Friday, September 12, 2003

le parcours

A lot of stuff from Drudge:

At age 54, John Ritter is dead. Unbelievable. What's with this rash of celeb deaths?

Big-ass hurricane on its way to Florida. Watch yer ass, Arn.

Quick, quick-- Drudge has one of his "flash.htm" docs up-- an editorial from the Jerusalem Post re: killing Santa Claus. Read it before the link goes dead. The J Post requires registration, if I'm not mistaken. Interesting meatiness from the article:

If only three countries Britain, France, and Germany joined the US in a total boycott of Arafat this would not be the case. If these countries did not speak with Arafat, it would not matter much who did, and however much a local Palestinian leader would claim to consult with Arafat, his power would be gone.

But such a boycott will not happen. Only now, after more than 800 Israelis have died in three years of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, has Europe finally decided that Hamas is a terrorist organization. How much longer will it take before it cuts off Arafat? Yet Israel cannot accept a situation in which Arafat blocks any Palestinian break with terrorism, whether from here or in exile. Therefore, we are at another point in our history at which the diplomatic risks of defending ourselves are exceeded by the risks of not doing so.

And the central argument:

Arafat's death at Israel's hands would not radicalize Arab opposition to Israel; just the opposite. The current jihad against us is being fueled by the perception that Israel is blocked from taking decisive action to defend itself.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

But we already knew this, didn't we? Interesting question: what if this scenario were to occur today?

Just because the Swedish foreign minister was knifed to death, that's no reason to delay a vote on the euro!

Damn-- if we really did this, that's not a good thing. I wonder if Chief Wiggles'll be writing about this. It's kind of important. We shouldn't be mowing down the police forces we create.

Moving into the blogosphere now...

Some fresh and tasty Marmot to serve up today. First, a rumination on missiles and Yongbyon's weird cessation of activity. Next, some astute observations about neo-mercantilist bullshit.

The Infidel remarks on a Victor Davis Hanson post:

First, I don't like American military bases, period. They create too many diplomatic and political risks. Washington can't even sort out a fair base structure for the continental United States, let alone the world! Also, for the few minutes saved on deployment schedules, units become lazy, one-dimensional, and false props for a foreign economy. Let the R&D guys in the private sector figure out new and better ways to ferry troops around the world, and let the locals sweat the threats and save their own stock markets. I'm not troubled by the prospect of a few, poorer day traders in Seoul missing their lunchbreak obsession or public PC room owners losing deadbeat customers. NATO was an aberration, that lasted a long time, because the Cold War continued. Washington should not be allowed to get away with the lazy idea, that alliances are like federal institutions: no, short-term, single-issue, disposable. Asia is not Europe, either. No one speaks the same language, and everyone still wants to beat their neighbor. Militarily and diplomatically, Washington needs to think leaner, and save the vision-thing for the WTO. So, I agree with VDH, only without the sense of humor. And, absolutely, no patience for deadbeats, like Seoul. As a matter of fact, I'm declaring 2004 a single-issue campaign: what do you plan to do about Asia? Perhaps, I should limit this to the primaries, or I'll be voting for Mickey Mouse again.

I think the Infidel's on the right track. Force projection is something we're getting quite good at. While my own feeling in the case of SK is that we should move the troops off the peninsula but keep them somewhere close by (Mr. Cheney, may we borrow an undisclosed location?), the Infidel may be right to take this step further and advocate pulling everyone all the way back. I'll also note that the Infidel and I seem to share a desire to see actual cartoon characters in office, not their corporeal travesties.

Your thoughts on bases and force projection?

Peking Duck posts about a piece from Pico Iyer (enough with the P-alliteration, dammit) that asks America to get over 9/11. After all, it's been two whole years! The Duck says this about Iyer's piece:

[Iyer] contrasts the tendency of Americans to dwell on their grief with the old Asian tradition of acknowledging a tragedy, learning from it and moving on...

I'm not quarreling with the Duck here, but I think Iyer's got his head up his ass if he thinks Asians just forget and move on. Does this explain Korean and Chinese bitterness toward Japan? Does this explain the rumbling, latent Japanese militarism that never really went away? Come on, Pico. You've lived in Asia way too long to be making stupid claims like this. I think you're being rather selective about "old Asian traditions." Or did you mean, "old" as in "obsolete and no longer extant"?

The Duck quotes Iyer:

Whether out of pragmatism or real moral clarity, the old cultures of Asia, famous for their worship of ancestors, have often shown themselves ready to learn from their descendants.

