Politics & Policy

The meaning of ‘they,’ &c.

When a few hundred people mass in front of a U.S. embassy, Americans are apt to say, “See? They don’t want us there. They hate us.” This is a perfectly normal reaction. But it ought to be challenged, or at least thought about.

Consider a story out of Benghazi several days ago. Its opening paragraph read, “Galvanized by anger over the killing of the popular American ambassador here last week, thousands of Libyans marched through this city on Friday, demanding the disarming of the militias that helped topple the dictatorship but have troubled the country with their refusal to disband.”

And let me share a memory from 2008. I was in Iraq. And our group was visiting a marketplace in Greater Baghdad. It was a Saturday morning, as I recall — sunshiny. The atmosphere was peaceful and festive. People mixed easily with the American soldiers about. The picture was one of goodwill, satisfaction, and life all around.

As we strolled, an American general said to me, “If a person wanted to roll a grenade through here, there’s nothing we could do to stop him. He could blow the place up.” And I thought — perhaps said — “Yeah. And everybody back home would say, ‘See? They don’t want us there. See? See?’”

In Iraq, I met a great many people who were extremely grateful for the U.S. presence. But they never get to count among the “they.” Only the bombers and madmen get to be “they.” “See, see? They don’t want us there. They hate us.” They!

We should be careful when we utter this potent little word, “they.”

‐Well, let me talk about the “they” in Egypt! Years ago, an Egyptian told me, “When the people here get a chicken, and on the wrapping it says, ‘Food gift of the American people,’ they burn a little, with shame. They resent this help. They feel their powerlessness.”

I once put this question to an Egyptian prime minister, Ahmed Nazif. “Does our aid earn the resentment of the Egyptian people? Is our aid counterproductive?” No, no, Nazif said — not at all.

I thought of this when reading a mysterious statement by the new president, Mohamed Morsi. You’ll find it in this article. Maybe the translation is funny. Maybe the president was referring only to U.S. aid to Israel. But here’s the statement: “Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region.”

Hmmm . . .

For many years, there have been Americans who have said, out of frustration, “Cut ’em off! Be done with them!” I’ve always thought this would backfire, that we would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we stopped our aid. But I find it harder and harder to argue against my fellow citizens who are simply fed up.

‐In a recent column, I had a line about women in combat. Later, I was talking with a colleague who is for women in combat, and thinks the opposing view is just benighted.

I must say, I find it very hard to argue about women in combat. This is bad news, because I’m supposed to be an opinion journalist, whose business is persuasion, right? But either you find the idea of women in combat appalling or you don’t.

Many regard the issue as a matter of women’s rights, even civil rights. To them, a woman in combat is like a black citizen in a voting booth. Hurray, progress!

Other people think that women in combat represent some kind of civilizational breakdown: Our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, aunts, and nieces in combat? What kind of monsters are we? It runs against nature, it cuts some kind of vital cord.

As I say, I find it hard to argue about women in combat. Either you feel its wrongness in your stomach or you don’t. I know a conservative intellectual who said, “The day they try to draft my daughters is the day I divorce my country and take to the hills.”

(The matter of individual choice — “Do you want to serve in the Army, miss? Would you like to serve in combat?” — comes up in this discussion too, of course.)

I have just read a news story headed “Israel’s only co-ed combat unit proves its worth.” (Go here.) Oh, well: Should there be an Israeli exception? Is Israel too small and vulnerable to exempt its women from combat?

I think I’ll think about this issue another day . . .

‐Couple of weeks ago, I had a post entitled “And Then They Came for the Meter Maids . . .” In Spain, some Muslim immigrants have demanded that female parking-enforcement personnel be removed from their neighborhood. The sight of women working is offensive, I guess. Or women in authority? Anyway, these immigrants have succeeded in having the women removed.

In my post, I noted a longstanding tension — a tension on the left: We are ultra-sensitive to every Muslim feeling, of course; but we’re for women’s rights too, aren’t we?

This tension will continue, and, sooner or later, something’s gotta give . . .

I was talking about this issue with some colleagues on Monday. I had a memory, from way back: I was working for The Weekly Standard, and the O.J. Simpson trial was on. Talk about tension on the left! That tension went something like this: A black man is in the dock, and we all know that black men are railroaded. Blacks are victims. And yet, this guy killed his ex-wife — and we’re supposed to be against killing ex-wives, right? Women are victims too, right? What’re we gonna do?

And here was further stickiness — awful stickiness: While the defendant was black, the ex-wife was white. (O.J. killed another person too — also white — but this victim was just a sideshow, poor guy.)

Anyway, Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote an article for the magazine. As I recall, she said there used to be a holy trinity: race, class, gender. But then the Left dropped class. And that left race and gender. Which will win out? And the answer was: race. Race trumped gender, big-time.

In the struggle between the imperative to honor Muslim sensitivities and the imperative to honor women’s rights, which will win out? What will trump what? Personally, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on women’s rights . . .

‐Last week, George Will had a column on Mia Love, the mayor in Utah who’s running for Congress. About her and her husband, Will wrote, “Fourteen years ago, they moved to this state, where blacks were then about 1 percent of the population . . .” And that gave me a memory. (What doesn’t, right?) I included this tidbit in an appreciation of George W. Bush on the day he left office.

Bush was talking to a New Orleans man who had escaped Hurricane Katrina. He had fled all the way up and over to Utah. Bush narrowed his eyes, leaned in, and asked, “Were you the only black man in Salt Lake City?” Bush was at ease with everyone — he had a certain sympathy and spark with everyone. That was a major part of his overall strength. (Even Nancy Pelosi recently admitted that Bush is “really a lovely man.”)

‐A few days ago, I had a visit from a man from Macedonia, a young intellectual. He was lamenting the direction in which our country had gone. “We know what a socialist economy is, and particularly what a socialist health-care system is. Why would you want it? You have no idea what’s coming.”

“I know,” I said. “You know what was possibly my favorite line from the Republican convention? It came in Marco Rubio’s speech. And . . .”

Before I could get the words out of my mouth, my Macedonian friend knew exactly what I was talking about. Criticizing Democratic policies, Rubio said, “These are tired and old big-government ideas that have failed every time and everywhere they have been tried. These are ideas that people come to America to get away from.”

Hear frickin’ hear. And if America goes socialist like everyone else — where will those who want a different kind of life go?

‐I thought you might like this: A reader of ours, in a letter to me, called himself “a libertarian man of the Right.” He then explained, “I want people to freely choose things that would make Russell Kirk happy.”

‐Another reader sent me an e-mail from Central Park, with a picture attached. The picture showed a sign saying, “Passive Recreation Only.” The reader asked, “What does this mean?”

No idea. Picnicking instead of skateboarding or ball-throwing?

‐Another reader sent me a picture of a restaurant in Surrey, British Columbia, which is part of Greater Vancouver. The sign says, “Indian Style Chinese Food.” I love that. Only in America! (Or North America, I should say . . .)

I’ve got loads more, y’all, but you have other things to do, and I’ll catch you later.


To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.


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