globalization of Islam is not a new thing. Yet, while it's been a worldview for some time, it's only within the last generation that people like the Saudis have had the money (i.e., oil money) to fund the export of ideas. Our misunderstandings also lie in the fact that Muslims, in general, are not interested in assimilating into the Western cultures they emigrate to. Indeed, much of Western culture is abhorrent to Muslims.
Selected quote -
A while back, I found myself behind a car in Vermont that had a one-word bumper sticker containing the injunction "CO-EXIST." ... On this "CO-EXIST" sticker, the "C" was the Islamic crescent, the "O" was the hippy peace sign, the "X" was the Star of David and the "T" was the Christian cross. Very nice, hard to argue with. But the reality is that it's the first of those symbols that has a problem with "co-existence." Take the crescent out of the equation and you wouldn't need the bumper sticker at all. Indeed, co-existence is what the Islamists are at war with - or, if you prefer, pluralism...
Chapter Five - The Anything They'll Believe In: Church vs. state
In this chapter, Steyn, whether he intended to or not, hits on the post-Christian aspect of much of Western culture. Furthermore, he asserts that Islam will win converts in the West, mainly due to the impotent and weak nature of mainline Christianity. Moderate Muslims are ineffective against radical Muslims, and radical Muslims believe that the whole world belongs to Allah. They look at the West and see a spineless culture, intent on worshiping the environment while chanting pluralistic platitudes. Steyn argues that many converts to Islam simply want to follow a real faith vs. living in a culture which doesn't take any faith seriously.
Selected quote -
One reason why the developed world has a difficult job grappling with the Islamist threat is that it doesn't take religion seriously. It condescends to it. In Europe's wholly secularized environment, the enduring religiosity of America is not just odd, but primitive. It puts Americans in the same category as remote tribes in Africa or cargo culters in the Pacific - anthropologically fascinating, but nonetheless backward.
Chapter Six - The Four Horsemen of the Eupocalypse: Eutopia vs. Eurabia
Steyn argues that Europe is caving in on itself, that the Left thinks of Europe as progressive, but that it is backwards and decaying, self-indulgent and blind. He predicts that Europe will collapse into a version of Islam built on immigrants and converts, drenched in fascism.
The Four Horsemen:
- Death - the worldview of John Lennon's song Imagine is now a reality, in Europe. But it can't square with reality, and a welfare state produces an infantile populace.
- Famine - what happens when there's no one left to pay for the massive government benefits?
- War - expect an escalation in violence, in a bi-cultural Europe, where one culture (Islam) is, truly, the strong one.
- Conquest - this is inevitable, when the stronger culture sees the weakness of Europe.
Selected quote -
If Americans think that the post-bombing 2004 Spanish election result was a disgrace, look down the road to the next election cycle, in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and beyond... Think about an election in which 20 percent of the voters are a self-segregating Muslim bloc. If Washington had a hard time getting any useful contribution to the war from Europe in 2001 or 2003, you do the math ten or fifteen years hence.
Part III: The New Dark Ages... And How to Lighten Up
Chapter Seven - The State-of-the-Art Primitive: The known unknowns vs. the knowingly unknowing
Taking a look at the nuances found in the 21st century, Steyn notes that we're facing an entire culture that is both modern and fanatically primitive. While the West is intent on trying to "stabilize and contain", always avoiding the problem, the simple point of fact is that we appear weak to fanatical Muslims. Steyn argues that there are 3 strategies that radical Islamists are using against a dying West: 1) demography, 2) conversion, and 3) an intertwining of modernity with ancient hatreds.
Regarding nuclear weapons - they have the intent, is there any reason we should not expect them to be used? How will we know? Consider the futility of attempting to coexist with suicide bombers, or with terrorists who are fighting to eliminate the West? This is the face of the enemy we are up against.
Selected quote -
We are not dealing with "enemies" like the Soviets, or "terrorists" like the IRA... Try to imagine what a jihadist feels when he looks at a Russian schoolchild or an Israeli diner or a British contractor or an American pacifist.
Now try to imagine how he'd feel if asked to participate in a nuclear plot, and to kill vastly greater numbers of Russians and Israelis and Britons and Americans.
Chapter Eight - The Unipole Apart: America vs. everyone else
The point of Steyn's book - America is left alone. How will it cope? Will it be able to? No one else can win the long war, and the enemy knows that all it has to do is break our will. The enemy sees cultural respect as weakness. If our will is broken, it will not matter that our military is strong enough to win this war. We go out of our way to act civilized, yet win no respect. Diplomatically, we stand alone. We inadvertently fund our own destruction with the continued consumption of oil from the Middle East. We fail to tap into the information age resources so effectively utilized by Islamists. We are the world's superpower, yet if we crumble, what power will replace us?
