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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tout Le Monde N'est Pas Charlie

If you run a blog, one geared primarily toward current events, it makes sense that when events occur, you jump on it with a quickness and register some sort of observational analysis, one that pinpoints your approval or disdain, ultimately. Counter-intuitively, I find myself more and more inclined to wait, to bide time, to consider as many elements, if not all "sides" of the event or argument. This is less a matter of some high-minded mission to craft the ineffable pronunciamento, and more of a recognition that, no matter how obvious something might appear at first, there is almost always more than initially meets the eye.

The initial base reaction to the mass murder of the Parisian satirists at Charlie Hebdo magazine is (and should be) revulsion. Brave stand, I know. Seems like an easy thing to condemn, like human trafficking, or animal cruelty. Setting aside the official iniquities of Balfour and Sykes-Picot and their policy heirs, ordinarily people have the right to be angry and disgusted not just at this massacre, but at other such horrors perpetrated, if by isolated cells of radicals, still radicals of a generally like-minded bent -- to kill, to destroy, to hurt and maim, not necessarily against "westerners," but against any and all people who are inconvenient to their murderous ends.

It's a goddamned shame that every member of Boko Haram or ISIS can't just be identified conclusively, rounded up, injected with the Ebola virus, and dumped square in the center of the most isolated part of the Sahara or the Empty Quarter. Yes, it's awful enough that Americans committed various sins in a misbegotten invasion of a country they knew nothing about, but these groups deliberately target their own people. We did a lot of rotten things in Iraq, and I and many others wrote about it at the time. But we never strapped a 10-year-old girl with explosives and detonated her in a marketplace.

No reasonable person expects all Muslims to collectively apologize for the actions of a very few, very radicalized Muslims. But the "all poodles are dogs, but not all dogs are poodles" pattern that consistently plays out, in a variety of locations, cannot go unnoticed. No westerner -- especially a female or a homosexual -- would willingly live anywhere whose official name begins with "Islamic Republic of...."; no western country executes drug dealers, or flogs bloggers, or hangs gays from  cranes or trucks.

I couldn't possibly care less about the anger of young Muslims, in particular the anger of young Muslims living in Europe or America, but who in some cases insist on preserving ways that are clearly antithetical -- hell, antagonistic -- to the longstanding values and mores of their adopted nations. You don't get to have your own special legal system, and you don't get to overreact violently to teasing cartoons and critical commentary. Frankly, you have to wonder why anyone would choose to live in a place so diametrically opposed to their cultural/religious/national principles, when they are free to leave whenever they want, any time at all.

Suddenly everyone's an expert on Charlie Hebdo, it seems; self-professed conservative commentators in particular comically scramble to prove how OG Charlie they are, even though it puts them in the position of, well, siding with the French. I had never heard of the magazine before the massacre, and have checked it out a bit since. It seems very Mad Magazine in tone, if a bit less sophisticated in content. It seems to be intentionally provocative, in the most literal sense; that is, its primary intent is to provoke. And so it has.

But it is telling that the magazine also takes frequent potshots at the Catholic Church, yet all the Church does is sue or threaten to sue. There are not random marauding cells of radicalized seminarians gunning down or threatening journos or bloggers who poke fun or take pointed stances against them.

Consider everything you see -- and everyone you know, for that matter -- as a brand. Anything or anyone you are exhorted to buy into or align with is a brand. Obviously, corporations such as BP and the NFL are brands. But America and Islam are brands as well. Capitalism is a brand. Barack Obama is a brand, as is Louie Gohmert. This blog is a brand, and its proprietor is a brand, as each of you are, gentle readers, at our respective jobs and with our respective families/tribes. The brand is what is presented to friends and to enemies, and everything in between.

America has spent the last hundred years damaging its brand abroad, and the last thirty years damaging its brand at home. Islam is in danger of damaging its brand with the 5.5 billion non-Muslims, so long as its most violent adherents drive the narrative, so long as its most populous governments continue to be violently oppressive. Muslims may be getting picked on and mocked in Europe and America, but it is illegal to be a Christian in Saudi Arabia, or to possess any non-Islamic items. (They're large enough to accept the cheap labor from the Catholic Filipinos and Christian Africans, though.) We're not talking about some renegade cells or disaffected military yobbos, either -- this is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia we're talking about, the keeper of Islam's holiest cities and artifacts, and official progenitor of the faith.

The biggest problem here -- on all sides -- is a profound lack of empathy. We revere and lionize people who do horrible things all the time, so long as it's in our name. As do they, it seems. All of this is without considering that The Other might have similar motives; in other words, we empathize with Chris Kyle as a Good American, without allowing daylight on the possibility that we might lose out shit if someone decided to invade us.

Barack Obama is routinely compared by politicians and supporters of the main opposition party as a traitor, oppressive, Hitlerian even. What if some other country decided to, say, form a coalition and "rescue" the oppressed populace from its dark (see what I did there?) overlord? Well, it's pretty simple to tease this alternate-history scenario out to its logical outcome -- the invading coalition picks whichever political group is most cooperative (i.e., most ideologically opposed to the toppled despot), the other political and geographic groups either align and coalesce in collective opposition, or fracture into splinter opposition factions.

There would most definitely be individuals -- snipers, bomb-makers, bandits -- trading on their military experience or area of expertise to, at the very least, target the invading forces. Some of them might even decide to hide among civilian populations (who would be naturally more inclined to them than to the invaders), forcing the invading/occupying forces to either hold off or risk collateral engagement and civilian deaths, thus antagonizing them further. And so forth.

I don't pretend to know the answers to all this, or even a single answer. I know that I'm sick of hearing about the toxic political violence of the Boko Harams and ISISes of the world. I know that while I've frequently been appalled and horrified by the things that my own government has done or supported, these gangs make me sick to my stomach, that the violent oppression of females and other groups is unacceptable, that violent censorship is unacceptable as well. I think we need to dump whatever it takes into renewable energy sources, so that we can disengage from the Islamic Republics and leave them to their own devices, let them figure it out. That might be a start.

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