Sunday, April 01, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #202 (April 1st, 2007)

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Sunday April 1 –

Okay, it's resident Blog & Mail poet Darrell Epp to the rescue with a religious topic. In this case he sent me print-outs from Private Papers, which would appear to be the online archive of Victor Davis Hanson's columns for Tribune Media Services. I have no idea how sensitive Mr. Hanson is to having his work reproduced without permission, so I'll confine myself to a few excerpts and TV Guide style descriptions.

December 15 – "Israel Did It! When in doubt, shout about Israel"

Some excerpts from an interview with Al-Jazeera editor-in-chief, Ahmed Sheikh conducted by Pierre Heumann, Middle East correspondent of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche. We really need more raw transcripts like this one to communicate the extent to which the Palestinian political position is really just pathologically anti-Israel. Just watch the flawed leaps Ahmed Sheikh makes in his sequential reasoning:

Sheikh: In many Arab states the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can a teacher do his job in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.

Heumann: Who is responsible for the situation?

Sheikh: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

Heumann: Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

Sheikh: I think so.

Heumann: Can you please explain to me what the Israeli–Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

Sheikh: The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

Heumann: In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

Sheikh: Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.

Hanson observes: This is utter nonsense, precisely because Arab detestation of Israel is a symptom, not the malady, of the current Arab crisis of the spirit. Ahmed Sheikh himself stumbled onto that truth. To gain the necessary maturity and self-confidence that would mitigate scapegoating Israel, the Arab Middle East would have to make vast structural changes in traditional Islamic society that would usher in freedom, prosperity and security.

In other words, new Arab consensual societies would have to create the sort of landscape that they see elsewhere in Europe, Asia, North America, and Israel when they turn on their satellite TVs and browse the internet – and understand that such success came from within, not merely from foreign aid or the accidental discovery of oil beneath their feet.

Ouch. I'd only qualify my support for this one by saying that what Arabs -- or anyone else -- see on TV isn't necessarily genuine success or genuine prosperity but a very seductive tinsel-and-glitter exaggeration of same which doesn't, in fact, actually exist as it is portrayed. Money can't buy genuine happiness whether that money comes from found oil wealth or from capitalism let off its leash. I keep thinking that there must be a way for Muslim countries to provide fresh food, running water, toilets that work, central heating and air conditioning, education and a market economy to the general populace without all of the "hell in a handcart" accoutrements that go along with it in the West. Can you have prosperity without vice, basically? Am I able to live a comfortable stripped down Orthodox Muslim life shorn of the tinsel and glitter and vice only because tinsel and glitter and vice is the norm rather than the exception in my context which is secular North American? I would find it really disturbing to think that that was true and equally disturbing to think that Muslims wouldn't attempt to find a way to make more comfortable and civilized living conditions the norm rather than the exception while retaining the largely non-materialistic and devout core aspects that make Islam so intrinsically different from the West.

January 22 "Club America". This was a good one. He points out that many of the same Arabs who loudly and vocally deplore the United States and everything about it also have most of their family living and being educated there. I thought it was an interesting thesis because it calls attention to the dichotomy between the Muslim politician and the Muslim family man. The politician has to adhere strictly to the idea that nothing is better for a Muslim than a Muslim country – the worldwide Muslim "umma" -- while the family man, wanting the best for his children and relatives, knows that the United States is a better bet than, say, Egypt or Syria.

"…the wide gap between what many in the Middle East say and do should be a reminder that much anti-Americanism is poorly thought out or mostly for show. Many who decry America to the press and cameras privately prefer to send their loved ones here to take advantage of our success brought about by secular education, gender equality, meritocratic democracy and the primacy of law."

Well put and I agree – except for the gender equality part. I don't think you can make the genders equal (see the Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast weekdays here on the Blog & Mail) but certainly we are far closer to treating men and women as equal before the law than they are treated under Shariah Law. We still have a ways to go with female criminals getting much lighter prison sentences and easier treatment than their male counterparts, but Rome wasn't built in a day.

February 5 – "The Ugly American" My favourite part of this one was where he takes a run at John Kerry for declaring "When we walk away from global warming, Kyoto, when we are irresponsibly slow in moving toward AIDS in Africa, when we don't advance and live up to our own rhetoric and standards, we set a terrible message of duplicity and hypocrisy": the part where he says

Remember we are at war [italics his] Kerry's criticisms are hauntingly similar to al-Qaida's own talking points. Both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have preposterously claimed that America's past inaction on Kyoto was a good excuse for going to war. In various ways, they have long blamed America for the spread of AIDS, and insisted that the United States is an international outlaw. When Kerry makes similar charges, it only enhances the jihadist propaganda, and weakens the United States in a war that is largely to be decided by relative resolve.

I agree. Obviously you don't want to censor anyone who wants to put forward viewpoints that offer aid and comfort to the enemy, but you can at least advocate that they not do so and try to get them to see that that's what they're doing. The same concern that I have with the 9/11 conspiracy theories. It's basically a bolt hole for every Muslim who doesn't want to admit that Muslims committed the terrorist acts of 9/11. Very difficult to make progress if you keep providing bolt holes like that.

Thanks Darrell. Those interested can check out more Victor Davis Hanson at


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