Understanding Ourselves and Role of Media

Richard Brookhiser, in National Review, gives his five year perspective since 9/11, on the ongoing War vs. Islamo-fascism and has fascinating thoughts about the inevitability of our own divisiveness.  He also considers the role of alternative media and patience.

Excerpts: I knew, from the first week after 9/11, possibly the first day, that I was seeing the rest of my life. The suddenness of my conviction was due to a big thing (the shock of being in Manhattan, watching the Trade Towers smoke and smelling them after they fell) and a small thing (the fact that I happened to be reading Winston Churchill’s Marlborough: His Life and Times, which, whatever its limitations as history or biography, accustoms you to long wars). The circumstances, as they became clearer over the months and years, bore the conviction out. Islamic fascism is a cult watered by frustration and cultivated by political actors, mostly Saudi and Iranian, with access to immense wealth. None of these factors will change easily.

Older Americans remember, and their children romanticize, the national unity of World War II — the good war, fought by the greatest generation. These feelings characterized every major American war from 1898 to 1950. Quarrels occurred before and after the fighting, but while it lasted we pulled together. Such unity, however, was an aberration in our history. The American Revolution and the Civil War were civil wars; the War of 1812 almost became one. Even the Mexican War was opposed by an angry minority, including John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln. Vietnam returned us to the norm. After 9/11 everyone put out flags, and the Taliban regime fell so quickly there was hardly time for protest, though R.W. Apple raised the flag of quagmire. …

Our goal, besides weathering the din, must be to hate each other as little as possible. …but we need a measure of sanity if only because a long series of wars will have to be commanded by both Republicans and Democrats. When each party is on the outs, it will attack the other for political advantage — a base motive, but possibly hopeful too, since when the carper wins office his views may change.

What’s that smell? Is it anti-Semitism? For someone who moved to New York almost 30 years ago, the current position of Jews and Israel is astonishing. ..Now “neocon” means “hook-nosed warmonger” (Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are not hook-nosed, of course, but wasn’t it ever the neocon’s way to use front men?). Israel is called, not in Pravda or al-Ahram, but by France’s ambassador to Britain, the “shitty little country.” Anti-Semitism has the appeal of the shortcut, in the moments when we wonder if we couldn’t end it all by just giving the enemy what it wants. It is a delusive shortcut, since the enemy wants so much more than Tel Aviv. Anti-Semitism in this country is not likely to reach the levels of Europe or the Middle East; there are too many evangelicals here for that. Instead it will be confined to academics, diplomats, and journalists.

It will be impossible to control the press either by imposing secrecy or appealing to patriotism. Some of the press wants American defeat, or jihadist victory (different, if related, desires). Most of it wants all stories, all the time. When Indian nationalists asked George Bernard Shaw what they could do to throw off the British yoke, he told them, Do their work better. Frivolous advice to the Indians perhaps; the only possible advice to supporters of the Terror War. If the press is ignoring certain stories, then other outlets have to push them: Blogs are a great help. Meanwhile the government has to communicate, fight for the language, present a counter narrative. Above all it must do everything it can to introduce the vexing institution of journalism into the Middle East. We live in Babel; the ordinary Muslim lives in a loudspeaker that tells him what he wants to hear, or what his masters want him to hear. The best treatment for the ills that the press causes in free countries is universal infection.

…Our institutions and our emotions are one thing. What about other peoples’? Start with our friends — and our “friends.” In another multi-volume opus, Churchill wrote grandiloquently of the Grand Alliance — Britain, America, and the Soviet Union — that crushed the Axis. But look again at that alliance. America did not formally join the war until we were attacked by Japan. The Soviets were in it from Day One — on the other side. By war’s end the three allies were already drifting apart, as Hitler foresaw they would (not soon enough to save him, fortunately). But such stresses are a quality of all coalitions. The grander an alliance, the less it accomplishes. For the Gulf War George H.W. Bush and James Baker assembled a coalition that included France, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, all blessed by the U.N. As a result, the war stopped with the liberation of Kuwait. (The first Bush team had its own doubts about toppling Saddam, but if it had overcome them, it would have had to act much more on its own.) In the run-up to the Iraq War, the limitations were front-loaded: France, Germany, and Turkey refused their help, as did Vladimir Putin, whose soul George W. Bush had once discerned in his eye.

Yet there are gains as well as losses. After throwing out the corrupt and anti-American Liberals — and experiencing its own terror scare — Canada is a more gung-ho country. India, thanks to the diplomacy of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has become America’s friend, just in time for its rendezvous with superpower status. Most astonishing of all, perhaps, is Pakistan. Yes, A. Q. Khan armed the world from his back door, and Osama bin Laden may be hiding there. But considering how deeply implicated Pakistan was in supporting the infrastructure of jihadism, its post-9/11 turnaround is almost miraculous.

The great unknowable of the Terror War is the mind of the Muslim Middle East, and its diaspora in Europe and America. Is there anything we can offer potential enemies to prevent them from becoming actual ones?

“Eventually,” said George W. Bush in his second inaugural, “the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul.” Even with the adverb, this is too sweeping, as Bush’s enemies, from multiculturalists to Tory skeptics, delight in pointing out. But the reality-based community overshoots in its turn when it denies that general statements can be made about men. Men want three things. They want to live, they want not to be oppressed themselves, and they want, most subtly, to be recognized. (John Adams, following Adam Smith, wrote that the worst thing about poverty is invisibility: The poor man “is not disapproved, censured, or reproached; he is only not seen.”)

The modern world can be chaotic and threatening. It sucks people away from home; it finds home, and changes it. But there are no refuges. Islamic fascism claims to restore the caliphate or the 12th imam, but is itself a modernist reaction, offering glory here and hereafter, along with death and discipline. But the reaction is unnecessary. We have to know that the modern world not only offers a better solution to the problems of scarcity and politics; it lets men be themselves: all men, not just the elect; for all their lives, not one murderous blast. If we know that, maybe we can say it and show it.


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