Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cult of Stupidity

In no other nation on Earth is there the same celebration of ignorance as in the USA. On continental Europe there is an aspiration amongst most people that you talk to, to improve themselves, to better their education and enhance their possibilities. Where someone is ignorant of a fact there is embarassment. In the US however those who study are seen as geeks or nerds, the unpopular kids who no one wants to be. Here an academic credit may be earned not just through study but other tasks such as helping a school with its fundraising. A television presenter with a degree pretends not to understand terms like "double whammy" because it is perceived as bringing her more in touch with her audience. In the US it is perfectly acceptable for a Senator to say that he hasn't read something which he is condemning, even if that is a piece of proposed legislation and it would seem reasonable to think it was his job to read it.

My concerns with the effects of this attitude are typified by the song, Have You Forgotten?. The whole Iraq/Afghanistan war and the War on Terror is a complex situation here grossly oversimplified. After 9/11 there was enormous sympathy for the USA across the rest of the planet, France's Le Monde newspaper famously declared "We are all Americans now" reflecting the sense of universal humanity and grief which was felt. Yes there were a few who produced anti-American banners and celebrated but they were generally as typical of their countries as those in the US who believe the President is controlled from Mars.

By its subsequent actions the US squandered all this good will. Many people opposed the Iraq and Afghan wars not because they had forgotten about 9/11 or didn't care but because the response was not going to be effective.

Politicians love buzz words and catch phrases. The "War on Terror" is a fine example of a meme which has emotional appeal but no practical meaning. You cannot declare war on abstract concepts. You can only declare war on a specific enemy with specific goals which are achievable. Now that may seem an academic distinction but if you do not have a specific achievable goal what you will be doing is pouring billions of dollars into a never ending conflict. Al-Qaeda is a many tentacled beast, not so much a single organization but a loose coalition of numerous subversive groups all with their own agendas. It is never going to be defeated militarily because as long as there is the alienation which drove people into extreme measures in the first place, for each terrorist cut down another will take his place. Indeed each Abu Ghraib photo provides a better recruiting tool for the terrorists than any number of speeches by Bin Laden.

Though no US politician will ever dare say it, there is only one way that peace will come with the Islamic terrorists and that is through dialog. Right now its unthinkable, and many would see it as an insult to the 9/11 dead, but there are many just as unlikely examples. Sein Fein is now part of the government of Ireland but was the political wing of, and very closely allied to, the outlawed terrorist Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). Some who are now Ministers in government were almost certainly on the governing council of a terrorist organization. Ian Paisley long time leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was such a fierce critic and enemy of Sein Fein he wouldn't allow himself to be present in the same building as one of its spokesmen, but he forced himself to make peace and work with Sein Fein to form a government when the people of Northern Ireland elected both parties to power. The number killed during the period of the Troubles in Northern Ireland actually exceeds the 9/11 death toll though of course these died over many years rather than on a single day. However the effect on families, the sons and daughters deprived of parents etc, the hatred towards those who caused their deaths, is no less intense. Nelson Mandela, almost universally hailed now as a man of peace and reconciliation was convicted as a terrorist by the government of South Africa. In his own words:

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

Now I don't disagree with Worley that there are things worth fighting for and being willing to stand up for what you believe in is a long-running theme in country music. However the Coward of the County did at least have the right targets.

Saddam Hussein was not a nice man. He was the latest in a long line of oppressive rulers originally supported and even trained by the US who subsequently turned against them, a list which includes General Noreiga. Saddam oppressed his people, was cruel and brutal and certainly deserved to the toppled. However Turkey which the US cultivated, since it needed a Muslim ally, is guilty of not-disimiliar human rights abuses. Now if the US wanted to take the World Policeman role, removing evil dictators, I would not necessarily be opposed, however it would have to do it consistently and there is a very isolationist strand in US politics which could never accept this. Invading Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. America may well have had unfinished business with Saddam but he was not a supporter of al-Qaeda and indeed the organization was not even present in Iraq until after the American invasion. In contrast al-Qaeda was operating out of Afghanistan though of the two conflicts this one received the least resources and troops.

Ironically the ultimate failure of the War on Terror was not a surprise to many people in America. There were experts in the middle east in American Universities who forecast correctly the many problems that would be faced and the likely negative consequences. However the Cult of Stupidity which didn't want to analyse the real issues challenged every dissenting voice as un-American and unpatriotic. The United States was founded on the concept of Freedom. The Framers of the Constitution went out of their way to build in safeguards against state control and tyranny. Challenging your government is probably the most American thing that someone can do. Yet the freedom of Universities to debate these issues in an informed way came under considerable pressure from those who styled themselves as patriots. Professor Brian Foley set out in some detail many of the issues involved in the American invasion of Iraq and why education was the best way to prevent it happening again.

