Ed Driscoll

The Strange Rise of the Accidental Asymmetric Warriors

Jonah Goldberg asks, “Is Michael Bloomberg to blame for the deaths of the 18 Muslim men in Indian-controlled Kashmir who rioted over reports that someone in America burned the Koran?”

Let’s think it through.

As I explained at length in an earlier column, I believe that the New York City mayor could have stopped the Park51 (“Ground Zero mosque”) project months ago, long before it became a national story. It would have taken some wheeling and dealing and a few phone calls. Instead, in his grandiose pomposity, he went a different way.

Even if you don’t buy that Bloomberg could have nipped this noxious weed in the bud, Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz is surely correct that this wouldn’t be nearly the controversy it is today if only Bloomberg had been capable of getting the “Freedom Tower” built in a timely manner.

Enter storefront pastor Terry Jones, who introduced the idiotic idea of Koran-burning to the American people. He clearly got his inspiration from the debate over the Ground Zero mosque. He chickened out, but not before he inspired others to do something similar. Two pastors in Tennessee held a private Koran-burning, and a New Jersey transit worker tore up and burned a few pages (and was fired for it). These acts, plus the media coverage of Jones’s planned stunt, sparked the deadly riots in Kashmir.

So, should we put Bloomberg in the dock? Recall him from office? Drop him, bound and gagged, into downtown Lahore?

Alas, no. While we should criticize him for his thumbless grasp of church-state issues and his megalomaniacal incompetence, he’s not to blame for the actions of others. And it isn’t fair to hold people legally accountable for the evil or misguided deeds of others.

And the same basically goes for Jones. His plan to burn the Koran was stupid, irresponsible, and repugnant, but it’s not his fault that there are a significant number of Muslim men who are not only ready but eager to riot and kill in response to insults to Islam.

If you deny this, you are basically denying the humanity of Muslims. We take it as a given in this country that not only are all men created equal, but that each individual is responsible for his own actions. Each man and woman is a captain of his or her own self.

To say that Muslims have no choice in the matter, that they must act like animals, is to say that they are animals. If you tease a bear and he kills you, your stupidity is to blame. If you tease a man and he kills you, the murderer is to blame.

Again, I think burning the Koran is reprehensible. And I could live with a local law that banned Koran-burning (and flag-burning, Bible-burning, Torah-burning, etc.) because I think communities should be able to set standards of decency. But that hardly settles things. It’s easy to condemn Koran-burning. What about those Danish cartoons of Mohammed (that Yale University won’t even reproduce in a book on the controversy)? What about highbrow novels like The Satanic Verses?  When Pope Benedict XVI delivered his Regensburg address in 2006, he suggested that Islam had a link to violence. In response, many Muslims rioted. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Later in his essay, Jonah writes:

When Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer was asked in an interview about Koran-burning, he brought up former Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous comment that the First Amendment “doesn’t mean you can shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. . . . Why? Because people will be trampled to death. And what is the crowded theater today? What is the being trampled to death?” [Fortunately, Breyer has since walked his initial ill-conceived comments back a bit.–Ed]

There are a number of grave problems with the crowded-theater cliché. First, you can — even must — yell “fire” in a crowded theater. It just has to be the truth.

But more to the point, fires are not human beings. Fire has no choice but to burn because that is what fire does. Humans have choices. Yet in this formulation (from which Breyer has somewhat retreated), Muslims are akin to soulless, unthinking flames. Taken seriously, this comparison suggests rational people have every reason to fear Muslims in much the same way they fear fire.

As the pundit known as “Spengler” recently noted, Jones is something of an accidental asymmetric warrior, in his ability to exploit the knee-jerk responses from both the MSM and the Islamic world for all they’re worth. But in a way, he was following, likely unknowingly, in the footsteps of Molly Norris, the woman who birthed “Everybody Draw Mohamed Day” before getting cold feet. At Big Peace, Diana West links to this incredibly flaccid response from the Seattle Weekly, her former(?) publisher when she went into hiding recently:

Norris views the situation with her customary sense of the world’s complexity, and absurdity. When FBI agents, on a recent visit, instructed her to always keep watch for anyone following her, she joked, “Well, at least it’ll keep me from being so self-involved!” It was, she says, the first time the agents managed a smile. She likens the situation to cancer—it might basically be nothing, it might be urgent and serious, it might go away and never return, or it might pop up again when she least expects it.

We’re hoping the religious bigots go into full and immediate remission, and we wish her the best.

“Remission?!”

As Jonah noted in Liberal Fascism, and we’ve discussed here from time to time, over the past century, much of the left’s Big Government agenda was sold to the public as “the moral equivalent of war.” But when faced with the real thing, Norris and her publisher invent a staggeringly weak metaphor to explain away the attacks they face. Or as Diana West writes, “Why liken it to cancer when it is what it is — Islam?”

Meanwhile, Time magazine, which has spent the last 50 years running covers asking “Is God Dead,” and more recently, running a photo of a hideously mutilated Afghani woman, and asking if 70 percent of their potential readership is “Islamophobic,” dismisses Norris’s efforts away as “a gratuitously provocative act.”

Gee, I missed the memo: has Time-Warner finally thrown in the towel as a center-left publication and brought back the ghost of Henry Luce back to run their namesake weekly from a conservative point of view once again?

No. Can you say reactionary, boys and girls? I knew that you could!

Or as Professor Jacobson has written recently at his Legal Insurrection blog, “I’m beginning to think Obama was right in his assessment of bitter clingers.  He just had it wrong as to location (big cities, not small towns) and the cause (loss of political power, not fear of foreigners).”

(And so much for that Adult Edition of Time the Onion recently assured us was on the way…)

At a minimum, I think we can safely mark a century and a half of the left’s mindset of “Epater Les Bourgeois” (“Shocking the Bourgeois”) as having concluded, at least when the intended audience is prepared to hit back, and hard.

Related: On the PJM homepage, “Truths About Political Left Revealed by GZM Debate,”Dennis Mitzner writes, noting that “Opposing the majority opinion has become the main function of the left.” Certainly President Obama seems to take a strange glee in almost always being on the 30 to 40 percent side of the ledger, when it comes to public opinion.