Another response to Terrorism: "Good" vs. "Evil":
Correspondent Bonnie sent me the following column along with her comments:
Blaming the U.S., whitewashing terror
Sorrow and pity have given way to excuses and equivocations. Some commentators are now explaining the terrorist attack against New York City and Washington with the argument that the United States "had it coming." A representative example in this regard is George Galloway, a British Labour MP who recently declared the U.S. "had to swallow its own medicine" when thousands died on Sept. 11.
How a serum of freedom and prosperity curdled into murderous venom Mr. Galloway did not say, but he is not alone in his opinions. Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Susan Riley naively suggested the terror attack — years in the planning — might have been payback for the U.S. walking out of a UN racism conference a week earlier. A contributor to the Toronto Star thinks something called "Americanism" is part of the problem. Naomi Klein, the embodiment of trite Chomskyism, believes the United States has been guilty of "sanitizing and dehumanizing acts of war committed elsewhere" and wonders whether "U.S. foreign policy create[d] the conditions in which such twisted logic could flourish." Some TV pundits in Canada blame President George W. Bush's alleged "isolationism" (paradoxically, others blame it on his "interventionism"). On a recent broadcast of the BBC's debate program, Question Time, the U.S. Ambassador was reduced to tears by hard-left audience members jeering that the United States brought terror on itself owing to its "anti-Arab and pro-Israeli policy."
However the view is hedged, when a person says the United States "had it coming," what he or she means is that murder is a morally appropriate rejoinder to a perceived slight or injustice. The annihilation of innocent civilians is thereby cast as a legitimate means to promote one's political or theological ends. This is familiar territory for the radical left: Since the time of Lenin, Marxists have preached the virtues of exterminating inconvenient classes of individuals in order to bring those still living into a state of equality.
How does one respond to such arguments? It is simple morally, but difficult rhetorically — because those who attack the United States inevitably express their view through slippery, ill-defined phrases such as "cultural imperialism," "neo-colonialism," "economic hegemony" and the like. But look behind the slogans and you find empty air.
Take the culture issue: The United States does not force its boy bands, fast food and slinky Hollywood starlets down any nation's throat. The spread of U.S. culture is a matter of demand. In truth, it is the fact that millions of teenagers and young adults worship Western icons like Michael Jordan and Britney Spears of their own accord that drives Islamist militants to murderous distraction. As for the economic argument, it is the West that should be umbraged, not the Muslim world. Uncle Sam pours billions of aid dollars into Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Afghanistan every year. Yes, the United States gives money to Israel, too. But that is the Middle East's only democracy — and isn't the Left always telling us we should aid democracies, not dictatorships?
Consider also that in recent decades, the Western world has paid trillions of dollars for Middle Eastern oil at prices controlled by a Muslim-led oligopoly, OPEC, which would be illegal under the anti-trust laws of any major Western nation. That Middle Eastern oil-producing nations are despotic regimes in which a select few profit from oil revenues is not the fault of the United States. It is the fact that no Arab nation has ever had a truly democratic government that is the real reason political stultification and income inequality are rife in the region.
As for the charge that the United States is "anti-Arab," this is a slogan, not a supportable claim. Where Arab nations blundered away their land to a surrounded Israeli army, the United States has done everything in its power to help them get it back. The peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, which saw Anwar Sadat get back the Sinai, was brokered in the United States. (Islamist radicals subsequently assassinated Mr. Sadat for making peace, of course. Presumably, he, too "had it coming.") In the last decade, Washington has repeatedly attempted to involve the Palestinians in a peace agreement that would see the West Bank and Gaza revert to Palestinian control. Bill Clinton even offered up to US$17-billion to bribe Israel to leave the Golan Heights. And what about the Gulf War? In that conflict, the United States helped defend Saudi oil and Kuwaiti independence from Saddam Hussein. Did the oil-thirsty Americans have an ulterior motive? Yes. But that did not seem to bother Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and the other Muslim nations that joined with the United States to fight Iraq.
Ask yourself this question: Why do so many Arabs/Muslims seek to emigrate to the United States every year? If the United States in general and President Bush in particular are so "anti-Arab," then the leading U.S. Muslim-Islamist organizations should explain why they not only issued a resounding endorsement of Mr Bush's candidacy in last year's Presidential election, but specifically cited his pro-Muslim credentials.
All of this, though, is somewhat beside the point. Even if the United States were "anti-Arab," surely the bias would be properly addressed not by terrorist attacks, but by diplomacy — assuming the Arab/Muslim dictators and their Western apologists satisfactorily explain what is wrong with U.S. policy in the first place. If the United States "had it coming," then would it be legitimate for Jewish terrorists to blow up the Eiffel Tower because the French government is pro-Palestinian and therefore "anti-Israel"? For that matter, did massacred Jewish families dining in a Jeru-salem pizza restaurant recently "get theirs" when a suicide bomber blew himself up? If it is legitimate to cite grievances over land and politics in the same moral breath as the mass slaughter of innocents, on what basis may we denounce any terrorist attack as evil?
