The Real News of the Month

October 2006
Volume 13, Number 10

Editor: Joe Sobran
Publisher: Fran Griffin (Griffin Communications)
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  -> Will You Join Me for Lunch?
  -> Free Speech and the Death of the West
Cartoons (Baloo and Michael Ramirez)
"Reactionary Utopian" Columns Reprinted in This Issue


Will You Join Me for Lunch?
(pages 1-2)

     As my readers know, I am a traditionalist. It's been 
a tradition of mine to host a luncheon each year for my 
key supporters -- a great social event and networking 
opportunity where colleagues, allies, and even a few fans 
meet to exchange ideas. This year, the Charter 
Subscribers' Luncheon will be held on Saturday, 
December 9, at the lovely Maggiano's Little Italy 
restaurant in McLean, Virginia. I hope you will join me 
for lunch.

     Those who know me well understand that I can be 
unconventional too, so these are typical SOBRAN'S affairs: 
lots of humor, an eclectic mix of people, plenty of 
delicious food, and a dash of hate-mongering too. At past 
Charter Subscriber galas I have made presentations 
entitled "Memoirs of an Extremist," "Patriotism in 
Wartime," "The Soul and the State," and "Power and 
Betrayal: The Clinton Legacy." This year, I will be 
giving a talk I'm calling "Hate: An Introduction."

     I'm always appreciative of the audience at our 
annual affairs: there are congressional staffers, 
business leaders, political activists, writers, and 
publishers -- all readers of SOBRAN'S.

     The annual Charter Subscriber galas have always 
featured great speakers (besides me, that is): Ann 
Coulter, Tom Bethell, the late Congressman John Schmitz, 
Howard Phillips, Michael Peroutka, Sam Francis, Leon 
Podles, and the Rev. Ronald Tacelli, to cite just a few 

     This year we have my friends Doug Bandow and Tom 
Fleming making presentations.

     Doug is Vice President of Policy for Citizen 
Outreach, a Washington-based grassroots political 
organization and the Bastiat Scholar in Free Enterprise 
at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He writes the 
weekly column "Foreign Follies" for the leading website

     Tom, president of The Rockford Institute and editor 
author of several books, including THE MORALITY OF 
writings have appeared in such publications as the 
are frequent guests on national radio and television 

     And the scoop on becoming a SOBRAN'S Charter 
Subscriber? Simple: all are investors of $1,000 or more 
in this modest publishing adventure (and such gifts can 
conveniently be made with extended payment plans). Please 
consider my invitation to become part of this exclusive 
network and receive a lifetime subscription to both the 
print and electronic versions of SOBRAN'S and attend this 
premier annual event -- along with a guest. Please see 
the enclosed info about how to contact my Publisher, Fran 
Griffin, who so ably organizes this annual luncheon.

Free Speech and the Death of the West
(pages 3-6)

    Freedom of speech is one of our most cherished 
traditions. Nearly all of us treasure it, or profess to, 
more or less sincerely, most of the time. Usually it 
presents few real problems. In America, in the twentieth 
century, these difficulties were fairly marginal and were 
mostly resolved in favor of liberty against state 

     Did freedom of expression extend to all forms of 
political protest? Yes, the courts ruled. To atheists? 
Yes. To blasphemers? Yes. To subversives? Yes, except 
maybe in wartime. To obscene words? Yes. To outright 
pornography? Yes. To Nazis marching in Jewish 
neighborhoods? Yes. And so on, until it seemed that free 
speech had no more worlds to conquer. Today the ACLU has 
nothing much to do except to chip away at high-school 
dress codes banning inflammatory T-shirts. That seems to 
leave shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater as the last 
taboo. Those who want legal or social restraints on 
speech or any other form of expression have an uphill 
fight in this country.

     Or so it would seem. Of course there are 
restrictions on advertising, notably of tobacco and 
alcoholic products. In fact these are increasing, though 
we hardly notice. And now we find new taboos being 
erected against various forms of "hate speech," an area 
that is difficult to define. What counts as "hate"? Or 
more to the point, who decides?

