Monday, May 28, 2007

War Without End

[T]he nightmare of the Bush years won’t really be over until politicians are convinced that voters will punish, not reward, Bush-style fear-mongering. And that hasn’t happened yet.

Here’s the way it ought to be: When Rudy Giuliani says that Iran, which had nothing to do with 9/11, is part of a “movement” that “has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he should be treated as a lunatic. When Mitt Romney says that a coalition of “Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda” wants to “bring down the West,” he should be ridiculed for his ignorance. And when John McCain says that Osama, who isn’t in Iraq, will “follow us home” if we leave, he should be laughed at.

But they aren’t, at least not yet. And until belligerent, uninformed posturing starts being treated with the contempt it deserves, men who know nothing of the cost of war will keep sending other people’s children to graves at Arlington.

But would it fly? Of course not. The myth of the Bad Guys out to get us out of sheer malevolence, because they want to make us as badly off as they are, is too entrenched. It's rooted in the Christian tradition, articulated most powerfully in Paradise Lost and transubstantiated from theological dogma to political agenda during the Cold War. I remember what it was like as a child, imagining that the Communist world was a huge, prison camp, where everyone was under constant surveillance and masses of people in gray uniforms marched in lockstep to gray factories where they spent all their waking hours shoveling coal into furnaces: it was the conventional vision of Hell.

The myth remained intact after the Berlin Wall fell and it was inevitable that we would find some other Bad Guys to plug into the template. International Terrorism was it, and it was remarkable how quickly we were able to assign all the attributes of the Communist Enemy to the Islamicist Enemy. The Enemy wasn't motivated by ordinary human concerns or rational self-interest but by an insane sado-masochistic ideology so negotiation was impossible. The Enemy was out to obliterate all individuality so, just as we used to watch Soviet soldiers goose-stepping in parade, hoards of Chinese in identical pajamas waving identical little red books, we could watch masses of Muslims prostrating themselves simultaneously. The Enemy brainwashed its constituents by censorship, propaganda and the rote learning of ideological texts--the Marxist-Leninist canon, the Little Red Book or the Koran.

But, good Lord, who would have thought that Muslims could be plugged into that template? Muslims were Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, the Arabian Nights, sultans, vizers and harems, Omar Khyam, Saladin and Grenada, Casablanca and Il Seraglio, magic lamps, genies, golden domes and date trees--and, at their very worst, algebra!

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