Have you seen a movie called "Four Jills In A Jeep"? Don't worry, it's not at the multiplex. It came out in 1944. A wartime movie, about the contribution of the gals to the big existential struggle. Great title, and downhill after that. This column is, metaphorically speaking, four Jills in a jeep: it's about a quartet of ladies who provide useful glimpses of where we're heading.
The first is Fatima Omar Mahmud al-Najar, a 57-year old grandmother who had a livelier Thanksgiving than most gran'mas. She marked the occasion by self-detonating in the town of Jabaliya, and, although all she had to show for splattering her body parts over the neighborhood were three "lightly wounded" Israeli soldiers, she will have an honored place in the pantheon of Palestinian heroes: She was, according to the official statistician from The Hamas Book Of Records, the oldest Palestinian suicide bomber ever. And, naturally, her family's pleased as punch.
"We are really happy," her son Zuheir told Agence France-Presse. "She told us last night that she would do a suicide operation. She prepared her clothes for that operation and we are proud. ‘I don't want anything, only to die a martyr.' That's what she said."
Awww, bless the sweet l'il ol' biddy. She wouldn't have wanted to die a long lingering death in some old folks' home. This is the way she wanted to go: quick and painless, except for any Zionists in the immediate vicinity.
Fatima Omar Mahmud al-Najar gave birth to her first child at the age of 12. She had eight others. She had 41 grandchildren. Keep that family tree in mind. By contrast, in Spain, a 57-year old woman will have maybe one grandchild. That's four grandparents, one grandchild: a family tree with no branches.
Which brings me to our second Jill: the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to run a national division of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Kate gave an interview to The New York Times revealing what passes for orthodoxy in this most flexible of faiths. She was asked a simple enough question: "How many members of the Episcopal Church are there?"
"About 2.2 million," replied the Presiding Bishop. "It used to be larger percentage-wise, but Episcopalians tend to be better educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than other denominations."
This was a bit of a jaw-dropper even for a New York Times hackette, so, with vague memories of God saying something about going forth and multiplying floating around the back of her head, a bewildered Deborah Solomon said: "Episcopalians aren't interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?"
"No," agreed Bishop Kate. "It's probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion."
Now that may or may not be a great idea but it's nothing to do with Christianity, only for eco-cultists like Al Gore. If Bishop Kate were an Episcogorian, a member of the Alglican Communion, an elder of the Church of Latter-Day Chads, this would be an unremarkable statement. But, even in their vigorous embrace of gay bishoprics and all the rest, I don't recall the Episcopalians formally embracing the strategy that worked out so swell for the Shakers and enshrining a disapproval of reproduction at the heart of their doctrine.
Which brings me to our third Jill in the jeep: Scarlett Johansson. Like every other sad middle-aged loser guy, I fell in love with Scarlett's fetchingly pert bottom in the opening of "Lost In Translation," and it pains me to discover she's no different from Bishop Kate's generation when it comes to being in thrall to the cobwebbed pieties of the 1960s. In a bit of light Bush-bashing the other day, she attacked the President for his opposition to "sex education." If he had his way, she said, "every woman would have six children and we wouldn't be able to have abortions." Whereas Scarlett is so "socially aware" (as she puts it) she gets tested for HIV twice a year.
Well, yes. If "sex education" is about knowing which concrete condom is less likely to disintegrate during the livelier forms of penetrative intercourse, then getting an Aids test every few months may well be a sign that you're a PhD (Doctor of Phenomenal horniness). But, if "sex education" means an understanding of sexuality as anything other than an act of transient self-expression, then Scarlett is talking through that famously cute butt.
Here's the question for Bishop Kate: if Fatima Omar has 41 grandchildren and a responsible "better educated" Episcopalian has one or two, into whose hands are we delivering "the stewardship of the earth"? If your crowd isn't around in any numbers, how much influence can they have in shaping the future?
Well, the Episcopal head honcho and even Scarlett Johansson are not the most powerful figures in the world, so let's usher on our fourth Jill: Condoleezza Rice. "The great majority of Palestinian people," said the Secretary of State to Cal Thomas the other day, "they just want a better life. This is an educated population. I mean, they have a kind of culture of education and a culture of civil society. I just don't believe mothers want their children to grow up to be suicide bombers. I think the mothers want their children to grow up to go to university. And if you can create the right conditions, that's what people are going to do."
Cal Thomas asked a sharp follow-up: "Do you think this or do you know this?"
"Well, I think I know it," said Dr Rice.
"You think you know it?"
"I think I know it."
So many of our present woes are due to thinking we know things. To our four Jills in the jeep, let's add one Jim, apparently back at the steering wheel in the current war: James Baker, renowned foreign policy "realist" and the man Beltway wags are currently referring to as "the acting Secretary of State." The "realists" think that "containment" and "stability" are wise strategies. In fact, they're the absence of strategy. The fertility rate in the Gaza Strip is one of the highest on earth. If you measure the births of the Muslim world against the dearth of Bishop Kate's Episcopalians, you have the perfect snapshot of why there is no "stability": with every passing month, there are more Muslims and fewer Episcopalians, and the Muslims export their manpower to Europe and other depopulating outposts of the west. It's the intersection of demography and Islamism that makes time a luxury we can't afford.
We can argue about exactly what this trend means, but not that it means nothing. At the very minimum, I'd suggest, it means the Episcopal Church is irrelevant to "the stewardship of the earth" and that Scarlett Johansson will end her days on an earth whose stewards regard being tested for HIV twice as a sign of many things, but not, on the whole, "social awareness."
© 2006 Mark Steyn