At the heart of the propaganda campaign against the United States is a moral equivalence conflating what is evil with what is merely imperfect. In the Cold War, this tactic took the form of the argument that the United States was just as dictatorial as the Soviet Union because poor Americans were allegedly not "free" from injustice, racism and want. Now that we have entered a new kind of war, this fatuous argument has been recycled: Yes, Islamist maniacs slaughter thousands of innocents ... but think of the psychic pain inflicted on the Middle East by Taco Bell and the Backstreet Boys. Who is to judge which is more inhumane?
In Macbeth, Shakespeare reserved a special space in Hell for "an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale." That thought provides some consolation as we watch our television screens and see this shameful parade of apologists wagging their fingers at the United States.
>> This is more eloquent than I can be, and I agree with everything said here <<
That's a sad comment, since it isn't that eloquent.
Okay, it's eloquent enough. But it isn't that rational. I've addressed viewpoints similar to this about a dozen times already, but (sigh) let's look at the introductory paragraphs:
>> Sorrow and pity have given way to excuses and equivocations. Some commentators are now explaining the terrorist attack against New York City and Washington with the argument that the United States "had it coming." <<
Since I didn't say the US had it coming, I'm not going to defend that phrase. Onward.
>> A representative example in this regard is George Galloway, a British Labour MP who recently declared the U.S. "had to swallow its own medicine" when thousands died on Sept. 11
How a serum of freedom and prosperity curdled into murderous venom Mr. Galloway did not say <<
Galloway didn't say it because the point was obvious to anyone remotely aware of current events. The United States has killed many, many innocent civilians in Iraq and elsewhere. That was the medicine Galloway was talking about—the medicine of killing innocent people for political gain.
If Galloway had meant to indict "freedom and prosperity," I think he would've. Instead, he indicted the documented harm the US has caused the rest of the world. Since this harm is documented, the only question is whether you and the Post are aware of the documentation. Are you?
>> Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Susan Riley naively suggested the terror attack — years in the planning — might have been payback for the U.S. walking out of a UN racism conference a week earlier. <<
Maybe the terrorists planned the attack for years but waited till the most opportune moment to trigger it. Bush gave them so many opportunities it was only a matter of time. This is speculation, of course...but can the Post disprove it?
The Post's unsubstantiated opinion that Riley's position is "naive" is what I meant before: irrational. When the Post can prove the naivete, give me a holler and we'll discuss it.
>> A contributor to the Toronto Star thinks something called "Americanism" is part of the problem. <<
And why shouldn't the contributor think that? Because the Post says so? Irrational.
>> Naomi Klein, the embodiment of trite Chomskyism, believes the United States has been guilty of "sanitizing and dehumanizing acts of war committed elsewhere" <<
Well, the US definitely has committed acts of war elsewhere. Conducted by long-range bombs and cruise missiles, these acts of war fit most people's definitions of "sanitizing" and "dehumanizing." So what's there to disagree with? It's factually true that the US has killed thousands and thousands of innocent civilians in recent wars. If you weren't aware of that fact, educate yourself.
Did US policy creation the conditions?
>> and wonders whether "U.S. foreign policy create[d] the conditions in which such twisted logic could flourish." <<
As do many, many commentators I've seen in major news sources. If the Post disagrees with these many, many commentators...so what? Should I take the word of an irrational newspaper over the documented claims of rational commentators? Sorry, no can do.
>> Some TV pundits in Canada blame President George W. Bush's alleged "isolationism" (paradoxically, others blame it on his "interventionism"). <<
I think the pundits mostly blamed Bush's isolationism and previous presidents' interventionism. But isolationism and interventionism are both wrong if not done with respect for the world community. A better policy would be a middle road. Call it "partnership" or something like that.
>> On a recent broadcast of the BBC's debate program, Question Time, the U.S. Ambassador was reduced to tears by hard-left audience members jeering that the United States brought terror on itself owing to its "anti-Arab and pro-Israeli policy." <<
This sounds like a serious problem: an ambassador who's a crybaby. If he couldn't defend his position, his convictions must not be as strong as the audience's were. I think the US better replace this fellow, fast.
What part of "anti-Arab and pro-Israeli policy" did the crybaby disagree with, since that's also a documented fact? Is the Post saying we should side with a crybaby who can't defend his position in an honest debate? Irrational.
