Earlier this week Mark Steyn visited Toronto and made a few public appearances to promote his new book The Undocumented Mark Steyn. One of the events took place at a Chapters-Indigo bookstore, where he was interviewed and then signed copies of the book. The turnout, as it could be expected, was very high and the place could barely accommodate the scores of people interested in what he had to say. And as it could be expected (again), the mainstream media didn’t show a burning desire to cover his presentation. The latter was discussed and analyzed in details by a few bloggers, who share his views (like End of Your Arm, Eye on a Crazy Planet, and Scaramouche).
I provided below a recording of the interview, because, regardless of how skilled the writers are, written words simply can’t convey Steyn’s unique way of communication enriched by quick wit and sarcasm, which could be fully appreciated only when one listens to him live.
This article has a much more modest goal – to bring attention to the values clash or rather the value disarray that dominates the Western societies, a situation, which became painfully obvious during the event. Steyn was interviewed by Heather Reisman, the CEO of the bookstore chain, and that made me hesitate to the last minute whether I should go or not.
Such book events are usually under a tight control and extremely boring. Like the book reading at the conference on teaching “gender identities” (all nine of them) to kids organized by OISE and TDSB that I attended last year – it ended with readings by three homosexual authors, who tortured the audience with their dreadful screeds and everybody had to take it, lest he be banished to the bottom of the homophobic black list. Or last November’s presentation of Justin Trudeau’s “memoirs” at the Toronto Public Library, in which his collective of authors tried very hard to present the trust fund brat as a vulnerable child with complicated childhood. Questioning that premise would’ve resulted in being thorn into pieces by his army of potheads and aging downtown cougars with a crush on him, who dominated the audience.
I have seen Ms. Reisman in action back in 2006; that year she held a similar event at the same store when Leonard Cohen and Anjani were promoting The Book of Longing. Since the greatest Canadian poet is not a known political junkie, she was able to keep everything within the limits of a boring literary event. Mark Steyn is a completely different creature and dealing with him wasn’t something Ms. Reisman was prepared to do.
The “chief booklover” (as she described herself at both the Cohen and the Steyn events) was willing to keep everything safe. You may notice that the recording doesn’t start from the beginning – Steyn arrived heavily guarded by his security, which tells you enough about how “safe” the topics he covers are (Cohen didn’t need such security), Ms. Resiman went into safe territory by asking Steyn to read from a column dealing with last-minute Christmas shopping. Though witty and humorous, it was a far cry from Steyn’s main field of interest, which made him famous.
When she ventured into the political topics, starting from the welfare dependency, things went out of control into a head-on clash. Now, I don’t want to say that Ms. Reisman is an evil or malicious person. I am sure that she is genuinely concerned about numerous social issues, but she would’ve been better off to keep her solutions to herself, instead of arguing with one of the kings of social sarcasm. As her views expressed during the interview revealed, a person of her stature (she and her husband Gerry Schwartz are reportedly worth about $2 billion) has a limited touch with the everyday reality, excluding her business, and her source of human touch are probably her chauffeur, employees and the army of solicitors, who want money for their “charities.” None of those people has even the slightest interest in telling her what is going on in the world.
Despite her attempt, Reisman couldn’t keep the conversation within safe boundaries, because when Mark Steyn saw the opening, he attacked with the might of a tank storming a hippy compound. To illustrate the absurdity of the dependence culture, he gave an example with a small Indian town (or maybe reserve) up north, which was suffering alcoholism, gas sniffing, hopelessness and violence that the Indians inflicted on each other. The Canadian authorities “wisely” decided to solve the problem by relocating the Indians to a better location. After spending millions of dollars, at the new place the inhabitants continued with the same alcoholism, gas sniffing and violence. The problem was not caused by lack of money – it was due to giving money to people to do nothing. Steyn had an original solution – let’s put all those Indians in an expensive Toronto hotel, like King Edward’s, at a full price and let them have all expensive booze in the rooms and any room service they want (that would still be cheaper than the money spent on moving them). However, in that situation there is a remote possibility that after all that eating and drinking at least one Indian could get bored and may leave the hotel to join the rest of Toronto and become a productive citizen.
