Saturday, September 16, 2017

Watching William Friedkin’s Documentary About Exorcism Can Make You Believe In God

September 15, 2017
William Friedkin with Father Amorth
William Friedkin, director of “The Exorcist,” is releasing a new documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth,” detailing a real-life exorcism. Last year for Vanity Fair he wrote about filming it, in an article as frightening as it is intriguing.
Friedkin received special permission from the Vatican’s chief exorcist, Father Amorth, to film him performing an exorcism on a young Italian woman. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival in late August, and has yet to be widely released, but by all reports, the documentary is disturbing. Friedkin not only captures the demonic possession on film, but interviews leading psychiatrists, who find his footage to be inexplicable within given medical language.
The fact that such things happen regularly in the modern world jars our complacent sense of reality. While someone is binge-watching “The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt,” someone else is writhing on a couch, screaming in an inhuman register, “We are an army! Our name is legion!” I’ve known quite a few atheists who, while unmoved by the idea of God, seem to be afraid of the Devil and conscientiously avoid horror films.

Manifestations of Evil Illuminate the Supernatural

People with no belief in the supernatural are capable of being scared by demon-possessed teens, vengeful spirits from Native American burial grounds, sewer-dwelling evil clowns, and demonic puppets when they are presented on the screen or the page. Why? If these things are utterly outside the realm of plausibility, wouldn’t it make more sense to be afraid of beings that are found within nature (rattlesnakes, bears, Kim Jong Un, serial killers…) while laughing off this Satan business as completely ridiculous, otherworldly nonsense?
Despite what their intellects say, supposed skeptics still fall prey to a primal fear of something beyond mind and matter. The fear of cosmic evil—of evil that is more than just bad neural wiring in the brain of a murderer—is innate within us all. It is a healthy and sane emotion.
In the modern world, we are taught that the entirety of nature is mechanical, operating according to the laws of physics as neatly as a plastic “Mouse Trap” contraption. This leaves little room for authentic evil—or for authentic good. It is an idea we inherited from the Enlightenment: the world is simply a machine that God set up and put into motion, without interfering further in its operation.
Now, taking this a step further, secularists tend to see the world as a machine without an inventor. Even the human mind is just an amped-up calculator: “The mind is a computer,” declares Harvard’s Stephen Pinker, while philosopher Daniel Dennett claims to have explained consciousness entirely in physical terms (falsely, by the way—the chapter “Qualia Disqualified” in “Consciousness Explained” is a fiasco). Gone is the ancient sense that the universe is shot through with spiritual life, with symbolic meaning, on every level.

Things We Can’t Explain Or Ward Off

Nevertheless, the fear of real evil slips through the cracks in this self-satisfied and smartly shallow worldview. All it takes is a nip of “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Omen.” One can dismiss someone like Charles Manson as a mere product of bad brain chemistry—on paper. But confronted with the real flesh-and-blood Manson, or with the spooky eyes of the suicide-cult leader Marshall Applewhite, one starts second-guessing one’s excessively comfortable convictions.
And one should second-guess. Perhaps that’s why Amorth let Friedkin film something that normally is (and ought to be) quite private: the camera intrudes on the exorcism, but the exorcism intrudes on us. It unsettles us and demands a response. We either need to call it humbug or we need to reconsider our assumptions.
If we reconsider our assumptions, we find that our lives have been enriched. Believing in genuine evil restores a sense of the romance of life. That is what is good about evil, in a way. It gives life a plot, as Stephen King observed in “Hearts in Atlantis.” It provides us with an antagonist and a protagonist, with enough friction between the two to make life, for once, compelling.
That may be why the “New Atheism” of the last decade has faded: people realized that New Atheists like Richard Dawkins were only substituting Twitter rants and perpetual irritability for the dynamic conflict between real Good and real Evil. Atheism is supremely boring.

If the Devil Did Exist

When college students find their minds numbed by facile gender studies classes, their genitals fatigued by Tinder, and their eyes blurred by the continual eerie glare of their smartphones, they are experiencing a perfect set of conditions for a genuine sense of evil to creep in. Out of sheer boredom, they may get the sense that there is something going on behind the scenes: a vast, dizzying abyss seethes behind the world—and within one’s own self.
You sense your potential for bottomless depravity and your potential for seeking the ultimate good. One of the principal tragedies of life is never to reach this point: never to look inside yourself and see both howling emptiness and the presence of spirit. Supernatural terror, whether encountered in a movie or in real life, can bring us to that point. As Quentin Tarantino observed, “‘The Exorcist’s’ biggest achievement isn’t convincing you that the Devil exists. ‘The Exorcist’s’ biggest achievement is convincing you that Catholicism could handle it if he did exist.”
George Clooney made another highly relevant observation in the stripper-vampire classic, “From Dusk Till Dawn,” speaking lines from a Tarantino-penned screenplay. As vampires try to drain his blood, Clooney’s character reverses his long-held agnosticism: “I changed my lifetime tune about 30 minutes ago, cause I know, without a doubt, what’s out there trying to get in here is pure evil straight from hell. And if there is a hell, and those monsters are from it, there’s got to be a heaven.”