>> However the view is hedged, when a person says the United States "had it coming," what he or she means is that murder is a morally appropriate rejoinder to a perceived slight or injustice. <<
However the view is hedged, when a person says the terrorists are "evil," what he or she means is that we're morally, culturally, and racially superior to all those "other" people.
When the "slight or injustice" is real (not perceived) murder and oppression, the response is understandable. Not morally justified—since killing is never justified except in self-defense—but intellectually understandable. When people execute an "eye for an eye" response, I can imagine why they're doing it, even though I denounce their tactics.
Again, two wrongs don't make a right. Never have and never will. I'm more than willing to denounce both wrongs as, well, wrong.
You prefer to think only one wrong has occurred. Since you can't articulate a morality that allows the US to kill innocent Iraqis but not the terrorists to kill innocent Americans, you lose. Sorry.
>> Take the culture issue: The United States does not force its boy bands, fast food and slinky Hollywood starlets down any nation's throat. <<
It doesn't? Last I heard, US corporations don't put their business decisions to a vote of the people affected by those decisions. As in America, government officials and property owners make the decisions; the populace has little choice but to accept the decisions. If they're lucky, they can file ineffectual lawsuits, carry signs, or move. In a poor (Islamic) country, even those aren't options.
Not that Muslims actually hate America's culture. What they hate are our hypocritical political and economic policies—our proclamation of liberty and justice for all while we support neither liberty nor justice for most. Muslims and other non-Americans have made it clear what they hate in polls and interviews.
So this whole point is a dodge. The Post is inventing an argument: "They" hate cultural imperialism (actually, they hate imperialism, period), but they choose our cultural products (actually, they don't have much choice), so their views are invalid. It's straw-man "logic" all the way.
I'm not wasting more time with all the foolish whoppers in this column. If you find a more eloquent column, feel free to share it. I'll be happy to explain about the two wrongs as many times as it takes until you "get" my point.
The debate continues (11/26/01)....
>> The broken record starts here: <<
Compare it to training a dog. For simple creatures, you have to repeat phrases over and over until they get it.
>> I thought this was so simple that you would understand it but I'll spell it out for you: That was WAR. <<
The Persian Gulf war ended about ten years ago, Ms. Simple-Simon. The bombing and killing continues today. Your answer?
>> Civilian casualties occur in all wars. <<
Yes. They happened in Osama Bin Laden's war against the US too. Oops.
The question is whether you accept them, as you seem to do, or denounce them as horrible, as I do.
>> The presumption is that less lives will be lost in the war than would be if the enemy is not subdued <<
Your presumption in this case is an unproven fairy tale. When you have a fact to justify this presumption, please provide it.
>> or that the loss of life is justified by what is gained in victory (if you are fighting for freedom, human rights, etc.) <<
That we're fighting for "freedom" is another fairy tale. Actually, neither you nor Bush can come up with a scenario in which terrorists threaten America's freedom as a country. But if you want to try, I'll be happy to rip your answer to pieces.
The loss of Afghan life is real, while the fight for civilization or democracy or freedom is a fiction invented to justify the loss of life. You sound like a typical warmonger who can't come up with a logical justification for her killing ways.
>> Re-read your own comments above — even you qualified your statements against the U.S. with the word "war". <<
I've put the word "war" in quotes or called it a "so-called war" many times. Now that bombing has begun, we're clearly fighting some kind of war, although it appears to be a war against the Taliban, not a war against terrorism. Oh, well...they both begin with "t" and have roughly the same number of letters. Maybe the American public won't notice that Bush has substituted one war for another.
>> No one is saying that the U.S. is immaculate. <<
Bush is when he says America "was chosen by God" or wonders why "they hate us when I know how good we are." And if you aren't saying the US is immaculate, what are you saying? You seem to have nothing to say about its real problems and how to solve them. Which means whatever you're saying is pretty much useless.
>> I am not blind or stupid <<
Wow, what a straight line. I don't know if I can resist it, but I'll try.
Following the Geneva Convention...sometimes
>> Have you ever heard of the Geneva Convention? There are rules for conflict and by and large the U.S. follows them. <<
I wonder what the Geneva Convention says about killing 2.3 million German civilians in World War II or 500,000 Iraqi children since the Gulf War ended. I'm guessing it prohibits the intentional targeting of civilians during war. I believe we were the first to do such targeting when we fire-bombed Tokyo in World War II.
But no need to guess. Here's a link to it: Protocol 1, Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977. In particular, section 5b of Article 51 prohibits "an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated." We've violated this standard in our previous wars and we'll probably violate it in this one, making us war criminals under international law.
