Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Saving Mecca

You see that teeny tiny white dot just to the left of the big square thing in the
middle? That's Hugh Hewitt throwing himself into the fray as a human shield.

THE SMART ONES. There's much to respond to in Hugh Hewitt's latest blast at Tom Tancredo. Most of what he argues isn't too hard to understand and can be responded to forthrightly. The bitterly emotional tone is more of a mystery, and so I'll save that for last.
Hugh is apparently outraged and offended that Tom Tancredo would dare to defend his remarks in print:

Congressman Tom Tancredo takes to the pages of the Denver Post today in an effort to resurrect his reputation. He fails because he doubles down on his absurd insistence that "bombing Mecca" ought to be "on the table." No serious politician in the country has come to Tancredo's defense, and indeed I have not seen any credible authority on war or religion endorse this foolishness. No serious Christian theologian can endorse what is obviously an immoral threat against another faith.

Hugh has a tendency to conflate governments with peoples, which will become more evident as we go. This causes him to be baffled by phenomena that are really quite easy to comprehend. Here he seems to be trying to position himself as either a "serious politician" or "serious Christian theologian." Perhaps he considers himself both. Still, he misses what should be obvious. Those who agree with Tancredo's attempt to expand the debate know very well that politicians are far too cautious and politically correct to agree publicly with anything he said. And no one expects a professional theologian to endorse a gritty tactic of warfare. It's their job to say, "no, no, we must be peaceful," even if they're speaking from behind the cover of a tank.

Tancredo is drawing encouragment from the small percentage of Americans who have fallen into the erroneous belief that all of Islam is arrayed against the West.

That's right. How small that percentage is and how erroneous that belief is are still open for debate.

Point number one. Tancredo's ego is really astonishing, attributing the widespread comment on and embarassment at his remarks to the veiw that they: "served to start a national dialogue about what options we have to deter al-Qaeda and other would-be Islamic terrorists."

Speaking of astonishing egos, one wonders whether Hugh is actually more astonished by the fact that something of a debate has been occurring -- at least here in his precious blogosphere -- despite his own blatant demand that no such debate be permitted. His words: "I want to be very clear on this. No responsible American can endorse the idea that the U.S. is in a war with Islam. That is repugnant and wrong, and bloggers and writers and would-be bloggers and writers have to chose [sic] sides on this, especially if you are a center-right blogger. The idea that all of Islam is the problem is a fringe opinion.  It cannot be welcomed into mainstream thought because it is factually wrong. If Tancredo's blunder does not offend you, then you do not understand the GWOT."

Uh, sorry, Hugh. We have been debating it. So Tancredo is merely reporting here.

Twice in the column Tancredo makes absurd leaps of logic in an effort to obscure the central issues of the morality or utility of a threat on Muslim holy sites. Here's the first: "[I]n this battle against fundamentalist Islam, I am hardly preoccupied with political correctness, or who may or may not be offended. Indeed, al-Qaeda cares little if the Western world is "offended" by televised images of hostages beheaded in Iraq, subway bombings in London, train attacks in Madrid, or Americans jumping to their death from the Twin Towers as they collapsed."

In fact Tancredo is preoccupied with attention-getting statements that play to the frustrated edge of the conservative camp that sees any denunciation of "political correctness" as an endorsement of their desire for blunt talk against media elites.

But not threatening Islamic countries and populations with the destruction of the places they devoutly esteem is not p.c.-generated double-talk. It is sensible respect for a vast group of Muslims abroad and a few million Muslims who are our fellow citizens from whom we must ask cooperation and to whom we must pledge a non-bigoted appreciation for their religious choices.

The jump Tancredo makes from Americans disgusted with his foolishness to al Qaeda's reactions to American outrage is incoherent. Really, incoherent.