To many on this side of the world, therefore, America's dwelling-- and dwelling-- on its losses of two years ago appears unseemly. The firemen who gave their lives in the World Trade Center are heroes to inspire the world. And most Muslims regard the assault of a few fanatics as a blot on their religion, not a triumph. Yet America, determined not to look up from the event and to keep brandishing its wounds before the world, looks at times like an angry child who lacks the perspective of his elders. When a troublemaker tries to provoke you, even schoolboys know that you get the best of him by turning away and going about your business. Each time the U.S. revisits its sorrow, it provides Osama bin Laden with another victory and lives down to the terrorists' caricatures of it.

This pisses me off. I've been feeling this way about the European version of this attitude for a couple years now: I fucking hate the relentless attempt to paint America as irrevocably juvenile. Yeah, there's plenty that's juvenile about American culture, but we've gone places other countries can't go because we're not quite so shackled to the goddamn past, where tradition leads to inertia. I don't see how a modern Europe that allows the ethnic cleansing of moderate Muslims (anybody remembering this?) and appeases its burgeoning fundie Muslim minority (France, Germany) contains any special wisdom from which we should learn. The same is true of so much Asian "wisdom," when it comes under scrutiny.

Then there's Iyer's "schoolboy" image. I think there's truth in it... until the bully gets up in your face and won't let you ignore him. Then what, Pico? We all play Gandhi and watch sadly while a few more buildings get rammed by jets? No, I'm sorry-- if pacifism is a yes/no notion, then I can't see myself as a pacifist. If you're arguing that America really has no right to feel the way it does after losing 3000 citizens in the space of a couple hours in late 2001, I've got two words: FUCK YOU.

The Duck's own comments about the ire-producing Iyer:

This is a controversial viewpoint of course, as in very, very controversial. But as I've said before, I wish Americans had a better knowledge of how the world perceives it, and whether I agree with Iyer or not, I know that everyone here does.

I can understand this, to some extent, but America is constantly made aware of how it is perceived. We're not quite the bumpkins we're made out to be.

The Duck:

And there seems to be a contradiction, or at least a complication, in Iyer's argument. While he begins by saying it is time we "get over it," he then indicates that maybe it really isn't that time yet, but Asia is impatient with our grief now because the US post-911 has been such an asshole:

Then another quote from Iyer's piece:

Everyone who suffers a terrible loss grieves over it and remembers its anniversary; not to do so would seem scarcely human. And in the case of America, which has been shielded for so long from terrorism at home, the 9/11 attacks possessed a force that more weathered cultures have forgotten. But the older cultures, having extended a hand toward America at its time of need, can reasonably feel now that the U.S., in its rage, has swatted them away. And the imbalance of the world-- whereby so much power and money lie with one of its youngest nations-- is compounded by that deeper imbalance whereby almost every nation knows more about America than America knows about every other nation.

"More weathered cultures"? I read an interesting response to this nonsense once. It went something like this:

Europe (to the US): Hey, we've been dealing with terrorism a lot longer than you have, babe.
The US (to Europe): And you're proud of that fact?

Being "more weathered" means you didn't apply yourself hard enough to the damn problem. One good thing about a merciless capitalist outlook is that we often think in terms of the bottom line-- i.e., results. We encounter frustration when we don't reach the bottom quickly enough, I'll admit, but the drive to the goal line (if I may switch metaphors in midstream) is the urge from which real and lasting achievements spring. I may be a nonessentialist, but I'm not stupid. Setting goals and striving to reach them isn't a bad thing. A goal like "making sure this shit never happens again on our soil" may or may not be achievable, but it's a worthy goal, and very likely to result in constructive progress.

The Duck's final comments on Iyer:

So is this really about learning from our enlightened Asian friends, or is it just another example of the ressentiment against America that's so fashionable nowadays? No, I believe Iyer is too intelligent for that. I think he's trying to underscore the phenomenon of America's ignorance of how "older and wiser" nations perceive us, but I think his argument is fragile. If it's this way five years from now, I'll be more inclined to agree.

Ressentiment is the French word for "resentment." I think the Duck's being too gentle here. Iyer, to my mind, is playing to the PC crowd and trumpeting an Asian enlightenment that simply doesn't exist. I'm not therefore claiming America has the monopoly on all wisdom; I'm merely pointing out a piece of wisdom that dates back to Jesus: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye." (Mt. 7:5, NRSV)

I think I'm feeling a little ressentiment toward ole Pico right about now.

