POST-9/11 SMEARSgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
Dangerous Word Games Post-9/11 smears.
By Neil Munro, a reporter for National Journal November 30, 2001 1:15 p.m. When the Alfred P. Murrah building and 167 people were blown to bits by McVeigh in 1995, President Bill Clinton and many of his allies immediately suggested that radio talk-show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and other ''purveyors of hatred and division" were partly to blame. In a planned speech, disseminated by a compliant media, Clinton claimed that "they spread hate.... [and] leave the impression, by their very words, that violence is acceptable."
To some extent, and not without the aid of some mistaken conservatives, liberals are repeating this smear in the aftermath of the September 11 slaughter. This time, however, the smear is only that right-of-center advocates are domestic versions of the Taliban, not that they created the Taliban. Often enough, the smear is casual, even accidental, as if the perpetrators didn't quite realize they were saying that mainstream Republicans are just another form of the murderous Taliban and al Qaeda lunatics. Another common smear is the unqualified use of the term "religious Taliban," which puts all believers — from the Adventists to the Zoroastrians — in the same basket as the kooks from Kandahar.
Even aside from fairness to citizens and political rivals, it is important that Americans get a correct word association for the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. The wrong word associations hinder an understanding of our enemy, and hinder efforts by us and moderate Muslims to agree on a common strategy against our enemy, which is radical Islam. The importance of this word association is made obvious by President Bush, who frequently describes this as a war against "terrorism," thus diverting attention from the broader political and military campaign against Islamic radicalism and its allies.
Hopefully, Bush has a good Realpolitik reason to use this circumscribed "terrorist" term — but pundits don't have such excuses for their mistakes. Peter Bergen, author Holy War Inc., says bin Laden's early education by radical clerics was "as if Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman's brother had taught him about capitalism." U.S. News & World Report kept secret the identity of a "prominent Democrat" even as he smeared GOP leaders as a "Republican Taliban." In the New York Times, Tom Friedman says the war is against "religious totalitarianism" and that religions — including U.S. churches — should give up their claim to a monopoly on the truth. In Slate, David Plotz informed his readers that "conservative clerics are pressuring Pakistan to adopt Taliban-style government." In a strategy paper by three leading lights of the Democratic party, James Carville, Stanley Greenberg, and Robert Shrum made a crude effort to tie the Taliban to the GOP, saying "we [Democrats] are defending freedom of choice and religion. Religious fundamentalism and fanaticism are uncomfortable with the life choices and gender roles at the center of American life." A search of the Nexis database for media reports over the last 90 days shows 60 articles that associate the Taliban with the right wing or with conservatives.
Consider a comparison of U.S. conservatives and economic right-wingers against the Taliban and bin Laden. Both the Taliban and bin Laden hate the free market, political caution, social moderation, personal autonomy, and new technologies that might distract their warriors from bloody warfare. They seek to destroy other religions, political balances of power, or any portions of civil society that are not under their sway, all so they can impose their radical, bearded utopia on a very unwilling populace. There's nothing there that a mainstream conservative or right-winger, nor a mainstream liberal, could support.
One can tie American mainstream conservative or right-wing political movements to bin Laden only by using a very weak and essentially dishonest standard — for example, that if some people on the Right disapprove of some of the same things that bin Laden wants to wipe out, then they must be political cousins. The unfairness of this standard is easily demonstrated by unfairly applying it to liberals, left-wingers and environmentalists. "The environmentalist Unabomber showed bin Laden's supporters the potential for mail delivery of deadly terrorist attacks"; "New Left activist Sara Jane Olson vigorously opposed U.S. foreign policy, as does Mullah Omar"; "Like many liberals, bin Laden believes that ideology trumps human nature"; "To avoid spiritual pollution, the Taliban bans entrepreneurs from selling items such as Britney Spears CDs.''
The occasional comparison of the Taliban and al Qaeda with fascism is somewhat easier, but still distant. I don't care which of the injured parties feels more insulted when bin Laden and the Taliban are compared to Hitler and the Brownshirts, but the differences are important — bin Laden has an ideology that goes far beyond his Arab ethnic group, and the radical Islamists have a fierce religious fervor, thus cleaving any significant connections to the religion-hating, ethnically obsessed Nazi party (despite their shared hatred of Jewish people).
