In 1985, Sting came out with his debut solo album. The first single was a tendentious bit of peacenikery called “Russians.” It made a splash among people who wanted to be clever by asking the question: “Do the Russians love their children too?”
Of course, the answer was “yes,” for Sting. And, therefore, the nuclear-arms race made no sense. If you don’t remember this insipid prattle designed to make nervous schoolgirls wear serious frowns in social-studies class, here’s one stanza almost at random:
How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy There is no monopoly of common sense On either side of the political fence We share the same biology Regardless of ideology Believe me when I say to you I hope the Russians love their children too
Anyway, there’s little point to dwelling on this song and its message for too long, since they really aren’t the point of this column. But, this song was widely praised as a profound and deep insight into the futility of the Cold War. So it’s worth noting that the phrase, “We share the same biology / Regardless of ideology” artfully crams more bad arguments and moral obscenities into a single sentence than many people have been able to stuff into whole books. Though, in its defense, it does rhyme.
Noting that we’re all human beings can be worthwhile, but it can also be a verbal white flag for abject moral surrender. Put another way: All the great political and moral conflicts have been between human beings. To date, civilization’s greatest battles — rhetorical or otherwise — have not been with Styrofoam, dog hair, gerbils, or toe jam. Nazis are human beings. Murderers and pedophiles are human beings. To say that humanity somehow exonerates rather than confers accountability is to say that humanity is in fact meaningless. Joe Blow killed a child? Well, he’s just a human being — cut him some slack. Sure, Jack the Ripper was a rough chap, but he was a carbon-based life form…
The reason ideology is more relevant than biology is that it is ideology which separates us — and for good reason. The average Russian parent may well have loved his or her children too. But the Soviet state did not consider parents to be a particularly significant social or political institution.
Consider, for example, “Hero-Pioneer of the Soviet Union Number 001.”
That was the official honorific conferred on the Soviet Union’s most famous martyr, Pavlik Morozov. When Young Pavlik discovered that his dad was taking bribes to allow “kulaks” to flee inevitable execution, he informed the secret police and his father was predictably arrested and “disappeared.” According to the legend — though not necessarily the facts — Pavlik was later killed by angry (and, no doubt, greedy capitalist) relatives. He became the Soviet state’s greatest “martyr to the revolution.” Statues of the boy-informant were built throughout the Soviet Union. Schools and libraries proudly carried his name. He was the most famous and most officially revered role model in the evil empire. Ideology matters.
DO THE MUSLIMS LOVE THEIR CHILDREN TOO? I confess, I do not want to write anything even remotely derogatory — or anything that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as derogatory — about Muslims right now. I’m still receiving death threats, hate mail, and generalized criticism almost entirely from very angry Muslims who believe that NRO recently advocated “nuking Mecca.” We didn’t. Rich Lowry didn’t. The whole thing was a sad — and, in some cases, very deliberate — misunderstanding. I’m sorry it happened, but I won’t apologize in response to a false accusation.
All of the notwithstanding, I think it’s a question worth asking: Do the Muslims love their children too?
I read over the weekend a story about a fire in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi religious, or “mutaween,” police (known officially as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) prevented firemen from rescuing schoolgirls from a burning building. The mutaween didn’t want the girls to be seen in public without their robes and scarves. Rather than have that happen, they kept the school’s gates locked so the girls could not escape. They beat children who were running for their lives. Fifteen girls died in the fire.
But that’s just a small thread in the tapestry. Throughout the Middle East, the recruitment of children for the purpose of having them commit suicide — often specifically to kill other children — is wildly popular. It’s not just the 70 percent of Palestinians who tell pollsters they approve of suicide bombings. This practice is supported throughout the region. In Beirut, banners bearing the images of child suicides are hung from lampposts. The parents of the “martyred” are treated as heroes and minor celebrities. They tell the state-run newscasters how proud and happy they are when their kids blow themselves up at restaurants, discos, bar mitzvahs, or on buses, killing women and children. And it is not just Israel — though that should be enough. The Sept. 11 hijackers were suicide bombers. Osama bin Laden used suicide bombers to kill enemies inside Afghanistan.
Indeed, Saudi Arabia has been supporting this fanaticism in much the same way the Soviets supported its own zealots. Afghanistan under the Taliban was no less a Saudi satellite than Cuba was a Soviet one. Around the world, thanks largely to the Saudis, young men are being taught that they will find paradise by exploding in close proximity to Christians and Jews.
So rare is such fanaticism in the story of humanity that the United States needed to junk centuries worth of military doctrine that had been based upon the basic assumption that most soldiers want to survive their missions, and that most civilizations do not idealize the self-destruction of their own children — especially for the sake of killing other children.
This is not purely religious fanaticism anymore. Women are now becoming suicide bombers (which makes sense, if you think it’s better to let them burn in a fire than have men see their kneecaps or foreheads). Relatively secular Palestinian terrorist cadres are getting into the act. Martyrs in the cult of death are glorified in murals on almost every street — more than even Pavlik Morozov was under Stalin.
Where does this all come from? Obviously there are many — and often contradictory — answers. Sexual frustration married to economic hopelessness has made men of all religions do crazy things since the dawn of mankind (David Gelernter has just written a brilliant essay on this point). The humiliation, anger, and shame that follow when a once glorious civilization is hobbled by corruption and brutality are obviously part of the mix too.
And, no doubt, the existence of Israel at least exacerbates all of these problems. It is no less true for being a cliché that Arab states have used Israel — and Israel’s success — as a scapegoat for their own failures. Indeed, I now see Israel as akin to being the Confederate flag of the Middle East. Attempts by civil-rights groups to get rid of the Confederate flag may or may not have merit, depending on the context. That’s a different argument.
But there’s no disputing that such fights are a colossal waste of black folks’ energy and resources on a purely symbolic issue. No black single mother will be in a better position to take care of her kids or keep them out of trouble because the Confederate flag has been interred forever. Similarly, no stagnant and repressive Middle Eastern regime would be any better off if Israel were to be eliminated tomorrow.
In fact, Israel could be an economic lifeline for the region. According to the World Bank, if you subtract oil, the total exports of the Arab world — i.e., all of North Africa and the Middle East, minus Israel — amount to less than those of Finland: a country of five million inhabitants, or less than one 50th of the Arab world’s population.
But none of this matters. Of course Muslims, as a generic category, love their children too. Of course “We share the same biology / Regardless of ideology.” But that gets us nowhere. We are not threatened by anyone’s biology. We are, however, threatened by an ideology which is running rampant in the Arab world and which, like that of the Soviets, radically differs from our own. It glorifies death and rewards the taking of innocent life. If you don’t feel strongly enough about your own value system to “judge” this opposing view, that’s fine. But you are either a coward or a fool.
It is that ideology we must confront. I take Muslims at their word that this ideology — radical Islam, extreme Wahhabism, whatever the best term for it is — is held by only a small minority of the Islamic community, especially here in the States. But that, too, gets us nowhere if the majority of Muslims aren’t willing to do what needs to be done to fight the minority.
The central moral lesson of human history is that merely having goodwill is meaningless if you won’t act on it. Who cares if it’s only a minority of Muslims who are pushing this death cult — if that minority is the one wielding the power, bullying those of goodwill, and locking the gates on burning schoolgirls?