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29 September 2001

Our current howler (part IV): Jihad this

Synopsis: It’s time to have a grown-up discourse. Will holy warriors like Malkin permit one?

Terror in America
Robert Fisk, The Nation, 10/1/01

Attacks on U.S. Challenge the Perspectives of Postmodern True Believers
Edward Rothstein, The New York Times, 9/22/01

Media coverage at its best
Brent Bozell, The Washington Times, 9/25/01

Now that we’ve decided to put Gary Condit aside and talk about things that actually matter, how can we have a productive debate—one that might serve the national interest? One thing can be said with certainty; we will not have a productive debate by engaging in domestic jihad—by roaming the countryside looking for voices to demonize, distort and silence. But that impulse has been abroad in the land since September 11. It started quickly, on September 12, with widespread attacks on Peter Jennings for things which he didn’t even say. (Again we applaud the MRC for laying this jihad to rest. See postscript.) Then, an idiot Houston talk show host heard Bill Maher say something he didn’t like; more than a week later, talk show shows still waste our time debating this pointless topic. On Tuesday, Michelle Malkin took the jihad to the next level; desperate to find domestic targets whom she could try to cow into silence, she used her nationally syndicated column to complain about a lone high school student, who’d been quoted in a minor newspaper. The fact is, almost no one supports the practice of flying planes into crowded buildings; at the present time, there is little dissent abroad in the land. But the love of jihad exists worldwide—it bubbles up from the human soul—and our own fanatics are now at work, looking under every bed, trying to find voices to stifle.

Others have taken a slightly different tack; they’ve looked for voices to oversimplify and trivialize. Consider, for example, an article written by Edward Rothstein in the September 22 New York Times. Rothstein—speaking endless, incomprehensible twaddle about "postmodernism" and "postcolonialism"—offered mini-critiques of various recent articles, including one from the October 1 Nation.

This piece was written by Robert Fisk. Fisk hardly cheered on this month’s bombers; indeed, in his opening paragraph, he wrote that "those who claim to represent a crushed, humiliated population [have] struck back with the wickedness and awesome cruelty of a doomed people." He described Osama bin Laden’s "frightening dedication to destroying American power," and said "there is no doubting the utter, indescribable evil of what has happened in the United States" (on September 11). He also said that, "in the hours that followed the September 11 annihilation, I began to remember those other extraordinary assaults upon the United States and its allies, miniature now by comparison with yesterday’s casualties." Later, he took time to criticize "Saddam Hussein and the other grotesque dictators" of the region. He criticizes Palestinian celebrations of the bombings. In short, the presumed perpetrators of this month’s deeds were described as cruel, grotesque, indescribably evil and wicked. In most places, this would almost surely count as a rejection of the recent assaults.

But Fisk also expressed a broader perspective. At the close of his piece, he recalled a personal experience:

FISK: Eight years ago, I helped make a television series that tried to explain why so many Muslims had come to hate the West. Now I remember some of those Muslims in that film, their families burnt by American-made bombs and weapons. They talked about how no one would help them but God…

Earlier, Fisk had explored some of the background to this month’s "indescribably evil" events. In the desire for fairness, we’ll quote at some length:

FISK: And yes, Osama bin Laden comes to mind—his money, his theology, his frightening dedication to destroying American power. I have sat in front of bin Laden as he described how his men helped to destroy the Russian Army in Afghanistan and thus the Soviet Union [see Fisk, September 21, 1998]. Their boundless confidence allowed them to declare war on America. But this is not really the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about US missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia—paid and uniformed by America’s Israeli ally—hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps.

No, there is no doubting the utter, indescribable evil of what has happened in the United States. That Palestinians could celebrate the massacre of thousands of innocent people is not only a symbol of their despair but of their political immaturity, of their failure to grasp what they had always been accusing their Israeli enemies of doing: acting disproportionately. All the years of rhetoric, all the promises to strike at the heart of America, to cut off the head of "the American snake" we took for empty threats. How could a backward, conservative, undemocratic and corrupt group of regimes and small, violent organizations fulfill such preposterous promises? Now we know.

According to Fisk, many Muslims hate the West in part due to past American actions. According to Fisk, that helps explain why many Muslims may have sympathized with his month’s "indescribable evil."

Is Fisk right or wrong in that view? At THE HOWLER, we don’t really know. We have spent our past four years critiquing the press corps’ major obsessions—Clinton’s blow jobs, Gore’s earth tones, and the love life of an obscure House member. Like most Americans, we at THE HOWLER don’t have well-informed views on the history of the Middle East. But if we’re going to be big grown-ups now, we have to examine a wide range of theories. We have to sort through work like Fisk’s, and determine what’s right and what’s wrong.

Are we grown-up enough to do it? Here was Rothstein’s hopeless summary of Fisk’s work in the Times:

ROTHSTEIN: In last week’s issue of The Nation, for example, one writer, after condemning the "indescribable evil" of the attack, says, "This is not really the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe." The terrorist attacks, he suggests, were a result of injustices caused by the West.

Rothstein seemed to call Fisk’s piece an example of writing in which "Western imperial behavior is seen as the fundamental cause of terrorism." Fisk doesn’t make that claim in his piece, but the impulse Rothsein exhibits here has been widely visible in the past few weeks. It doesn’t matter how clearly a writer condemns this month’s attacks as "indescribably evil." If a writer even suggests that western conduct has played any role in developing hostile attitudes in the region, the writer will be quickly dismissed as having "blamed America first."