Oh? It might be incoherent if mainstream moderate muslims had been as vocal about condemning al qaida as Hugh Hewitt has been about condemning Tom Tancredo. But they haven't been. And while we're on the subject of incoherence, Hugh's second paragraph in this passage certainly verges on it, and the next sentence, with its "not... is... not" construction serves to remind us which of the two is speaking more directly and clearly about the matter at hand.

In fact, Tancredo's logic is coherent; it's just not lawyerly. He's saying, look, people of their faith have assaulted major symbols of American life and they are reluctant to condemn the perpetrators. Meanwhile, we seem to be more respectful of their religious sensitivities than we are of domestic Christianity. Doesn't this make us look like saps in a time of war? Mightn't it give them an attitude adjustment if we started talking the way they talk? Two and two still do add up to four. The problem is, Hugh is working like hell to make two and two add up to three. Just because he thinks it's more prudent and helpful to make nice with muslims, he tries to declare any other kind of arithmetic indefensible. But there are other kinds of arithmetic. That's why it's good to talk about these things openly, not default to the position that we should be quiet and leave it all up to the smart people who know better.

The next incoherence follows quickly: "People have accused me of creating more terrorism by making these statements. Indeed, we often hear that Western governments bring these attacks on themselves." Tancredo's foolishness will no doubt be used, as was Dick Durbin's outrageous comparison of the American military to Nazis and Khmer Rouge, by propagandists for Islamist extremists. But Tancredo's attemp to hide himself under the wings of John Howard and other eloquent spokesmen who reject the dangeorus idea that the West is generating the attacks on itself overlooks Howard's --and Blair's and Bush's-- refusal to be drawn into Islam bashing or incediary rhetoric like Tancredo's.

On Thursday, Howard bluntly stated, again: "[T]his is about the perverted use of the principles of a great world religion, that at its root preaches peace and cooperation, and I think we lose sight of the challenge we have if we allow ourselves to see these attacks in the context of particular circumstances rather than the abuse through a perverted ideology of people and their murder."

Serious leaders in the West refuse to indulge the hatred for a different religion that is implicit in Tancredo's frothings. No doubt Tancredo and his supporters deem Howard, Blair, and Bush "soft" on terrorism.

Practically everything a westerner says will be used by al jazeera in its propaganda. (Note that InstaPunk was more concerned by what Durbin's remarks said about him and his liberal apologists than about the propaganda impact.) If the words aren't inflammatory enough, they'll be twisted into something that is. Tancredo is covered by the Blair/Howard defense. He didn't start the war on terror. He hasn't killed any defenseless civilians. He is exercising his freedom of speech, and he is -- we must keep returning to this -- voicing the thoughts of many Americans who, right or wrong, would benefit from hearing their ideas considered in the market of public opinion. The fate of an unexpressed idea is that it grows ill and malignant in the dark. Of all people, Hugh Hewitt should know this and accept that speech in a free country can be untidy indeed. It is the role of sunlight not censors to burn away the dross.

I also object to the imputation of "hatred" to Tancredo and his supporters. His remarks bespeak a mentality more Roman than crusader. The Romans didn't hate the constituencies -- religious or political -- that threatened the safety of Roman citizens. They were rather matter-of-fact in squashing the infant powers which undermined order before a rabble could become an army. They understood the potency of striking at symbols too. One can argue whether or not the U.S. should adopt a more Roman strategy to protect its citizenry, but to dismiss it a priori as hatred is a deceitful bit of cunning.

I doubt, too, whether Tancredo's most avid supporters think Bush, Blair, and Howard are soft on terrorism. They understand the politics that accompany the "religion of peace" rhetoric. What's different about them is that they're not afraid to ask whether or not this coldly calculated and executed policy is working. The questions we don't ask ourselves are the ones whose answers can prove most disastrous, because those answers come in the form of real consequences, not theoretical ones.