>> There's a difference between planning to kill a bunch of civilians and conducting a war effort that results in collateral damage. <<
As I said, the Gulf War ended long ago. The killing of Iraqis continues. We've also killed many people in Grenada, Libya, Panama, Somalia, Sudan, and Yugoslavia. And we've funded Israel as it kills and subjugates Palestinians.
Besides, a war isn't justified simply because the US declares it so. For a more unbiased opinion, try the UN votes on which military moves are justified. The US loses many UN votes because its actions aren't justified, according to the rest of the world.
>> Has ANY nation in the world done ONLY good and NO HARM? <<
I'm not sure the Swiss, the Bermudans, or the Tahitians have harmed anybody.
>> Have we done nothing good? <<
Yes, but we don't give a president or philanthropist or star hockey player a free pass when he does good and then does something immoral or illegal. A wrong and a right is a wrong and a right.
>> Have there been efforts to AVOID harm prior to resorting to it? <<
Not in this case. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice made it clear we were going to war regardless of how the Taliban responded to Bush's crusade threats.
>> Has the harm ALWAYS been intentional? <<
Often enough it has. And negligence about one's harmful actions is also a crime under our criminal code.
>> It does NOT mean I feel morally, culturally and racially superior to everyone else. <<
Doesn't it? Who would you say has a better reason to kill their opponents: the Israelis or the Palestinians? Surprise me with your answer.
Oops, that's another political question. It must be too "complex" for you to decide. Never mind.
Rob's moral superiority
>> (Just as an aside, what's wrong with feeling morally superior to slimy lizards like that anyway? I have no doubt that you feel morally superior to right-wing conservatives. How come that's OK, but this isn't?) <<
I am morally superior to right-wing conservatives. Why? Because I abide by the will of the majority per the Constitution. I don't try to subvert the Constitution and our civil rights with dishonest tactics.
If you say one thing and do another, you're a hypocrite, which is a form of lying. Both traits qualify as immoral. Since I don't say one thing and do another, I can pretty much prove my moral superiority over anyone who does.
>> So you advocate a partnership with Al-Qaeda, that's rich <<
No, that's wrong.
Your misunderstanding of my position is getting tiresome. Try to take your mind off hockey pucks and concentrate this time. I'll try to keep my sentences short enough for your attention span to handle.
>> I'm sure your wishy-washy stance would please them greatly. <<
Check you dictionary for the definition of "wishy-washy," which you don't seem to know. It means undecided between two positions and I'm anything but. A pacifist stance isn't wishy-washy. It's as strong, resolute, and unbending as any other.
Actually, the US bombing probably pleases Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It's driving a wedge between us and our Muslim allies, raising Bin Laden's popularity to new heights, and breeding new hordes of terrorists. Hundreds of pundits have explained this but you still don't get it.
>> You no more support a middle road in international policy than you tolerate opposing viewpoints to your own political orientation. <<
You don't even understand my position on this foreign policy issue, so forgive me if I doubt you know where I stand on other foreign policy issues. And with your lack of political expertise, I doubt you could even define a so-called "middle road."
Tolerance vs. acceptance
As for opposing viewpoints, tolerate them is exactly what I do. I haven't called for censoring conservatives or curtailing their freedom of speech. But I certainly don't accept their viewpoints as valid, since I generally can show they're unworkable or illogical or hypocritical.
It's your problem if you don't understand the difference between tolerance and acceptance. I don't have to accept a conservative viewpoint any more than I have to accept some ignoramus who tells me 2+2=5. He has a right to say it, and I have a right to prove he's wrong.
>> When have you EVER seen the middle of the road? <<
Often. But you wouldn't know since you're unwilling or unable to discuss political issues.
>> Anyway, do tell how you plan to form this sorta-isolationist-kinda-interventionalist love-in with the Taliban et al...I'm intrigued! <<
At least I have political positions, unlike you. But you must have a vivid imagination, since you've invented a position for me that bears little resemblance to reality. I'm not at all an isolationist, Ms. Simple-Simon. I've advocated forceful action against terrorists and the Taliban (which are two different things). What I haven't advocated is thuggish violence as the first or only option.
Read what I wrote at The PEACE PARTY Position rather than fantasizing about what I believe. Then maybe you'll correct your silly assertion that I'm wishy-washy. Coming from the woman who can't or won't take political positions, the charge is patently absurd.
>> Two faults in your slippery-slope argument here: "Evil" is a moral term, not a cultural or racial one. <<
That isn't a fault. My point is that you can't apply "evil" in such a way that it includes the terrorists but excludes Americans and others who commit evil in the name of God or democracy. Since you can't apply it in any valid moral way, you must be applying it for cultural or racial reasons.
>> And terrorists are not "all other people". <<
That's not a fault either. Bush initially didn't define whom he was targeting. Ridding the world of evil is a broad, general abstraction and could include everyone from communists to jaywalkers.
