By Bruce Bawer
In the last few years, dozens of books have been published in North America and Europe about the threat posed by Islam to Western democracy. My own While Europe Slept and Surrender are only two titles on a very long list.
But these have all been non-fiction books – books providing information or offering opinions Or both.
Now along comes a remarkable – if extremely dark – comic novel, Crump, by a writer previously unfamiliar to me, P. J. Vanston. It is the story of Kevin Crump, a newly hired lecturer at the fictitious Thames Metropolitan University whose illusions about the nobility of higher education are soon shattered by the ignoble realities of today’s British university, which rewards mediocrity and laziness and whose most notable achievement these days is turning out Islamist suicide bombers.
I call the novel remarkable because even though it takes on a deadly serious topic – namely, the transformation of many universities, in our time, into Kafkaesque institutions ruled by lockstep PC groupthink, draconian speech codes, multiculturalism gone mad, and (not least) a see-no-evil approach to radical Islam – it also manages to be laugh-out-loud funny. Vanston mocks everything from the market-driven dumbing-down of curricula (one of Crump’s colleagues is a near-illiterate who teaches hip-hop studies) to the demonization of white men as racist, sexist patriarchal oppressors (Crump attends a diversity session taught by a chronically irate woman who targets him, the only white male in the group, from the git-go: “How dare you think you are superior to women or people of colour just because of your gender and race!”).
But it is Vanston’s frankness about British universities’ cringing appeasement of radical Islam on campus that is the gutsiest and most striking aspect of this book.
At Thames Metropolitan, three of the four buildings are named after famous black people – an effort by administrators to make the university’s largely black student body feel at home. But the fourth building, which houses the university’s new Centre for Islamic Studies, is named after Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the Centre’s funder. The Abdullah building is a mysterious, unsettling presence on the campus: at his initial faculty meeting, Crump and other newcomers are informed that it is “out of bounds for all not studying, researching or teaching there.”
In naming the Centre after a Saudi royal, Vanston is, of course, only reflecting a contemporary reality on both sides of the Atlantic. After all, Cambridge University has a HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies, the University of Edinburgh has the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World, Harvard boasts the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, and at Georgetown University there’s the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding – all named, naturally, for the Saudi prince who endowed them. (And let’s not forget the American universities in Cairo and Beirut, both of which also have centers also named for King Abdullah’s munificent nephew.) On Harvard’s website, under a small image of the university’s seal, bearing the word veritas, you can read that Prince Alwaleed is “[c]ommitted to making the world a better place” and “seeks to promote change through mutual cultural understanding.” One of the achievements of Vanston’s novel is that it effectively reminds us that, for the right price, many a university will quite happily sell out its heritage of devotion to truth.
Among the Islamic Studies students who regularly congregate outside the Abdullah building are many women in burkas. “Crump had no idea how to communicate with someone with a veil over their face, and whose eyes squinted through a little slit at the outside world….How do you speak to a mask? You can see no facial expression, no feelings, no humanity – just a mask, with small, flickering eyes trapped behind the plastic or the cloth.” When he does try to talk to one of the women, and makes the naïve mistake of actually touching her hand, he is immediately set upon violently by a group of bearded men in robes. The attack goes unpunished by university authorities. This scenario, too, is hardly a distortion of reality: institutions of higher education that are vigilant in punishing students or faculty for statements that might be perceived as “Islamophobic” routinely look the other way when groups of Muslim students behave aggressively.
One day on campus Crump runs across a protest rally by “bearded and robed men and burqa women” plus a sprinkling of students who call themselves “socialist workers” (even though “their absence from lectures seemed to suggest they were more socialist than worker”). It is an anti-Israeli event. The occasion: Thames Metropolitan’s governing board is about to vote whether to ban Israeli academics from campus and cease cooperation with Israeli universities. Crump is baffled: “surely,” he tells a colleague, “Israel is a democracy, and the, y’know, Arab states aren’t, are they?” The colleague demurs: “Typical Zionist propaganda – you really should believe everything you read in the Zionist media, Kevin. And anyway, there’s more to life than democracy.” This is, needless to say, right out of the headlines: Israeli scholars and universities have been the targets of many such efforts in both Britain and North America.
The climax of Crump involves a talk given at the university by Rudyard Perkins, a critic of religion modeled on Richard Dawkins. After his talk, a mob of Muslims pull him out of his car and beat him into a coma – yet both the university and BBC manage to spin the story so that Islam comes out clean. Indeed, the Beeb’s report blames “Islamophobia” for the whole thing, implying that the attack “was the fault of Rudyard Perkins himself for offending Muslim sensibilities.” The BBC allows “a great many Muslim ‘leaders’ to express their opinions, and even trie[s] to link the riot to Palestinian issues and the supposed wrongdoing of the ‘West’….” Anyone who has watched the BBC, CNN, or other TV network in the wake of acts of Muslim terrorism knows that there is no exaggeration here.
I will not give away the ending of Crumb, which involves a plot twist that is surprising, even though, given the history of our times, it should not be. All I will say is that the closing pages of this book do an extremely effective job of driving home the point that the moral decadence of British and American universities, especially as regards Islam, is not just an issue for academics. On the contrary, it concerns all of us, for it has had, and will continue to have, dire consequences – as we saw, most recently, last weekend in Stockholm, where a Swedish Muslim who had studied sports therapy at the University of Bedfordshire set off two bombs, killing himself and wounding two.
Crump, then, is based firmly on today’s reality. Varston’s special achievement in his book is that he helps us to recognize that the phenomena he is writing about are indeed, for all their dreadfulness, the stuff of satire. The fact that American and British universities take money from the rulers of one the most oppressive nations on earth to establish “institutes” that whitewash Islam and breed terrorists is, quite simply, absurd. We need non-fiction books to inform us, and make us angry, about these things. But we also need novels like this to make us laugh at them. Ridicule is a powerful weapon. And in the war we’re fighting – the war for civilization and enlightenment, and against brutal seventh-century superstitions and hatreds – we need all the “weapons” we can get.