September 28, 2006
Unnecessary division over unnecessary divisions?
This is a painful post but I'll try to crank it out rather than sit on it and let it get more painful. The "blogostorm" between Dean Esmay and Michelle Malkin has little to do with me personally*, but everything to do with the national debate this country has been having since 9/11 when we were attacked by suicidal Saudi Salafists.
Were the 9/11 attackers Muslims? Even that isn't necessarily clear, and it depends on how Islam is to be defined. The problem is, they claimed to be acting on behalf of Islam, and enough Muslims support their cause to make many Americans wonder. For some people, it's a lot easier to conclude that "we were attacked by Islam" than to face the reality that some Muslims -- even millions of Muslims -- are not all Muslims.
I think this is terribly mistaken thinking, but I do not think it is treason. The problem is, once you conclude that the United States is at war with Islam a lot flows from that. (Including the belief that Muslims are suspect Americans, and are akin to Communists during the cold war. Or analogous to the way many 19th Century Americans regarded Indians.) Such a view of Islam as the enemy is wrong. Ali Eteraz (via Mutnodjmet) put it quite well:
wrong pragmatically; wrong in relation to the Enlightenment; wrong morally.I, too, get very sick of hearing that Muslims are the enemy. Indeed; if we are at war with Islam, we have no business rebuilding Iraq and trying to help establish democracy; we should be leveling the place and populating it with Americans.
I see the enemy as jihadists. (And I don't mean jihadists in the sense of playing the piano well or getting straight As or doing a fine job as a teacher; I mean it in the sense of waging holy war in the name of Islam.) That sounds easy enough, but try putting it into practice in the United States today. One of the great ironies of the post-9/11 period is that while violent Islamic jihadists attacked this country, there is a constantly growing network -- both organized and unorganized -- of in-place apologists at virtually every level of society all ready to defend them. Criticize jihadists, and people on the left will call you a racist. An Islamophobe. A bigot. I have seen this too many times to count, and the reason I call it ironic is that before 9/11, feminists routinely criticized the veil. Gay activists did not hesitate to condemn Islamic homophobia. Atheists condemned Islam the same way they condemned Christianity. After 9/11, the PC crowd suddenly included a group which they'd previously neglected, and it seemed to me that the 9/11 attacks helped the image of radical Muslims with the left in this country. And in most newspapers, and on many campuses.
This network of PC critics is not only defensive in nature, but offensive. Hence, few American newspapers would dare print cartoons that would probably have been printed before 9/11 without so much as a passing thought. Before 9/11, few cared about the Supreme Court's image of Muhammad, or the many images of Muhammad (such as Salvador Dali's 1960s version). Now, even operas have to be careful. Lest they "offend." I'm tired of that crap, and a lot of people are. I don't agree that 9/11 supplied anyone with an excuse to be insensitive or act like a jerk. But then again, why in the world should a horrible attack like that make us more concerned with (what's the phrase?) "Islamic sensibilities"?
There's a large group of Americans (perhaps the majority) who never really thought about Muslims before 9/11. And now that their country is under attack by a group of Islamist maniacs, is this the right time to suddenly start lecturing them about sensitivity? Like it or not, that's what's happening. I think it is entirely unreasonable, and violates the most basic American common sense. Scolding Americans about how ignorant they are about Islam and how they "need to learn more about it" implies that they now have some duty -- now that they're under attack -- to understand their attackers. That's not the way wars are normally fought, and it doesn't surprise me that some people find it unacceptable. Hence the backlash, and hence the "screw them all!" position of the more fervent and loud members of the Michelle Malkin crowd.
I'm not saying that "screw them all!" any more characterizes Michelle Malkin than "Let's have peace and understanding with Islamists now!" characterizes Dean Esmay. Rather, these are tendencies, and they touch on colliding schools of thought that are aggravated by years of war and rapidly coming to a head.
Yet in fairness, it should be recognized that both "screw them" and "understand them" are very American positions, just as American as Dean Esmay and Michelle Malkin.