Testifying to the Existence of God

The same thought is expressed at the end of M. Night Shyamalan’s screenplay for “Devil”: “If the Devil is real, then God must be real too.” Great minds think alike.

Easy for Clooney to say, the skeptic replies. He had the benefit of being attacked by stripper-vampires who rose up from a buried Aztec Temple. Who among us is likely to receive such direct evidence of the supernatural? But isn’t that why Friedkin made his documentary? The evidence is there for those who will look for it—not to satisfy lurid curiosity, but to deepen faith.

Thanks to movies like “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” and even less overtly religious films like “It,” evil remains the most shocking and eye-catching advertisement for good. Evil is like Wile E. Coyote pursuing the Roadrunner: the coyote’s attempts to be clever lead to his inevitable failure while demonstrating the roadrunner’s speed and grace. That is the universe’s greatest irony, after all. No matter how hard evil tries, it merely ends up testifying to the existence of good. It must be frustrating.

Sam Buntz is a writer based in Connecticut. His work has appeared in The Federalist, The Washington Monthly, and Pop Matters. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, his writing often focuses on the intersection of religion, politics, and pop culture.

Friday, September 15, 2017

'American Assassin' launches Minnesota's Mitch Rapp as a new film spy

By Colin Covert
September 14, 2017
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Tense, twisted spy novels — from John le Carré to Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy to Robert Ludlum — never seem to lose their audience appeal for film adaptations. That august group is now joined by the late Vince Flynn, the St. Paul author whose bestsellers about anti-terrorist lone wolf Mitch Rapp make their first appearance onscreen with “American Assassin.” It’s an origin story set up for a potential series, and it seems likely to make Rapp a recognizable character among moviegoers as well as page-turners.
Direct and economically structured, the film introduces us to Rapp (Dylan O’Brien, star of “The Maze Runner” franchise and TV’s “Teen Wolf”) during the best moments of his life. He and his lovely girlfriend move up to the fiancé level as he hands her an engagement ring in the gentle sea waves at a Caribbean resort.
Alas, as with James Bond and Jason Bourne, beauties who get close to Rapp are rarely brought back in long-running roles. A squad of ISIS-style terrorists hits the harbor, leaving scores of tourists dead and Rapp badly wounded.
Cut ahead 18 months and meet the new Mitch Rapp, transformed from charming romantic to stone-cold revenge engine. He has turned himself into an MMA fighter so savage that he’s banished from his gym. He has memorized the smallest details of the Qur’an and Hadith and mastered conversational Arabic to help him win the trust of the attack’s leader through internet contact. And he has become so skilled with bullets and blades that a Navy SEAL would groan with envy.
This cut-to-the chase opening moves fast, but like the film overall, it has a decent level of self-awareness. Rapp’s gunshot wounds have healed, but the film makes a nuanced case that wounds like that keep opening. Followed by CIA surveillance and recruited by the agency as a black ops agent, Rapp uses the position as a means to his personal end. But the same can be said for most of the members of Rapp’s ever-growing enemies list, from jihadist and political terrorists, Iranian interests and Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), a mercenary who wants to give the world a nuclear surprise package. Even Rapp’s hard-as-nails CIA instructor, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), has his own dog in the fight.
And fighting is what this film is about, with the special sauce of acting added as needed. This is good for the audience and for the star. O’Brien, moving from young adult territory, where films seem to be populated by models rather than actors, capably steps into his first mature role. He holds his own in one-on-one combat with the imposingly fit-looking Keaton as his CIA trainer, taking the pain so we can feel it. Sharing the screen with the actor who gave us “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” “Birdman” and more is an equally daunting challenge, but he’s up to it.
The plot is typical potboiler fare, bounding from the United States to Lebanon to Italy as Rapp finds opportunities to retaliate ruthlessly for his loss. Supervising his first mission is Hurley, who essentially shouts: “You kill the people I tell you to kill when I tell you to kill them!”
How do you keep the tension always at the peak while piggybacking nearly nonstop close-quarters fighting? By changing the details, terminating this villain with a knifelike shard of broken glass, dropping another character with a long-distance rifle or a fast-moving car, waterboarding another in a filled bathtub, then making the next battle one between Rapp and three inflamed guard dogs.
Less thrilling are the driving stunts, with cars zipping around the streets of Rome in ways that are reasonably fast but hardly furious. I have seen better chase scenes in Honda commercials.
That said, the final sequence, putting a thermonuclear device at sea, is the kind of crash-smash doozy you would see in a Transformers movie, with a Navy aircraft carrier and several battleships being tossed here and there like carp jumping out of the water. Director Michael Cuesta (a TV veteran from “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under”) uses the main body of the film as a long fuse and delivers a mind-numbing boomfest at the climax. The film is an entertaining introduction to Rapp, whose final scene implies that he has a lot more retaliation to inflict. He could become a brand-name mainstay of the American superspy market for decades to come.

Here’s What Really Happened to Hillary

Voters found her unappealing, and they rejected Bernie’s ideology too.