     More and more, we now find ethnic minorities 
demanding "speech codes" to protect their sensitivities. 
When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher read 
HUCKLEBERRY FINN aloud to my class. Today that would be 
unthinkable, if not impossible. Jewish groups oppose 
expressions of Christian belief -- even if drawn from 
Jewish scriptures -- on public property. The arrival of 
Muslim immigrants in this country is bringing new 
sensitivities and hence new inhibitions. In addition, 
homosexual groups now insist on respect too. It's all 
very confusing to anyone who has assumed that we had 
reached something like a consensus in favor of absolute 
free speech.

     Outside this country, taboos are not weakening but 
strengthening. In most Western countries, "Holocaust 
denial" is now a crime; and other restrictions abound. In 
Canada, for example, even quoting Biblical strictures 
against sodomy can be, and is, prosecuted as a hate 
crime. No actual injury has to result from these putative 
offenses. You can be fined or put in prison just for 
uttering the wrong words. As old taboos fall, they are 
replaced by myriad new taboos. And even if these new 
taboos aren't enforced by law here -- so far, anyway -- 
we all feel their pressure. Even our pronouns are 
suspect. Did I say "he" when I should have said "he or 

     In this new atmosphere, we walk on eggshells, never 
knowing who is going to take offense at our words or what 
the penalty may be. Even cartoons can cause riots in the 
global village. Suddenly all our familiar slogans of free 
speech sound old-fashioned to the point of being 
meaningless. Laws and national borders hardly protect us. 
We are all too keenly aware that our opinions may provoke 
violence. For someone my age, the situation is confusing 
and intimidating. When did all the rules change?

     "Most men quarrel because they do not know how to 
argue," G.K. Chesterton observed. And that describes our 
public discourse today: every argument quickly 
degenerates into a quarrel. To the old saw that you 
should never argue about politics or religion, Chesterton 
retorted that nothing else is really worth arguing about.

     I love to argue, and I hate to quarrel. The ideal 
argument is impersonal; as the prophet says, "Come, let 
us reason together." That is the ultimate justification 
of free speech: our God-given ability to reason together, 
to listen to each other's reasons calmly, to converse 
without passion, to disagree without anger or violence.

     Of course this sounds easier than it is. Words are 
potent and provocative. Even as a schoolboy I admired 
St. Thomas Aquinas's ability to weigh both sides of an 
argument without the least recrimination. He never thinks 
of insulting an opponent; he treats his opponents as 
partners in the quest for truth, and he looks for the 
kernel of truth even in their errors. He often states 
their positions better than they do, stripping away 
everything extraneous or inessential.

     This is a hard standard to emulate. Most people tend 
to use only one kind of argument, especially in political 
debate: the ad hominem argument. This is exactly the way 
to turn an argument into a quarrel. Why reason when you 
can accuse?

Organized touchiness

     To take a familiar example of which I've had my own 
experience, criticism of the state of Israel is apt to 
provoke charges of anti-Semitism. For many years I 
regarded Israel as a valuable ally of the United States. 
But as soon as I expressed second thoughts about this in 
my newspaper columns, I found myself compared to Hitler! 
Many others have had the same experience, most recently a 
pair of distinguished academics.

     Now, the essential question is quite a simple one. 
Are the interests of the United States and Israel 
identical? Yes or no? It seems obvious that they are not. 
No two countries, even allies, can always have the same 

     How you answer this simple question should have 
nothing to do with personal biases for or against Jews. 
Do the interests of France and England always coincide? 
Of course not. Over the centuries, despite their 
similarities, they have often been at war with each 
other, and even now, in peace and friendship, they 
sometimes differ sharply. That's just the way the world 

     The very existence of a pro-Israel lobby in this 
country implies that the interests of Israel and the 
United States may diverge. Even many Zionists are honest 
enough to admit this. It's virtually self-evident. Yet 
you say it at your own risk. Furious people will see to 
it that the argument becomes a quarrel immediately.

     It doesn't help that anti-Semitism is never really 
defined. Anything from murder to ethnic jokes may incur 
the charge. And it always seems to be serious; unlike 
homicide, there are no first or second degrees of the 
crime, let alone justifiable or excusable instances.

     Because the charge can be ruinous, you would think 
there should be penalties for false charges of 
anti-Semitism. But if the offense can't be defined, how 
can a charge of committing it be false? Joe McCarthy was 
disgraced for allegedly making unsupported charges of 
Communism, because Communism meant something definite. In 
fact, such charges came to be called "McCarthyism." But 
we don't even have a word for loose and unsupported 
charges of anti-Semitism ... "Foxmanism"?

