May 19, 2005

The Silver-Lined Gitmo Commode

By Demosophist, (while Rusty is living it up in Adams-Morgan and forgetting to tell me where to meet him.)

Well, I'm frankly puzzled by this whole Koran-flushing thing.  I understand how a people steeped in a vengeful literature for a thousand years might get upset when a few red infidels use laser-guided bombs to blow up their neighborhoods while we're liberating them from tyranny.  And I grasp the idea of the shame of a proud people when inferior mongrel troops are sent into a place like Fallujah or Ramadi to uncover baby Auschwitz slaughterhouses with shaky plaintive notes from the victims scrawled on the walls in their own blood, or when we bomb Baghdad in "Shock and Awe" while they stand on their rooftops so as not to miss anything, or when a group of our miscreants discomfit captives guilty of far worse, with the cultural indignities of plebe hazing.  I understand that, and it sorta makes sense.  But why do they wait until they think we might have flushed a [holy] book down the crapper before instigating an Ummah-wide lethal street uprising?  Why now, and not then?

I asked some people I know, including some Muslims, about this, because I'm stumped. I related the story of how Sir Ernest Shackleton tore up the pages of the Bible when the Endurance was stranded at the South Pole, to impress upon his men the necessity of leaving some things behind for the march across Antarctica. A Jewish friend observed that a Jew, at least an Orthodox Jew, would probably not have done what Shackleton did with the Torah. But she also said that they probably wouldn't have rioted had someone flushed it, either.

My Muslim friends didn't help much, because they're the sort that wouldn't have rioted... but they allowed that perhaps there's some sort of deep-seated scatological aversion that merges into the "holy book" thing. It's as if they're saying: "Shit on us, and we'll manifest a controlled but bemused anger. We can take it. But shit on the holy book that in the midst of generations of tyranny has been our last refuge, and we'll just go completely berserk." It's wacky sure, but admirable, to place what you abstractly value above yourself. I can relate.

I suppose, when it gets right down to it, we Americans, who live in a nation founded on an ideology rather than an ethnic heritage, can understand that attitude pretty easily. It's not really Big Macs or even the World Trade Center that holds us together as a nation. There are indignities that would move at least some of us to kill, though we'd look the other way at the insult of being likened to Nazi Germany when we've spent treasure and 1600 of our best lives just to preserve the option of liberty for a people who personally mean little to us. I thought one only did that sort of thing for one's family? We're a pretty intense lot. Passionate. You know what I mean, don't you?

I think I'm tolerant. I understand that there's a difference between intense deep love for someone, and unhealthy obsession. And I think we need to make a similar distinction about religious conviction. I understand that there were lots of Muslims pissed at the US, but horrified by the riots. But sometimes I wonder if Muslims, the deeply religious and the fanatical alike, shouldn't be just a little more worried that we might just fly off the handle once in awhile. I worry that our apologists have been too successful at convincing them we're nice, even-tempered barbarians.

We may need to communicate with the Ummah a bit more honestly about our own Koran-flushing-like trigger points: the sort of thing that happened in the 1830s when non-native-American settlers in the West got the idea that native-Americans weren't just quaint, but practiced a religion that preached the total annihilation of the white man (The Ghost Dancers). It's true that the Ghost Dance religion was naught but a distorted reflection of apocalyptic Christianity, and not only wasn't based on native-American beliefs, but wasn't even violent. It looked awfully dangerous, so the townfolk grabbed their pitchforks and slaughtered the Ghostdancers. Confusion has its cost.

I think part of the calculation of the jihadists is that we always at least strive to be fair and moderate in our responses, so that when we fall short it's always a mistake. And this faith in our restraint (with a few predictable and comforting lapses to convince them we're not saints) offers a tempting advantage for extremism. They've seen us stumble over the imaginary line of propriety and get up off the ground slapping and cursing ourselves. I mean, if we don't excuse ourselves once in awhile, why should they?

But they haven't really seen our dark side, have they? We can be as unyielding and irrational as they. We've got crazy buttons too. What they need to understand is that under certain circumstances we may no longer moderate our responses. If, for instance, there's a WMD attack on a major city in the US those people in the streets, as well as the people looking on in horror at them, need to understand that our response may not be measured at all. It's not fair to mislead people and leave the impression that we'd just take the hit, or even that we'd only respond in kind or degree, city for city... or something nice like that. That, I'm afraid, is the Ummah's brand of wishful thinking.

So, I understand their reaction to the Newsweek story. They've made their point, and I even admire them for it. Because I partake on some level of the same sort of unreasonableness about values vs person, and more importantly I know that my fellow Americans can be far more unreasonable than I. They should know more about our history. They should read about Andrew Jackson, and Curtis Lemay, and U.S. Grant, and Phil Sheridan, and William Tecumseh Sherman, for starters. Street riots are nuthin'.

So, I guess the silver lining in all of this pottygate stuff is that we're not really that different after all, and they can understand a bit about us by looking at themselves. The Ummah can travel a familiar road to understanding, instead of worrying about our wimpy apologists. No, we wouldn't flush the Koran, not because we revere it, but because we're with you in your convictions. They make a lot more sense to us than to the Europeans. Our convictions aren't about the same things, but they're just as intense... and just as self-forgetful. We mean business when it comes to preserving this civilization... and it's entirely possible to just push us to far. We go a little berserk once in awhile too.

John Bolton, a pretty mean American, could be good for the cross-cultural dialogue.

Update: A few thoughts on what's ultimately at stake, and the key to our own potential outrage, our own Koran-flushing-trigger, from Bill Whittle.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia, Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

By Demosophist at 01:33 PM | Comments |