The Premodern Middle East and Postmodern West Don’t Mix, Mr. President
Globalization certainly did not bring the premodern world of the Middle East closer together with the postmodern West — despite Barack Obama’s 2007 narcissistic vows that his own intellect and background could bridge such a gap. If anything, the more we know about each other, the more we sense we are back to Lepanto and the siege of Vienna. Since the 9/11 anniversary attacks, the Obama administration has seemed bewildered, petulant, and more or less shocked in Casablanca-style fashion about the hatred shown the United States — whether overt among the Arab Street, or implicit among Arab governments’ wink-and-nod inability to protect U.S. embassies. It apparently forgot some basic rules about how to deal with radical Islam, and instead regressed back to the old familiar appeasement that led to 9/11/2001.
Mr. President, do not obsess over the pretext of the day. Terry Jones is only as crude as Andres Serrano and his Piss Christ, which I don’t recall warranted a personal call from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the artist to cool it, much less a federal effort to detain a Coptic filmmaker. Sometimes Muslims will rage at a Rushdie novel, sometimes at a papal reference to a Byzantine letter, and at other times at a supposedly flushed or torched Koran. Or maybe a grainy amateurish video will be set them off to kill a nun, blow up a priest, burn down an embassy, or assassinate a Western ambassador. There are three-hundred-million-plus free-thinking Americans, and thus at least that many possible “slights” — if you choose to go down that road of blaming free expression rather than the primeval mind that objects to it.
The opportunities for Muslims in the Middle East to be outraged at the West in general and the U.S. in particular are legion. You, Mr. Obama, the most powerful of all Americans, must remember that these totems are mere tools of an al-Qaeda, a Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic Jihad — or whatever the particular aggrieved party calls itself this week. They are no more than crude pretexts to direct fury among their ignorant and impoverished masses at opportune times against the United States, and thereby gain power.
In that regard, each time we castigate a Rushdie, a Danish cartoonist, a U.S. soldier, or a nut like Terry Jones, we simply play into the hands of the Islamists. The latter are thrilled when American grandees look weak, desperate, and only too eager to fall over themselves in undermining their own singular Constitution and distancing themselves from their own values. Far better it would be to say, one time — and only one time: “We cherish and protect freedom of expression and abhor censorship and violence; if that bothers you, it bothers you.” End of story.
2. The Sources of Islamic Anger
Remember the source of premodern Islamic anger. Why did the Zawahiri brothers, or the late bin Laden, or the Islamist of the week hate the West, and in particular the United States?
It surely is not, as their apologists plead, because of our “foreign policy.” We are enlightened compared to what Putin did in Chechnya or how Chinese treated their Muslim minorities. You, readers, know the American record better than do I: we graciously accepted Muslim refugees, even ingrates like Mohamed Morsi or the 9/11 mass murderers. We fed Somalis; helped to remove Gaddafi; freed Kuwaitis; liberated Afghans (twice); birthed Iraqi democracy; bombed Christians to save Muslim Kosovars and Bosnians; fund Jordanians, Egyptians, and Palestinians; and so on.