By Kimberly A. Strassel
September 14, 2017
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Republicans have issues, but Democrats have them too. Witness the two individuals who dominated this week’s news—and who conveniently represent the left’s most crippling problems.
Hillary Clinton is again everywhere, touting her new memoir and adding to the list of who and what are to blame for her loss: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, James Comey, Jill Stein, Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, Anthony Weiner, sexism, misogyny, the New York Times , lazy women, liberal activists and the “godforsaken Electoral College.” All she’s missing is climate change.
Hillary’s take on “What Happened” has unsurprisingly unleashed another round of analysis about her mistakes—Wisconsin, deplorables, email. These sorts of detailed postmortems of failed campaigns are popular, but they tend to obscure the bigger reasons for failure. In this case: The Democratic Party saddled itself with an ethically compromised and joyless candidate, because it had nobody else.
Hillary spent eight years planning her first presidential bid, and the next eight warning Democrats not to get in the way of her second. The Clinton Foundation was erected to serve as bank and Rolodex, and to enable the Clintons to retain their grip over the party. And that party was committed to a Clinton coronation, right up to Mr. Sanders’s cheeky assault.
Mr. Obama aided Mrs. Clinton’s ambitions by decimating his party. By the time Barack Obama finished his eight years in office, his party held 65 fewer House seats, 14 fewer governorships and controlled 30 fewer state legislatures. It had turned a once-filibuster-proof Senate majority into minority status. The big-tent Democratic coalition shriveled to a coastal, progressive minority, wiping out a generation of Democratic politicians and most of the party’s political diversity.
And so the party nominated perhaps the only Democrat in the country who could rival Donald Trump in unpopularity—and beat him in untrustworthiness. Mr. Sanders refused to go after Mrs. Clinton on her ethical baggage, even though it was her biggest weakness and despite how glaringly obvious was the risk that her foundation and server scandals would hobble a general-election campaign. The parties gave the country a choice between two unpopular people, and the country disliked her more. The real question is how Democrats rebuild a party whose senior leaders in the House boast an average age of 72 and which has almost no young, experienced up-and-comers.
Which brings us to Mr. Sanders, the symbol of Democrats’ other big problem. This week the senator, flanked by about one-third of Senate Democrats, released his “Medicare for All” proposal to nationalize health care. These are the ascendant voices in the party. Yet there are few of them, because their agenda is highly unpopular.
Mr. Sanders was an unexpected force in the primary, though mostly because he wasn’t Hillary. Sanders supporters resent this argument, and claim the only reason his agenda didn’t triumph is because the DNC robbed him of the election. If so, why did Bernie’s people and ideas fail spectacularly everywhere else on the ballot?
In Wisconsin Mr. Sanders campaigned for Russ Feingold, who promised a $15 federal minimum wage, an end to trade deals and free college. Mr. Feingold lost to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. In upstate New York, in a white, working-class district, Mr. Sanders endorsed Zephyr Teachout, who railed against bankers and lobbyists, fought fracking and Citizens United, and opposed trade. Republican John Faso beat her for the open seat by eight percentage points, on a promise to kill Dodd-Frank. Democrats wouldn’t even vote for Tim Canova, the man who primaried Mr. Sanders’s archenemy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
An extraordinary 79% of Colorado voters said no to a ballot initiative for ColoradoCare, the state version of Mr. Sanders’s universal health-care proposal. This in a state that Hillary Clinton won. Liberal Vermont pulled its own single-payer plug in 2014. In California, Mr. Sanders endorsed and campaigned for Proposition 61, which was designed to impose prescription drug price controls. It went down to substantial defeat in a state Mrs. Clinton won by 30 points.
Progressives will argue that all they need to elect a Bernie or an Elizabeth is the right way of pitching their “populist” policies of free health care or price-controlled drugs to the white working class and independents. But so far they’ve been unable to sell them even to bright blue states. And this wishful thinking ignores that even if voters supported some of those provisions, they’d also have to swallow a progressive agenda that includes an energy crackdown, a retreat from the terror fight, and the culture of identity politics.
Republicans have failed to unite or govern or pass their biggest priorities. But the political analysts are setting themselves up for another surprise if they ignore the big reasons Democrats lost this election, and what comes next.
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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dylan O'Brien and Taylor Kitsch talk "American Assassin"