I think the two ways of looking at the same facts symbolize a growing, possibly intractable debate, and I'm worried that it may be as hopeless as the debate over guns (in which vicious drive-by shootings are seen by one side as an argument against guns, and by the other as an argument to own guns).
Unfortunately for me, I live close to a Saudi madrassa that I've complained about in a number of posts. They're not only too close to terrorism, they're too close to me. Yet the damned local government pays for school buses to take kids in and out of there for their indoctrination with what the half-Jewish neighborhood has every reason to suspect is anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-West hatred. (The "damned local government," of course, is funded with my tax dollars.) In violation of zoning regulations, they operated a school illegally, ran an unlicensed "halal" meat market, unlicensed restaurant, and summer jihad camps -- contemptuously violating their pre-9/11 covenant with the neighbors. Neighbors complained, and were treated by the bureaucrats with barely concealed contempt, as if we were an annoying group of bigoted crackpots. (Complaints of terrorist connections were dismissed as "irrelevant," for example.) The Zoning Board, however, couldn't ignore the blatant code violations, and hearings were held, but guess what? Over the objections of the neighbors, the madrassa got the "special exceptions" it had requested:
In a 25-page order released last week, the board granted most requests by Villanova's Center for Islamic Education to expand operations, over neighbors' strong objections.Not so for a Christian school in a nearly identical situation before the same board:
The Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board voted Aug. 18 to deny the American Academy's requests for zoning relief to continue meeting at Gladwyne Methodist Church.If it is bigotry to want a Saudi madrassa to be treated the same way a Christian school was treated, then call me a bigot. I am getting sick and tired of this politically correct nonsense, as are a lot of people. And no; it is not all Muslims. Many Muslims, I am sure, don't want their kids indoctrinated in Wahhabist hatred. Many are tolerant of gay rights and stuff like that. It just seems to me that they'd be a little less afraid of speaking up if Americans weren't also so intimidated.
For the umpteenth time, I do not condemn Islam. Our war is not with Islam. Islam did not declare war on us. I am all for moderate Muslims. The problem is that the head of the local madrassa calls his brand of Islam "moderate" and describes his congregants as "mainstream moderate Muslims." Radicals have a history of becoming the mainstream. (And the more the left pushes, the more mainstream the Jihadists become.)
Thus, the whole thing is ugly, mean and bitter. Writing this blog post makes has been little more than an experience in bitterness, and I'd just as soon have had a few beers, and forgotten about it.
The worst part of it is that Dean and Michelle are both right -- each in their own way. Michelle may have failed to properly recognize the distinctions between Islam and Islamism, while Dean may be failing to understand the social dynamics of how the left is undermining this distinction, or Michelle's reactions to that.... FWIW, I think they're both on solid ground as Americans, not that it really matters right now in the debate.
It has all the makings of tragedy.
UPDATE (09/29/06): My deepest thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post with such kind words. (Much too kind, really. Trust me, I don't belong in the dictionary next to the word "decent"!)
Not to return the compliment, because I'd say this any day of the week, but I think now is a good time to point out that bloggers (myself included) are just too full of themselves. In general, I think we take ourselves way too seriously. Glenn is major exception, and I think it accounts for his huge success. There's a huge difference between making it clear what you think and absolutely knowing you're right and waving the flag of ideological purity at all who disagree. I have never known Glenn to do the latter, and there's a lesson for all of us in that. If I am as decent as Glenn says, it's only because I try to remember the possibility that I might be wrong, and that I'm not worth taking as seriously as I might like to think.
If we consider the ironic situation that the more a blogger's traffic increases, the more seriously he takes himself, then Glenn Reynolds should be taking himself about 200 million times more seriously than most "successful" bloggers. In fact, he takes himself less seriously. He's one of the most self-effacing guys in the blogosphere.
The more you do this stuff, the more it can go to your head. Developing a big head will not only cause you to butt heads with other big heads, but if your head is big enough, you'll just be in your own way. The reason (I think) for Glenn's success is that he isn't standing in anyone's way, and thus isn't in his own way. (A good thing to emulate.)
Hope that wasn't too moralistic, but it's what I think.
posted by Eric on 09.28.06 at 07:58 PM
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