Onward through the blogosphere...

The "get over it" vibe can also be found on Winds of Change. Here's the link to their link.

Look, in the end, we do have to get over it. And maybe this kind of public discussion about who and where we are is part of the getting-over process. Ultimately, it's healthier to move on, but what some of these people seem to be missing is that the basic American character has not been changed by 9/11. Quite the contrary, we underwent a reawakening, rediscovered some native passion, idealism, and even nobility, and are now in the midst of some deep reassessments. Given that Asians have decades-long memories when it comes to tragedies and insults to their "face," I think two years is a perfectly fair amount of time for America to mourn, to grieve, to get mad, and to remember. And by confining national remembrance to a once-a-year affair, we keep it from monopolizing the rest of the year. This is a very practical way to deal with tragedy, I think.

One line from that article reads:

It is time, and past time, for us to move on in the same way we did after Pearl Harbor.

I wrote a comment in response (with which you may or may not agree):

Before we moved on, however, we kicked a few million asses, then sat back to behold in satisfaction what we had wrought.

I don't think you're wrong to suggest we need to move on. As with any tragedy, attachment to grief is unhealthy. But is that in fact what we're doing as a country if we take only one day out of the year to remember something very big and very hellish? I don't think this indicates a nation in the grip of a tragic fixation.

I think some people want to minimize the tragedy because it happened so damn fast. I suggest visiting one of those websites that lists the names of all those who died, printing out the list-- then reciting each name, out loud, like a mantra or prayer. At the end of that exercise, when the reciter has himself walked every step through the garden of pain, perhaps the disaster won't look like a mere slap in the face.

So while I appreciate your sentiment and basically agree with the idea of moving on, I wonder whether a few points haven't been missed here, in the rush to that emotionally pragmatic bottom line.

Andrew Sullivan posts on the political and cultural divide made evident by 9/11 and Gulf War 2.

Frank J drops the humor and offers an essay he wrote soon after the WTC attack.

And now... Johnny Cash is dead!

I'm beginning to wonder if death is simply part of the human condition. I suspect it is. Celebrities seem to be confirming this regularly.

The Palestinians are riot-- uh, rallying for Arafat! I suspect that Arafat won't go quietly if Israel tries to push him out. What I'm waiting for is some discussion of what happens if Arafat is killed. The Jerusalem Post editorial I cited earlier seems to think that things can't get any worse, but there's always the martyr question: you can't kill a martyr.

An ABC poll indicates increasing American unease about the Muslim faith. If moderate Muslims react to this news with resentment and the other standard tropes of victimology, without providing a constructive, concerted, vigorous, public defense of their religion, then I think the current slide toward disapproval is a great wake-up call for them: we're in no mood for Muslim whining. I don't mean that vindictively, either. I think Muslims who call themselves moderates have a great opportunity to get out en masse and show the world they haven't been cowed into silence by the frothing fundie imams, mullahs, and other shit-eaters of their ilk. Yes, the burden of proof is on this group. If the moderates resent this burden... too bad. Meantime, the question hangs in the air, as it has since 2001:

Where ARE the moderates?

And spare me the Christian apologists for Islam. I know some; they're great people. But they're hampered by the fact that... well... they're not Muslim. (My closest friends will have noted a near-180-degree shift in position here, compared to, oh, two years ago.)

Oh, yes-- the ABC poll does note that one's opinion of Islam seems to be a function of one's ignorance of it. I'll grant this in a general way. But note how the ABC poll formulates the question: you're not given the choice I'd like to select: Islam is as it is practiced. As I've said before, it's not fundamentally one kind of religion or another. (Same is true for any other religious tradition you care to name.) In other words, there are violent Islams, there are peaceful Islams, there are terrified Islams, etc., and the borders between these aren't fixed. A lot of people think Buddhism's a religion of peace-- Naive Person, meet Sri Lanka. Meet Chinese, Japanese, and Korean history.

The title of the ABC poll, if you follow this link, is "Critical Views of Islam Grow Amid Continued Unfamiliarity." This seems to blame the American public for continued willful ignorance. If so, then who the hell is buying up all those books on Islam? The same five cloistered Scientologists? I thought we were doing quite a job, as a country, of educating ourselves about Islam.

