Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown


This is about the broader implications of the riotous reaction of Muslims to cartoons that ran in a Danish newspaper last October. For the full story, with commentary and plenty of relevant links, go to Michelle Malkin's blog and start with her post of January 30, "Support Denmark: Why the Forbidden Cartoons Matter," then read on to the present.

My jumping-off point is this kind of news:
Protesters in Pakistan Target West

LAHORE, Pakistan - Thousands of protesters rampaged through two cities Tuesday, storming into a diplomatic district and torching Western businesses and a provincial assembly in Pakistan's worst violence against the Prophet Muhammad drawings, officials said. At least two people were killed and 11 injured.

Three Killed in Massive Cartoon Protests

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Gunfire and rioting erupted Wednesday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan's third straight day of violent protests over the Prophet Muhammad cartoons. Three people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy.
The second story continues with this:
The European Union condemned both the cartoons, first printed in a Danish newspaper in September, and what it called "systematic incitement to violence" against European diplomatic missions by some unidentified governments.
Bruce Bawer has more about European groveling, and isolated acts of courage, here. Michelle Malkin has plenty to say about the groveling of major American media outlets at her blog (e.g., here). A recent story from the zone of political correctness the academy, reports the suspension of the editors of the Daily Illini (the "independent" student newspaper of the University of Illinois) for having reproduced the cartoons.

The reactions on the part of the EU, much of America's press, and (I safely assert) most of academia are manifestations of a widespread urge to appease fanatical Islam, about which appeasement I will say more later in this post.

I write here without animus toward Islam, as a religion. My attitude toward Islam as a cultural amalgam of the religious and the social is expressed ably by Occam's Carbuncle:
. . . What little I know of [Islam] isn’t very appealing at all. It’s rather medieval if you ask me. Not that I hate Muslims. . . . I just don’t care. . . . I don’t believe what they believe and I’m not about to start. Ever. More importantly, I will read what I want to read and I will express myself as I see fit, not within the strictures of Sharia [the code of law based on the Koran], but according to my rights as a citizen of a liberal democracy. That means Muslims do not have the right to impose upon me their own views of what is or is not proper, what is or is not sacrilege or blasphemy. . . . They may not damage my property or my person as reprisal for anything I might say or write. They may express themselves as freely as I. They may insult me. They may shun me. They might even consider ignoring me. But they may not threaten me. They may not do harm in furtherance of the precepts of their religion, just as I may not do harm to show my objection to their dogma.
The following concepts are central to my analysis of Islamic culture, as a force in the affairs of the world:
Despair: To be overcome by a sense of futility or defeat.

Paranoia: Extreme, irrational distrust of others.
Now, on with the post.

Executive Summary

A sense of futility or defeat can be inflicted upon a people by its enemies, or it can be self-inflicted by the culture of the people. A mass culture that prizes mysticism at the expense of rationality and industriousness will, if only subconsciously, come to envy cultures that profit from rationality and industriousness. But the people of the mystical culture will disavow their envy, because to do so would be to admit the inferiority of their culture. They will, instead, take the paranoid view that their backwardness is somehow caused by other cultures -- cultures that are "out to get them." This paranoia focuses the despair of the backward culture, so that its emerges in the form of rage against the culture's supposed enemies.

The paranoid leaders of a paranoid culture pose an especial danger because of their ability to marshal weapons of mass destruction, and to deploy those weapons in a "righteous" war. In the case of Islamic paranoia, the handwriting is on the wall -- and writ in blood.

The West can either act to prevent repititions of 9/11, Madrid, and London -- on a larger scale -- or it can do nothing and, in doing nothing, invite the conflagration. The choice is nigh. The will to act is in doubt.

Islam: A Culture of Despair and Paranoia

I am struck by the similarity of the Muslim riots -- in France last year and in the Middle East this year -- to the riots in the "ghettos" of Detroit, Los Angeles, etc. Those riots, like the Muslim ones, were sparked by specific events (e.g., the murder of MLK Jr. and the beating of Rodney King). But those sparks caused explosions because they touched the volatile fuel of desperation.

Whence that fuel? It is created by the chronic illness of the underlying culture. A chronically ill person experiences stress because of his inability to function normally. Prolonged stress can lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and, at times, depression. The chronic, self-generated illness of the Muslim culture is similar to that of the black and white "redneck" culture:
There have always been large disparities, even within the native black population of the U.S. Those blacks whose ancestors were "free persons of color" in 1850 have fared far better in income, occupation, and family stability than those blacks whose ancestors were freed in the next decade by Abraham Lincoln.

What is not nearly as widely known is that there were also very large disparities within the white population of the pre-Civil War South and the white population of the Northern states. Although Southern whites were only about one-third of the white population of the U.S., an absolute majority of all the illiterate whites in the country were in the South. . . .

Disparities between Southern whites and Northern whites extended across the board from rates of violence to rates of illegitimacy. American writers from both the antebellum South and the North commented on the great differences between the white people in the two regions. So did famed French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville.

None of these disparities can be attributed to either race or racism. . . . The people who settled in the South came from different regions of Britain than the people who settled in the North--and they differed as radically on the other side of the Atlantic as they did here--that is, before they had ever seen a black slave.