As ‘American Assassin’ hit screens, mulling Vince Flynn’s intriguing legacies

September 10, 2017
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Vince Flynn in 2005. Credit Jim Mone/Associated Press
Vince Flynn was a man with a big personality, a big heart, and a big following. Beginning in the mid-1990s, he created a body of work featuring a counterterrorism agent named Mitch Rapp and plot lines so plausible he captured the interest of readers and government officials alike.
This month, “American Assassin,” the backstory behind the series, will make its box office debut, days after the release of the 16th book in the Rapp series, “Enemy of the State.”
It’s a bittersweet moment, for Vince succumbed to prostate cancer in 2013 before work began on the film. But Lysa Flynn is upbeat and excited, for she feels her late husband’s presence everywhere. And she believes he would share her satisfaction with the film that puts faces to his characters.
With the spotlight on his work, it seemed timely to contemplate the legacy of the Minnesotan who achieved international acclaim as a writer despite — or because of — his dyslexia.
The storyteller’s story is compelling because it’s about love and loyalty, tenacity and tragedy. And, like every good story, it prompts reflection and discussion, laughter and tears.
The fifth of seven children, Vince was a tall, handsome guy who loved good banter, red wine, cigars, his alma maters, his country, and, most of all, Lysa and their three kids.
Attending St. Thomas Academy was a family tradition so Vince entered STA in 1980 with confidence bordering on cockiness. Over the years, the competition and influences of the all-male, military, Catholic high school in Mendota Heights tempered his cockiness.
Though he had many friends, the bond he formed with Tom Tracy days into freshman year was dubbed a “bromance.” It spanned schools, careers, marriages, and kids. When Vince died in June 2013, Tracy delivered the eulogy to a packed Cathedral of St. Paul. He was one of several who spoke with me recently about Vince.
Sports allowed Vince to shine; academics presented challenges. Though he’d been diagnosed in grade school, Vince kept his dyslexia under the radar until college, when his subpar work on a paper prompted a professor to question whether he’d graduate.
Failure wasn’t an option. So the man who rarely cracked a book immersed himself in thrillers, finding ways to plod through them – and learn from them.
He graduated from the University of St. Thomas in 1988, then worked in food sales and commercial real estate. He applied to officer candidate school but his honesty tripped him up. The Marine Corps didn’t accept applicants with a history of concussions.
He decided to try his hand at a novel, writing by day and bartending by night. He discovered the dyslexia that plagued him as a reader helped him as a writer. He had a gift for seeing the big picture — and that was useful in developing complex plots.
Grammar and spelling stumped him. So he shuttled his first manuscript piecemeal to friends like Tracy, an English major. Tracy and his wife, Val, were among the first to read, critique, and mark up the manuscript Vince unsuccessfully pitched to more than 60 publishers.
Undeterred by the rejections, Vince secured financial backers and self-published “Term Limits” in 1997. Leveraging his large network and sales acumen, he sold the inventory housed in the trunk of his car.
He persuaded the Har Mar Barnes & Noble store manager to carry “Term Limits.” Brisk sales led to an agent who landed a book deal with Simon & Schuster. ­­
Each fall Vince returned to the Har Mar Barnes & Noble to introduce his latest work. He developed a large and loyal following as his books became New York Times bestsellers and made their way around the world. He accrued an online following driven by fans like “Ryan the Rappologist,” for whom the character is larger than life, like his creator.
Vince was working on his second book when he met the woman he married less than two years later. Beautiful and poised, Lysa is as reserved as Vince was outgoing.
Never involved with the books, Lysa has enjoyed being engaged with the film. She visited the set in London and Rome. She’ll attend the premier in Los Angeles this month. The film has her blessing.
Although his universe grew, Vince was most comfortable in the Twin Cities and at his Wisconsin lake home, where he spent summer days pounding out whatever story had percolated in his mind over the winter.
Always confident, he reached out to President Bill Clinton on a crowded New York City street corner, making an introduction that proved unnecessary, for the president was well acquainted with his work.
He met with President George W. Bush and the King of Jordan. He was a popular media guest, for he loved to debate and opine on his worldviews.
Vince was generous with time, attention, and money. Passionate about STA, he served on its board and dogged donors to support a capital campaign for much-needed updates. He argued STA must maintain its rigorous academic standards and accommodate the C students who would also benefit from the school culture.
He didn’t pull punches. “He could tell you what you needed to hear, whether it was good or bad, with a smile on his face and you’d walk away feeling just fine, thinking, he just insulted me but I feel good,” Lysa Flynn recalls.
He inspired nonreaders to open a book. He encouraged struggling students to “suck it up” and figure out a path to success. He reached out to other patients, like Patrick Deasey, a senior at STA who was waging his second cancer battle, encouraging him to keep the faith.
An affinity for the military led him to “Tee It Up for the Troops,” a nonprofit started in 2005 by a Minnesota soldier’s family. Vince became a donor, champion, and confidant of veterans he met at foundation events. When “American Assassin” opens in Inver Grove Heights veterans will see it as guests of Lysa Flynn.
Vince didn’t join the military but he served our country in his own way. He had the backs of those who serve and protect, like his brother Tim, a St. Paul Police Department SWAT team member.
He was masterful at engaging people in conversation and assembling bits of information. When members of an elite military team visited St. Paul in 2012, Tim Flynn watched typically taciturn tough guys share war stories with his brother.
Vince had a vision of his characters and dreamed of seeing them on the big screen. When the opportunity arose he sold the movie rights to CBS Films. Discussions ebbed and flowed for years, allowing producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura to discern Vince’s vision and priorities.
In 2010 it appeared the film was moving ahead. Vince was jazzed. Friends, family, and fans debated casting choices: who would play the taut, olive-skinned Mitch Rapp? Vince was more open to ideas than the filmmakers, suggesting Will Smith, a box-office favorite at the time.
But the film stalled.
Seven years passed before Lysa Flynn met Dylan O’Brien, the 26-year-old actor CBS Films cast as Mitch Rapp. She felt such peace with the choice it was as if Vince had a hand in choosing him.
She’d met Mitch Rapp.
Though he regrets they couldn’t complete the project while Vince was alive, di Bonaventura hopes they can fulfill Vince’s dream of perpetuating the Mitch Rapp franchise on the big screen.
But turning a successful book series into a film is tricky.
Mitch Rapp is a seasoned assassin in most of the books but the film introduces him as a freshly trained novice determined to avenge his fiancé’s death. “American Assassin” is set in the present, rather than years ago, as in the book. It was a practical calculation. Introducing Mitch Rapp as a young man in this timeframe affords the filmmakers greater latitude in developing the story over time.
Lysa Flynn applauds the approach and dismisses concerns about insignificant changes such as the ethnicity of character Irene Kennedy or whether Rapp is right- or left-handed. Vince was not attached to the details, she says. His goal was to tell the story of a young man who was drawn to right wrongs and put faces to the anonymous individuals who serve our country. And the film accomplishes that.
Tenacity and optimism have their limits. Though Vince assured others he would survive the treatments and the cancer, his health declined. In the spring of 2013 he tightened his inner circle, remaining connected by a ring rosary in one hand and cell phone in the other. When he died on June 19, 2013, family, friends, and business associates were completely unprepared.
His death presented a dilemma for Simon & Schuster. Continue the Mitch Rapp series or let it go? In a leap of faith, Kyle Mills, an accomplished creator of his own series, became the stepparent of the Rapp series.
His job is to write a book Vince would have written, rather than his own book featuring Vince’s characters. He’s bringing some much-needed humanity to the assassin. In “Enemy of the State” Mills lifts Rapp from his despair over losing his wife and introduces a new dimension to a singularly focused protagonist.
Though it’s been much debated, we’ll never know who Mitch Rapp was modeled after. But the woman who shared Vince’s life says the loyalty, integrity, tenacity, and snappy one-liners were definitely Vince.
And his legacy? His is a storyteller’s legacy.
“These books live on. His name is all over them. His words are in them,.” Lysa says. “And what’s better to leave behind than the written word? And…since he’s Mitch Rapp, he lives on.”
Caryn M. Sullivan, an attorney, inspirational speaker and author of an award-winning memoir, “Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page,” lives in Eagan. Her website is