Readers, now that we’ve put aside Gary and Chandra, are we prepared to act like grown-ups? Domestic warriors like the hapless Malkin are trying to stamp out dissent. Other writers seem eager to trivialize all criticism of past U.S. policy. American democracy is poorly served by the reptilian impulses that drive these critiques. Our democracy does work best, boys and girls, when we sift through a wide range of viewpoints.

Last week, we said that lefties should stop micro-nitpicking Bush, and righties should stop yelling "liberal bias" at every juncture. In the past week, Bush has clearly been treated quite fairly. But will Malkin and her holy warriors let dissenting voices be heard? At times of stress, a tiny voice from the reptilian cortex instructs some people to stamp out dissent. Warriors like Malkin will march to its tune. If we want to have a vibrant democracy—one in which wise decisions are made—when our holy warriors get their jihad in gear, we others should tell them to stuff it.

Bozell gets it right: Last Tuesday, Malkin and her holy warriors made a joke of the Washington Times’ op-ed pages (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/25/01). But Brent Bozell did much better. Bozell, from the Media Research Counsel, is ever alert for "liberal bias." But last Tuesday, Bozell argued against his normal base, praising the mainstream media for its coverage in the wake of the September 11 bombings.

At THE HOWLER, we tend to agree with Bozell about Hollywood, and almost always disagree with him about Washington. We think it’s impressive that Bozell has been willing to argue against his partisan instincts this week. Some others, like the grisly Malkin, have gone marching off to a dumb holy war. But, perched above her on the Times’ op-ed page, Brent Bozell, playing fair, go it right.

To read the MRC’s full analysis of Peer Jennings, you know what to do. Just click here.

To read Malkin’s latest, just click here. Prepare to find yourself astounded by this young writer’s ugly bad judgment.


The Daily update (9/29/01)

Ryan to the rescue: Frederick J. Ryan has again pulled Politically Incorrect from the air in Washington. On Wednesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer—engaging in his usual passive aggression—said that he hadn’t read the transcript of Bill Maher’s September 17 remarks, but then went ahead and condemned them anyway. The very brave Ryan pulled the show off Washington’s WJLA (channel 7) that night. In this morning’s Washington Post, Ryan is at last explains his act. In a letter, he condemns Maher’s remarks. In part, Ryan says this:

RYAN: As the nation mourns the loss of innocent airline passengers and office workers, we reject Mr. Maher’s view that the fanatics who took their lives were anything more than despicable cowards.

Every sensible person thanks Ryan for shielding us from such remarks.

But we all must stand behind Frederick J. Ryan as he battles to silence those views he abhors. His war on thought will be a long one. Who else will he have to ban from the air? For one example, he will have to hunt down a very dangerous conservative, Charles Krauthammer. On September 12, the very dangerous man said this in the Washington Post:

KRAUTHAMMER: This is a formidable enemy. To dismiss it as a bunch of cowards perpetrating senseless acts of violence is complacent nonsense. People willing to kill thousands of innocents while they kill themselves are not cowards. They are deadly, vicious warriors and need to be treated as such. Nor are their acts of violence senseless. They have a very specific aim: to avenge alleged historical wrongs and to bring the great American satan to its knees.

We hope that you will back "Fred" Ryan as he keeps Charles Krauthammer off our air. But Ryan will also have to watch out for conservative Mona Charen. On September 17, Charen insulted the nation in the pages of the Washington Times:

CHAREN: At first, [Bush] called the terrorists "cowards." They are not. Marinated in hatred so intense that it can revel in mass murder, they are willing to give their own lives for their cause. Cowards wouldn’t be nearly so frightening.

Bob Kerrey will also be dragged to the camps. Surely Ryan would never dream of exposing viewers to his corrupt outlook:

TODD PURDUM, New York Times, 9/15: Mr. Kerrey, a combat veteran of Vietnam, also pointed out the psychological challenge for leaders and a public that have been quick to denounce the attacks as the work of cowards or madmen.

"I condemn it morally, and I do think it was cowardly," Mr. Kerrey said. "But physically, it was the opposite of cowardly, and if you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand the intensity of the cause and then you’re papering over one of the most important things."

According to this running dog, Ryan is "papering over" the situation. Please ban him! Ryan will also have to keep careful watch for editorial writers from various newspapers. For example, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette dared say this on September 16:

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: For years, Americans have been sleepwalking through the war on terrorism. We’ve been a Gulliver bound more by our own illusions than by the cords of the Lilliputians. Rule No. 2 for success in war is to know your enemy. (Rule No. 1 is to know yourself.) We break Rule No. 2 whenever we refer to "cowardly" terrorists or "senseless" acts of terrorism.

Our enemies are no more cowards than the Nazis were. They are brave, resourceful, fanatically determined, well trained, well organized, and well equipped.
They are possessed, as the Nazis were, of a viciousness and cruelty we can barely fathom. That makes them evil. But it doesn't make them yellow.

Ryan will also have to exile conservative Dinesh D’Souza, who raised the issue on Maher’s show, and Arianna Huffington, who has written that she agrees with Maher’s statement. And then he’ll have to hurry along to silence other views that upset him.

In short, many people expressed the view that Frederick J. Ryan wants to keep off our air. (We have conducted a cursory search. Ryan will have to search better.) The War on Thought will be long and hard; Ryan can’t hope to succeed without us. Ryan is now keeping D.C. from viewing Bill Maher. But will we help him protect us from others?