Since then he's occasionally limited himself to Al Qaeda or "terrorist networks with a global reach." Unfortunately, he isn't attacking Al Qaeda or "terrorist networks with a global reach." He's attacking the Taliban government, which isn't Al Qaeda and did no more than "harbor terrorists," as have many other countries.
While overthrowing the Taliban government may be a worthy cause, it's not the cause Americans signed up to fight. Nor is it a cause that necessarily deserves a war. Overthrowing South Africa's apartheid government and the USSR's communist government didn't take a war. Those governments were as fanatical as the Taliban, yet they broke in the face of political and economic pressure.
While we're trying to overthrow the Taliban government, the terrorists are making their plans elsewhere. And the world is slowly turning against our "war" against terrorism, the Taliban, or whatever. The terrorists staged their last attack from the US and Germany, and their next attack is likely to be similar. Bombing Afghanistan does little or nothing to end the threat to the US.
Evil means...not good
>> If I say terrorists are evil, all I mean is they are morally opposed to what my understanding of "good" is. <<
Your understanding of "good" includes killing 500,000 Iraq children and excusing it as collateral damage. Osama bin Laden's understanding of good includes killing a "mere" 3,000 Americans. I'd say his definition of good is better than yours is—about 167 times better.
>> If I say terrorists are evil, all I mean is they are morally opposed to what my understanding of "good" is. If that makes me "good" by default, so be it — my views are shared by almost every nation in the Western hemisphere and many in the East as well. <<
Almost every nation in the Western hemisphere and many in the East oppose the US sanctions against Iraq and Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank. In fact, these nations oppose a lot of America's actions. As the LA Times reported, 5/4/01:
Human rights groups say there has been growing resentment toward the U.S. among Western nations that are usually its allies, as well as among developing countries, because of recent American votes opposing key human rights initiatives.
"This has been coming. It should not have been a surprise to Washington," said Joanna Weschler, the U.N. representative of Human Rights Watch. "They've voted alone, on the wrong side of several important issues."
The U.S. has opposed treaties to abolish land mines, does not support the International Criminal Court and abstained from a vote to make more widely available drugs to combat the AIDS pandemic.
Adding to the atmosphere of frustration with the U.S. were other recent unilateral actions by the Bush government, such as pulling out of the 1997 climate treaty reached at Kyoto, Japan, and the administration's insistence on developing a national missile defense system despite widespread opposition from allies as well as other nations.
"This is their wake-up call," Weschler said. "We hope this will prompt a review of their policies."
If you're finally taking the perspective of other Western and Eastern countries against the US, I'm glad. We'll make a multiculturalist of you yet.
>> Maybe you can make daisy-chains and sing folk songs. <<
Did you have a bad experience holding hands and singing when you were a child? You suggest it so often it seems to have some special meaning for you. I assure you it has no meaning for me, since I've never sat around a campfire and sung songs.
>> What decade are you living in anyway? The 60s have been over for a long time. <<
Better to live in the '60s than the '50s, as you seem to be doing. With your approval of state-sanctioned Christian symbols and e-mail eavesdropping, you'd be right at home in the McCarthy era. People then also thought we should trust our government, which proves how ignorant they were.
I live in all the decades of my life because they all have lessons for me. The '60s are especially important since they saw the first dawning of multicultural awareness. I also live in the future, since I'm addressing long-term problems you've barely even acknowledged, much less understood.
The message of "Two wrongs...."
>> Agreed, that if the terrorists are responding to a (real OR perceived) slight or injustice their actions are comprehensible. I don't think I (or anyone else) has trouble grasping that. Let's assume the U.S. did the first "wrong" (arguable), and the terrorists did the second, and there's your two wrongs not making a right. <<
>> (That's a saying, by the way, not a philosophical truth — just like the "eye for an eye" thing — It's a cop-out for someone who'd prefer not to think beyond the level of comfortable cliches.) <<
What's the difference between a saying and a philosophical truth? Most sayings are philosophical truths and vice versa.
When you get down to the level of a philosophical truth, there's not much more you can do than repeat it. There's no truth deeper than truth. For instance, "Killing innocent people is bad." You either agree, which means you stop killing innocent people. Or you disagree, which means you continue killing them.
>> So now we've established two wrongs...What do THREE wrongs make? <<
You tell me. You're the one who wants to go to war against the Taliban government while creating six million starving refugees, leaving Osama bin Laden unscathed, and creating a new generation of terrorists who hate the US. Why do you want to do several more wrongs in response to the 9/11 wrong?