Selected quote -
Almost as soon as American troops entered Iraq, Senate Democrats demanded to know what the "exit strategy" was. "Exit strategy" is a phrase that might have been designed as a textbook definition of lack of will. In war, there are usually only two exit strategies: victory or defeat. The latter's easier. Just say, whoa, we're the world's dominant power but we can't handle an unprecedently [sic] low level of casualties, so if you don't mind we'd just as soon get off at the next stop...
For a serious power, the correct answer to "What's the exit strategy?" is: there isn't one, and there shouldn't be one, and it's a dumb expression.
Chapter Nine - The Importance of Being Exceptional: Citizens vs. dependents
Steyn lays out the foundation of how America can win - avoid a Leftist mentality and a welfare state condition. The Left, especially progressive Europeans, loathe (what they consider to be) the typical redneck American. He references London's Daily Mirror, and deprecatory comments made by a Brian Reade, regarding such Americans. Yet Steyn argues that it is exactly those qualities that set America apart from the rest of the West, and that it is those qualities that will enable America to win.
While governmental procedures slow a system down, making its regularity readily predictable and essentially providing ready access for a 9/11 attack, private enterprise thrives on finding innovative, quick, and efficient solutions to problems. We must move away from bigger government. Steyn proposes that our income tax structure be structured to favor families, and that affordable housing be a top priority within our communities. In short: Self-reliance and private innovation.
Selected quote -
Howard Zinn, in his introduction to Cindy Sheehan's book Dear President Bush, pens this paean to the plucky underdog: "A box cutter can bring down a tower. A poem can build up a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution."
But the only reason "a box cutter can bring down a tower" is because on September 11 our defenses against such a threat were exclusively the province of the state. If nineteen punks with box-cutters had tried to pull some stunt in the parking lot of a sports bar, they'd have been beaten to a pulp.
Chapter Ten - The Falling Camel: Last Legs
Steyn quotes an Arabic proverb, "A falling camel attracts many knives," and then applies it to Europe. It is falling and, as it falls, it continues to be attacked. To win, he argues, we must have the will to fight. Islamic terrorists have a means (to an end) that is different from anything we've ever faced. We've feminized our approach through our multi-culturalism: we ask "why?", we try to understand, we sympathize, we concede, and we apologize - and these are all seen as signs of weakness.
How to win and what to do? Steyn offers three options, to which I've added a fourth: 1) Submit to Islam, 2) Destroy Islam, 3) Reform Islam, and (my offering) 4) Live Christian. Steyn argues that options 1 and 2 are unthinkable, and that option 3 can only succeed if Muslims are behind it.
He does propose conditions that the West can provide, to facilitate the success of option 3: 1) Support women's rights, 2) Roll back ideological exports which support radical Islam, 3) Support economic and political liberty in the Muslim world, 4) Deny international legitimacy to Muslim states that persecute non-Muslims, 5) Throttle the funding of Muslim think tanks in America, 6) Develop a strategy for countering Islamism on the ideological front, 7) Marginalize the UN, NATO, etc., 8) Cease bankrolling oil producers by ceasing our dependence on oil, 9) End the Iranian regime, and 10) Strike militarily when the opportunity presents itself.
Certainly, as he states, the last two options are controversial. Yet, he argues, we cannot rely on Russia, Europe, or China for aid. We are soft. The peace we've enjoyed since 1945 is unprecedented. It has, though, left us believing that that is the way it always will be - it hasn't been, and it won't always be.
Selected quotes -
This book isn't an argument for more war, more bombing, or more killing, but for more will.
We've been shirking too long, and that's unworthy of a great civilization. To see off the new Dark Ages will be tough and demanding. The alternative will be worse.
I think that Steyn presents a compelling argument for the threat of Islamic terrorism, the root causes of the West's inability to respond, and the necessary position the U.S.A. now finds itself in. From a strictly secular viewpoint, he outlines the issues quite well. I believe that our current condition is due to our affluence and, therefore, a lack of a "need for God." In our self-reliance we have become self-indulgent, thereby pushing God aside or, at best, using religion only in how it might best alleviate the stress of our day to day living. If Christians in the West were to truly live as Christians, then we know that the gates of Hell cannot prevail.
If you would like to get a concise and to-the-point analysis of how the real threat of Islamic terror affects us, then I'd recommend reading Steyn's book.