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Language of Losing

By Mark Steyn
September 12, 2017

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From right: President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., at the 9/11 observance ceremony at the Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2017. (DOD/Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/DoD)

As some of you know, on yesterday's Clubland Q&A I discussed why, for the first time since we launched SteynOnline in 2002, we did not re-post material from September 11th 2001 and the days that followed. As I put it:
If this is a war, there's no agreement on what we're up against: Terrorism? Islamic terrorism? Islamic extremism? Islam? Whatever it is, a president who, on the campaign trail, mocked his predecessor's inability to use the words "radical Islam" himself eschewed all mention of the I-word today. September 11th 2001 was supposedly "the day everything changed" - if by "everything changed" you mean "the rate of mass Muslim immigration to the west doubled". As that absurd statistic suggests, we are not where I thought we would be 16 years on: We run around fighting for worthless bits of barren sod like Helmand province in Afghanistan, while surrendering day by day some of the most valuable real estate on the planet, such as France and Sweden.
That last point may seem obvious. But, if it is, it's a truth all but entirely unacknowledged by anyone who matters in the western world. In any war, you have to be able to prioritize: You can't win everything, so where would you rather win? Raqqa or Rotterdam? Kandahar or Cannes? Yet, whenever some guy goes Allahu Akbar on the streets of a western city, the telly pundits generally fall into one of two groups: The left say it's no big deal, and the right say this is why we need more boots on the ground in Syria or Afghanistan. Yesterday President Trump said he was committed to ensuring that terrorists "never again have a safe haven to launch attacks against our country".

By that he means "safe havens" in Afghanistan. But the reason the west's enemies are able to pile up a continuous corpse count in Paris, Nice, Berlin, Brussels, London, Manchester, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Orlando, San Bernadino, Ottawa, Sydney, Barcelona, [Your Town Here] is because they have "safe havens" in France, Germany, Britain, Scandinavia, North America, etc. Which "safe havens" are likely to prove more consequential for the developed world in the years ahead?

Who's winning what turf? After 16 years of western military occupation, the Taliban control more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since the first US troops went in. On the other hand, after 16 years of accelerating Islamic immigration, Europe has more no-go zones, more sharia courts, more refugees, more covered women, more Muslim-dominated schoolhouses, more radical mosques, more female genital mutilation, more grooming and gang rape, more Muslim Brotherhood front groups, more Muslim mayors and legislators, more Muslim-funded Middle East Studies programs at universities ...and fewer churches, fewer Jews in Toulouse, fewer gays in Amsterdam, fewer unaccompanied women out after dark in German and Swedish cities, fewer historical representations of Mohammed in Continental museums, art galleries and scholarly books, fewer mixed bathing sessions at municipal swimming pools, fewer lessons on the Crusades and the Holocaust in European schools ...and less and less free speech in some of the oldest democracies on earth.

