Over the past couple of weeks, the sight of thousands of (mostly bearded, mostly male) Muslims brandishing signs saying, "To hell with your democracy!" and "Death to those who insult Islam!" has been doing its job - not only to goad Muslims into a war fever, but to goad us, liberal-minded, cosmopolitan Westerners, into it as well.
While the Pentagon's war-drums throb in the background, propagandists like Ann Coulter are seizing the opportunity with both hands. Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush must be shaking their heads at their luck - Muslim fundamentalists leading their followers into the streets are just the ticket to get wavering Americans (and other Westerners) back on side.
Don't get me wrong. I too felt the visceral terror at the sight of those thousands of people, marching, throwing stones and fire-bombs, all because of the publication of a mere dozen cartoons in one magazine in one small, European country.
What's wrong with these people? I wondered, This is nuts!
Dark-skinned, hirsute, wearing strange clothes, and in deadly earnest, these demonstrators are scary because, to most of us in the West, they seem so silly. To those of us born to privilege, cartoons are only cartoons - "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me!" seems reasonable to those who have everything; for those who have nothing at all except pride, words (or, in this case, pictures) are powerful indeed.
Clearly, the demonstrators don't think the cartoons are "just" cartoons. They are symbols - of Western imperialism and contempt, of a cultural divide, of a growing Muslim feeling that, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!"
While Islamo-fascist clerics are using these inane (or so I presume; I have not been able to find any of them) images to rally their troops, so are the war-mongers in the West. Where the clerics found in a dozen cartoons a symbol of all that is rotten in Western societies, so too have our fundamentalists found in the demonstrations a means to demonize more than 1 billion people.
The riots - the deaths, the arson, the fanaticism in the eyes of the demonstrators themselves - have all served to sorely test the liberal-minded among us, leaving many of us stripped intellectually naked, our values of tolerance melting away like hoar-frost on a sunny morning.
Leading the charge on "our" side, is the prominent "philosopher" of the American right, Anne Coulter, perhaps for the first time finding an attentive audience among those who are not fellow-travellers of The Project for a New American Century. Frightened and disgusted by the ludicrous inanity of the scruffy, violent, dark-skinned protesters, Coulter revels in naked, raving bigotry, to the applause of many who would never in their wildest, most perverse fantasies have voted for George W. Bush.
Let us review - let us analyze - Coulter's words.
- "... Muslims' predilection for violence..." [that exact phrase is repeated three times in one paragraph];
- "...thousands of Muslims around the world engaged in rioting, arson, mob savagery, flag-burning, murder and mayhem, among other peaceful acts of nonviolence...";
- "Muslims are the only people who make feminists seem laid-back";
- "... back when Muslims created things, rather than blowing them up...";
- "Muslims ought to start claiming the Quran also prohibits indoor plumbing, to explain their lack of it...";
- But Muslims think they can issue decrees about what images can appear in newspaper cartoons.
People I respect have emailed this garbage to me, pointed it out in discussion forums (often with the apology, "I know it's Anne Coulter, but, well, this time she has a point,") and brought it up in conversation.
But Coulter doesn't have a point. What she has is an excuse to lump together a group of co-religionists and call them names.
Throughout her article, "Muslims" - all one billion of them - are slandered as a unitary, almost sub-human group, in a classic example of the demonization, of the de-humanization, of the "enemy".
That she doesn't have a point, and that so many otherwise sensible people are nevertheless reading her words as if she does is proof that many of us are reacting, not thinking, in response to images that are - yes - both ugly and frightening. The irony is, in permitting our feeling to overrule our thinking, we are, ourselves, behaving in precisely the same tribal manner as "those Muslims".
If we are not careful, not only will those of us who failed to stop the last war fail to stop the next one, we will find ourselves leading the vanguard supporting it, linking like mideval Crusaders behind George W. Bush's feudal knights.
Having examined Coulter, let us examine her masters, as well as her victims.
As inanely ugly as the Islamist protesters are, how much more ugly is the invasion and occupation of a country that has never threatened in any way</i> its invader? The protests against the cartoons have resulted in the deaths of no more than a couple of dozen people; the invasion of Iraq, of possibly well-over 100,000 men, women and children.
As of 2004, 100,000 people killed, on the basis of nothing but lies.
Even the "progressives" among us too easily make the mistake of believing the propaganda of our "leaders", even when we, consciously, believe we do not support those leaders.
We - the tolerant, cosmopolitan citizens of the world - are no more represented by the Pentagon's lap-dogs like Ann Coulter than are the Muslim citizens of the world represented either by fundamentalist mullahs in the streets or by such "enlightened", Western-supported Arab governments like those of Saudi Arabia or Egypt.
On the one hand, clad in the disengenuous mantle of "democracy", "freedom" and "self-defence", Western nations have in the past five years invaded (if not entirely conquered) two Muslim nations and are making loud noises about doing the same to a third.
On the other hand, you have a large population of Muslims, mostly ill-educated and living under dictatorships propped-up by governments that - as often as not - were installed by Western powers.</p>
Who is really a threat to our Western values? Rag-tag mobs of ignorant fundamentalists, or our so-called leaders, men who lie - over and over and over again - to their own people; whose troops are stationed in 170 countries around the globe; and who show no sign of having the slightest concern for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children?
Who threatens our Western values? Mobs armed with bricks and a few hundred suicide bombers, or governments aremed with 20,000 nuclear warheads, who have learned to love torture, who spy on their own citizens and who have decided the Geneva Convention no longer matters?
It is not only our moral duty, it is also our pragmatic duty, to ourselves, to make sure we are not hypnotized by our so-called leaders. We in the West are not in serious danger from the Islamic lunatics who are only strengthened by our actions; we are in serious danger because we believe and act on the lies of our own leaders.