     But such accusations usually center on Zionism. To 
me the idea of the Jews returning to the Promised Land 
seems very beautiful in itself. But what is the actual 
price tag of a Jewish state in a land inhabited by 
others? Only a utopian would think it could be cost-free. 
How much of the cost should America bear? Why shouldn't 
Americans be able to discuss this frankly, without the 
charge of evil motives?

     Unfortunately, we run up against the human tendency 
to feel victimized by disagreement, to experience adverse 
argument as persecution, and to accuse one's opponent of 
the worst imaginable motives. Even mild jokes can provoke 
such accusations.

     Of course the forces of organized touchiness, as I 
like to call them, extend far beyond the Jews. Nowadays 
if you oppose anything called a "civil rights" measure, 
you are apt to be accused of racism, though the essential 
question may have nothing to do with race, but rather 
with how far the coercive power of the state should 
reach. The freedoms of association and property ownership 
have been severely curtailed in the name of civil rights. 
And again, freedom of speech has been a casualty too.

     And no wonder. As long as charges of racism, 
anti-Semitism, and "homophobia" work, and go unpunished 
when false, there is every incentive to make them freely 
and no reason not to.

     Race and religion, which are often hard to separate, 
have a special power to distract us from the real 
questions we face -- that is, a power to turn any 
argument into a bitter quarrel over irrelevant motives. 
And I don't see the situation getting any better in the 
near future.

     On the contrary, it threatens to get much worse. The 
arrival of millions of Muslims in the United States and 
Europe can mean only more trouble. It's as if the Middle 
East were engulfing two more continents. Christians now 
have to be careful not to offend Muslims as well as Jews. 
And the Muslims promise to be even more assertive than 
the Jews. Nor do they lack the sense of grievance 
necessary in the competition for accredited victimhood.

     We see this when President Bush, speaking right 
after the 9/11 attacks, feels constrained to say that 
Islam is a "religion of peace." Pardon me, but I get a 
different impression. If Islam is a religion of peace, I 
wonder what a warlike religion would look like. Or does 
the president assume that every religion, by its very 
nature, must crave peace? Tell it to the Aztecs (they are 
coming here too).

     Islam has no visible interest in the ecumenical and 
interfaith dialogue that bewitches Western liberals. Its 
view is that the Koran is the infallible word of Allah, 
and unbelievers are damned. Not much wiggle room there. 
Nor is there much tolerance for rival sects of Muslims. 
Sunnis and Shi'ites don't seem to regard each other as 
"separated brethren" who may settle their differences 
amicably. If there are passages in the Koran urging 
believers to "love your enemies" and to "pray for those 
who persecute you," I haven't heard them.

     At the risk of committing hate speech, I must 
confess that Islam seems to me no more than a crude 
syncretism, mixing undigested bits of Judaism and 
Christianity without adding spiritual insight of its own.

     I'll pass over Mohammed's violence and polygamy, 
except to note that Islam bears the marks of its (and 
his) locality. It seems the product of struggles among 
the desert tribes of his time, with only a superficial 
universalism. And of course its perspective is wholly 
masculine, promising virginal houris to believers when 
they reach Paradise. (I'm not clear what joys await 
female believers.)

     To a Christian all this can seem only a garbled 
fantasy of religion. One marvels that anyone who knew the 
two great religions descended from Abraham could have 
taken it seriously. In fact both Jews and Christians at 
first found Mohammed's doctrines laughable, rousing him 
to fury. He, or Allah, then decided on a harder line 
against stubborn adherents of both persuasions.

     Since Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, forbids 
both murder and suicide, how do we explain the current 
phenomenon of suicide bombing among Muslims, in seeming 
violation of Islamic precept? I can suggest only a rather 
roundabout answer.

Society and belief

     I'll begin with an anecdote. Some years ago, when 
Ireland was wracked with terrorist murder between 
Catholics and Protestants, a visitor asked wryly, "Don't 
you have any atheists?" "Indeed we do," smiled his host; 
"we have Catholic atheists, and we have Protestant 
atheists." I'm also reminded of Jonathan Swift's 
observation, "We have just enough religion to make us 
hate one another, but not enough to make us love one 
another." It's as if when the belief goes, the hatred 
still remains.