In Afghanistan, we're fighting for something not worth winning, and we're losing. In Europe, Islam is fighting for something very much winning, and they're advancing. And, according to all the official strategists in Washington and elsewhere, these two things are nothing to do with each other.

To be fair, a lot of the ever increasing restraints on free expression are self-imposed: newspapers decide that it would be "insensitive" to publish certain cartoons, publishers politely decline novels on certain themes, and in Minnesota (where I'll be in a couple of weeks) white progressives agonize that remembering 9/11 is "Islamophobic". Which is weird - because a space alien visiting the United States for Monday's ceremonies would have been stunned to discover that Islam had anything to do with 9/11. As I mentioned yesterday, the President forbore to mention Islam at all: Instead, we were attacked by "horrible, horrible enemies" and "enemies like we've never seen before". Well, we've seen a lot of them since, and they appear to have certain things in common - things that this President was once not shy about mentioning. Yet, insofar as Islam got a look in from officialdom, it was a passing reference in the speech of Defense Secretary "Mad Dog" Mattis:
Maniacs disguised in false religious garb thought by hurting us they could scare us that day.
Well, whoever they are, these "maniacs" can evidently scare grizzled hard men called "Mad Dog" into concluding that, when it comes to mentioning the I-word, discretion is the better part of valor. "False religious garb" means we're back to the standard Euro-squish line that all this Allahu Akbar I'm-ready-for-my-virgins stuff is a "perversion" of the real Islam, which is a peaceful faith practiced by millions of people for whom self-detonation is an unwelcome distraction from traditional activities such as clitoridectomies, honor killings and throwing sodomites off tall buildings. Stop me if you've heard this before, but these "maniacs" are hijacking this "religious garb" in order to peddle a "false" vision of Islam. 
Foaming-canine-wise, Mad Dog sounds about as mad as, say, Theresa May. I take it that, even in today's politically correct military, you can't earn the epithet "Mad Dog" simply by handing out diversity awards to the Transgender Outreach Liaison Officer of the Month, and General Mattis served honorably and impressively in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, when it comes to strategic clarity, that may be the problem.

In Iraq, everyone's Muslim - mainly because all the Christians got chased out on America's watch. So it's both reasonable and necessary to distinguish between Muslims - between the ones who want to kill you no matter what, and the ones who might be more flexible on that point. I sat in cafés in Rutba and Ramadi and got on well enough with the locals, but I confess I was more circumspect about the clitoridectomy shtick than I am above. Nevertheless, the distinctions one makes in the Sunni Triangle are not useful in the wider world. Old-school imperialists understood this. In 1939, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Sanders (who was born in Abbotabad, where Osama bin Laden met his end) accepted an invitation to lunch from the Waziri tribesman who'd blown him up and cost him his right arm a week earlier - because, in Waziri terms, this particular tribesman was less worse than many of the others. That kind of unperturbable imperial élan would strike the contemporary world as slightly nutty. But what the Colonel would have found truly nutty is inviting thousands of that Waziri tribesman's relatives to live in England.

In 1980, when a concerned official apprised him of electoral irregularities in certain areas during Zimbabwe's pre-independence election, the Governor Lord Soames (Winston Churchill's son-in-law) scoffed: "Good God, man, this is Africa, not Surrey." The ability to distinguish between Africa (or the Middle East, or the Hindu Kush) and Surrey is vital. 
General Mattis' line about "maniacs disguised in false religious garb" might be politic or even sincere when advanced in Tikrit or Basra, but delivered at the Pentagon it's the most feeble dissembling 16 years into an existential struggle. And its deployment on 9/11 itself - on the home front, on sacred ground where blood was spilled - is not a small thing. It underlines that, in a profound sense, the dreary endless unwon wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere are not just a peripheral distraction from the real, central front, but an obstacle that prevents even the shrewdest and bravest of men from framing the struggle correctly.

In a sense, we have a hot war and a cold war operating simultaneously. The hot wars are in those bits of barren sod I mentioned yesterday - places where we're tourists with last decade's Baedeker: As one appreciates when looking at all those dodgy chaps John McCain was having his photo taken with a few years back, no one really knows who the good guys are in Syria - and anyway today's good guys all hold that designation conditionally and you've no idea where to look on 'em for the "best by" date. It's like the old 1066 And All That joke about the Irish Question: whenever the English get close to the answer, the Irish change the question. That goes quintuple for the Syrian, Afghan, Yemeni and Libyan questions.

Meanwhile, there's a cold war - the remorseless incremental Islamization of the heart of Christendom. Of course, there were simultaneous hot wars during the last big Cold War, too. But we were more clear-sighted with the Soviets: We understood that Afghanistan was peripheral, and that what mattered was preventing our enemies from hollowing out the free world. Today, the men running this new war think Afghanistan is the be-all and end-all, and that the hollowing out of the free world by the west's enemies is not merely irrelevant but in fact evidence of our moral virtue.

