First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
The Riots of the Faithful
So Newsweek prints an uncorroborated allegation about American interrogators flushing Qurans down the toilet in order to get fanatical Muslim prisoners to talk, and there's rioting and death all over the Muslim world.
There are several lessons to be learned from this incident, some trivial, some quite important.
1. The courts have given the news media carte blanche, in the name of the First Amendment -- but the media are no better than government at exercising unchecked power. When it's known that no one can punish you, a certain kind of person stops caring whether he hurts anybody. And such people tend to rise within any organization that doesn't work hard to have a conscience.
Personally, I think there should be legal consequences for editors and publishers and reporters so abysmally selfish and stupid that they would run with a story that they knew would provoke outrage in Muslim lands, without first making sure it was true.
I'm not talking about prior restraint, which would be unconstitutional. I'm talking about consequences after the fact.
In this case, formal libel and slander laws wouldn't have much effect, because who has standing to sue? (Though we need to restore a reasonable standard of libel and slander, even for public figures; being famous shouldn't mean that other people have no obligation to tell the truth about you.)
I'm talking about informal consequence, like Newsweek's correspondents being frozen out of news stories. Being banned from the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department for at least a year. But if any administration did such a thing, all of the media would unite to crucify them.
So all that's left would be a clean personnel sweep of everyone involved in publishing a false story that leads to needless deaths. But it'll never happen. Maybe some token person, after a lengthy "internal investigation" (i.e., coverup; after all, we know just how thorough Newsweek's investigations are), will be ... fired? Naw. Reassigned.
So all that's left is for the public to punish the offenders by ceasing to buy their publication.
But that won't work because fifteen minutes after the story, the American people have forgotten it.
So Newsweek kills people with a false story that is actually a lie (unlike anything President Bush ever said about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction), and nothing happens to the perpetrators.
2. Too many people in the "American" media have lost any concept of loyalty to their country -- if they even consider it their country, rather than just their residence.
Yeah, that's right, I'm playing the "patriotism" card. But not the way you think.
Our country is at war. And it's a war in which victory absolutely depends on the Muslim world perceiving it as a war between the U.S and its allies on one side, and fanatical murderous terrorists on the other.
If it is ever perceived as a war against Islam, then we have lost. The world has lost.
So during such a difficult time, even people who think the Iraq War or even the whole war on terror is a horrible mistake still have an obligation of loyalty to the nation that offers them protection, prosperity, and freedom.
I mean, what kind of idiot breaks a hole in the hull of his boat during a storm, just because he doesn't like the guy at the tiller and thinks the storm could have been avoided?
Even if the allegations about Quran desecration were completely and absolutely verified, why in the world would you publish the information during wartime? It's not that the Media themselves regard the Quran as sacred. It's just paper to them. And surely they would have to agree that if such actions might somehow gain the cooperation of a potential source of useful information (though that seems extremely unlikely to me), it would be infinitely preferable to physical torture.
But they dwell so blindly within the cocoon of their sheltered world, where it's just awful for somebody to offend "multicultural" people (though just fine to be openly vicious to American Christians or Israeli Jews), that it doesn't occur to them that they could just keep their mouths shut and avoid damaging America and putting Americans all over the world in danger.
They might even realize that by not reporting this story, true or not, they would save Muslim lives. If patriotism couldn't rein them in, then surely simple humaneness should ... one might suppose.
After all, who benefits from the publication of such a story at this time?
Only one group: People who want to bring down or weaken President Bush and everything he stands for, no matter the cost.
The press isn't running for office. To say that the media culture is unpatriotic isn't a political ploy, it's an obvious observation. Oh, if my words actually mattered to them, they'd howl and scream about my illegitimate attack. But in private, they are perfectly happy to mock patriotism in all its forms. They're only patriotic when somebody says they aren't.
They are loyal to a community -- but it's not America.
It's Smartland. The nation of the newsmedia people. That's where they live. Not in America. These newspeople generally don't even know anybody, apart from "sources," who serves America in the military. Smartland consists of a very different crowd.
I know that crowd. I've heard them jeer at all the values that most Americans still care about, laughing at religious people, at the middle class, at suburbanites, at the poor ignorant saps who don't think correct thoughts all the time. You know -- the citizens of Heartland. Those poor sentimental fools who stood in line to see The Passion and who like Adam Sandler movies and who get tears in their eyes when they see the American flag and whose hearts break a little when it burns.
And yet the irony is that the reason the radical Islamists hate the West so much is primarily because of the unchecked and uncheckable excesses of the Smartish. From Hollywood to newspeople to the soft-subject professors in our universities, the culture that makes people like Osama bin Laden want to blow us up or crush us into dust is the culture of the R-rated movie, the anti-religion intellectual, the glorified abortionist, the babies-without-marriage crowd, and the what-me-worry media elite.