Tancredo then quotes a couple of extremist Islamists and/or apologists for such extremist Islamists before finishing with this flourish --a libel on every Muslim who has indeed condemned terror and especially on the between 5,000 and 10,000 Muslims serving in the American military: "In many respects, the decision of "moderate" Muslims to acquiesce to these actions and even provide tacit justification for them is just as damaging to global safety and security as the attacks themselves. Until "mainstream" Islam can bring itself to stop rationalizing terrorist attacks and start repudiating and purging people like Ali and Hajjar from its ranks who do, this war will continue. As long as this war goes on, being "offended" should be the least of anyone's worries."

This insult to every Muslim who has courageously stood up to Islamist terror should not be allowed to pass uncondemned by supporters of the GWOT. There needs to be more and more and louder and louder condemnation of Islamist terror from within Islam. There needs to be more and more cooperation from among Muslims in the identification of Islamist threats at home and abroad. But Tancredo's absurd hypotheticals injure that prospect. The Congressman needs to review the record, finding the good --not just the evil-- and praising it. He might want to start with the fact the Muslim community in upstate New York helped DOJ uncover and halt the operation of a cell there. 

If you were a Muslim, would Tancredo's outrageous speculations make you more or less likely to assist in the GWOT? Obviously the latter. After braving Islamist threats to help the authorities break a cell, you open the paper and find that your holy places will be "on the table" if terror takes another huge toll in the United States.

Not so fast, Mr. Hewitt. The answer to your question is not "obviously the latter." If members of my faith were responsible for murdering innocent civilians all over the world in the way that al qaida and its affiliates have been doing, I would not be surprised if the peoples of the victimized nations began grumbling about nuking the Vatican or Robert Schuler's Crystal Cathedral. And even if I had been fighting hard in my personal life to defeat the terrorists, I would still be aware of the lack if my clergy had been dragging their heels and hemming and hawing about condemning the crimes of  "renegade" parishioners. And if a significant percentage of my clergy had been guilty of fomenting the terror acts, I would feel compelled to begin fighting for access to a microphone so that I could rally others of my faith in a joint act of condemnation.

If you don't believe me, look at the response of lay Catholics to the pedophilia scandal. When the church evaded its responsibility, Catholics came forward as ordinary citizens to demand accountability and justice. As devout Catholics, they knew that the reputation of their faith was in grave jeopardy and that they had a greater responsibility than non-Catholics to rectify the wrongs.

Even you concede that there hasn't been nearly enough of this kind of action. The fact of a resistance doesn't excuse all those who stand aside and go with the flow. Was there a French resistance in WWII? Yes. Was France still a collaborator nation in the Nazi assault on Europe? Yes. Is it painful to point this out? Perhaps. But however painful it is to lance a boil, it's sometimes necessary to relieve the pressure and allow healing to begin.

"Being 'offended'" is not my worry.

Having progress in the GWOT compromised handicapped by a publicity-seeking Congressman is my worry. Handing propaganda to Islamists is my worry. Encouraging the wrong-headed belief that the world cannot be made safe until Islam is destropyed is my worry.

Here are some basic facts for Tancredo fans to ponder: "Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, counting more than 1.3 billion believers. Americans have the misconception that all Muslims are Arabs and that all Arabs are Muslims. In fact, less than 20 percent of the Muslims in the world are Arab, and all Arab countries have populations that believe in other religions. The nation with the world's largest Islamic population is Indonesia -- 88 percent of its 280 million people are Muslims. In the United States, Islam is the fastest growing religion, a trend fueled mostly by immigration. There are 5 million to 7 million Muslims in the United States. They make up between 10,000 and 20,000 members of the American military. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad is a Muslim Imam stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. In his chaplaincy, he ministers to all faiths."

Uh, there are a lot of muslims? We knew that. Not all muslims are Arabs? We knew that too. We also know that muslim nations, including non-Arab ones, have shown a distressing tendency to kill innocent civilians  in campaigns the U.N. really hates to classify as genocide -- notably in the Sudan and in Indonesia (East Timor ring a bell?). Al qaida and its minions have also committed acts of terror and, obviously, found cover in many other nations with muslim majority and minority populations.

I'm also not terribly moved by the citation of muslims in the military. They are American citizens and they've made their choice. In WWII, plenty of German-Americans and Italian-Americans went to war against the Axis. I knew a German-American who went to war against the Kaiser in WWI. Except for his accent, he was as German as they come, and to the end of his life he made free with such locutions as "Huns" and "Krauts." He knew who the enemy was because they tried hard to kill him. And if it's the religious angle you're primarily concerned with, American Catholics may have resisted the notion of bombing the Montecassino Abbey during the Anzio invasion, but bomb it we did to save American lives. War is not chess. It is, as the generals remind us, "killing people and breaking things."

The United State is locked in a deadly war with Islamists who would indeed use nukes against American cities if they could, or any other WMD for that matter. There are some states that support these Islamists, including the governments of Iran and Syria, and some of the elites in Saudi Arabia.

But there are also governments like those in Eygpt, Jordan, and Pakistan that are providing us enormously valuable assistance in the war, governements which come under huge pressure from their fundamentalist Muslim populations to stop assisting the "crusaders."

Tancredo made all of their jobs more difficult, and ours as well, by sounding exactly like a Christian jihadist would sound, even though it is clearly contrary to Christian teachings to threaten retaliation against non-combatants even in a just war.

This is where Hugh conveniently plays both ends against the middle by erasing the lines between nations and governments. Members of the Bush administration's policy team have to be punctilious about referring to governments as if they were fully representative of their people, but the rest of us ordinary citizens don't have to be. If we want to, we can feel and express the conviction that Musharaf of Pakistan is helping us in the war on terror only because he has to, and we can recognize that Pakistan as a whole is a hotbed of muslim extremism that contributes as much (or more) to terror as its government does to the war against terror. We can harbor similar feelings about Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc, because there's a lot of truth to the rumor that even the most supposedly friendly governments have subsidized Islamofascist propaganda to deflect criticisms of their own despotism into anti-American, anti-western, and anti-Christian feeling. If they are now being burned by their own bad decisions, it doesn't mean the fire they started among their peoples has been extinguished. Hugh acknowledges this when he concedes that such "governments.. come under huge pressure from their fundamentalist Muslim populations to stop assisting the 'crusaders.'"

Think about this. We're 'crusaders' because we want your crazies to stop killing our women and children? So, just who is it, Hugh, who's going to be moved and converted by your profound deference for their religion of peace?

I have repeatedly invited Congressman Tancredo on my show over the past week. He has declined every opportunity, and Tancredo fans have repeatedly asked me to "drop it." Well, Tancredo doubled down today, and his attempt to camouflage his inanity in a variety of ways does nothing but highlight again and again why he doesn't deserve invitations to GOP events or leadership positions in Washington.

By Golly, Tancredo has been summoned to appear before the Office of the Holy Inquisition, and he has refused to obey. Damn. Is this where all the heat is coming from? Think about it, Hugh. You've been more polite to the America-hating muslims than you've been to a Congressman who disagrees with your politics. Why should he subject himself to the inherently unfair format of a radio talk show hosted by someone who slanders him repeatedly? Why? Because you're somehow in charge of the all-important blogosphere? I don't think so.

"Supporting" Congressman Tancredo on this issue identifies you as an American interested in comforting noise rather than progress in the GWOT.

Now, for good measure, he wants to be clear that he's also slandering all of us. Thank you, sir.

I am sure I will hear --again-- from all the "realists" who want to quote the Koran to me and instruct me on how blind I am to the threat of Islam. Look, feel free to write me, but try and find at least one quote from a serious conservative on the American or world stage to back you up. Dick Cheney's pretty solid, right? So is Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, right? O.K., then, send me some citations to their Tancredo-like remarks. There's a reason they are leading and Tancredo is simply milking rage and anger for personal benefit. They are interested in the national security and victory in the GWOT. Congressman Tancredo is interested in, well, Congressman Tancredo.