Slavery also cannot explain the difference between American blacks and West Indian blacks living in the United States because the ancestors of both were enslaved. When race, racism, and slavery all fail the empirical test, what is left?

Culture is left.

The culture of the people who were called "rednecks" and "crackers" before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity. That culture had its own way of talking, not only in the pronunciation of particular words but also in a loud, dramatic style of oratory with vivid imagery, repetitive phrases and repetitive cadences.

Although that style originated on the other side of the Atlantic in centuries past, it became for generations the style of both religious oratory and political oratory among Southern whites and among Southern blacks--not only in the South but in the Northern ghettos in which Southern blacks settled. . . .

The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only "authentic" black culture--and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct. (Thomas Sowell, at OpinionJournal, paraphrasing his essay "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," from the eponymous book.)
Islamic culture, broadly speaking, seems much like redneck culture in its preference for mysticism or ritual over rationality and industriousness -- as well as in its attitude toward women. The adherents of an irrational, indolent culture who have any exposure to other cultures must know that their culture holds them back materially, and that they would be better off if they were to adopt the rational and industrious ways of other cultures. (The closely held wealth of the oil sheikhs has nothing to do with Islam; it is a fortuitous artifact of the geology of the Middle East and the industry of the West.) But to adopt the ways of wealthier cultures is to admit the shortcomings of one's own culture -- and to break with one's family, friends, and authority figures.

Thus the adherents of the backward culture remain mired in their self-inflicted despair and, instead of blaming themselves and their culture for their backwardness, they blame the outsiders whose relative success they envy. And when their despair erupts in rage it is (in the paranoid view) legitimate to attack the blameworthy -- "city folk," "honkies," Korean and Jewish merchants, "infidels," and so on -- because they are responsible for keeping us down.

Islamic Paranoia Writ Large

Paranoia is bad enough when it motivates (sometimes organized) mobs to kill, plunder, and destroy. Paranoia is far worse when it motivates leaders who command (or seek to command) the technology of mass destruction -- leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, bin Laden, and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad is perhaps best known to Americans for his "alleged" involvement in the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979 and for his utterances about the United States and Israel; for example:
The establishment of the occupying regime of Qods [Jerusalem]was a major move by the world oppressor [the United States] against the Islamic world. . . .

The Palestinian nation represents the Islamic nation [Umma] against a system of oppression, and thank God, the Palestinian nation adopted Islamic behavior in an Islamic environment in their struggle and so we have witnessed their progress and success. . . .

Our dear Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] said that the occupying regime [Israel] must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. We cannot compromise over the issue of Palestine. Is it possible to create a new front in the heart of an old front. This would be a defeat and whoever accepts the legitimacy of this regime [Israel] has in fact, signed the defeat of the Islamic world. Our dear Imam targeted the heart of the world oppressor in his struggle, meaning the occupying regime. I have no doubt that the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain from the Islamic world. But we must be aware of tricks.

For over 50 years the world oppressor tried to give legitimacy to the occupying regime and it has taken measures in this direction to stabilize it. . . .

Recently they [the Israelis] tried a new trick. They want to show the evacuation from the Gaza strip, which was imposed on them by Palestinians [oh, really?], as a final victory for the Palestinians and end the issue of Palestine. . . .

I warn all leaders of the Islamic world that they should be aware of this trick. Anyone who recognizes this regime [Israel] because of the pressure of the World oppressor, or because of naiveté or selfishness, will be eternally disgraced and will burn in the fury of the Islamic nations. (From a speech given in Tehran, Iran, on October 16, 2005, to an Islamic Student Associations conference on "The World Without Zionism.")
The Culture Clash and the Final Showdown

Ahmadinejad, like bin Laden, whips despair into rage, a rage that is aimed at the imagined "enemies" of Islam. Bin Laden, of course, has succeeded in turning some of those imagined enemies into real ones by attacking them. Ahmadinejad seems bent on following bin Laden's lead, but on a larger scale.

It is too late to appease such fanatics -- much as some Westerners would like to try appeasement -- because The West (the United States, in particular) has "insulted" Islamic fanatics in three fundamental ways: by the creation of Israel, by the "exploitation" of the Middle East's geology, and by the defense of Israel and those Middle Eastern governments that permit the "exploitation." Given that history, the only way to appease paranoid Islamists is for Americans to don the raiment of mystical asceticism, which might appeal to a select circle of self-flagellants, but to very few others of us.

What I am saying, really, is that a final showdown with fundamentalist Islam is inevitable. Most Americans did not understand the inevitability of that showdown until September 11, 2001 -- and many Americans (including most "intellectuals" and many politicians who should know better) still refuse to acknowledge the significance of that day's events. The doubters seem to be trapped in 1938, waiting for the UN or a Democrat president to announce "peace in our time," or in 1939-40, unwilling to believe that America could be the target of a fanatical ideology.

It is futile to hope that hard-core Islam can be deflected through political correctness (e.g., banning speech that might offend Muslims), diplomatic maneuverings, support for dissidents, or other such transparently weak responses to aggression, terrorism, and the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, such responses are worse than futile; they encourge what they seek to discourage because they display weakness -- just as displays of weakness on the part of the United States from 1979 onward encouraged the events of September 11, 2001.