>> Or is the next move NECESSARILY a "wrong", just because it is made in response to two previous "wrongs"? <<
No, the peace-oriented strategy is a "right." The war-oriented strategy is a wrong. As of Thanksgiving, war has killed one Al Qaeda commander but hasn't done jack to bring any terrorists to "justice."
>> I think that if we respond with a systematic economical, political, and military campaign against terrorism and the states that support it, that is not NECESSARILY wrong. <<
The military part is wrong for several reasons: because it's killing innocents, because it's fomenting hatred against the US, and because it can't address the root causes of terrorism. It's wrong because immoral acts inevitably occur during war that wouldn't occur during a systematic economic and political campaign.
Which is why I've advocated just such a campaign, along with giving it enough time to work. It's worked many times in the past, when violence didn't work, and it would've worked this time too. Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure.
>> I believe that is where your logic is failing you. Since we're using proverbs to sum up complex problems, try this one: There's more than one way to skin a cat. <<
I'm the one who's arguing for something other than the comic book-style conventional wisdom. You're the one saying there's only one way to skin a cat, since you refuse to consider any alternative other than your black-and-white solution. Thanks for summing up the problem with your position, but I already knew it.
>> There's also more than one way to kill people — some ways are morally reprehensible and some are morally justified. <<
Nope, they're all morally reprehensible unless done in self-defense. Neither the Taliban's soldiers nor the Afghan refugees declared war on us, so their deaths are unjustified.
>> Either way there's dead bodies. I think you're getting stuck on that point — maybe you need to look beyond it. <<
Funny. I'm looking at everything while you're looking at war, through your tunnel vision, as the only possible solution. You're the one who keeps stumping for death, so you're the only one who's stuck. I'm not stuck on anything except finding the best solution to a problem, as always.
Correspondent sends another column to demolish
Pacifists' Ill-Breeding Scorns Actual People
Mark Steyn/The National Post
More proof you're fundamentally a conservative, I see. Your refusal to state your political positions doesn't prevent me from reaching the obvious conclusion.
Okay, I'll shred this column, if you insist:
>> What have we learned since September 11th? We've learned that poverty breeds despair, despair breeds instability, instability breeds resentment and resentment breeds extremism. <<
Each of these statements, and the others Mark Steyn parodies, may be true in context. And so what if a couple of them are off-base? We'll never know, since Steyn apparently is incapable of more than parody.
If you think these statements are funny, you should see all the things Osama bin Laden is allegedly threatening: our lives, our children's lives, the economy, jobs, normalcy, our way of life, peace, peace of mind, hope, faith, freedom, democracy, civilization, the world. About the only things the warmongers haven't listed are Mom, baseball, and apple pie.
>> Instability breeds resentment, resentment breeds inertia, inertia breeds generalities, generalities breed clichés, clichés breed lame metaphors, until we reach the pitiful state of the peacenik opinion columns where, to modify the old Eyewitness News formula, if it breeds it leads. <<
If "peacenik columns" are pitiful, how much more pitiful is a column devoted to nothing but bashing pitiful columns?
>> But the "injustice breeds anger" routine requires no such mooring to humdrum reality, though it's generally offered as a uniquely shrewd insight, reflecting a vastly superior understanding of the complexities of the situation than we nuke-crazy warmongers have. <<
Yep. As an intellectual stance, it's light-years beyond the childish belief that "some people are evil." As I believe I said, a kindergartner could offer a more sophisticated analysis of the situation.
>> It's certainly possible to mount a trenchant demolition of U.S. policy toward Israel, Palestine, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan <<
Yes, which is why a few thousand pundits have written such trenchant demolitions. Maybe you can alert me when you or Steyn have something to say about the issues rather than the semantics.
>> If poverty and despair breed terrorism, then how come AIDS-infested sub-Saharan Africa isn't a hotbed of terrorism? <<
Perhaps because poverty and despair are necessary but not sufficient conditions. It's like saying male and female pandas breed baby pandas. True, but only if a host of environmental conditions are met. If they aren't met, pandas ignore each other.
Few people would be foolish enough to say poverty alone breeds terrorism. That's obviously not true since most poor people don't become terrorists. But it is true that few rich people become terrorists. Most poverty doesn't lead to terrorism, but most terrorism ultimately springs from poverty.
No doubt the people who wrote poverty breeds terrorism explained what they meant or thought it was self-evident. Apparently it isn't self-evident to the likes of you and Steyn. Luckily you have people like me to explain it for you.
Here you go. Maybe the following analysis will help you and Steyn understand. An excerpt from "First, Know the Enemy, Then Act" by Dale F. Eickelman. In the LA Times, 12/9/01:
Poverty and unemployment do not in themselves breed terrorism. Many of the most dedicated terrorists and advocates of extreme violence are affluent professionals or scions of the middle class. And some members of Al Qaeda's top leadership—including Bin Laden and his Egyptian colleague, medical doctor Ayman Zawahiri—come from the wealthiest stratum of society.