     And maybe this is a clue to what we find puzzling in 
Islam. In 1936, when Europe was preparing for a new 
fratricidal war, the Muslim world seemed, to most 
Europeans, hopelessly backward and irrelevant; but 
Hilaire Belloc warned that Islam was a sleeping giant. It 
had nearly destroyed Christendom before, he said, and it 
might yet revive and threaten us again. At the time 
Belloc's view seemed eccentric. Now it seems eerily 

     Elsewhere Belloc had another powerful insight. 
Protestantism, he said, had reduced religion to a mere 
matter of personal opinion, rather than a communal thing. 
But a vital religion, he insisted, must be communal; it 
must be a society as well as a belief.

     By way of illustration, he said, if an ancient Roman 
asked if you were a Christian, he wasn't asking your 
personal opinion of Jesus; he wanted to know whether you 
were a member of the Christian cult, practicing its 
rites. A religion wasn't an abstraction or a matter of 
your inner life; it was a body you actively belonged to 
and owed your loyalty to. The notion of religion as "what 
a man does with his solitude" would have been alien to 
both pagan and Christian. Christians were persecuted for 
something more than opinion. They were regarded as 
criminally disloyal to the Roman gods.

     If we think of Islam as an optional individual 
"religious preference," I think we misunderstand it. It's 
a totality of a different order. It demands conformity 
and doesn't regard dissent as a right. Internal belief, 
squaring thought with evidence, is not really the point. 
Submission is, submission to Allah, and after all "Islam" 
means "submission." There are of course differing views 
about Allah's will, but this regrettable fact of life has 
not led to real pluralism, let alone anything like what 
we now call multiculturalism.

     A frequently remarked trait of Muslims, closely 
connected to this, is their extreme resistance to 
conversion. Almost never does a Muslim become a 
Christian. Recently we have marveled at suicide bombers 
who were born, raised, and educated in Britain without 
having assimilated to the mild demands of a secularized 
British environment. To us it seems a baffling mystery. 
How could they so bitterly hate an easy-going society as 
familiar to them as it is to us? How could they remain 
fanatically attached to a religion that seems to us a 
backward superstition?

     Again I think we go wrong in assuming that Islam is 
chiefly a matter of belief rather than belonging. If 
Ireland has Catholic atheists and Protestant atheists, 
driven by hatred when they have lost their faith, I 
believe we are now seeing what might be called Muslim 
atheists. They may not believe in a Paradise full of 
virgins to welcome the martyred believer; but they are 
still completely attached to Islam and they can still 
hate those they regard as aliens, anyone outside the 
fold. In fact, if Islam is not true, murder and suicide 
may be all the easier for that. As a Muslim Dostoyevsky 
might say, if Allah does not exist, everything is 

     But if Allah does exist, things aren't much better. 
He is no loving Father in heaven who has made man in his 
own image. He is wholly "Other," his will inscrutable; he 
makes John Calvin's God seem positively avuncular. In his 
utter omnipotence he can even contradict himself. If he 
wills evil, it is good. And everything that happens is 
something he has willed.

     If most Muslims are decent folk, as they are, this 
is in spite of the Muslim conception of Allah, not 
because of it. Fortunately, human nature is usually too 
genially weak to take such doctrines to their logical 
extremes. At the same time, the formulas of 
multiculturalism, pluralism, tolerance, individualism, 
separation of church and state, and so forth don't equip 
us to deal with Muslim culture, which is anything but 

     Who coined the nonsensical term "multiculturalism," 
anyway? Every culture is its own universe. Cultures may 
borrow from each other, but they don't blend easily. Just 
as you can't transfer Bertie Wooster to a Faulkner novel, 
you can't treat Muslims as though they were Methodists, 
as witness our tortured attempts to achieve airline 
security without profiling and stereotypes. Our own 
ludicrous etiquette requires us to treat the young Arab 
male and the Norwegian grandmother as equally suspect. 
How many billions must we spend to sustain liberal 

     "Multiculturalism" is a self-contradictory concept 
-- a way of saying it doesn't matter what god you believe 
in, or whether our souls transmigrate into beetles, or 
whether existence is better than nonexistence. It's not 
just a matter of street festivals where people all wear 
their own native costumes and bring their own spicy 
dishes and their music. At some point some people are 
going to have to turn their radios down before a riot 

     There is a simple reason for stereotypes. Children 
imitate their parents. This is why French toddlers have 
French accents and Hungarian toddlers presumably have 
Hungarian accents. Whoever you are, wherever you are 
from, you, too, probably have an accent. As Ann Coulter 
has observed, there are so doggone many things you have 
to explain to liberals! Being color-blind means only that 
you may not know what color you are!

