Magazine | February 25, 2013, Issue

Ghost Cities

In a dispute between Hamas and Fatah, it’s tempting to take the old Kissinger line re the Iran–Iraq War: It’s a shame they can’t both lose. But, in fact, only one side wins: In Gaza, al-Aqsa University has just announced that female students will be required to attend in proper Muslim garb from head to toe — i.e., the full body bag. At present, some still wear headscarf, trousers, and a long coat, but that’s too revealing for the new Gaza, so time to get fitted for your burka, niqab, or abaya. Al-Aqsa University is funded by the Palestinian Authority — i.e., Yasser Arafat’s old Fatah — but it’s controlled by Hamas. The higher-education minister, Ali Jarbawi, fumed impotently from Ramallah that the new dress code is illegal and must not be implemented, but the hard men on the ground in the Gaza Strip regard him as just another irrelevant member of a shriveling personality cult for a dead kleptocrat with a taste for Aryan rent boys.

And so it goes across the region: Regimes that represented nothing but their Swiss bank accounts have fallen, and in their stead arises the only alternative — an Islam purified by decades in opposition to the secularists and distilled to a scorching 175o proof. What else is left?

Some years ago, for a telly documentary, the BBC sent the novelist Lawrence Durrell back to Alexandria, the setting of his eponymous Alexandria Quartet, his “prose poem to one of the great capitals of the heart.” Durrell had lived in Egypt during the war years, and did not enjoy his return. “The city seemed to him listless and spiritless, its harbor a mere cemetery, its famous cafés no longer twinkling with music and lights,” wrote Michael Haag in Alexandria, City of Memory. “His favourite bookshop, Cité du Livre on the rue Fuad, had gone, and in others he found a lamentable stock.”

Only on the Western fringe of the Ummah, in a few Moroccan redoubts, can you still discern the flickers of the way it was. Otherwise, to anyone who knew the “Muslim world” of the mid–20th century, today’s Maghreb and Levant are dull places, drained of everything but Islam. And Durrell was returning in 1977: Another third of a century on, and Alexandria’s stock is even more lamentable. Indeed, his cast of characters would be entirely bewildering to contemporary Alexandrians: an English writer (of course), a Greek good-time girl, a homosexual Jew, a wealthy Copt. In the old days, Alexandria bustled with Britons, Italians, and lots and lots of Greeks. All gone. So are the Jews, homo- and hetero-, from a community 50,000 strong down to some four dozen greybeards keeping their heads down. I got an e-mail a year or so back from the great-grandson of Joseph Cattaui, a Jew and Egypt’s finance minister back in the Twenties: These days, the family lives in France — because it’s not just that in Egypt a Jew can no longer be finance minister, but that in Egypt a Jew can no longer be. Now, in the absence of any other demographic groups to cleanse, it’s the Copts’ turn to head for the exits — as in Tripoli and Benghazi it’s the blacks’. In the once-cosmopolitan cities of the Arab world, the minority communities are confined to the old graveyards, like the rubbish-strewn Jewish cemetery of broken headstones, squawking chickens, and hanging laundry I wandered through in Tangiers a while back. Islam is king on a field of corpses.

#page#Nowadays, for the cosmopolitan café society Durrell enjoyed, you have to go to the cities of multicultural Europe, where “diversity” is not a quirk of fate but the cardinal virtue. At Westminster, the House of Commons has just voted in favor of same-sex marriage. Almost simultaneously, a group calling itself the Muslim London Patrol posted a YouTube video of its members abusing a young man for “walking in a Muslim area dressed like a fag.” Another Londoner is made to empty his beer can: “No drink in this area.” An insufficiently covered woman is warned, “This is not so Great Britain. This is a Muslim area.”

The “moderate Muslim” Maajid Nawaz writes in the New York Times that his youthful European-born coreligionists, back from Islamic adventuring during the Arab Spring, are anxious to apply the lessons learned abroad. The Danish group Kaldet til Islam (Call to Islam) has introduced “Sharia-controlled zones” in which “morality patrols” of young bearded men crack down on underdressed and bibulous blondes. In the Balearic Islands, Muslims took against the local meter maids, and forced the government to withdraw them. In Dagenham, 20-year-old Naomi Oni, a black Londoner, suffered horrific burns after a woman in a niqab hurled acid in her face. She was returning home from her job at Victoria’s Secret. Not secret enough.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that February 1 was the first World Hijab Day, in which non-Muslim women from 50 countries took a stand against “Islamophobia” and covered themselves to show how much they objected to society’s prejudice against veiled women. From Gaza to Alexandria to Copenhagen to London, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that. As Balthazar, Durrell’s homosexual Jew, muses, “Narouz once said to me that he loved the desert because there ‘the wind blew out one’s footsteps like candle-flames.’ So it seems to me does reality” — for the footsteps of Copts in Egypt, meter maids in Majorca, and Victoria’s Secret clerks on the streets of the East End.

– Mr. Steyn blogs at SteynOnline (www.steynonline.com).

Mark Steyn — Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist. That’s to say, his latest book, After America (2011), is a top-five bestseller in ...

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

Coal Meets Markets

While Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign fades in the rear-view mirror, the issues he ran on — particularly, his charge that President Obama is engaged in an economically disastrous “war ...

Features

Politics & Policy

Amnesty Anew

On consecutive days in January, two immigration proposals were put forward. The first was by Senators Chuck Schumer and Marco Rubio, representing the Gang of Eight — Democrats Schumer (N.Y.), ...
Politics & Policy

States of Conservatism

Inauguration Day 2013 was a moment of jubilation for conservatives. After four years of lackluster economic growth and a series of personal and policy mistakes, the incumbent chief executive, a ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

It’s Not about Bigotry

‘What we have come to call the gay-marriage debate is not directly about homosexuality, but about marriage,” declare the authors of this timely polemic. Few advocates of same-sex marriage will ...
Politics & Policy

Movie Crazy

Over a lifetime of moviegoing, I’ve seen more heartwarming flicks about the mentally ill than I care to admit, but until now I’m not sure I had ever seen one ...
City Desk

Iron Men

I see my trainer, Shawn, three days a week, and one day he told me something that had happened the last time he had been at the new Barclays Center ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

Letters

Keeping Up with the Trapps My six-year-old daughter and I both enjoyed your reprint of Aloïse Buckley Heath’s piece on trying to emulate the Trapp family’s Advent activities. I, too, have ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Chinese hackers penetrated the New York Times system. Maybe they wanted to be Tom Friedman for a day. ‐ Who is that, clinging to his shotgun? It looks like President ...
Athwart

The Magic Bullet

Why does President Obama want to put weapons of war into the hands of criminals? What sort of craven, stone-hearted monster can be so beholden to the cackling goblins of ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

SMOOTH AS A WHISPER The North Star, being the one around which the others appear to circulate, is the one by which we actually navigate, and have for millennia. A deep-seated awareness of thunder in the distance will not ...
Happy Warrior

Ghost Cities

In a dispute between Hamas and Fatah, it’s tempting to take the old Kissinger line re the Iran–Iraq War: It’s a shame they can’t both lose. But, in fact, only ...

Most Popular

World

NATO’s Challenge Is Germany, Not America

During the recent NATO summit meeting, a rumbustious Donald Trump tore off a thin scab of niceties to reveal a deep and old NATO wound — one that has predated Trump by nearly 30 years and goes back to the end of the Cold War. In an era when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are now ancient history, ... Read More