Friday, August 22, 2014

"What kind of people do they think we are?"


     Talk about spanning the spectrum. I had a column all ready to go, about a ventriloquist museum in Kentucky. But that really needs a photo, and just in case there wasn't room, I thought I had better have a backup, so wrote this, and then decided we ought to run it, whether there was room for the puppet picture or not. 

     A few weeks after Japan’s attack on the United States caught our fleet napping at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,400 Americans on a sleepy Sunday morning, our reeling nation, which up to that point had been a grudging ally to beleaguered Great Britain, was paid a surprise visit.
     “What kind of people do they think we are?” Winston Churchill said to a joint session of Congress, of our attackers. “Is it possible that they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them?”
     Of all the stirring phrases that Churchill uttered, that one question, for me, echoes most over the years: “What kind of people do they think we are?” It rang out on 9/11, and came to mind again this week when the brutal Islamic State entity that has occupied a third of Iraq and slain thousands posted a video of a black-clad terrorist standing beside the kneeling figure of James Foley, an American journalist. He was forced to mouth condemnations of America, demanding we halt our air strikes against the Islamic State forces. The video then shows his decapitated head resting on his body.
     And their thinking is .... that this brutality will cause America to stop fighting them?
     What kind of people do they think we are?
     Yes, sometimes we cut and run. Bill Clinton did after the Black Hawk Down deaths of 18 American Rangers in Somalia in 1993. Though in his defense, diving further into an African civil war was not a success strategy. Nor is sending our troops back to Iraq. “You break it, you bought it” might be a good policy for china shops, but it makes lousy foreign policy. We were right to withdraw. Pummelling the would-be caliphate from the air is the best of our bad options, and it must be working, or the Islamic State wouldn’t be demanding we stop.
     Speaking of which: The Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state. The second point of the video was to attempt, as terrorists often do, to tie brutality with Islam
     “As a government you have been at the forefront of the aggression towards the Islamic State,” Foley’s murderer says. “You have plotted against us and gone far out of your way to find reasons to interfere in our affairs. Today, your military airforce is attacking us daily in Iraq. Your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims. You are no longer fighting an insurgency. We are an Islamic army and a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide.”
     Uh-huh. It’s a religious thing. Who believes that? Have Muslims worldwide been leaping to endorse the Islamic State? No. These terrorists believe it, and, ironically, the usual cast of American haters do, too, in an odd kind of international symbiosis.
     “They’ve been doing this for hundreds and hundreds of years. If you study the history of Islam, our ship captains were getting murdered,” host Andrea Tantaros said Wednesday on Fox. “This isn’t a surprise. You can’t solve it with a dialogue. You can’t solve it with a summit. You solve it with a bullet to the head. It’s the only thing these people understand. And all we’ve heard from this president is a case to heap praise on this religion, as if to appease them.”
     Notice how she, too, draws in faith? She was only speaking for countless Facebook philosophers explaining that this atrocity is the true face of Islam, ironically echoing the same bigotry that inspires the Islamic State, an obvious falsehood. There are 1.6 billion Muslims, a quarter of the world’s population. If the Islamic State actually represented the faith, as they claim, seconded by the Fox nation, then few of us would have heads.
     It is a half-sly technique of haters to point to the worst of a group and declare, “That’s who they are!” Thus xenophobes catalog crimes of Hispanic immigrants, anti-Semites tar Jews for some Israeli blunder.
     But not to fall into the same mistake: Most Americans have done a good job of keeping separate things separate, no thanks to Fox. Hating is actually the easy way. It’s harder to hold fast to what we know about the worth of all faiths and all peoples.
     Or as Churchill said in 1941: “You do your worst and we will do our best.”
     That’s a phrase to hold onto. What zealots of every stripe can’t understand is that we are as passionate about our beliefs as they are about theirs. We are as certain that we are right and, if I may, have the advantage of actually being right. Those who hate would infect the world with hatred; that’s what they want, what they understand. We have to remain true to our ideals and not abandon them when invited to do so by true evil.
     “I hate nobody except Hitler, and that is professional,” Churchill said. Another useful motto from the statesman: “Hate nobody.”


4 comments:

  1. It's easy to attack the race-baiters at Fox, or note the obvious fact that nearly all of the 1.6 billion Muslims are not ISIS-like fascists. But there's a more difficult question about Islam that deserves attention. Is it different from other religions of the world in terms of a greater degree of acceptance of terrorists (particularly terrorists who don't target other Muslims)? Why was there so little condemnation (basically none) of Sudan when the Arab government was slaughtering and enslaving Christians and Animists? During the Darfur genocide the Arab League actually supported the Sudan government against efforts to stop the killing. ISIS attacks other Muslims, but when it's Boko Haram going after Christians in Nigeria things seem different: look at a round-up of Muslims that did condemn them and it's a handful of third-tier officials (http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/africa/2014/05/07/Muslim-leader-condemn-Boko-Haram-s-abduction-of-schoolgirls.html)

    Is it ok to be non-violent but still be hateful? Half of the world's Muslims according to the ADL are anti-semitic. In the Middle East and North Africa, it's 72%. http://www.adl.org/press-center/press-releases/anti-semitism-international/adl-global-100-poll.html

    Is all this because of geopolitiks and not something inherent in Islam? Quite possibly. Many have rightly noted that Christian nations have been even more barbaric, even in the 20th Century, and given that Islam is a newer religion it deserves more time for moderate theologies to become dominant as they have with Judaism and Christianity. But others have argued while there are violent and racist passages in the Bible the Koran is qualitatively of a different nature. Regardless, I don't think this discussion is comparable to "xenophobes catalog crimes of Hispanic immigrants" (unless they have some evidence I'm unaware of that Hispanics refuse to condemn muggers and sometimes work to keep them from getting arrested). Is it like "anti-Semites tar[ing] Jews for some Israeli blunder"? That's tricky - the overwhelming number of Jews ARE Zionists - they may not approve of all Israel's policies, but if a person wants to make a generalization that Jews basically are in alignment with the right of a Jewish state to exist somewhere in the lands of "Palestine" I think that's fair enough - the fact that there is a small minority who are anti-Zionism doesn't change that. MANY Jews have noted that there is something inherent in Judaism that promotes scholarship and that this accounts for the disproportionate numbers of Jews in science and other innovative areas. If this is true, why is it impossible for religions to affect other areas of life?

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  2. When you are dealing with "true believers" who kill others, a bullet to the head may be the only suitable reply.

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  3. When I was maybe 10 or 11, I found out that Winston Churchill was voted out of office by stupid ungrateful Brits -- how could they turn their backs on the man who singlehandedly saved the Western World? Later in life, I discovered a more nuanced view of the man and of the statesman, who had his hateful side too, though I have to say the most admirable thing I think he ever did was to blame no one but himself when he was stepped into a New York street, looking for traffic in the wrong direction, and was seriously injured.

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  4. Not a great deal we here can do to alter hatefull attitudes in other countries, but we should be grateful that Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison erected that wall of separation between church and state. The greatest tragedies occur when governments act on behalf of perverted religion or malignent ideology. Jefferson wrote "In every country and every age the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."

    Re Churchill, he was a wonderful war leader but headed a political party that was blind to the needs of a war weary people. During the war he headed a political coalition. In peacetime he became a retrograde Tory, believing it more important to hold on to remaining fragments of empire than to meet people's daily needs.

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