This was, in fact, one of the most admirable reactions we had to the 9/11 disaster: our desire to learn more about this fast-growing religion. Unlike the assholes in certain countries and territories who shall remain nameless, we weren't rioting in the streets in million-man crowds, firing our deer rifles and BB guns in the air in a show of redneck bravado (Chief Wiggles long ago noted that mass celebratory gunfire in Iraq usually produces around 50 random casualties each time it erupts... bullets do come back down). And I know for a fact that many of the authors of Islam-related books are in some way affiliated with organizations like Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding-- i.e., these are experts who don't represent extreme, fundamentalist points of view. Even Bernard Lewis, at his most critical, manifests a deep love and respect for Muslim religion and culture. Barnes and Noble hasn't become the purveyor of anti-Muslim extremism. Balanced resources on Islam are out there, they're hot these days, and people are buying.

So I question the implication that there's a nationwide campaign of willful ignorance. In fact, careful readings of the available research may very well have led some folks to adopt a not-so-idealistic opinion of Islam as a whole, especially once it became clear that the Muslim world is more variegated than the alarmist "they're all terrorists" and the Pollyanna "Islam is first and foremost a religion of peace."

Visit the GU CMCU resources page. I may be scanning this in more depth myself. It's link-rich (some pubs require Adobe Acrobat Reader to view) and might contain answers to some of my own personal questions about Islam. And yours, too.

All this Islam talk brings me to the guy behind MuslimPundit, Adil Farooq. He's blogging more extensively on Winds of Change (see left margin for link; this is a very informative site) than on his own blog, I think. Here's an excerpt from his very first Winds of Change post:

Although my background training is in economics and maths, my interests also extend to history and religion, especially when relating to questions of Islam. Needless to say, the main reason for this interest owes to the resurgence of local and global Islamism that has especially come to light after September 11. I have often encountered strident Islamists in the past, and have increasingly become intrigued by the remarkable power this political ideology wields over its adherents, who otherwise seem to be normal, even rational people. The outward behavioural paradoxes that one frequently observes in these Muslims suggest that Islamism is able to tap into something deep into the behavioural psyche. One of my jobs, as I see it, is not simply to help shed some light on these paradoxes, but, most importantly, to learn from others who know more about this than me. Joining the intrepid Wind of Change.NET team allows me to spend more time exploring this fascinating area.

Another reason for my interest in this immense subject owes to the damning behaviour displayed by a disproportionate number of Muslims in response to September 11, and their ambivalent responses to issues of terrorism towards non-Muslims and the spread of totalitarian ideologies in general. Exploring the implications of such behaviour will be another issue that I hope to learn more about while I am here. By the way, you won't find apologetic tracts unconditionally excusing aspects of Muslim culture here. I find such self-pity to be beneath contempt and irredeemably fallacious; I don't support it, and I don't excuse it. Indeed, my first name, in Arabic, means "to be just, honest", and my surname means "one who distinguishes between good and evil". Assuredly, they are not pseudonyms. My parents gave me this name in the hope that I would live up to it, and I fully intend to see it through, even if Muslims elsewhere don't. Nothing to me is more sacred.

Farooq may be an example of a new public voice, at least in the realm of the blogosphere, and the fact that he's now part of the Winds of Change team means his voice will be heard by more people. I sometimes wonder if the blogosphere isn't a bit inbred, what with all the inter-referentiality, but if Steven Den Beste can break out and get an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Farooq may find his audience will include people other than us bloggers. That's good news.

And maybe the blogosphere is a great inroad for Muslim moderates in general. I hope that this will eventually translate to Muslim faces on TV-- people earnestly and constantly decrying terrorist violence-- but blogging is a start.

OK, enough Islam for the moment.

Some new additions to the blogroll:

1. The other Koreabloggers keep talking about oranckay and Seeing Eye Blog. These two, plus Drambuie Man, are now on the blogroll.

2. The Middle East Times, a paper out of Egypt, was a find from the GU CMCU site.

3. The GU Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding is now part of the blogroll. I feel this site is therapy for me; my own feelings about Islam have darkened, especially since 9/11. This is, fortunately, or unfortunately, reinforced by the dim view many Zen masters seem to take of Islam. I can't blame the Zen masters for my own opinion, but do have to note they provide a perhaps too-friendly ambience for people in my position, i.e., people feeling a measure of ressentiment toward an entire religious tradition.

I thought about making MuslimPundit part of the blogroll, but Mr. Farooq doesn't blog that often on his own site, and I'm already visiting Winds of Change daily.

The Maximum Leader opines on September 11 and writes an in memoriam to Johnny Cash. He also links to a Neocon quiz.

In the name of Allah, the compassionate and merciful...

No comments: