barry rubin 88.
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Almost daily nowadays, one sees atrocities in deeds and shamefulness in words. Friends, colleagues and readers often write or tell me how depressing it is.
Lee Harris, a brilliant American writer, has a book coming out entitled The Suicide of Reason. (I would only suggest that it didn't jump, it was pushed.) I could give lots of examples, but will let you choose your own.
Caught between the big mistakes of one's own leaders, the rampant irresponsible radicalism of a large portion of the media, and abandonment of enlightened standards in intellectual discourse, it is easy to feel down.
And yet while there is much reason to be disgusted and a good basis for worrying - especially since worrying can prompt action - I tell those who share their feelings with me that things will turn out all right. Western civilization is not on the road to collapse; the Middle East is not going to be taken over by al-Qaida or the Muslim Brotherhood, and so on.
Agreed, it isn't enough just to assert that a happy ending is inevitable; so let's look at some key factors as to why this is so.
First, the worse things get, the more people realize that things have gotten worse. Precisely the experience of seeing how intransigent and murderous are the extremists, how efforts at negotiation fail, how past concessions are exploited to bash those who make them, how dangerous Islamism is, among other factors, forces countries to react against them, intellectuals to denounce them and public opinion to shift against them.
THIS WAS THE process followed in the crises of dealing with fascism in the 1930s and 1940s, and with communism in the 1940s and 1950s. John F. Kennedy, or at least his ghostwriter, penned a book called Why England Slept on the first of these three ordeals. Bruce Bawyer wrote a good book entitled Why Europe Slept regarding the current one. Foreign terrorists and domestic fools provide the wake-up calls.
Second, the enemy side makes big mistakes. It pushes too far, demands too much, shoots off its mouth as well as its guns. The ideological extremism, tendency toward endless splits, blatant dishonesty and inability to build alliances all take their toll. The pretenses at moderation simply cannot be kept up. The mask slips all too often.
Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran's Ahmadinejad all provide good examples of this phenomenon in the Middle East. On Western campuses, extremist academics and students horrify onlookers. Most people in the West don't hate their own countries and will be put off with those who all too obviously do.
Third, a lot of the current unpleasantness, at least in the West, is transient. It is the belated tantrum of the 1960s' generation's old radicals. This is not to deny that there are many younger imitators, but the leadership and impetus is coming from those veterans of so many dubious battles, to use novelist John Steinbeck's phrase about the 1930s.
I have found that most undergraduates just don't accept the propaganda they are being fed about the Middle East and other things. Yes, it will have a lasting impact, but some of that will be a reaction against all the nonsense.
ANOTHER FACTOR here is the hysterical hatred of President George W. Bush, or, if you prefer, the impact of that government's divisive and mistaken policies. On January 20, 2009, Bush will leave office. If his replacement is anywhere near mainstream, that person is going to follow more than 80 percent of the current US foreign policy program, Iraq being the big exception, of course.
I estimate that about 25 percent of the current craziness will fade rather quickly, both in the United States and in Europe. The more hardcore silly people will carry on, but a lot of the support will fall away.
Finally, I am tempted to quote the saying "the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on," though that could no doubt be twisted into some politically incorrect slur. Let's just put it this way: Don't pay too much attention to op-eds, the rantings of academics (or in Britain, academic unions), and even certain newspapers that seem to resemble campus revolutionary clubs more than great metropolitan dailies.
George Orwell, one of the best guides to the current insanity given his dealings with the last round, once referred to an idea so stupid that only an intellectual would believe it. It hurts me to say it, but such people all too often lack both responsibility and a sense of the real world. They have set themselves up as a counter-force to those who govern and run the economy. Angry, jealous and dissatisfied, they believe they could do a better job.
William F. Buckley, the American conservative intellectual, once stated that he would rather be governed by people chosen randomly off the street than by the faculty of Harvard University. History has absolved him on that concept.
What better way to end than to quote a poem written by Orwell in June 1943:
I wrote in nineteen-forty that at need
I'd fight to keep the Nazis out of Britain;
And Christ! How shocked the pinks were! Two years later
I hadn't lived it down; one had the effrontery
To write three pages calling me a 'traitor,'
So black a crime it is to love one's country...
Your game is easy, and its rules are plain:
Pretend the war began in 'thirty-nine,
Don't mention China, Ethiopia, Spain,
Don't mention Poles except to say they're swine;
Cry havoc when we bomb a German city,
When Czechs get killed don't worry in the least,
Give India a perfunctory squirt of pity
But don't inquire what happens further East;
Don't mention Jews - in short, pretend the war is
Simply a racket 'got up' by the Tories.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at IDC Herzliya and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. His latest book is The Truth About Syria.
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