The most important thing

     No man is an island. Everybody belongs to somebody 
else, whether he faces it or not. And this means there 
are limits on everything, including speech. Free speech 
is generally good, but it's never unqualified. The most 
we can hope for is limits that make some sort of sense, 
limits that respect our actual needs.

     But too many of the current limits on speech make it 
hard to say things that urgently need saying. You can 
never completely separate words from deeds. Jesus was 
killed for words he spoke, and his words still anger 
people. One reason I believe in him is that he is still 
hated after 2,000 years. The world forgives Nero and 
Caligula, Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, but not gentle 
Jesus. Just as he predicted, the world hates and 
persecutes his followers as it did him.

     And of all the modern taboos, the one that 
fascinates me most is the taboo on Christianity. True, 
there are designated places, churches, where you can 
still preach Christ, just as there are designated smoking 
areas. But as C.S. Lewis observed, the modern world makes 
Christianity a strictly private affair, while 
circumscribing privacy as much as possible. And most 
people, even if they consider themselves Christians, try 
not to talk about it too much in public. That would 
violate the separation of church and state, or something. 
Religion is a private matter you should keep to yourself.

     There is something a little odd about all this. If 
God became man, lived and died, then rose from the dead, 
it was incomparably the most important thing that ever 
happened, or ever will or could happen. The New Testament 
is clear that it is urgent for the whole human race to 
hear the Good News. It happened or it didn't. If it did 
happen, how can you possibly be expected to "keep it to 

     Again we come up against the notion that religion is 
mere private opinion, a notion the Muslims certainly 
don't share. Christians have been taught to feel that any 
public avowal of their faith is a sort of unseemly 
ostentation, making a "display" of religion like the 
Pharisees Jesus condemned. But how can this light be 
hidden under a bushel? We must not only practice what we 
preach; we aren't even practicing Christianity unless we 
preach it!

     Of course there are right and wrong ways to do this. 
But we are so afraid of doing it the wrong way that we 
stop trying to find the right way. Islam apparently has 
no such inhibitions. Personally I think beheading 
unbelievers shows a poor sense of public relations, not 
to mention poor taste, but I have to admit that it seems 
to work better than nothing.

     A more agreeable way to spread your religion is by 
having lots of babies, especially if you are too shy to 
preach, but here again the Muslims are far outperforming 
Christians. Europe, formerly known as Christendom, has 
become a spiritual vacuum into which Islam is rushing. 
While the rest of the world has seen a population 
explosion, Europe has responded with the very opposite: 
an apparently irreversible population implosion. The 
lands of our ancestors are dying. Instead of preaching 
the gospel of Jesus, they have put into practice the 
ruinous gospel of birth control.

     If you forget the Good News of Christ, you can 
expect other news -- wars and rumors of wars, to begin 
with; even new kinds of wars, more terrible than the old. 
And what have we done to prevent this? We may end up 
wishing we had made better use of our freedom of speech, 
while we still had it.

[A version of this article was delivered as a speech at 
the American Free Press Conference held over Labor Day 
weekend 2006.]


TO COMPLAIN THAT a free economy favors the rich is like 
complaining that free speech favors the eloquent.

            -- REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME by Joe 
            Sobran; $5 postpaid or free with a renewal of 
            your subscription to SOBRAN'S.


REPRINTED COLUMNS ("The Reactionary Utopian")
(pages 7-12)

* Violent Religions (October 5, 2006)

* Hamlet's Lame Creator (October 3, 2006)

* Thou Shalt Not Reelect (September 26, 2006)

* The Islamic Enigma (September 21, 2006)

* Bad Muslims (September 19, 2006)

* Glorious War (August 31, 2006)


All articles are written by Joe Sobran, except where

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