Johann Hari reviews Mark Steyn

In the current issue of the New Statesman Johann Hari reviews Mark Steyn’s Islamophobic fantasy America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It. Hari writes: “… if Steyn’s ‘warnings’ have a historical precedent, it is the hysteria among even liberal Americans such as Jack London in the early 20th century that anticipated Chinese immigrants would outbreed white Americans and take over the US. London’s solution was extermination; what is Steyn’s?” A fair point, except that Steyn’s book does in fact provide a clear indication of where he stands on this issue.

Hari’s review repeats the basic error of an earlier article in the Independent – namely that, while he’s excellent at demolishing the paranoid delusions of anti-Muslim racists like Steyn and Bat Ye’or, he has swallowed quite a bit of Islamophobic mythology himself, specifically over the issue of Islamism.

In the Independent piece, Hari wrote that Islamists fall into two categories: “the people who will lash and stone gays after winning at the ballot box and the people who will lash and stone gays after seizing power in a coup”. In the Steyn review, Hari describes Islamism as “a fascistic menace”. This is a wilfully ignorant attitude that does Hari no credit. He doesn’t even attempt to define Islamism. However, if you accept Graham Fuller’s definition of an Islamist – “one who believes that Islam as a body of faith has something important to say about how politics and society should be ordered … and who seeks to implement this idea in some fashion” – it can be seen that the term covers a wide variety of political views.

For example, according to Fuller’s definition, Tariq Ramadan is an Islamist. Does Hari categorise Professor Ramdan as a fascistic menace? Some people do. But it is difficult to see how this differs in any respect from the ravings of Mark Steyn.

As Soumaya Ghannoushi has pointed out: “Islamism, like socialism, is not a uniform entity. It is a colourful sociopolitical phenomenon with many strategies and discourses. This enormously diverse movement ranges from liberal to conservative, from modern to traditional, from moderate to radical, from democratic to theocratic, and from peaceful to violent. What these trends have in common is that they derive their source of legitimacy from Islam.”

Politically engaged Christians encompass a similar range of tendencies, from representatives of the evangelical Right such as Pat Robertson to anti-war activists like Bruce Kent. As Tariq Ramadan has observed, in the case of Christianity people are prepared to recognise these political distinctions. However: “In the case of Islam, engaging in the defence of the poor or carrying the most reactionary ideas does not make any difference. Judgement here falls like a chopper: ‘fundamentalists’.”