Ms. Reisman didn’t like the plan very much and could anybody blame her for it? I am sure she has never seen an Indian in his natural habitat and all of her knowledge comes from the cowardly Canadian press, which routinely describes Indians as perpetual victims who could do no wrong. Mark Steyn is a major exception. (That part of the talk reminded me of Maclean’s Magazine. Not only did it publish years ago Steyn’s warnings about the Muslim invasion, but it also went to fight for him after the anti-Semites from the Canadian Islamic Congress tried to destroy him through the human rights commissions. And the same magazine, just a few weeks ago came up with a slanderous article declaring Winnipeg Canada’s most racist city. Everybody who has ever visited that city, unless he is a die-hard lefty, can testify that after decades of generosity provided by the Ministry of Indian Affairs and the Manitoba socialist government, the only result are the hordes of scary alcoholics and junkies who roam it and make it look like a prairie edition of The Walking Dead. Trying to survive among them is not racism, otherwise you may end up in the river like the poor Indian girl, assaulted by her fellow Winnipeg Indians.)
However, that didn’t deter Ms. Reisman from spewing her buzzwords about how we need to find a way to keep welfare as a springboard or safety net. She was convinced that most people want to work and don’t like dependence. Naturally, Steyn shot back with another example from the grim reality of dependence, which he knows so well.
He spoke about the Connecticut town, where he lives, which started as a mill town. The first people showed up there in the 18th century, reclaiming the land from the forest. For many decades its people worked hard, mostly in the mills and the farms. Then the industries and the farming gradually disappeared and all that remained was “Ben and Jerry,” the aging hippies, and people who depend on the government for handouts. When in the 1990’s the disability act was introduced, that was seen as a sign of social justice. Today more than 20 million people are on disability. The culture of dependency creates an alliance of the bureaucracy that provides the handouts and the beneficiaries, and the whole scheme perpetuates itself.
Ms. Reisman stated that they should agree to disagree and jumped to another topic, which revealed in a painful way her detachment from the everyday life in Toronto. It was about the infamous “mosqueteria” – the use of the cafeteria at a public school in Toronto for Muslim prayers. When she read that chapter in the book, she didn’t believe it, so she had to do her own research.
(Side note – that was the first instance when the audience reacted through comments and jeering. Unlike the usual literary crowd, Mark Steyn’s fans are people who follow closely the political events and are not afraid to express immediately their opinions. Such an audience was another thing Ms. Reisman wasn’t prepared for.)
After the people calmed down, Steyn patiently explained to her that this was an arrangement made to accommodate Muslims, who wanted to pray on Friday, but would be inconvenienced to go to the mosque. The whole thing went on for months without reaction, until the blogger Blazingcatfur made the story public. The mainstream media tried to ignore the story, but eventually stole it from him. The disturbing part was the segregation imposed at a public school – during the prayer the boys were placed in front of the room, with the girls behind them and the menstruating girls banished to the back end. And this happened in a secular school, many years after Christianity was kicked out of the education system. That segregation was particularly damaging to girls, who found themselves in a free country with the expectation to be equal, only to be placed in a humiliating situation by the imams and their parents, just like in their old countries.
That didn’t discourage Ms. Reisman from attempting to defend Muslim mysoginism – she countered with the statement that nobody was required to attend those prayers and the school wasn’t teaching religion, it was allowing the use of space. (Another growl from the audience… Those elitists don’t get it, do they?)
But it got even worse – she continued with the point that such occurrences force us to think about the necessity of a dialogue: we need to understand what constitutes acceptance and on the other hand how to deal with racism and Islamophobia, how do we navigate that? We don’t want to lose the value of openness and giving up the rights of women. (Yes, she actually used the ridiculous term “Islamophobia” designed to suffocate criticism of Islam and its horrible effects on our civilization.)
Refuting her arguments, Steyn made the brilliant remark that a too tolerant society that is so tolerant that it tolerates the intolerant signs its death warrant. Unfortunately, that doesn’t occur immediately; it happens gradually so few notice it. Then he served another dose of reality – in Holland they don’t want to teach the Holocaust because it may be offensive to some; the next step, like in Denmark, is to stop accepting Jewish students for the sake of their own safety, then in France Jews are required to change their names for the same reasons. This is diversity brought to absurd. And it’s all done by bureaucrats. When in Canada the Parliament was attacked by a Muslim convert terrorist, the police who responded had to be interrupted from a diversity session they were holding with members of the Muslim community. It was an illustration of the twilight of the West and its values.
