It is foolish and complacent to assume that the most effective techniques will remain forever the monopoly of one side.
So it is that the Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar – that’s the one in which Caesar is a Trump lookalike who gets group-stabbed in a protracted death scene – was disrupted by right-wing protesters doing exactly what the left does: shutting down anything they don’t like.
Meanwhile, we have the latest daily horror from London, a city the late Alan Jay Lerner, author of My Fair Lady, chose to emigrate to because, he told me, it was «the most civilized place on earth». On Sunday at midnight, a non-Muslim man drove a vehicle into a crowd of Muslims leaving the Finsbury Park mosque in what appears to be an attempt to reenact the London Bridge attack: same time (late at night), same weapon (white van), but this time targeting nocturnal believers rather than nocturnal hedonists. It is not perfectly symmetrical: Mayor Sadiq Khan is apparently being more circumspect about issuing his usual reassurance that being run over by white vans is just a part of daily life in a great «global city». But Theresa May has swung into action and «held a COBRA» – the super-butch acronym of near Bond cool for a meeting of UK security honchos. Of course, COBRA sounds less impressive and SPECTRE-esque if you’re holding one every other day, as alas Mrs May presently is.
But, just as the Caesar seizure is attracting more attention than «antifa» thugs shutting down Charles Murray or Ann Coulter or attacking newspaper columnists at a book launch of which they disapprove, so it seems likely that in the long run Mrs May et al will attach greater significance to this long anticipated «Islamophobic backlash» than to mere humdrum terror attacks like Manchester, Westminster Bridge and London Bridge. If a fellow goes all Allahu Akbar at the cenotaph in Ottawa or Ohio State University or a coffee shop in Sydney, well, he was a bit of a loner, had a few mental-health issues, difficult family background, etc. No wider significance or pattern can be discerned: as Tip O’Neill would say, all jihad is local. But, if some guy rides his van up on the sidewalk in Finsbury Park, that will doubtless be emblematic of an epidemic of right-wing hate, and Facebook, Google & Co need to do a better job of policing social media. So expect more fulminating clerics to fall afoul of Facebook – if they’re Catholic. J K Rowling is already having a lively morning on Twitter, laying the victims of Finsbury Park at the feet of Katie Hopkins, Nigel Farage and the Fleet Street tabloids. As Douglas Murray responds in The Spectator:
Here’s a test. Yesterday the annual Khomeinist ‘Al-Quds Day’ parade took place in London. The march calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and in our allegedly zero-tolerance-to-terror city of London supporters of the terrorist group Hezbollah openly paraded with the terrorist group’s flags. What twist of popular logic allows that people waving the flags of a terrorist group in London on Sunday have no connection with terror, but that a van-driver committing an act of terror later that same day should be blamed on Nigel Farage?
Even better, the al-Quds crowd blamed the Grenfell Tower inferno on «Zionists«.
The twist is one of selective license. Our culture has extended a monopoly of provocation for so long it barely even notices it. The Caesar production, for example, is just the usual elevator-muzak transgressiveness of the artistic left. Shakespeare in modern dress might have been «edgy» in 1957. In 2017 Shakespeare in modern dress set in the Trump Administration is just a shallow and banal reductio that any producer or director above middle school ought to be embarrassed about. It testifies to the utter exhaustion of the contemporary arts. A remarkable culture produces Shakespeare. A healthy culture produces Ben Jonson and Molière and Chekhov. A barren culture stages Shakespeare in the Trump White House or Chekhov in hip-hop as an allegory of female empowerment. It would be nice if critics rolled their eyes more often at these tedious provocations, or at least recycled my old sneer about professional provocateurs – that, if you’re going to be provocative, it’s safest to do it with people who can’t be provoked, which is why Jesus gets to be sodomized on a Broadway stage but not Mohammed.
These lame faux-provocations reached their nadir with Kathy Griffin swinging around a severed, bloody Trump head as a style accessory. This is culture literally as pseudo-jihad. Real actual jihadists behead real actual Americans and Frenchmen and Britons, and we hold interfaith services and candlelight vigils and schedule another ritual incantation of «Imagine». Likewise ersatz jihadists like Ms Griffin assume photoshopped decapitations will provoke no more than feeble passive gestures of objection.
But what if the eternally unprovokable finally decide to get provoked? Multicultural societies almost inevitably descend into coercive and authoritarian states. In the west, one sees that in embryo on American campuses, where the proliferation of «identities» – black, gay, Muslim, transgendered, intersexual – leads to a governing regime ever more inimical to freedom of speech and freedom of association. One also sees it at a slightly more advanced level in Britain, Canada and Europe, where the state itself is increasing comfortable in policing the bounds of permitted thought. The more multicultural you get, the more the authorities quite naturally see their role as arbiters between complex and competing group identities, deciding what counts and what doesn’t, no matter the contradictions: Matthew Shepard dead on a fence in Wyoming is a gay hate crime of national significance; the biggest pile of gay corpses in a nightclub in Orlando, on the other hand, is just one of those things…
What Douglas Murray calls the «twist of logic» necessary to sustain these contradictions eventually comes under strain. There’s nothing new or surprising about this: For every IRA there’s a UVF – less potent and effective, but doing as it’s gotten used to being done by. It’s not even worth arguing about who has right on his side: It’s more basic than that – as Americans implicitly recognize when they profess to be bewildered by who’s killing whom in Bosnia or Lebanon or wherever’s next. If you allow society to degenerate to the point where there is less and less in common to bind competing groups together, there will be action …but just as surely there will – slowly, eventually, belatedly – be reaction. And the most obvious reaction is to reach for the same weapon your opponent’s got on you: In the Cold War, the Communists acquired nukes. In the culture war, the right is storming the stage. In the jihad, the Islamophobe rented a van.