I think Mr. Steyn, and all those justifiably outraged at the hostage situation in Iran, is missing a fundamental point. A couple of years ago, my cousin Michael, the distinguished columnist, wrote a piece on American citizens who are victims of Palestinian terrorism- tourists or olim or children of olim who get killed, injured, kidnapped, and so on- and the lack of outrage from the State Department and others.
A day or two after he wrote it, I ran into him at a family get-together and discussed the piece; we basically came to the same conclusion: People tend to see others in terms of group. Sure, you may be an American citizen on an innocent visit to Israel, and I may not harbor a shred of anti-Semitism and may, in fact, love Jews and Israel. (This would, of course, exclude the State Department.) But if I hear about someone named "Goldberg" getting injured in a terror attack in Israel, while I may be angered over the very issue and even feel something a bit deeper when it's an American, something deep in the back of my mind will say "Jew. Israel. Ah well. Moving along..." (Again, this excludes the beauties at the CIA or State Department who don't seem to care when their own people are murdered by Hamas.)
Same thing here. Unfortunately for the Iranian hostages, they are named "Haleh Esfandiari" and "Ali Shakeri" and so on, and are Iranians themselves. Oh, sure they're Americans, and, in fact, are members in good standing of the chattering classes. But their very background ensures that they don't resonate. (The same, for example, for Chinese born American citizens arrested and tortured over in China.) Even Canada, which has made multiculturalism a religion and reason for being as a state, couldn't muster up any sympathy for the late Zahra Kazemi. For all our talk, we're all tribalists deep down. (Yeah, take that, Noah Feldman, you pompous nebach case.)
Would it help if they were American-born WASPs? Maybe not. I mentioned American government employees already, and the British government certainly didn't get too excited over their sailors. But I'm pretty sure it's a factor.