Yet, they have grasped what the U.S. and its allies have not: how to appeal to disaffected elements of the Arab street, an increasingly educated public that today has access to a wide range of uncensored media and information that creates a desire for accountability from governments. In villages and small towns in Egypt and Iraq in the late 1960s, I frequently saw men at coffee shops or seated in circles, with one of the few literates reading aloud to the others. In Morocco in the early 1970s, rural people sometimes asked me to "translate" newscasts from the standard transnational Arabic of the state radio into their colloquial Arabic. Today this is no longer required. Mass education and new communications technologies enable large numbers of Arabs to hear and see Al Qaeda's message directly.
The growth—and challenge—of this new public was widely recognized in U.S. policy circles well before Sept. 11. In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in February 2001, CIA Director George J. Tenet cited the Arab street, in explaining that "the right catalyst—such as the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence—can move people to act. Through access to the Internet and other means of communication, a restive public is increasingly capable of taking action without any identifiable leadership or organizational structure."
Rob tackles Rushdie
>> As Salman Rushdie wrote of September 11th, "To excuse such an atrocity by blaming U.S. government policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are responsible for their actions." <<
As I wrote in response to this line:
Blaming US policies isn't excusing the atrocity. "Blaming," a sadly misunderstood word, means identifying cause and effect.
If criminals are 100% responsible for their actions, that denies that societal forces have any relevance to crime. If a starving person steals an apple, do we really want to say he's 100% responsible for his crime, act like a fundamentalist country, and chop off his hand? Because that's what this kind of absolutism leads to.
For anyone who says the terrorists are 100% responsible, I've got a simple question: What the hell are we doing bombing Taliban soldiers to death? They were zero percent responsible since the now-deceased individuals who piloted the planes into their targets were 100% responsible. So why are we killing people who have no responsibility for the attacks, according to this logic?
If you answer that the Taliban aided and abetted the terrorists, you're repudiating the claim that the people who pull the trigger are 100% responsible. If the Taliban aided the terrorists, the United States aided the Taliban. So apparently the people who pulled the trigger aren't 100% responsible. Apparently the Taliban and the US share some of the responsibility.
If you, Steyn, or Rushdie think you can address this response, by all means try. I'll be happy to kick any of your butts across the map.
I also liked Tim Wise's response to Marc Cooper on the same point:
The difference between explanation and excuse apparently having escaped him, and the good counsel of a thesaurus that might explain the difference apparently being out of his reach, Cooper insists that the left should embrace limited military action (the substance of which he leaves undefined) as a "moral imperative."
>> The right are happy to leave education to local school boards, the left want big Federal government programs. The right say hire a new local police chief and let him fix the crime problem, the left demand Federal hate-crimes legislation. The right favour individual liberties, the left are more concerned with group rights. In a nutshell, the right are particular, the left love generalities (if you'll forgive a generalization). <<
This is about as simpleminded as saying poverty breeds terrorism—perhaps more so. With this "dopey roundelay" of political theory, you and Steyn prove your ignorance of reality.
If you want reality...the right is happy to cut education until our students aren't educated. The left wants enough programs so our students graduate knowing how to read and write. The right says to ignore hate crimes because the individual is paramount. The left says to take action so racists won't terrorize women, minorities, and gays. Etc.
The claim about individual liberties is perhaps the most ignorant line in this piece. It's hysterical considering Bush and Ashcroft have proposed the biggest curtailment of individual rights in recent memory. I'm ROFLing at the thought of you quoting this line when you didn't even know who Ashcroft was. Your opinion on which side threatens our individual rights couldn't be worth less if you tried.
The left uses generalities?!
>> And so faced with the enormity of September 11th the pacifist left has done what it always does — smother the issues in generalities and abstractions <<
Wait, I take it back. This is the stupidest line in Steyn's screed. Is his head so far up his butt he hasn't heard Bush talking incessantly about abstractions such as "war," "crusade," "terrorism," and "evil"?
Here's one of several hundred abstractions Bush has uttered since 9/11:
"Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil."
What responsibility? Whose history? Which evil? These are just the most obvious questions that leap to mind.
The same thousands of pundits have noted repeatedly how Bush is avoiding specifics and couching his statements in generalities and abstractions. In other words, his statements could hardly be more vacuous. It's a good thing most Americans are as shallow as he is, or they'd be ROFLing like I am.
But if you think he's been specific and concrete, provide the quote and we'll discuss it. Put up or shut up. Let's see if you can do better than the lightweight Steyn.