Osama isn't much worried about Christianity. Why should he? If a Muslim converts to Christianity in a Muslim country, he'll just be killed. Christianity, despite our apparent numbers, has been reduced to nothing more dangerous to Islam than a swarm of gnats.
It's a lot harder to keep dirty movies and atheistic Western ideas out of Muslim lands. That's the established church of the West these days -- liberty without responsibility, filth praised as "edgy" and virtue despised as "bourgeouis."
If the Islamists ever ruled the world -- and only a fool thinks that history offers some guarantee against it -- then America's unpatriotic elite will realize ...
No they won't. Whom do I think I'm kidding? They'll still blame it on Bush or the Christian right or the oil companies, because the central tenet of their belief is that their side can do no wrong.
Wow. That sounds just like "my country, right or wrong." Only instead of a country with borders, they have Smartland, the nation of people who know far better how to order the world than those ignorant unwashed masses of voters that keep electing morons who can't pronounce "nuclear."
They're fanatical Smartland patriots. So fanatical they don't hesitate long enough to get their facts right before running a story that seriously weakens America's position in a deadly war that has already blown up the two tallest buildings in the capital city of Smartland. Because they haven't recognized yet that Smartland only exists as a parasite, sucking the blood out of the Heartland that they have such contempt for.
One thing for sure. At Newsweek, nobody better ever say again, "We don't make the news, we just print it."
3. Muslims in Muslim countries can dish it out, but they can't take it. They had no problem expelling all the Jews from their countries in an ethnic cleansing every bit as vicious as anything the Spaniards did in 1492. They desecrated Torahs left and right. Nowadays they blow up babies and call it a heroic act, because they were Jewish babies.
But let somebody start a rumor that somebody dunked a Quran in the toilet, and they go insane and riot and kill people.
What planet do these people live on?
What you see in those riots is the result of centuries of being in an almost complete majority -- and having nothing to show for it. Not freedom, not prosperity, not even respect.
Practically everybody they know is Muslim and yet they are still powerless and ashamed and angry.
Muslims in the United States might feel all the same things, but they know they're not in the majority and they've learned to keep their heads down. Like every other minority that doesn't have the power of the state behind them.
The religious right in America thought they were in the majority back in the 1980s, when Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and others flexed their political muscle, only to discover -- oops -- that committed Christians had somehow slipped into a despised minority position without even realizing it.
They didn't have anywhere near the muscle they thought they had and they soon relapsed back into relative quiet. (Forget the way they keep getting trotted out as dangerous demons -- that's just the Left, looking for somebody to demonize so they can whip up support. The new McCarthyism; they always need devils.)
It's hard for me to feel even a shred of pity for all those poor Muslims who heard that somewhere in the world, their holy book might have been desecrated. Do they really expect people outside their religion to take their beliefs as seriously as they do?
Why, just a few weeks ago a CBS television show (Cold Case Files) ran an episode that made an outrageous attack on my church, in which items as sacred to us as the Quran is to Muslims were openly displayed and mocked on national television.
But you didn't see Mormons rioting over it. Oh, we were angry enough-- it was infuriating to be treated with such contempt, as CBS, without a second thought, turned its airwaves over to some Mormon-hating writer who reveled in having the power to get at us with impunity.
But you see, we Mormons are very much aware of being in the minority. The memory of "Christian" mobs and state militias murdering helpless Mormon men, women and children, and then betraying and assassinating our leaders while they were in government custody, is still keen within our culture. It didn't happen far away, it happened in Missouri and Illinois. And it has continued in the years since then, in isolated incidents of murder and expulsion throughout the world, not least in America.
We remember our forebears leaving their homes again and again to get away from an oppressive majority. We remember our haven being invaded by the United States Army; we remember being prepared to burn our homes and crops and flee again, leaving our homeland a desert rather than submit to oppression again.
But in the years afterward, we learned something else, too: How to get along. How to avoid making waves. How to blend in. How to make a moral stand when it matters, without alienating those who might stand with us and without (usually) provoking those who stand against us.
That's what you learn when you're in a perpetual minority.
When would Muslims in the Middle East have learned lessons like that?
What the rioters haven't learned is that blowing up with rage accomplishes nothing except to make themselves look like big babies throwing tantrums. It doesn't make anybody in the world respect Islam more -- it makes us respect Islam less.
After all, when babies are prone to throwing tantrums, we may tiptoe around the house to avoid waking them up, but we don't give them the car keys. It's not respect you're giving them. You can't take them seriously as equals. You only avoid provoking them. They're a nuisance.
I can hear people already complaining that my rhetoric is "excessive" and I have indulged in "name-calling."
I have not. What I have indulged in here is correct labeling. Rioters have surrendered to their passions precisely as babies do, instead of controlling their emotions and acting sensibly, the way grownups are expected to.