You can't connect what's happening in Molenbeek, Malmö and the other "safe havens" of the west with the "safe havens" of the east if you think what's going on is about random "maniacs" adopting "false religious garb". And until we do make that connection we are doomed to lose.

And incidentally the continuous protestations that hardcore incendiary extremist Islam is an unfortunate aberration would be more persuasive if western politicians ever paid the slightest attention to genuinely moderate voices within Islam. But they don't. They either ignore or consciously marginalize them. Case in point -Yahya Cholil Staquf:
Western politicians should stop telling us that fundamentalism and violence have nothing to do with traditional Islam. That is simply wrong... The approach you describe won't work. If you refuse to acknowledge the existence of a problem, you can't begin to solve it.
He's right. Which is why, 16 years on, we haven't begun to solve it. Maybe in lieu of this year's speakers they could book Mr Staquf for next year's Pentagon ceremony. Or would that be Islamophobic?

~Tomorrow, Wednesday, Steyn will be joining Tucker Carlson on Fox News live across America at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific. We hope you can tune in!
Later in the week, he'll be answering some of the questions he didn't get to on ourClubland Q&A in a new video edition of Mark's Mailbox. If you're a member of The Mark Steyn Club and you've a question arising from the above, please log-in and leave it for Mark in the comments here, and he'll try to get to it.

As we always say, membership of the Steyn Club isn't for everyone, but it does ensure that our content - such as Mark's recent SteynPost on diversity and delusion- remains available for everyone, in print, in audio, in video, out there around the world, and maybe once in a while changing a mind or two. For more information on The Mark Steyn Club, see here.

Meanwhile, don't forget to join Mark every evening this week for another episode of our current audio adventure, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent...

Roads from Rome: unpicking the myths of the Reformation

Five centuries on, can we still see Luther’s challenge to the Church as a watershed that set Europeans on the path to modernity?

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Ferdinand Pauwels, Luther Posting the 95 Theses (1872)

This year’s 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses, the deed that kick-started the Reformation, has inevitably been marked by a mini-deluge of scholarly books and articles. Indeed, the outpouring of printed theology and propaganda in the 16th century, so vital for the spread of Protestantism across the western world, will surely prove but a drop in the ocean of ink required for the commemoration of this pivotal moment in European history. And yet we might pause to ask a couple of questions. Was this event really a watershed that set Europeans on the path to modernity, and was it an event at all? 

Perhaps the most important thing we learn from the historians and their big books is that although the Reformation lives in our collective memory as a dramatic episode — a pugnacious friar’s conscious uncoupling from the Catholic church — its significance lies in the branched processes of historical change it set in motion. The Reformation lasted decades. Occasionally reform was reversed, and typically outcomes differed from what reformers had intended. Some worshippers acquiesced, others were defiant, but none could escape the revolutionary implications. The bipolar model once in vogue — a political Reformation from above and a social Reformation from below — has been surpassed by a profusion of Reformations plural. The Reformation is now represented by variants that are local and regional, national and trans­national, emotional and gendered, literary and bibliographic, artistic and musical. And the settings are not just courts and councils but landscapes, urban spaces, village communities, households, material culture and the interior lives of individuals. 

 Of the three books reviewed here, Eamon Duffy’s challenges most forcefully the myth of the English Reformation, namely that it was singular and necessary and benign. Duffy’s previous books have portrayed a traditional religious culture in rude health on the eve of the break with Rome, not one creaking on its foundations and in need of demolition. Duffy has also described, with brilliant precision, the shock and pain caused by the enforcement of a new liturgy, one where the Mass was downgraded from luminous miracle to dull commemoration. One of the worst traumas endured by parishioners was the loss of their precious stained glass and paintings, statues and relics, vestments and communion ware — all destroyed by iconoclasts who condemned such things as extraneous and idolatrous.

Click on the link below to read the rest of the article:

Today's Tune: The Outlaws - Hurry Sundown

Pride and passion of Rafael Nadal a lesson to misfiring young guns

The Spaniard’s victory at the US Open for his 16th grand slam title was a tribute to his enduring commitment and he reacted to the triumph with typical grace

