The Corner

Re: Andy,

Rich, I appreciate the kind words. I think, though, that you’re underestimating the degree of provocation that is appropriate in our project, and overestimating the degree to which the violence we have witnessed stems from actual outrage, motivated by deep religious conviction, over the Koran being defiled.

First, we’ve been at this for a number of years now but have kept doctrine and values (except for the procedural aspects of democracy – as opposed to the substantive values aspect) completely off-limits. This is a fairly strange way to approach what everyone agrees will be a lengthy war against an enemy motivated by a doctrine. As long as we continue to do nothing to engage the ideology that is underneath all this, as long as we don’t allow ourselves to even whisper there might possibly be some nexus between doctrine and violence, I agree that things will not change, even a little bit, any time soon – even in a place like Afghanistan, where we have been nation-building for years.

Second, the President has been saying, since the very day of 9/11, that Islam is a religion of peace and that it does not promote the kind of barbarity that occurred that day. I am willing to be open-minded about that – notwithstanding that the militancy seems to keep popping up in the Islamic countries. But if what the President has said, which is official U.S. policy, is the case, and if the places where the events of the last few days have occurred are indeed places where “deeply, deeply religious” people follow a religion of peace, why then does murder, rather than peace, keep breaking out over comparative trifles like this?

The execrable art exhibits I talked about in the article were condemned by people of good will in the strongest terms. But no one took to the streets and rioted – not even the so-called “religious right,” which the esteemed press in this country considers tribal and unsophisticated. When do we get to the point – which is not a terribly evolved point – when the reaction to something stupid and wrong is simply to call it stupid and wrong?

Finally, this is not about religious provocation. It is anti-American zealotry. Islamic militants – the people doing the killing – have no hesitation using the Koran as either a physical weapon or a weapon of exhortation when it suits them to do so. In this instance, they were not incited to murder because the Koran was abused; they perceived a ready-made opportunity to make anti-American mayhem, and they took it. And it was smart of them to do so, since it has provoked the usual recriminations and self-loathing which inevitably lead to more of the same.

On that score, the depressing prospect suggested by Jonah’s question is on the mark. If there is a true and provable allegation of Koran abuse, the way this incident has been handled – with lugubrious piety about Islamic symbols, rather than some perspective about where Koran-flushing fits in the greater scheme of things – will encourage repeat (or worse) of what we have just seen. And this time, the gotcha media will make the story that *we* had it coming – not that *they* are engaged in an absurd overreaction.

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