Выбрать главу

The silence of the artistic lambs

Maclean’s, November 22nd 2007

HERE IS PART of the opening chapter of Daniel Silva’s new novel The Secret Servant: Professor Solomon Rosner, a Dutch Jew and author of a study on “the Islamic conquest of the West”, is making his way down the Staalstraat in Amsterdam, dawdling in the window of his favourite pastry shop, when he feels a tug at his sleeve:

He saw the gun only in the abstract. In the narrow street the shots reverberated like cannon fire. He collapsed onto the cobblestones and watched helplessly as his killer drew a long knife from the inside of his coveralls. The slaughter was ritual, just as the imams had decreed it should be. No one intervened – hardly surprising, thought Rosner, for intervention would have been intolerant – and no one thought to comfort him as he lay dying. Only the bells spoke to him.

They ring from the tower of the Zuiderkirk church, long since converted into a government housing office:

‘A church without faithful,’ they seemed to be saying, ‘in a city without God.’

Obviously, Professor Rosner is an invented character playing his role in an invented plot. But, equally obviously, his death on the streets of a Dutch city echoes the murder in similar circumstances of a real Dutchman for the same provocation as the fictional professor: giving offence to Islam. Theo van Gogh made a movie called Submission, an eye-catching take on Islam’s treatment of women that caught the eye of men whose critiques of motion pictures go rather further than two thumbs up or down. So, in the soi-disant most tolerant country in Europe, a filmmaker was killed for making a film – and at the next Academy Awards, the poseur dissenters of Hollywood were too busy congratulating themselves on their bravery in standing up to the Bushitler even to name-check their poor dead colleague in the weepy Oscar montage of the year’s deceased. In contrast to Hollywood’s self-absorbed “artists”, Daniel Silva has noted what is happening in Europe and thinks it worth making art from – reshaping, distilling, enlarging, to capture a moment. Professor Rosner’s murderer is a man called Muhammad Hamza, a house painter from north Amsterdam. As one intelligence chief explains:

The Amsterdam police found a videotape inside Hamza’s apartment after his arrest. It was shot the morning of Rosner’s murder. On it Hamza calmly says that today would be the day he killed his Jew.

That line echoes the headlines, too. Almost four years ago, a 23-year old Parisian disc jockey called Sebastien Selam was heading off to work when he was jumped in the parking garage by his Muslim neighbour Adel. Selam’s throat was slit twice, his face was ripped off with a fork, and his eyes were gouged out. And then Adel climbed the stairs of the apartment house dripping blood and yelling, “I have killed my Jew. I will go to heaven.”

Western Europe is undergoing a remarkable transformation, and it’s hardly surprising that Daniel Silva should want to novelize it. In my own more prosaic way, I published a book a year ago on the same theme which the executive honchos at Maclean’s were pleased to excerpt in these pages as a cover story called “The Future Belongs To Islam”. The title is not overstated: given the demographic wind behind Islam, insofar as Germany and France and Britain and the Low Countries and Scandinavia have a future, it will be principally determined by the mediation between a resurgent Islam and a declining ethnic European population, and also by the mediation between so-called “radical Islam” and so-called “moderate Muslims”. As the late Mr van Gogh and the late Mr Selam might tell you if they could, the cross-cultural exchange doesn’t always go as well as it might. But, even when it’s not homicidal, it’s still arresting, and transformative. Let me give you a small example, from last week’s London Evening Standard:

Women Get ‘Virginity Fix’ NHS Operations In Muslim-Driven Trend.

Sex, Islam and government health care, all in one convenient headline! According to one expert cited in the story, Muslim girls are “modern and they have adventures like other Europeans”. Which sounds good, doesn’t it? Soon they’ll be so assimilated they’ll be indistinguishable from any old homegrown Britneyfied teen slattern. Alas, as the expert continues, “But on the other hand, fundamentalism is spreading and these girls are getting sent back to their countries of origin to marry. And they will be rejected if it is found out that they are not virgins.”

Solution? Free “hymen replacement”. And, needless to say, all the politicians interviewed by the reporter see it mainly as a question of whether it’s appropriate for this procedure to be provided by Britain’s National Health Service. “What nobody would understand is if taxpayers’ money is being used to fund operations of this kind,” says Tory health spokesman Mike Penning. “I don’t think it should be available on the NHS,” agrees Labour MP Ann Cryer.

Heigh-ho. Best to see “hymen reconstruction” as purely a matter of budgetary overstretch. Long-term, incremental, remorseless, profound cultural change is the hardest for democratic legislators to address, especially when it requires them to march into areas where your average squeamish politician would rather not tiptoe. Yet the silence of the artistic lambs is more puzzling. The English novelist Martin Amis has found himself drawn to the subject and, for his pains, has been all but disowned by the London literary set. (Full disclosure: Mr Amis agrees with the premise of my book but thinks I’m a crap writer. Or, as he put it, Steyn’s “thoughts and themes are sane and serious – but he writes like a maniac.”) But, even if you disagree with Amis, wouldn’t you at least agree that something big and transformative is underway? Graham Greene, for one, would surely have had something to say. As he wrote in The Lawless Roads:

The border means more than a customs house, a passport officer, a man with a gun. Over there everything is going to be different; life is never going to be quite the same again after your passport has been stamped and you find yourself speechless among the money-changers. The man seeking scenery imagines strange woods and unheard-of mountains; the romantic believes that the women over the border will be more beautiful and complaisant than those at home; the unhappy man imagines at least a different hell…

All true, when you see the border post ahead of you down the road, or when the customs inspector demands “Your papers, mein herr.” But what if instead the border comes to you? Not explicitly, but in a kind of demographic equivalent to the overlaid area codes of a North American metropolis. Amsterdam is the city of legalized pot and prostitution and a gay hedonist paradise. But it’s also a Muslim city, overlaid on the pothead playground. At what point does the nice Dutch gay couple realize they’ve crossed a border? That, without getting their passports stamped or changing their currency, they’re now strangers in a strange land. That’s something Greene would have been fascinated to write about.

So why don’t his successors? Well, for one answer we can turn to a recent panel convened at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London to discuss the topic “Is All Modern Art Left Wing?” The formal discussion was dreary and predictable but things turned livelier when it was opened to the floor, and the question of double standards was raised: “Courageous” artists seemed happy to mock Christianity but curiously reluctant to hurl equivalent jibes at Islam. Grayson Perry, the Turner Prize-winning transvestite artist who looks very fetching in his little Disney-princess frocks, reveals that he self-censors when it comes to Muslims because “I don’t want my throat cut.”