Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Three stages of resistance

There are three stages of resistance a new idea. So at least maintained the Swiss-American naturalist Louis Agassiz 1807-1873). First comes denial: it is said, flat out, that it isn’t so. Second, the new idea is unacceptable because it is against religion. Finally comes the ho-hum stage. People have known about that for a long time--tell us something new. Variations of this meme have circulated ever since. Whatever the exact formulation, it is remarkable how often the pattern fits.

We are going through all three stages at once in the matter of Koran abuse at Guantanamo, as reported in Newsweek. Pickets have appeared at the Newsweek offices proclaiming that the allegations of Koran abuse are a lie (stage one). However, the Bush administration, while deploring the Newsweek piece, hasn’t confirmed this. Accordingly, we have the second contingent that says that, whatever the facts of the case, Newsweek should have remained silent. Such a revelation is against the American religion, that is, that our country has a divinely appointed right to impose our values on other nations, at the point of a gun, if necessary. For this reason the information, while possibly correct, should never have been publlished, and having been published must be disavowed (stage two). Yet others point out that there are Red Cross reports credibly documenting the abuse that go back two years. It is old news (stage three).

The Koran. Why this fuss about an old book that no rational person can understand? No one cared when the National Library in Baghdad, containing priceless manuscripts and other unique items, burned to the ground. And few cared about the looting of major treasures, documents of humanity’s oldest civilization, stolen from the Baghdad Museum. We had enough troops to preserve the Oil Ministry from harm, but not the Library and the Museum.

Other rationales for the Iraq war having perished, the fallback position is that we have a right to impose our values on the Middle East. Yet what kind of values are these that we are introducing? Whatever they are, the military is unsuited to impose them. If we were serious about values we would have sent a team of scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim, to Iraq to guide the development. Of course, we are not interested in building civilization--only in creating a government in that country that is beholden to US interests.

It has been my preference to reject the arguments of the negativists, who say (as many said after 9/11) that America is rotten to the core. Not only is the United States my country, but it is, on balance, far more a repository of good than bad. Others decry European civilization or echo Susan Sontag’s hyperbole (later disavowed) the white race is the cancer of human history. These views manifest self-contempt. I have also doubted the claims of the "declinists" that the recession of the American Empire is inevitable.

Now I am not so sure about what will happen. And there is a more disturbing question. As things are going, do we in fact deserve to prevail?


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