TODAY'S VERY SERIOUS, THOUGHTFUL ARGUMENT.

Jonah Goldberg brings his favorite analytical tools, the broad generalization and the unsubstantiated assertion, to bear upon the question of "national culture," with predictable results:

"I've come around to the view that the culture war can best be understood as a conflict between two different kinds of patriotism. On the one hand, there are people who believe being an American is all about dissent and change, that the American idea is inseparable from "progress." America is certainly an idea, but it is not merely an idea. It is also a nation with a culture as real as France's or Mexico's. That's where the other patriots come in; they think patriotism is about preserving Americanness.

Okay, but we all have our own definitions of "Americanness," don't we? For instance, the sort of Americanness I want to preserve involves my right not to be kidnapped by my government, held indefinitely without charge in a secret location, and tortured, err, I mean "stressed" into a confession. For Jonah, that's not so important.

"In Europe and Canada, the cure for every malady seems to be multiculturalism. This is the odd notion that all cultures are equal -- except for that of your own nation, which should be made to constantly bend to the aggrieved sensibilities of minority cultures. In Vancouver, Canada, smoking has been banned pretty much everywhere, except in Muslim-run hookah parlors. British schools were advised to ban crosses and crucifixes but not Muslim symbols. Honor killings among Muslims have gone ignored by police in progressive European countries out of some twisted sense of respect for Muslim culture."

Honor killings have gone ignored? Maybe that explains why there was a major European conference on the problem three years ago. (Surely one of Jonah's trusty e-mailers could have helped him with that?)

"The dirty, embarrassing secret is that this sort of multiculturalism has made Europe a wellspring of Islamic radicalism and terrorism, but America's Muslim community has remained overwhelmingly peaceful. Why? Well, if the answer doesn't lay in President Bush's "outreach” and few think it does -- or in Euro-style multicultural condescension, maybe it has something to do with the American "we" that Couric and so many others seem so embarrassed by.

In trying to lay the blame for Islamic extremism on multiculturalism's doorstep, I think Jonah conveniently ignores the very chauvinistic strains of populist-nationalism that still persist among a substantial portion of Europeans, and how this sentiment is experienced by immigrant communities as a discriminatory barrier to their becoming true Brits, or Germans, or Frenchpersons. It's odd that Jonah thinks America needs more, not less, of this sort of thing.

Where I think Jonah's argument completely falls apart is in his reference to Canada. I mean, if Canada is so in thrall to this dangerous, vital-essence polluting multiculturalism, as Jonah claims, (they folded like a paper tiger on hookah bars!) why hasn't Canada become "a wellspring of Islamic radicalism and terrorism" like Europe supposedly has? What explains multi-culti Canada's Muslim immigrant community, like the U.S.'s, remaining overwhelmingly peaceful? I'd suggest that, in part, it's precisely because Canada and the U.S. both have national cultures that are more open to change and redefinition over time than in many European countries. It's because we are, yes, a nation of immigrants that we have a relatively more accommodating and evolving understanding of "we" that enables new arrivals both to change it and be changed by it. Jonah wrongly identifies this as a weakness.

--Matthew Duss

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