Nobody respects people who riot over such offenses, period. But we're so used to lying about things like that and pretending to take this sort of thing seriously that the truth has become unspeakable in polite company.
Yet this is precisely the truth that most needs to be spoken. The fact that Muslims riot over such an offense does not make anybody in the world admire Islam more, or take the words of the Prophet Muhammed more seriously. It just makes us shake our heads and think, Are these people supposed to be ready for self-government?
The fact is that most Muslims in Muslim countries did not riot. Most of them were appalled and frightened when so many of their fellowcitizens went crazy in the streets.
But those aren't the people who shape the image of Islam. It's the rioters who make the news and get the airtime.
The rioters and the terrorists. For what is Osama's "movement" if not a tantrum that has been cynically focused and organized in order to get the maximum attention.
Not real damage, mind you. They're big babies, kicking mommy's shins and screaming "I hate you I hate you." We have to stop them. To that extent we take them seriously. But not as equals.
And yet that is the thing that hurts them most. The thing they crave. To be treated with respect. Oh, they can say "We don't care if you respect us," but their actions prove that to be utterly false. All they care about is gaining the respect of the world. And yet they behave in ways that guarantee they'll never have it.
4. Seeing Kingdom of Heaven this week, I was sharply reminded of the fact that Islam has produced great leaders who accomplished great things. The portrayal of Saladin in that movie coincided very closely with the historical record. And if this movie were actually to be shown in the Muslim world, Saladin's words in the script could be read as a political instruction manual for political Islam today.
Instead, the Muslim world has turned its back on Saladin and embraced leaders who are exactly the kind of people shown in the movie as fanatical warmongering Christians.
Sure that God would protect them, the true believers wanted all-out war with the surrounding Muslim world. Never mind that they were unprepared and their enemy vastly outnumbered them -- God would provide! So they murdered innocents in the name of God ... and got God's answer. Because whatever else God may or may not do, he certainly does not help those who commit murder and other crimes in his name.
Osama and his ilk are identical to the monsters in this film. Some of them are true believers even if they violate every aspect of Islam with the crimes they commit against humanity; others, like the character Guy, are jockeying for command of a ship -- and they'll sink it if that's what it takes to get control of the helm.
Which should mean that we are like Saladin. After all, without even being asked we waged and are waging the most humane major war in history. Our efforts to save the lives of our enemies have cost us many casualties that we need not have suffered -- who does that?
5. A house divided against itself cannot stand. The greatest asset that Osama and his tribe have going for them is not the tantrumlike behavior of their supporters. It's the fact that the West is deeply divided, as a new religious movement -- politically correct puritanism -- is perilously close to seizing control of the governments of most of the major nations of the West.
These citizens of Smartland disingenuously claim that they are neither organized nor a religion -- organized religions are the bogeyman they invoke to frighten their opponents into silence.
But let's remember, please, that Puritanism wasn't an organized religion, either. (Nor was anarchism; nor, for that matter, is Islamicism.) Without ever quite being organized as a church, Puritanism still managed to seize power in England in the 17th century, rather the way that Islamicism seized power in Iran and Afghanistan in the 20th.
How long did it take for the people to be utterly disenchanted by government-by-fanatics, who see every opponent as evil and make every political decision an article of faith? Afghanistan longed to be free of the Taliban; the people of Iran hunger for freedom now. And when the Puritans were toppled in England, the people rejoiced.
Just so the fanatics who now rule the Democratic Party, serving the cause of Smartland at the expense of the Heartland, will find that if they ever really get control of government, they will quickly be the most hated rulers our country ever had.
Already large numbers of Americans seethe over the puritanical laws imposed on us by anti-democratic judges, who cannot wait for compromise and the political process to "purify" us. Already we are outraged by the propaganda they foist on our children in the schools, without reference to the values of the community or the roots of the American culture.
The Taliban of Smartland will be just as repugnant to the people of America as the Islamist Taliban was to most of the people of Afghanistan.
So as we watch the Democratic Party flush away democratic processes in order to get correct outcomes, it's worth remembering that we're not so different from "those wacky Muslims."
People who are so sure they're right that they are willing to eliminate democratic processes in order to get and keep power are the enemies of freedom for everyone. We may be slow to recognize the danger, but one thing is certain: Once the Puritans have power, everyone else will finally see the cost of their utopia.
And as the Iranians and North Koreans have learned, it's very very hard to get rid of a dictatorship with a puritan ideology. Sometimes you're lucky and a big country comes along and liberates you. But sometimes there's no country big enough to do it, and you just have to hunker down and pretend to think correct thoughts and live some kind of life below the radar.
You know, the way believing Christians do right now at American universities.
Copyright © 2005 by Orson Scott Card.
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