>> On that sunny Tuesday morning, at least 7,000 people died — real, living men and women and children with families and street addresses and telephone numbers. <<
It's more like 3,000, but thanks for stating the painfully obvious. I wonder why Steyn doesn't recite their names and shoe sizes too, since he's clearly lacking any real argument. We all know people died—now what?
Over the last ten years, at least 500,000 children have died in Iraq. That's a fact documented by UN monitors. They all had name, families, and street addresses too. Do you and Steyn care anything about these dead children, or are you racists and nativists like so many Americans (and Canadians)?
>> But the language of the pacifists — for all its ostensible compassion — dehumanizes these individuals. <<
Says the goofball who apologizes for Bush's general and abstract (not to mention inane) talk of "evil." Who deems soldiers "terrorists" because they happen to serve a government that violated international standards. Who uses terms like "collateral damage" to describe dead women and children.
That military operations are loaded with dehumanizing language that allows soldiers to kill people is well-known. Apparently you and Steyn never learned this, because you've turned it on its head. Black is white and peaceniks, not warmongers, are labeling casualties with abstractions like "collateral damage." Nice one if you can get away with it.
>> They're no longer flight attendants and firemen and waitresses and bond dealers, but only an abstract blur in some theoretical equation — if not mere "collateral damage," certainly collateral. <<
The pathetic jokes continue. We so-called pacifists are trying to prevent more people from becoming collateral damage (i.e., dead). You warmongers couldn't care less who dies in your quest for revenge. To you and Steyn, an American life is worth infinitely more than an Afghan life—a racist position if ever there was one.
>> But in between the bonehead refrains of this breeding that and that breeding the other you'll search in vain for a name or a face, a street or a city or sometimes even a country. <<
See above about stating the painfully obvious.
"Justice is blind" explained
My response also applies to sentencing hearings where the prosecutors trot out the victims as a sympathy ploy. Once the trial is done and a criminal convicted, how much the victims suffered is irrelevant. The justice system isn't supposed to inflame emotions against criminals to give them a worse penalty than they deserve. It's to give them what the law says they deserve—no more and no less—fairly and dispassionately. That is justice, not revenge.
"Justice is blind," goes a famous saying and philosophical truth. That means you don't stare at the horrors to determine what's just and what's not. You weigh the facts—and the lives at stake—blindly, as if they deserve equal weight.
But I doubt you and Steyn understand the concept of justice any more than you understand the concept of a secular nation or a shellshocked response to tragedy. Poor you.
>> Why do some people look at a smoking ruin and see lives lost — the secretary standing by the photocopier — and others see only confirmation of their thesis on Kyoto? <<
Because some people can see farther than the nose on their face...have a long view of history...feel compassion for the world's people, not just "their own."
>> Any real insight into the "root causes" has to begin with an acknowledgement of the human toll, if only because that speaks more eloquently than anything else to the vast cultural gulf between the victims and perpetrators. <<
The gulf isn't that big, since Americans have killed many, many more people throughout our history than Islamic terrorists have. Thus it is not necessary to acknowledge the human toll of 9/11 every time, since these are only the latest victims of narrowminded cultural values.
>> To deny them their humanity, to reduce them to an impersonal abstraction is Stalinist. <<
To say that is McCarthyist. It's also stupidist, since you, not I, are deeming people "collateral damage."
>> Few of us would have bet on the professors, preachers and the rest of the educated, articulate left performing in quite such a desultory, slapdash fashion. <<
Would you have bet this "leftist" kicked your butt so easily? And yet, I've done it. Again.
>> But the interesting thing, to those of us used to being reviled as right-wing haters, is how sterile the vocabulary of those who profess to "love" and "care" is. <<
More humor. I wonder if this right-winger weeps and whines over aborted fetuses while he ignores the plight of poor American children and is unaware of sick, hungry children around the world. I bet he does.
>> In some weird Orwellian boomerang, the degradation of language required to advance the left's agenda has rendered its proponents utterly desiccated. <<
Is this the same jerk who complained about columnists writing something without checking their facts? Needless to say, Steyn has no idea how deeply people on the left grieved. He's done the same thing he accused others of, proving he's the Orwellian hypocrite here.
>> the dead-eyed zombies of the peace movement who claim to love everyone parade through the streets unmoved, a breed apart. <<
If and when this "war" proves to be a Vietnam-style failure, remind me to laugh uproariously at your and Steyn's expense. History has shown that peace and diplomacy are a better option than war and violence and this case won't be the exception. Terrorism will continue long after we stop bombing the countries we don't like.
More debates with Bonnie
Are you suggesting we shouldn't get involved in any military conflicts?
"You hate our values, our government, our religion and the majority of our people, near as I can tell."
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