Moreover, there are some connections between bin Laden, the Taliban, and the left side of the spectrum. Like the authoritarian Left (and the fascist Right), they want to impose central rules that trump myriad property rights and the right to earn a living. Writing in The Weekly Standard, Waller R. Newell, a professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, argues that the European postmodern Left from the 1950s steered the nascent Islamic political movement toward a radical opposition against America and capitalism, rather than against corrupt local autocrats. Bin Laden is also willing to ally with Saddam, who sees himself as the Stalin of the Union of Socialist Secular Arabia. Like the Left, the radical Islamists are trying to win utopia in a different dimension — for them, heavenly paradise; for the Communists, future Communism with shared property and Socialist Realist art. Amusingly enough, both of these utopias prominently feature free sex — although the Islamists' is post-martydom sex with doe-eye virgins, who, I assume, get centrally subsidized birth control.
Of course, such connections range from the influential to the ridiculous — but even the weakest meets the same standard that liberals have used to tie conservatives and right-wingers to the Taliban and bin Laden. Under this weak standard, any author could justify grotesque comparisons such as "bin Laden, the communitarian dissident," or perhaps, "the theocratic socialist Mullah Omar," or maybe, "Al Qaeda's call for a simpler, more spiritual life matches the yearning of many Western liberals for an escape from high-tech society."
The second type of casual smear by liberals is the broad association of the Taliban with religion. Consider the appropriate word-association, and then apply the antonym: Religion is to the Taliban as secularism is to... the Nazis and the Communists.
Like Nazism and Communism, the Taliban's agenda is unique, bloody-minded, and widely reviled. Just as there are secularists who do not want to be associated with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, there are several billion Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and others who really have very little in common with the radical Islamists. Secular liberals, considering their frequent breast-beating on the subjects of profiling and discrimination against groups, should understand this concern. Indeed, liberals have a personal incentive to prevent the rise of such lazy ideological smears, as they otherwise might find other pundits writing such unfair phrases as "The secular Nazi forces killed another million Russians that month," or "Stalin and Mao — both of whom championed a high wall of separation between church and state — murdered roughly 80 million peasants between them." That, as we well know, would be using guilt-by-association to suggest that ordinary secularists — Bill Moyers for example — are in cahoots with those three Christian-hating butchers of the 20th century. Indeed, this type of smearing could go far beyond religion. For instance: "Like the Sierra Club and Zero Population Growth, the environmentally-minded Heinrich Himmler sought to reduce the world's population" — or perhaps, "Lenin, a prominent supporter of science, was busy that day signing execution orders."
It is not clear why liberals — and even some non-liberals — associate the Taliban and bin Laden with the Right and with all religion. To some extent, it is doubtless because fascists are a more reviled enemy than the more murderous Communists, and some pundits and media editors like to label their enemies as fascists. Also, certain liberals habitually and crudely view all religious people as cut from the same backward cloth. Or maybe it's because post-Sixties American liberals want to link authoritarian extremists to all religion so they can avoid dealing with each religion as an independent political force — and a very powerful, very democratic, and very popular obstacle to their secular arguments for moral autonomy. Perhaps, as with Clinton's 1995 statement, it is simply a desire to smear their political rivals as enemy sympathizers. But this mocha caffe McCarthyism, unlike Tailgunner Joe, has no evidence of nuclear spies, shared organizations, secret pumpkins, and terrorist stipends linking domestic conservatives and right-wingers with the radical Islamists.
Of course, my little effort to help pundits distinguish between the Taliban and mainstream ideologies is not helped by the noted religious conservatives Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. I don't want to defend Falwell's gyrations or Robertson's comments and unsavory business dealings — nor should I even have to explain the vast difference between the Taliban and the two conservatives from Virginia. But liberals, often eager to demonize the two, should try to remember that whatever the quality of their theology, moral reasoning, and political astuteness, they do not incite slaughter, warfare, or the political isolation of women.
The good news is that the media is not greatly magnifying the liberal smear. Perhaps the most accurate descriptions of the Taliban and bin Laden — that they are "radical Islamic" or "extremist Muslim," or variations on these — are widely used in the media. A Nexis search of the last 90 days shows those terms were used together almost 900 times, just as often as the Taliban was mis-associated with "religious." Moreover, that "prominent Democrat" quoted in U.S. News did not want to appear on the record, and some left-of-center pundits reject the smear entirely. Chris Hitchens, for instance — who judges the Taliban to be Islamic fascists, or feudal Islamists — has said publicly that it would be foolish to associate them with conservatives or right-wingers.
America will win this war against radical Islam. But the price will be cheaper, and the victory will come sooner, if we recognize our enemy for what it is, and disassociate it from what it is not. Understanding allows us to recognize our strengths and allies: the free market, ordinary Muslims, and moderate Muslim clerics alike — as well as the West's wonderful balance of political power among the self, moral communities, and a tiered government.
But misunderstanding, especially deliberate misunderstanding, will only help the enemy escape, and so delay the arrival of a prosperous peace.
-- Anonymous, December 01, 2001