People I Meet At Dinner Parties

Mark Steyn does a great job on what the media means when they refer to “mainstream, middle class European opinion.”

He writes:

Tim Hames, of the London Times, supported toppling the butcher but not killing him. “Mainstream middle-class sentiment in Europe,” he wrote, “now regards the death penalty as being as ethically tainted as the crimes that produced the sentence.”

“Mainstream middle-class sentiment” translates into English as: “People I meet at dinner parties.”

According to a poll published in Le Monde, the majority of Spaniards, Germans, French and British were all in favor of executing Saddam.

Indeed, Mr. Hames’ fellow Britons aren’t that far behind the Neanderthal Yanks in their enthusiasm for a good ol’ ethically-tainted hanging: 69% of respondents in the United Kingdom supported the death penalty for the dictator versus 82% in America. Mr. Hames apparently defines “mainstream” opinion as the position held by under a third of his countrymen, not the 70% extremist fringe.

Whatever one’s views on capital punishment, that’s not what it’s about. Hardcore dictatorships have to be not just politically but psychologically liberated. When one man is so murderously powerful, incarceration cannot suffice – because as long as he lives there will always be the possibility that he will return. After all, we’re talking about someone who by definition has never been bound by any of the other restraints – personal, moral, religious, constitutional: why should a court sentence prove any more effective? When a dictator has exercised the total control over his subjects that Saddam did, his hold on them can only end with his death.

I would venture that, at some level, even the European political class understands that. But it doesn’t stop them preening on this issue. A couple of years back, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Defense, Geoff Hoon, announced that in the event British troops captured Osama bin Laden they would not extradite him to America without assurances that he would not face the death penalty. The US Justice Department should have said: Fine, you keep him. Put him on trial at the Old Bailey and, assuming enough jurors survive to pass sentence, stick him in Brixton or Pentonville gaol for “life,” and sit back and watch as British subjects are seized and beheaded from Palestine to Pakistan and British consulates, banks and factories are blown up in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Belgium. If you’re determined to be that big a bunch of self-indulgent poseurs, you can explain it to the grieving loved ones of your own citizens.

But the moral posturing of Europeans is less a guide to practical policy on war and jihad than a glimpse of their own psychological isolation. The German Web site Davids Medienkritik provided a useful round-up of local reports on Saddam’s hanging: “Die Europaer verurteilten die Anwendung der Todesstrafe,” declared Die Zeit. “The Europeans condemn the use of the death penalty.”

What “Europeans”? Not the majority of Germans who approve of the execution. Not the 58% of French citizens. Not the seven out of 10 Britons. When Die Zeit and The Times and all the rest say that “Europe” condemns the death of Saddam, what they mean is that a narrow, remote, self-insulating politico-media elite condemns it.

Their assumption (in the face of all the evidence) that they speak for “Europe” is revealing because it helps explain why the Continent is having such difficulty coming to terms with every other issue, from its unaffordable social problems to its alienated Muslim populations.

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