Here we go again. We're only permitted to disagree with Mr. Hewitt if we can "find at least one quote from a serious conservative on the American or world stage to back (us) up." Sorry, Hugh. We're not the one who is pretending to be some kind of shadow government spokesperson. We're just citizens who happen to disagree with you and retain the luxury -- unlike all the "official" leaders such as, ahem, yourself -- of speaking our minds about matters that really do affect us. I am sure that even our soft-spoken conservative leaders would privately allow that we do have that right. Otherwise, they wouldn't be conservatives any more. They'd be autocrats.

A few final thoughts. I don't believe Mr. Tancredo has ever suggested that "putting Mecca on the table" was tantamount to waiting for Mecca to fill up with civilians before bombing it. In fact, I have a hunch his idea includes delivering a clear warning about how much time people have to evacuate the place. Bombing Mecca is in the category of "breaking things," not "killing people." Mr. Hewitt's repeated characterization of Tancredo's remarks as slaughtering innocent civilians is disingenuous if not dishonest.

Which leads to the question I posed at the start: why all the emotional bitterness? I hate to say it, but I think Mr. Hewitt may have contracted Blogger's Disease. He thinks he's in charge of something, something that Tancredo and his supporters have somehow violated by having and expressing an unacceptable opinion.

Well, Mr. Hewitt, you're in charge of your blog and your radio show. That's all. You're not in charge of us, and you're not entited to control what we say and think. It' still America, and we're pretty determined to keep it that way.

And just to be clear, I personally still stand by what I said yesterday.

UPDATE. More on Hewitt and Tancredo from Lump on a Blog, who seems to have survived his recent excommunication in good shape. Thanks for the link.
INCIDENTALLY. Here's an interesting link I received from RattlerGator. It may relate to this discussion only tangentially, but it's interesting in its own right. Thanks for the email, RG.

POSTSCRIPT: After reading Mr. Hewitt's outburst, I thought of this nasty old politically incorrect opus by that old imperialistic bastard Kipling. So I just had to share it with all of you. Without apologies.

OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, 
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; 
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, 
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!