Recently someone sent me an email regarding a stamp being issued by the US Post Office which celebrates the Islamic Festival of Eid. The email urged me to protest at this stating it was an insult to those who died in 9/11. More details of the stamp and some of the falsehoods in the emails about it are to be found at I find these emails and the attitudes of those behind them extremely depressing. One of the great strengths of the US has always been its ability to be the universal melting pot, welcoming immigrants and integrating its culture with theirs. In my experience Muslims in Europe tell you they are Muslim first and their loyalty to their country of residence is definitely second. Muslims here normally tell you that they are Americans first and foremost and proud of their country. It is that difference in attitude which has helped keep America safe. Until the Fort Hood shootings, which occurred long after the invasion of Iraq and may well have been a consequence, all the major acts of Islamic terorism in the US were perpetrated by imported radicals. For example the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi Arabian and Richard Reid (The Shoe Bomber) was British. American Muslims were generally not receptive to extremist propaganda because they knew what the reality of their country was and felt they were treated with respect.

Islam is a legitimate religion the vast majority of whose adherents are peaceful. Some of its attitudes and beliefs are challenging for Westerners to take, but it needs to be recognized as being where Christianity was 600 years ago, back when devout priests wore hair shirts and whipped themselves. Those who are sent off to die in its name are also victims; the victims of evil imams who manipulate the text of their holy book in order to achieve their goals and persuade others to die to enact their prejudices. Overcoming the instinct of self preservation is not a quick process, it requires the recognition of a vulnerability, the slow exploitation of that, carefully feeding propaganda over an extended period to the point to persuade a person to sign up for an extreme cause. Once motivated usually by anger and fear, the victim is sent for training, actually a period of extended isolation where wholly under the control and influence of the extremists they are fed a wholly distorted picture of the West, of its actions, motivations and threat, with no outside sources available to challenge it. In this way the trainers exploit the innocence and ignorance of their victims. Finally they are convinced that killing themselves in this cause is their holy duty and the only way they can protect their families and the values of their religion. It is one of the ironies that the American people and the suicide terrorists who are prepared to attack them are actually probably in equal ignorance of each other.

The Muslim festival Eid simply marks the end of Ramadan and a period of fasting. It is thus a time of spirituality including values like forgiveness and generosity, with the giving of gifts. It has nothing to do with celebrating terrorism. The stamp which caused so much controversy is just another in an already established pattern of recognizing religious festivals across the world.

A cold-hearted killer is a cold-hearted killer, whether they claim some religious justification for their actions or not. It would be more accurate to refer to the September 11 perpetrators as "terrorists who were Muslim" rather than "Muslim terrorists" just as the IRA could be called "terrorists who were Christian". The vast majority of Muslims around the world condemned the events of September 11th. Most American Muslims would be as horrified by a stamp honoring its perpetrators as those who sent these ridiculous emails. The stamp is simply respecting another culture. However all those who believed the emails and didn't bother to do any research of the facts before sending it on, actually helped the terrorists, making Muslims feel separate and disrespected. The xenophobic over-reaction which the emails marked showed the very worst of America and the very side which the extremists love to portray.

It is easy to be led down the path of gut reaction to events but we must let the head rule the heart. I respect both the US troops and those like Darryl Worley who go out to support and entertain them. It is the gift of all soldiers to us though that they do not question. They go where we tell them and do what we ask of them. We owe it to them to chose conflicts wisely so those that do have to lay down their lives do it for a worthwhile cause.


  1. A response made via Facebook and repeated here for completeness:

    Quran Sura 5:32 states that killing an infidel is not murder.
    in this context an Infidel is anyone who is not Muslim.
    I will not contest that the majority of Muslims are nonviolent people, but trying to say that suicide bombers are victems and that there is no precident within the Quran for violence is equally as false as
    saying that by bombing ... See MoreBaghdad we were attacking osama bin laden.

    The problem with resolution through conversation is simply that the other side has to be willing to talk.
    Realistically we need both to win. Training camps for suicide bombers cannot be allowed to peacefully go about their business, but
    high-handedly taking over countries like we did in Iraq will be equally unsuccessful.

  2. Within a religious text you can find whatever meaning you seek, which is one reason certain Imams are so dangerous. Jesus says that he comes to bring a sword for example. Christianity went through its Holy War and Martyrdom phase and we should not be surprised Islam is doing the same.

    Being a victim does not exonerate you of guilt. A sexual abuser does not gain a get-out-of-jail free card because he can prove he was abused as a child. However someone who is lied to, and has their weakness exploited is by definition a victim. The human survival instinct is very strong and overcoming it requires considerable brainwashing.

    Getting terrorists to the negotiating table does not happen overnight. It occurs only when they realize they will not achieve their aims by other means. There can be a military aspect to this, such as the destruction of training camps. However the solution can never be a military one.

    The Arabs are probably the best negotiators in the world. Bartering is in their blood and a key part of their culture. It is inconceivable they would not come to the table if they believed the offer was serious and they had something to gain.

    Ultimately there are no winners when a terrorist campaign ends, other than the people who will not now die in future atrocities. For both sides it is about compromise and saving honor whilst trying to extricate themselves from the mess they are in.