Then the conversation drifted off to the politicians, who are aware of those problems; the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack; the Muslim countries before the end of the cold war (where few people were interested in Islam until the rich foundations of Saudi Arabia and Iran stepped in); and the wicked Muslim regime in Saudi Arabia. (You can listen to this in the recording.)
The next clash occurred when Ms. Reisman ventured into the gun rights territory. Predictably, she said that in Canada we are better off since we have fewer guns and we don’t even need many types of them, like semi-automatic weapons. She also added that only trained people, trained in security, should be allowed to have guns.
Steyn shot back, after noting that he is not an excessive gun enthusiast, that many people need weapons for self-defence, especially with the dismal record of the police in the Western society, who are never available when something dangerous happens. In the case of Charlie Hebdo, they had two police officers present, yet they didn’t shoot the terrorists; the victims would’ve survived, if they were armed. You can’t just take away those rights when Jews are beaten up in France and free speech activists like Lars Hedegaard from Denmark are attacked by armed Muslims in their homes.
Then Ms. Reisman countered with the statement that even in a country like Israel, which is under constant threat, only the security personnel is armed. That showed once again that she doesn’t go out much even when she is in Israel. If you walk the streets for a few days there and visit enough regular places, you can’t help but notice that many civilians are armed. Even several of the rabbis in a yeshiva we visited there had guns.
Finally, the event moved to the Q&A session, and as you could expect, Steyn’s rapport with the audience was much better – they knew his work; they knew the events happening around them, just like Steyn did.
The audience was interested in Ezra Levant’s recent libel trial. (In his response Steyn made a lawyer’s joke, incorporating the court experience of Conrad Black, who was among the people who came to hear Steyn.) On the issue of the immigration to the USA he commented that what is happening in the southern states is simply moving the Mexican border north.
A deep question, which required a long answer, was about the values: since Steyn was concerned about the decline of the Western values and thought that we have to change our culture to uphold them, what is the best way to go about that?
Steyn gave a remarkably sensible answer, which was obvious, but few of the “elites” would consider. You change the culture each and every day in your everyday life, through little things. Steyn said that he was not a fan of the cultural relativism, and gave an example with the new curriculum for sex education in Ontario, which is going to teach 6-year old children the nature of consent in sex. A child of that age doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand the intimacy of the sexual relationship.
Here Ms. Resiman interrupted him to show again how little she knows about the problems facing people in Ontario. She was sincerely surprised that such discussion was going on in the province; she didn’t know anything about it; was it about inappropriate touching? That was followed by another round of laughter and jeers from the audience.
Steyn calmly continued that, no, it was not about touching, it is about actual consent to have sex. That is sexualisation of childhood. When faced with such a problem, many people say – it’s the school board, what can we do? You can do something and oppose that, otherwise you shouldn’t be surprised when you elect politicians and nothing happens. If you let different low levels of the government pull off that stuff, don’t be surprised, if it reaches the federal government. You must be able to do those little things every day, and you should do it for your 6-year old kid who is being sexualized by bureaucrats. People can do anything they want in their sex lives, but that becomes a problem when they do it with 6 or 7 year old kids. If you don’t push back at such level, nothing in the federal government would matter.
Ms. Reisman managed again to make an out-of-place remark: she expected him to address bigger cultural issues that mattered (like the homosexual rights), though what Steyn covered also had some merit. By now, I don’t need to tell you what the audience’s reaction was.
In the end Steyn moved to the final stage of the event – signing books. So did Lord Black, who quickly became a centre of attention of his own and was swarmed by people willing to sign their copies of his book about the history of Canada.
Though it was a pleasant experience to meet such a provocative thinker like Mark Steyn, the experience with Heather Reisman was far from pleasant. She belongs to the group with big money, which makes the big political donations. With her blissful ignorance about the everyday problems of the little people, the money probably goes to equally ignorant politicians. Maybe that’s the main reason why nowadays Queen’s Park is occupied by a bunch of ignorant crooks, led by an equally deceptive Premier, whose only qualification for the post is that she is lesbian.
It seems to me that the “chief booklover” reads the wrong books.
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