February 5, 2006

Where are we?

A friend writes...

Isn�t it despairingly self-incriminating of radical Islam that a cartoon depicting Mohammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban would trigger protests that involved burning, window smashing and, yes, bomb-throwing?

The Syrian Mufti had it right:

�Amid the furor, Syria's Grand Mufti urged calm, noting the demonstration had started in a "nice and disciplined way," but then turned violent because of "some members who do not understand the language of dialogue.�
It reminds me of the Catholic reaction to the De Vinci Code (mostly shoulder shrugs) compared with Islam's reaction to Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Dan Brown is walking the streets as a celebrated author, Rushdie spent years in hiding. These people aren't socially housebroken.
Without question. I don't know if this e-mail was a comment on my anti-cartoon posts, but I wasn't, in criticizing the cartoon campaign, saying that anyone was justified in throwing bombs, or attacking Rushdie, or whatever.

My criticisms are based on the assumption that we are at war, in which case it's fairly fruitless to discuss the rightness or wrongness of enemy actions. And a lot of the confusion on the issue is because we are not all agreed on what the scope of the war is, or who we are at war with, or whether we are really in a war! (Confusion amplified because some people will not honestly state where they stand on those distinctions. Cowards.)

And I'm also assuming that this is a war where much of the enemy block is really undecided, and potentially ready to defect and come over to our side or come out against us. And that the important issue therefore is not the rightness or wrongness of cartoons and protests, but what works, tactically and strategically. [Feel free to weigh in and tell me I'm wrong or crazy or evil. But please make your own assumptions explicit.]

What's on my mind at the moment is this post from Belmont Club, where he argues that the present situation has been like the Phoney War of 1939, which may now be ending...

....It is an old and familiar story [The Phoney War, and the rise of Churchill] which bears repeating because it illustrates how far leaders can be trapped by webs of their own making. Like the politicians of the 1930s the leaders of the West after September 11 each made their own calculation. In America's case it took the shape of thinking that it could make common cause with the most enlightened elements of Islamic civilization against fundamentalist extremists who were vying for Islam's soul. The strategy for achieving this goal, though reviled as simplistic, was anything but: America would not pick a fight with Islam itself....

...It may be that Europe's calculation was more cynical. But it was equally sophisticated. It would pursue a policy of Appeasement which like Chamberlain's was calculated to drive one nuisance against another, pitting America against Islamic fundamentalism in the hopes that one would wear the other out....Like the appeasers of the 1930s it paid for its diplomatic strategy by systematically weakening itself...

...Yet the cartoon crisis has been cruelest to radical Islam because it has upset the timetable for the slow demographic conquest of Europe. It forced the crisis before the time was ripe to win an outright trial of strength. And it has deranged the carefully crafted plan to hold Europe politically neutral while the Islamists concentrated their force on their most dangerous enemy, the United States. Unless the Islamists can reverse or at least pause the process of confrontation it will find itself engaged on two fronts, against Europe and the United States simultaneously

Like all historical comparisons this one is inexact. The world of the late 1930s can never be compared to the opening decade of the 21st century. Nazism is not Islam nor is Hitler Osama Bin Laden. But I think some valid correspondences still remain between the Phoney War and the period between September 11 to the present. Both are marked by an attempt to maintain a disintegrating status quo long after it became imperative to exchange it for a new model of relationships. Both are marked by miscalculation as political leaders find themselves struggling to overtake the tide of events. Both mark the end of the last boundaries between the familiar and the dark, unknown future. What did Churchill feel, one wonders, in those desperate days when he did not know the end yet went on?....[My emph.]

Now there's a lot to chew on! Do read the whole post, not just my quotes.

Posted by John Weidner at February 5, 2006 9:41 AM
Weblog by John Weidner