New Sisyphus is an excellent essayist. I’ve probably already told you that. However, it is one of the privileges of age to repeat oneself with impunity.
This week he took first place for “ Our Liberties are Our Liberties, Even If, and Especially if, That Pisses Mohammed Off.” Already you can tell you’re going to like this one, huh? Me, too.
This is a fascinating account of a man’s conversion from his inherited forms of thinking to his differentiated, adult thought. All too often, this painful journey is foreclosed. However, Sisyphus remembers distinctly when the road forked, where he went one way and his friends went another. And all because of Salman Rushdie:
This was in 1989…
… To the extent I thought about Islam at all, it was in the context of the Iranian Revolution. At that time I saw myself as a staunch democratic socialist, a secularist, a member of Michael Harrington’s DSA and very much the model of a liberal.
Which is why, looking back, my reaction to the news of the Ayatollah’s fatwa [against Salman Rushdie] was so odd. In its essence my reaction was: “well now, buddy, I’m sure your religion is important to you, but you don’t have the right to declare death sentences on British citizens. Our belief in freedom of speech and our liberty is as important to us as your Koran is to you and you won’t find us bending in to threats like this so easily. Who does this pipsqueak priest think he is?!? This guy has seriously over-stepped his bounds and is in for a terrible thumping, both culturally and probably militarily as well.”
Which just goes to show you how much Conservatism is actually a question of temperament. Here I was, Mr. Berkeley Radical, just assuming that Tehran was in a heap of trouble with the U.K. and the U.S. for presuming to usurp its most cherished rights.
Sisyphus learned real quick that not everyone felt the same way. Many of his friends thought Rushdie had no one to blame but himself. And then…
When Cody’s, the famous Berkeley bookstore, was fire-bombed for carrying The Satanic Verses, the reaction was not what I would have then expected, yet another nail in the coffin of my leftism. I tried to imagine if the muted reaction would have been the same if a militant Christian sect had bombed the store for carrying Chomsky and found myself laughing at the very thought.
Sisyphus recalls how weak were our responses, how blind we were to how we appeared to the Islamists:
And, so, the famous Bin Laden Myth of the Paper Tiger was born. Kill their soldiers, bomb their diplomats, blow holes in their warships, demand that they kow-tow to our beliefs, craft respect for the Islamist political programme as an issue of “civil rights,” murder their men while they are bringing food to a starving Muslim nation, murder sailors during hijackings, use any counter-reaction by Westerners as a ploy for international sympathy…
Chillling isn’t it? Reading his words, you understand how destructive the MSM had been to the fabric of our culture when they sold us the bill of goods known as “Vietnam is the First War America Lost.” Even more chilling was the way we walked off and left millions to die at the hands of tyrants.
It took the full alarm of 9/11 to wake us up from the drugged state we’d been living. Coming back to life after so many years is painful indeed.
Go read the rest of the essay, all the way down to Clinton’s appalling betrayal. If it’s any comfort at least now we sometimes know when we’re being had.
Dr. Sanity was in second place with her sardonic monologue, written in response to Juan Cole’s snippy rhetorical question: “How do you like your democracy now, Mr. President?” (Personally, were I Bush, I’d have emailed him in reply to say “Why, thanks for asking, Juan, boy. I kinda like ’em over easy with grits on the side” ~!D. But I’m not as busy as he is).
Dr. Sanity gives ol’ Cole a tongue-lashing that you’ll be glad not to have aimed in your personal direction. That woman knows how to tell a person where to go and what to do when they get there. Whowee.
Guess what? I understand that you live in some ivory tower somewhere, Professor, but I choose to live in the real world. That means, among other things that things do not go perfectly all the time; nor do they go the way I (or Mr. Bush) might happen to want them to go.
I don’t get into a snit about it like some, because I recognize that simple truth.
Democracy never promises perfection. Democracy has never promised anything–except choice. NEWSFLASH. People make bad choices. They make bad choices all the time. They don’t even (gasp!) act in what is obviously their best interest an awful lot of the time. This is frequently referred to as “human nature”.