The next stage of the showdown, if it is allowed to happen, will come when al Qaeda (or one of its ilk) acquires and uses weapons of mass destruction in Europe or the United States. The following stage of the showdown, if it is allowed to come to that, will come when Iran acquires nuclear weapons.

I repeat: The question is not whether those events will happen, but when they will happen if they are not thwarted by intelligence-gathering, clandestine operations, conventional military operations, and massive strikes against hard military targets (including nuclear "power" facilities). Force is the only thing that will stop Islamic fanatics; force is the only response that they will heed -- just as the Japanese, fanatical as they were, had no choice in the end but to abandon their fanatical ways.

It Is a Question of Will

We had better get used to that idea that war is the answer, and see to it that adequate force is used, sooner rather than later. Those who would use force against us will heed only force. Whether, in defeat, they will respect us or "merely" fear us is irrelevant. We are not engaged in a popularity contest, we are engaged in a clash of civilizations, which Norman Podhoretz rightly calls World War IV.

On our present political course, however, we will suffer grave losses before we get serious about winning that war. The Left (or the Opposition, as I now call it), seems insensitive to the danger that faces us. The voices of doubt and division are many and loud. They range from librarians, academicians and celebrities (too numerous to link), and hypocrites in the media to former vice president Gore and many current members of Congress (e.g., these), some of whom would prefer to impeach President Bush for defending us through a constitutional surveillance program than face up to the enemy without. Their preferred vision of government -- strength at home and weakness in foreign affairs -- is precisely opposite the vision of the Framers of the Constitution.

Ben Shapiro goes too far in suggesting "that Congress ought to revivify sedition prosecutions," but he is right about the likely effect of the Opposition's outpourings; for example:
Let us consider . . . the probable consequences of Gore's mea culpa [before a Saudi audience] on behalf of the "majority" of his countrymen. No doubt his words will fuel the massive tide of propaganda spewing forth from Muslim dictatorships around the globe. No doubt his words will be used to bolster the credibility of horrific disinformation like the Turkish-made, Gary-Busey-and-Billy Zane-starring monstrosity "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq," which accuses American troops of war atrocities and depicts a Jewish-American doctor (Busey) slicing organs out of Arab victims and shipping the body parts off to New York, London and Israel. No doubt Gore's speech will precipitate additional violence against Americans in Iraq and around the globe.
(Not to mention the media's constant re-hashing of Abu Ghraib.)

Thomas Sowell, as usual, gets to the heart of the matter:
With Iran advancing step by step toward nuclear weapons, while the Europeans wring their hands and the United Nations engages in leisurely discussion, this squeamishness about tapping terrorists' phone contacts in the United States is grotesque.

Has anyone been paying attention to the audacity of the terrorists? Some in the media seem mildly amused that Palestinian terrorists are threatening Denmark because of editorial cartoons that they found offensive.

Back in the 1930s, some people were amused by Hitler, whose ideas were indeed ridiculous, but by no means funny.

This was not the first threat against a Western country for exercising their freedom in a way that the Islamic fanatics did not like. Osama bin Laden threatened the United States on the eve of our 2004 elections, if we didn't vote the way he wanted.

When he has nuclear weapons, such threats cannot be ignored, when the choice is between knuckling under or seeing American cities blasted off the face of the earth.

That is the point of no return -- and we are drifting towards it, chattering away about legalisms and politics.
Which leads me to the ultimate question, which James Q. Wilson addresses in "Divided We Stand: Can a Polarized Nation Win a Protracted War?" Wilson concludes:
A final drawback of polarization is more profound. Sharpened debate is arguably helpful with respect to domestic issues, but not for the management of important foreign and military matters. The United States, an unrivaled superpower with unparalleled responsibilities for protecting the peace and defeating terrorists, is now forced to discharge those duties with its own political house in disarray.

We fought World War II as a united nation, even against two enemies (Germany and Italy) that had not attacked us. We began the wars in Korea and Vietnam with some degree of unity, too, although it was eventually whittled away. By the early 1990s, when we expelled Iraq from Kuwait, we had to do so over the objections of congressional critics. In 2003 we toppled Saddam Hussein in the face of catcalls from many domestic leaders and opinion-makers. Now, in stabilizing Iraq and helping that country create a new free government, we have proceeded despite intense and mounting criticism, much of it voiced by politicians who before the war agreed that Saddam Hussein was an evil menace in possession of weapons of mass destruction and that we had to remove him.

Denmark or Luxembourg can afford to exhibit domestic anguish and uncertainty over military policy; the United States cannot. A divided America encourages our enemies, disheartens our allies, and saps our resolve--potentially to fatal effect. What Gen. Giap of North Vietnam once said of us is even truer today: America cannot be defeated on the battlefield, but it can be defeated at home. Polarization is a force that can defeat us.
Let us hope -- against hope, I fear -- that the Opposition comes to its senses before it is too late.

Related posts: War, Defense, and Civil Liberties (a collection of links)