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July 7, 2005

London's burning

Posted by Phil on July 7, 2005 2:29 PM

This is going to be inchoate, redundant, and probably not very necessary. Just saying.

I'll be honest. Part of me wants to tell the Muslim world, "These terrorists are your problem. We're coming to kill them. Get them in line, or you will all pay." Which is as immoral as their terrorists attacking our civilians, and obviously only increases their hatred and enmity.

However (7/8):

[I]t is essential that the Muslim world wake up to the fact that it has a jihadist death cult in its midst [that] is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere. Only the Muslim world can root out that death cult. [...] The greatest restraint on human behavior is what a culture and a religion deem shameful.


When Salman Rushdie wrote a controversial novel involving the prophet Muhammad, he was sentenced to death by the leader of Iran. To this day--to this day--no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.

Although I have many grievances with the things we do and don't do for our own narrow motives, I certainly want to see the Western ideals of freedom and democracy prevail. (For one thing, I like music.) My criticisms of our nation and our leaders begin and end with our failures to live up to our own principles. I firmly believe that if we adhered to them instead of compromising them when it doesn't suit some short-term goal, we would drain away the hatred that produces terrorists.

We're never going to defeat terrorism militarily. I'm certain that the course Bush has been on is absolutely wrong. He has given the terrorists exactly what they want: a battleground; American boots on Arab land; Muslims dead by American weapons. In Bush's last speech, he quoted bin Laden to the effect that Iraq is the battleground of jihad. How can Bush think it's good strategy to agree with bin Laden? If bin Laden is pleased to have this battleground, doesn't that mean something's wrong?

If bin Laden announces that the war is in Iraq, it is because he sees political benefits in it. Because this is not a military war. Bin Laden obviously doesn't want to or intend to defeat us militarily. He can't! He knows it! Those roadside bombs don't do any "damage" to our military effort, but they can defeat us politically. And today has shown, again, that the terrorists can turn anyplace they like into a battlefield, no matter where President Bush says the battle is. London is as prepared to defend itself against terrorism as any city you can name, so if it can happen there....

We have to defeat terrorism politically. We have to defeat it gradually, painstakingly, with generosity and respect. I realize how that sounds. It sounds soft. It doesn't sound like decisive action. It sounds like I want to give the terrorists therapy. I don't. But I want to give people who aren't terrorists no reasons for joining them.

We need to consider all the ways we fail to live up to our ideals, at home and abroad. Our disrespect for the environment. Our devotion to tax breaks for the wealthy while the government is in deficit. The inability of working people to afford health insurance, even secure housing. Our crumbling public education system. This is how we care for our own people.

As for the rest of the world, despite President Bush's strong, pious words this morning, we exaggerate our good works. In return for Tony Blair's support for our war in Iraq, President Bush is likely to refuse his request that all nations pledge 0.7 percent of their GDP to assistance for developing nations. Zero-point-seven percent. Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, among others, have made this commitment. President Bush declared today that America would "spread an ideology of hope and compassion"--but 0.7 percent is too rich for his blood. After all, that's five times what we give now.

It should be obvious now that this struggle with Islamic terrorists isn't going to be won with quick military actions and the miraculous creation of free republics in Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever else. It's a permanent conflict. It's never going away, it's never going to be won.

However, it can be controlled, it can be managed. A better analogy than "war" is "crime." The human tendencies to physically dominate, to steal, to destroy, can never be eradicated. All societies deal with crime, because some people are bad. But in a society that is just, most people resist the impulse to be bad. Most people don't even shoplift or run red lights. People in the Muslim world are no different. If we honor our obligations to a just world, the incidents of terrorist crime will be reduced to a level we can live with, as we live with our burglary and murder rates. (I won't broaden the scope of this post by exploring American tolerance for crime rates that are absurdly high compared to the rest of the civilized world.)

A decisive defeat and punishment for the evildoers would be very satisfying, but it's not going to happen. We have to rise above that impulse, because it is not the way to safety, peace, and security.