Welcome to reality. There is no “stunning contradiction or hypocrisy” involved here–except perhaps on your part. The decades-long self-brainwashing of the Palestinian people is hardly likely to evaporate instantaneously. They will cling to their role as Islamic victim poster children for a quite a while, I suspect. They’re comfortable in this role because it explains their pathetic situation. They are comfortable in this role because people like you have encouraged them in this role and have nodded knowingly as they blame the Jews; or the Americans; or just about anyone–rather than take responsibility for their own plight. It was people like you who supported Yasser Arafat and his brand of thugs for all these years.
So the Palestinians voted for a bunch of murderous thugs in their first free election in decades. Their choice was between two groups of them, in fact–one marginally less suicidal and homicidal than the other. What did you expect?
It would be nice to think Dr. Sanity’s ideas penetrated Dr. Cole’s kryptonite liberalism, but don’t bet money on it. Liberalism has made itself deaf, dumb and blind to reason. That’s why it’s not able to come up with any new ideas. Liberals know what they know and that’s that. Impenetrable.
The first place non-council winner, Neo neocon, parallels in some ways the ideas in the first place council post. For some time now, Neo has been writing about her change in direction and the many perturbations in her life that have been caused by the change in her political thinking. Each of these essays has been fascinating, and each has drawn a number of readers who have experienced similar dramas on their road to change.
For Sisyphus, Salman Rushdie’s treatment was a turning point. But for Neo, it didn’t begin for real until 9/11:
For me, that shock was just the beginning–the catalyst, as it were–of a slow process of change that took several years to complete and probably isn’t over yet. It unfolded in a manner that was mostly solitary and internal; involving watching, listening, reading, and thinking.
Looking back, I realize that two elements were absolutely necessary for this to occur: a powerful motivation, and access to information.
She nails it right there. Both are necessary, and neither is sufficient on its own:
The access was provided by the internet. The worldwide media was newly at my fingertips. Without it, I would never have encountered the varied sources that led me down the path of change, but would instead have stuck with the old tried and true–the Times, the Globe, the New Yorker, Nightline, and NPR–and I am certain I would not be sitting here today, writing this blog.
Prior to this, I’d been neither a news junkie nor a history buff. My consumption of such things seems to have been about average: the usual cursory high school history courses plus one or two in college; the quick reading of a daily newspaper and a weekly periodical; and the viewing of the nightly news on TV, background noise while I concentrated on cooking dinner or tending to the family.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I didn’t have a clue that my online reading and increased interest in news, history, and politics would lead to any sort of mind- or life-changing experience…
Neo is an excellent memorist. Rather than excerpt any more of her story, I urge you to go to the post and read for yourself how she smooths the wrinkles of change, how she works her way to a new perspective about herself and the world.
Unfortunately for Dr. Cole, locked away in his tower of tenure, he will not have the opportunity to experience what Neo did. Given how difficult her journey was, you have to wonder if Cole’s refusal is more a failure of nerve than anything else.
Second place was taken by Villainous Company (The Baron always likes it when she gets nominated. He has an excuse to look at that great illustration). I grew up with kids like V.C. She’s a military brat and I lived in a military town and played with children whose fathers were often transferred. So I understand her disgust with Joel Stein’s facile article recently. The one where he claimed some kind of moral courage for saying out loud that he didn’t support the troops. Reading him, you got the sense he thought this was a stance to take pride in. As V.C. puts it:
Reading Joel Stein… in the LA Times a few days ago, it was hard to know how to react.
For someone like me who grew up in a Navy family and married a Marine, it’s always tempting not to take that sort of thing seriously. To dismiss him as the kind of overprivileged, airy-fairy dilettante my father’s and husband’s service make possible. Annoying, but in the end insubstantial. It’s tempting to think of men like Stein as the noxious by-products of freedom, like exhaust from an automobile: just hold your nose, wave your hand about rapidly, and try not to inhale until the odor dissipates.
I could see Mr. Stein was, possibly, trying to be amusing with his little japes about how it wasn’t “safe” not to support the troops. You see, they might beat him up. The joke fell a bit flat with me, though, because the men he doesn’t support are currently far too busy to beat up snivelling West Coast reporters who can’t name a single military person of their acquaintance and admittedly know nothing about any of the wars their own country has fought. Of course, ignorance doesn’t keep him from bloviating.
Go to her post to find out who Mr. Stein “might” support.
And so aren’t they all. The Watcher has them in a tidy bunch, right here.