Kamal is out with twenty men to raise the Border side,                                            5
And he has lifted the Colonel’s mare that is the Colonel’s pride: 
He has lifted her out of the stable-door between the dawn and the day, 
And turned the calkins upon her feet, and ridden her far away. 
Then up and spoke the Colonel’s son that led a troop of the Guides: 
“Is there never a man of all my men can say where Kamal hides?”                          10
Then up and spoke Mahommed Khan, the son of the Ressaldar, 
“If ye know the track of the morning-mist, ye know where his pickets are. 
At dusk he harries the Abazai—at dawn he is into Bonair, 
But he must go by Fort Bukloh to his own place to fare, 
So if ye gallop to Fort Bukloh as fast as a bird can fly,                                           15
By the favor of God ye may cut him off ere he win to the Tongue of Jagai, 
But if he be passed the Tongue of Jagai, right swiftly turn ye then, 
For the length and the breadth of that grisly plain is sown with Kamal’s men. 
There is rock to the left, and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between, 
And ye may hear a breech-bolt snick where never a man is seen.”                          20
The Colonel’s son has taken a horse, and a raw rough dun was he, 
With the mouth of a bell and the heart of Hell, and the head of the gallows-tree. 
The Colonel’s son to the Fort has won, they bid him stay to eat— 
Who rides at the tail of a Border thief, he sits not long at his meat. 
He ’s up and away from Fort Bukloh as fast as he can fly,                                      25
Till he was aware of his father’s mare in the gut of the Tongue of Jagai, 
Till he was aware of his father’s mare with Kamal upon her back, 
And when he could spy the white of her eye, he made the pistol crack. 
He has fired once, he has fired twice, but the whistling ball went wide. 
“Ye shoot like a soldier,” Kamal said. “Show now if ye can ride.”                          30
It ’s up and over the Tongue of Jagai, as blown dust-devils go, 
The dun he fled like a stag of ten, but the mare like a barren doe. 
The dun he leaned against the bit and slugged his head above, 
But the red mare played with the snaffle-bars, as a maiden plays with a glove. 
There was rock to the left and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between,         35
And thrice he heard a breech-bolt snick tho’ never a man was seen. 
They have ridden the low moon out of the sky, their hoofs drum up the dawn, 
The dun he went like a wounded bull, but the mare like a new-roused fawn. 
The dun he fell at a water-course—in a woful heap fell he, 
And Kamal has turned the red mare back, and pulled the rider free.                       40
He has knocked the pistol out of his hand—small room was there to strive, 
“’T was only by favor of mine,” quoth he, “ye rode so long alive: 
There was not a rock for twenty mile, there was not a clump of tree, 
But covered a man of my own men with his rifle cocked on his knee. 
If I had raised my bridle-hand, as I have held it low,                                               45
The little jackals that flee so fast, were feasting all in a row: 
If I had bowed my head on my breast, as I have held it high, 
The kite that whistles above us now were gorged till she could not fly.” 
Lightly answered the Colonel’s son:—“Do good to bird and beast, 
But count who come for the broken meats before thou makest a feast.                   50
If there should follow a thousand swords to carry my bones away, 
Belike the price of a jackal’s meal were more than a thief could pay. 
They will feed their horse on the standing crop, their men on the garnered grain, 
The thatch of the byres will serve their fires when all the cattle are slain. 
But if thou thinkest the price be fair,—thy brethren wait to sup,                              55
The hound is kin to the jackal-spawn,—howl, dog, and call them up! 
And if thou thinkest the price be high, in steer and gear and stack, 
Give me my father’s mare again, and I ’ll fight my own way back!” 
Kamal has gripped him by the hand and set him upon his feet. 
“No talk shall be of dogs,” said he, “when wolf and gray wolf meet.                       60
May I eat dirt if thou hast hurt of me in deed or breath; 
What dam of lances brought thee forth to jest at the dawn with Death?” 
Lightly answered the Colonel’s son: “I hold by the blood of my clan: 
Take up the mare for my father’s gift—by God, she has carried a man!”
The red mare ran to the Colonel’s son, and nuzzled against his breast,                    65
“We be two strong men,” said Kamal then, “but she loveth the younger best. 
So she shall go with a lifter’s dower, my turquoise-studded rein, 
My broidered saddle and saddle-cloth, and silver stirrups twain.” 
The Colonel’s son a pistol drew and held it muzzle-end, 
“Ye have taken the one from a foe,” said he; “will ye take the mate from a friend?”  70
“A gift for a gift,” said Kamal straight; “a limb for the risk of a limb. 
Thy father has sent his son to me, I ’ll send my son to him!” 
With that he whistled his only son, that dropped from a mountain-crest— 
He trod the ling like a buck in spring, and he looked like a lance in rest. 
“Now here is thy master,” Kamal said, “who leads a troop of the Guides,                75
And thou must ride at his left side as shield on shoulder rides. 
Till Death or I cut loose the tie, at camp and board and bed, 
Thy life is his—thy fate it is to guard him with thy head. 
So thou must eat the White Queen’s meat, and all her foes are thine, 
And thou must harry thy father’s hold for the peace of the border-line.                    80
And thou must make a trooper tough and hack thy way to power— 
Belike they will raise thee to Ressaldar when I am hanged in Peshawur.” 
They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault, 
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt: 
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,           85
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God. 
The Colonel’s son he rides the mare and Kamal’s boy the dun, 
And two have come back to Fort Bukloh where there went forth but one. 
And when they drew to the Quarter-Guard, full twenty swords flew clear— 
There was not a man but carried his feud with the blood of the mountaineer.            90
“Ha’ done! ha’ done!” said the Colonel’s son. “Put up the steel at your sides! 
Last night ye had struck at a Border thief—to-night ’t is a man of the Guides!” 
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the two shall meet, 
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; 
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,                            95
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.

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