Whatever Andy McCarthy’s drinking, pour me a double.
During the first few months after 9/11, many U.S. commentators did a great job of blaming us for the attacks. It is hard to remember now, but there was enough self-flagelation in liberal intellectual circles to put the entire S&M industry out of business. We had it coming, because of Israel, because of our greedy need for oil (which powers an economy, which has pulled billions of people out of poverty), because we imposed sanctions on Saddam, because of the Crusades(!), because we are “arrogant.”
This stuff has a half-life of course. Every few months, some holder of a PhD in jackassery makes headlines for saying we need “a million Mogadishus” or by calling the murder victims of 9/11 “little Eichmanns.” And like things with a half-life, this thinking has given off a certain degree of background radiation which suffuses the way we look at the world and, more importantly, the way we look at ourselves. Few rational–and no respectable–people believe that we “deserved” 9/11. But the logic which says that we need to compromise with savages in some way, somehow lurks in how we discuss things. The notion that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” still sits in the corner demanding a smidgen of respect despite the fact “another man” is often an idiot.
Andy McCarthy is absolutely correct. Newsweek screwed-up a story which would have been the 73,087,733th tale of America showing very little respect for the religious sensibilities of murderous terrorists who call themselves Muslims. In response to the story, fanatical young men rioted and people died. The story turned out not to be true. Shame on Newsweek. But what if it were true?* Would that mean the rioters were right to indulge their epilepsy of hatred?
I don’t know how to read the minds of Islamist fanatics, but it seems to me they have all the excuses in the world they’ll ever need to hate us. Osama bin Laden says the Crusades are reason enough. When he blew up that train in Spain, he said it was partly out of a desire to avenge the taking of Andalusia–i.e. Muslim Spain in the 15th century. At some point you need to start saying, “Who cares what makes these people angry?” As Mark Steyn put it beautifully during the whole “blame the Crusades” moment:
Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese took Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands and arrested 22 British watchkeepers. The following year, they tied them to trees, beheaded them, and burned their bodies in a pit. You won’t find that in the Geneva Convention. The Japanese fought a filthy war, but here we are less than 60 years later, and Britain and Japan sit side by side at G-7 meetings. If America is really “paying for” events that occurred seven centuries before the Republic’s founding, then that’s the Muslim world’s problem, not ours.
Remember all the Ramadan-a-ding-donging about how we should have postponed hostilities in Afghanistan out of respect for the Holy Month of Ramadan? Muslims around the world wouldn’t tolerate such an affront, even though Mohammed himself became a helicopter of fists against his enemies during Ramadan. My absolute favorite complaint from the “respect Muslim sensibilities” crowd was when the FBI came out with a new “Most Wanted List” immediately after 9/11 and we were told this was “counterproductive” because it singled out Arabs and Muslims. Reuters favorably quoted Hussein Amin, an Islamic intellectual and former Egyptian ambassador to Algeria, “Why pick on Arabs? Are there no South Americans, Irish, Serbs, Japanese among the most wanted?”
Goodness knows that when investigators were picking through the rubble at Ground Zero and the Pentagon, the American public joined their hands in hopeful prayer that this heinous crime had been perpetrated by radical factions of Up With People and the Birmingham Alabama Garden Club because none of us want to upset the delicate China dolls of the Arab world by suggesting that jihadists are more likely to murder innocents than outfits like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or Ducks Unlimited.
Yes, yes, the irony is rich that for all the bleating from the blame-America crowd about how this war or that invasion will ignite the “street” in the Muslim world it ended up being a ten-line item in the “Periscope” section of Newsweek. But that’s life.
Call me crazy but if we’re talking about insults to Islam, I’d have a lot more respect for the “Muslim street” if there were just a few more riots against jihadists for equating beheadings, terrorist attacks, hosannas for the Holocaust, and random slaughter on the streets of Amsterdam with a faithful reading of the Koran.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a realist about some of this stuff. I don’t think the U.S. should go out of its way to offend Islam. Indeed, I do think we should, wherever possible or necessary, show as much respect as we can to ordinary Muslims everywhere. If there’s one lesson we can all take from the Newsweek scandal it’s that we live in a global media market which imperfectly and unevenly filters information across the globe. Small things can be made big by al Jazeera and Newsweek alike. But that doesn’t mean being “sensitive” is more important than winning. As Victor Davis Hanson has written many times, victory buys a lot more respect than condescension.
Which gets me to my real problem with Newsweek. At this point nobody disputes that Newsweek messed up. The only arguments are about the magnitude of their mistake and the motives behind it. I can’t know their motives, but my guess is that Michael Isikoff was more motivated by a reporter’s desire to break a story than by some Left-wing anti-Americanism.
But what on earth was gained by Newsweek’s decision to publish the story–whether it was true or not? Were we unaware that interrogators at Gitmo aren’t playing bean bag with detainees? To me the similarities with the Abu Ghraib are greatest not in terms of the abuse but in terms of the media’s unreflective willingness to undermine the war on terror. We saw the photos from Abu Ghraib on the nightly news and in the newspapers far, far more than we saw video of American leaping to their doom from the top of the Trade Towers. Why? Well, according to the Brahmins of the media, it would be irresponsible to stir American passions with such inflammatory images. But the relentless gray strobe light of images showing Arab men in dog collars and black hoods was necessary to inform the public–even though the abuses were already being investigated by the proper authorities. In other words, American passions are to be feared and tamped down on whenever possible, while there’s nothing too worrisome about inciting Arab and Muslim passions, even when that attitude plays perfectly into the hands of the people we’re fighting.
I just can’t help but think the media’s priorities are backward.
* Note: If it is true, will someone let me know where I can buy a toilet that can flush a Koran-sized book successfully? I hate low-flow toilets.