By Kevin Mitchell
11 September 2017
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Rafael Nadal holds the US Open trophy after defeating Kevin Anderson in the men’s singles final.(REUTERS)
In three words, Rafael Nadal captured the essence of his tennis career and his life: “Very happy, no?”
It was getting late at Flushing Meadows, a place where the Spanish clay-court supremo was never supposed to thrive but where he has appeared in four finals, won three titles and won 53 of 64 matches. Only a few hours earlier, he had neutered the power of the big South African Kevin Anderson to take his tally of majors to 16, again only three behind Roger Federer.
Nadal so often finds a way. And, whether or not he wins, he has the knack of putting his efforts in a wider context, with that Latin upward inflexion and question mark, even in affirmation. For the muscled man of Majorca, happiness is a warm sweatband. If he puts the work in and does not let himself down in terms of effort or strategy, he leaves the result to the tennis gods. It is difficult to recall him ever being less than 100% genuinely respectful of his opponents but he is equally unimpressed if he himself plays poorly.
The world No1 knew he was better than Anderson and not just by the margin of 28 places in the ATP rankings. He had his measure from the first strike to the last. Anderson knew it too, but played his part, making the most of his first grand slam final, and was warmly received by the sometimes boisterous crowd of 23,000 in the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
This is a bearpit of a sporting arena, with plenty of space around the designated playing area to run and stretch but no place to hide – and Nadal pursued his prey like a hunter, threading those viciously top-spun forehands into all corners as Anderson’s long legs refused to tell him any lies: this was hell.
The 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 scoreline was a mere detail. There was hardly a moment in the two hours and 27 minutes the torture lasted when Anderson was a threat. He did not even take Nadal to deuce until the final game of the match, a futile effort as it happened but worthy of praise.
Anderson’s strength was his serve. He had monstered the aces chart of the tournament for most of the fortnight, yet it was Nadal’s that proved more effective. He lost only 15 points on his serve to Anderson’s 43. That was not the only gap in effectiveness but it was the crucial one. Defanged, Anderson became a walking target for Nadal’s wicked returns from deep, sometimes 10 metres and more behind the baseline.
It was a strategy he and his uncle Toni had devised with the latest addition to his team, Carlos Moya. This was Toni’s last slam in Nadal’s box. They have been together since Nadal was three years old. Uncle Toni was the coach who orchestrated young Rafa’s switch from right hand to left hand, and what an astute judgment that turned out to be.
He also embedded in Nadal’s psyche the equally important components of respect and perspective. A sometimes taciturn character, Toni was the shield to the outside world but ensured his charge conducted himself with grace and respect, which he invariably did. There was an instance in New York a few years ago when they were walking towards a lift in their hotel, alongside an older woman. As they approached, Toni gently tugged on Rafa’s elbow to allow the woman to enter first. Metaphorically, he has been doing that throughout Nadal’s career.
Nadal has always had respect for his elders but sometimes it is qualified. Whenever asked – or even when not – he insists Federer is better than him, the greatest of all, in fact. It is a debate that has raged for all the years they have dominated the game and even when they have ceded their rule to Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray. And here they were in 2017: Nadal aged 31, Federer 36 – and sweeping the slam pool again. There have been few equivalents in the history of sport. When Federer arrived in New York, the discussion was all about whether or not he could win his third major of the season and stretch his career lead over Nadal to 20-15. As we leave, the score has been readjusted to 19-16, a deficit of three that has pertained for some time. However, with two slams apiece this season, they are poised to continue the argument as favourites in the new year.
When they return to Melbourne for the Australian Open, where Federer came from behind against Nadal to win his 18th slam, no doubt he will have repaired the minor damage to his back that he said contributed to his muted performance at Flushing Meadows, although the mighty Juan Martín del Potro was the more significant factor in his downfall in their quarter-final.
The story of Rafa and Roger has woven itself so inextricably into the fabric of modern tennis that, even in the autumn of their years, it has the power to occasionally drown out the parallel narrative of the young contenders. They were supposed to arrive at this final slam of the season as the dangerous new breed, given the absence through injury and/or ennui of the defending champion Stan Wawrinka, Djokovic and Murray. Also missing were Marin Cilic and the man he beat in the 2014 final, Kei Nishikori.
It was as if fate had unlocked the gate to the new era but Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, Dominic Thiem, Borna Coric and all the others – including the serially perplexing Nick Kyrgios – failed to enter there. One way or another, they could not last the distance like Nadal did. And that is his enduring talent. From a young age, he has committed himself to the struggle. Winning seven five-setters in two weeks is what he does best. Those young pups, as much as they might want the prize, have yet to learn that skill. In Kyrgios’s case, sadly, he does not seem to even care.
Nadal said a couple of other things in the aftermath of his triumph that mark the man. First, he remembered (perhaps at Toni’s urging) the victims of the earthquake in Mexico alongside those coping with the hurricanes in Florida, and it did not remotely sound like a public service announcement.
Second, he remembered Federer. Asked why he and his rival can still summon up the enthusiasm to give their best in what, after all, is just a game, he was measured, not gushing.
“Of course if I will win two grand slams this year and he will not win, we’ll be closer,” he said. “But one more year and he has 19. I have 16. So three is [still a] big difference. I really don’t think much about these kind of things. I do my way. I’m very happy with all the things that are happening to me, [to] win this title again.”
He added: “Being healthy, you see everything more possible, no? With injuries, everything seems impossible. But I still have the passion and the love for the game. I still want to compete and still feel the nerves every time I go on court.
“When some day arrives that I don’t feel nerves or that extra passion for the game that I feel, will be the day to say, OK, I do another thing.
“ Well done for Roger that he is having an amazing season too and well done for me because I’m having a great season too.” You said it, senor.