February 11, 2006

More Cartoonery Buffoonery

Actually, this isn't really buffoonery--it's actually pretty good--but I liked the rhyming sound.

My friend Greg sent me an email with the text of this op-ed from The New York Times. I'm including the full text here instead of linking because you have to subscribe to view it online. I don't know if this is a copyright violation or not. (It doesn't seem much different to me than, say, cutting it out of the paper and passing it around--I'm not making any money from it.) If they ask me to take it down, I will.


The New York Times, February 9, 2006

By David Brooks

You want us to know how you feel. You in the Arab European League published a cartoon of Hitler in bed with Anne Frank so we in the West would understand how offended you were by those Danish cartoons. You at the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri are holding a Holocaust cartoon contest so we'll also know how you feel.

Well, I saw the Hitler-Anne Frank cartoon: the two have just had sex and Hitler says to her, "Write this one in your diary, Anne." But I still don't know how you feel. I still don't feel as if I should burn embassies or behead people or call on God or bin Laden to exterminate my foes. I still don't feel your rage. I don't feel threatened by a sophomoric cartoon, even one as tasteless as that one.

At first I sympathized with your anger at the Danish cartoons because it's impolite to trample on other people's religious symbols. But as the rage spread and the issue grew more cosmic, many of us in the West were reminded of how vast the chasm is between you and us. There was more talk than ever about a clash of civilizations. We don't just have different ideas; we have a different relationship to ideas.

We in the West were born into a world that reflects the legacy of Socrates and the agora. In our world, images, statistics and arguments swarm around from all directions. There are movies and blogs, books and sermons. There's the profound and the vulgar, the high and the low.

In our world we spend our time sifting and measuring, throwing away the dumb and offensive, e-mailing the smart and the incisive. We aim, in Michael Oakeshott's words, to live amid the conversation - "an endless unrehearsed intellectual adventure in which, in imagination, we enter a variety of modes of understanding the world and ourselves and are not disconcerted by the differences or dismayed by the inconclusiveness of it all."

We believe in progress and in personal growth. By swimming in this flurry of perspectives, by facing unpleasant facts, we try to come closer and closer to understanding.

But you have a different way. When I say you, I don't mean you Muslims. I don't mean you genuine Islamic scholars and learners. I mean you Islamists. I mean you young men who were well educated in the West, but who have retreated in disgust from the inconclusiveness and chaos of our conversation. You've retreated from the agora into an exaggerated version of Muslim purity.

You frame the contrast between your world and our world more bluntly than we outsiders would ever dare to. In London the protesters held signs reading "Freedom Go to Hell," "Exterminate Those Who Mock Islam," "Be Prepared for the Real Holocaust" and "Europe You Will Pay, Your 9/11 Is on the Way." In Copenhagen, an imam declared, "In the West, freedom of speech is sacred; to us, the prophet is sacred" - as if the two were necessarily opposed.

Our mind-set is progressive and rational. Your mind-set is pre-Enlightenment and mythological. In your worldview, history doesn't move forward through gradual understanding. In your worldview, history is resolved during the apocalyptic conflict between the supernaturally pure jihadist and the supernaturally evil Jew.

You seize on any shred - even a months-old cartoon from an obscure Danish paper - to prove to yourself that the Jew and the crusader are on the offensive, that the apocalyptic confrontation is at hand. You invent primitive stories - like the one about Jews who kill children for their blood - to reinforce your image of Jewish evil. You deny the Holocaust because if the Jews were as powerful as you say, they would never have allowed it to happen.

In my world, people search for truth in their own diverse ways. In your world, the faithful and the infidel battle for survival, and words and ideas and cartoons are nothing more than weapons in that war.

So, of course, what started in Denmark ended up for you with Hitler, the Holocaust and the Jew. But in your overreaction this past week, your defensiveness is showing. Democracy is coming to your region, and democracy brings the conversation. Mainstream leaders like Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani are embracing democracy and denouncing your riots as "misguided and oppressive."

You fundamentalists have turned yourselves into a superpower of dysfunction, demanding our attention week after week. But it is hard to intimidate people forever into silence, to bottle up the conversation, to lock the world into an epic war only you want. While I don't share your rage, I do understand your panic.


  1. Lipstick12:08 AM

    That is brilliant!

    Really really brilliant.

  2. If the NYTwits are bright enough to find you, you will get sued, when in fact, you should be paid as an advertiser "proving" that they aren't all a bunch of schilling F's.

    Unfortunately for brooks, he doesn't touch on a few things. For instance, many of the open, and active jihadists are relatively well educated, if not better educated that many westerners, but they derive their strength of will from the fact that Islamism has subjugated their people into spittle spewing ignorance.

    Islamic nations (which aren't measured well in the statistics) lead all the world in illiteracy. and in fact would have runaway leads if there was a true measure. All of the things that Brooks mentions, in reference to the islamists compared to the liberal western nations (of which the US is one) are things that can NEVER be understood by the individual within an islamic nation, only granted to the few because the individual is illiterate, and that keeps islamist views in the forfront, as long as they bow over a koran memorizing it's words, without being able to read it.

  3. Biff Boff2:59 AM

    Dude. A little photoshopping and you could be Allah.

  4. Biff Boff3:01 AM

    You know, as in, where did your site go?

  5. My "Blog" was dead before I had one. In other words, I don't have one, and never did. Closest I came was a "mud" and noone logged in.

  6. Thank you! A fantastic article!

  7. Thanks for posting the article... a good thought piece!

    Unfortunately, the author gets it pretty much right until the very last sentence: "...I do understand your panic."

    Brooks hits so wide of the mark here that it is almost funny. The problem is that the islamists are NOT in a panic. Panic is not even in their thought process, as far as these issues are concerned. They are true-believers, who are absolutely convinced that theirs is the one, only, and absolute way to please Allah. They believe that Islam is destined to be the one and only true religeon of the world, and that once the world is united under Islam the end of times (including judgement day) will come.

    Some of the islamists I have met are very smart. You may think that this is incompatible with the positions they take, but believe me, it is obviously not. The problem is that they think differently than most of us in the west. They have been well educated in their religeon. They have excellent memories, as they have been trained at learning through rote memorization. They have excellent debating skills, and can quickly develop arguments to counter any points they oppose. But they are often not well trained in what we would call logical thought. They will believe the wildest things, simply because someone who is an authority is reputed to have said that such-and-such is so. And, finally, rightly or wrongly, they have a strong sense of destiny.

    So, no, they are not in a panic over inroads of democracy in the middle east. They are simply angry. They have been taught from their earliest days that the evil west is the source of all their problems. They have been taught since birth that the Jews have a vast and powerful conspiracy to control the world. But they also believe that Islam is destined to rule the world, and that all we have experienced since the beginning of time is only a little blip, compared to what will come after the rightous are all taken up into paradise.

    It's a fools game to think you can understand the mind of an islamist, unless you happen to be one. Their thought paradigm is truly alien, and perhaps unknowable, to the rest of us.

    Just my $.02

  8. I can hardly believe that column came from David Brooks, but I also agree with DaveK.