Unquestionable Political Correctness

Eliot Weinberger on the 'New York Times Book Review'

The New York Times Book Review prides itself on its objectivity: no known lovers or sworn enemies are allowed to review each other. In actual practice, this means that the author of a novel about getting divorced in Pennsylvania will extravagantly praise the author of a novel about getting divorced in Connecticut. A political ‘moderate’ will air and then dismiss the ideas in a book by a left-winger; a right-winger will express some mild reservations about an ultra-right-winger; and a left-winger will only be asked to review something without contemporary content (e.g. a feminist on the biography of a suffragette).

Edited by Sam Tanenhaus (biographer of Whittaker Chambers and, in progress, William F. Buckley), the NYTBR is predictably softcore right-of-centre. So it was something of a surprise that they assigned noted anti-Muslim hatemonger Stephen Pollard to review the latest bookSurrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom – by noted anti-Muslim hatemonger Bruce Bawer. (In 2006, Bawer published While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, which may help explain why Western Civilisation now lies in ruins.)

Pollard’s review begins:

There is no more important issue facing the West than Islamism, Islamofascism or — to use yet another label — radical Islam.

Indeed. As apparently more threatening than global warming, nuclear proliferation or the recession, Pollard cites Tariq Ramadan, the reaction to the Danish cartoons and Ken Livingstone’s conference invitation to Yusuf al-Qaradawi. (In a happier bit of news, however, Pollard implies that it was that single sinister encounter that led an alarmed London to throw Livingstone out.)

Further promoting Bawer’s book, the Times includes an excerpt on its website:

The pernicious doctrine of multiculturalism, which teaches free people to belittle their own liberties while bending their knees to tyrants, and which, as we shall see, has proven to be so useful to the new brand of cultural jihadists that it might have been invented by Osama bin Laden himself.

(One imagines the scene in a cave somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan: ‘Zawahiri, my friend, I’ve got it! We will destroy the Great Satan with a single word: diversity!’)

Pollard’s review ends:

Bawer is unquestionably correct, and that fact is quite simply terrifying.

It’s true. One quite simply longs for the days when things were unquestionably correct, when Joseph Stalin could write:

Is Lenin's thesis that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the ‘root content of the proletarian revolution’ correct? It is unquestionably correct.

Or when the 1969 Draft Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party could state:

It is unquestionably correct that on a general historical scale imperialism is heading towards total collapse while Socialism is heading towards worldwide victory.


  • 30 July 2009 at 6:40pm
    leonard marks says:
    Weinberger is right: assigning Stephen Pollard to review Bruce Bawer is like assigning the Pope to review the New Testament, even if Pollard has never shaken Bawer's hand. But intellectual corruption isn't the only, or the most important, problem raised by the publication of Pollard's encomium. What's much more troubling is the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim diatribes. Alert readers can't fail to notice the venom of the likes of Pollard and Bawer; they may, however, be taken in by Christopher Caldwell's Spenglerian book on the dangers of Muslim immigration, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. Like Bawer and Pollard, Caldwell is hot with worry over everything from the Muslim birthrate to the smells of curry to the sinister preachings of Tariq Ramadan; unlike them, he makes a clever show of fairmindedness and has an appreciation of irony. Writing in - you guessed it - the New York Times, Dwight Garner, a literary critic with no expertise in either European history or Islam, praised Caldwell's book as 'well researched, fervently argued and morally serious'.

  • 31 July 2009 at 8:55am
    Phil Edwards says:
    Christopher Caldwell dissected (their title, not mine) by Matt Carr.

    Carr expresses some puzzlement - which on first reading I shared - at the apparent intellectual respectability of what's basically recycled Powellism, but on reflection I don't think it's all that surprising. Powell himself was taken seriously for a surprisingly long time (Terry Coleman interviewed him in the Guardian in 1994) and even Mosley had some quite respectful obituaries. You could say (mangling the rhyme) that racism in a tailored suit doth never prosper - what's the reason?

  • 20 August 2009 at 9:42pm
    Muhammad Idrees Ahmad says:
    As a matter of fact on July 29, the New York Times Boor Reivew had published a review of Caldwell's book -- by Cheney and the neocon's favourite Arab Fuad Ajami. He calls Caldwell 'a meticulous journalist' and calls his work 'subtle', 'honest and forthright', and the 'most sustained and thoughtful treatment' of the subject to date. As an example of Caldwell's subtlety Ajami offers this statement: '[Islam] is in no sense Europe’s religion and it is in no sense Europe’s culture'. The title of the article -- 'Strangers in the Land' -- is itself suggestive of the status Caldwell perceives the Muslims as occupying in Europe.

    I am glad Eliot and Pankaj Mishra have taken the lead in drawing attention this very pernicious figure. I would also encourage readers to see this profile for more on Caldwell.