Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Mark Steyn has a major piece in both The New Criterion and Opinion Journal currently, and it's basically a distillation of Steyn's thoughts on the demographic disaster awaiting Europe in the coming years. It's a very familiar theme to regular Steyn readers--if expressed more angrily and with less humor than we are used to.

What I thought of as I read it was a particular media point of view we saw during the French riots a couple of months ago, best expressed in a Village Voice story by David Ng ("CNN Got It Wrong: The Paris riots weren't that bad—and the French government handled it well"):

U.S. reporters gave a sensationalized image of an entire country under siege.

On Monday, two French colleagues and I were talking at a chi-chi café in Paris when we saw a group of police officers in battle regalia boarding a bus just outside our window. "I think we can guess where they're going," one of my friends remarked. Sharp inhalations all around, followed by raised eyebrows. ...Contrary to the breathless dispatches from the American press, Paris was most certainly not burning. Those of us ensconced in the central part of the city could hardly tell anything was going on. ("This is not exactly the second French Revolution," another journalist colleague told me.) American media hyperbole served to heighten the distancing effect. Expounding on French social inequalities from their suites at the George V, the dashing reporters of CNN et al., their infographics a-blazin', created a sensationalized image of an entire country under siege.

And that was the tenor of the European elite reaction to the French riots: Move on, nothing to see here, let's not exaggerate. (The German daily Tagesspiegel: "One has to keep calm; Paris isn't Baghdad." While they reveled in the chaos of Hurricane Katrina, the European elites couldn't see see any real problems at home.

But the demographics cited by Steyn mean that the November riots were simply a preview of coming attractions. That Europe's minorities will continue to grow more restive, more demanding, is not really a variable; the only real variable is when Europe will allow itself to talk about it without "sharp inhalations and raised eyebrows." I would predict that the European elites, like Mr. Ng's friends in the chi-chi cafe, will remain in denial for a very long time.

The Paul Krugmans of the world may enjoy telling us how much happier the French are than us. But Edgar Allan Poe knew about "happiness" and denial as well as he knew his chi-chi cafes:

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the "Red Death."


...And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

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