Day By Day

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tony Confronts the Madness of Crowds

Something has happened in Western societies over the course of the past half-century that I cannot fully understand. A gaping and apparently unbridgeable conceptual chasm has opened --one that is exemplified in an anecdote relayed in today's Telegraph by outgoing British PM Tony Blair. He writes:

I was stopped by someone the other week who said it was not surprising there was so much terrorism in the world when we invaded their countries (meaning Afghanistan and Iraq). No wonder Muslims felt angry.

I said to him: tell me exactly what they feel angry about. We remove two utterly brutal and dictatorial regimes; we replace them with a UN-supervised democratic process.

And the only reason it is difficult still is because other Muslims are using terrorism to try to destroy the fledgling democracy and, in doing so, are killing fellow Muslims.

Why aren't they angry about the people doing the killing? The odd thing about the conversation is I could tell it was the first time he'd heard this argument.

Wow! Read the whole thing here.

Tony poses a good question -- one that leads to many others.

Why aren't people angry at the extremists, and instead turn their anger against those who are seeking to expand and protect freedom?

Why do intelligent and educated people believe and confidently assert the insane notion that Bush and Cheney "were behind" the terrorist attacks of 9/11?

Why do human rights advocates dogmatically assert, against all evidence to the contrary, that the US and its allies are killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims when in fact the killings are being carried out by Muslim extremists.

Why do so many people dogmatically and irrationally assert that the current war of liberation is nothing more than an imperialist oil grab?

Why do advocates of universal "human rights", who have called time and again for Western interference in the domestic affairs of Sudan, Rwanda, Bosnia, and other rogue states, assert the right to absolute sovereignty of some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in modern history, ones that have systematically denied basic human rights to their peoples, even to the point of carrying out genocidal policies directed against ethnic minorities.

Why are staunch advocates for women's rights silent regarding the plight of women in many Muslim societies?

Why are reasonable actions taken by the Bush and Blair regimes to protect the lives and liberties of the British and American people greeted with hysterical denunciations and charges that they are destroying fundamental freedoms?

This is not just "odd". This is madness.

Everywhere it seems otherwise reasonable and humane people are choosing to engage in willful and perverse ignorance and to embrace paranoid delusional narratives regarding the current conflicts. Why are so many people absolutely resistant to reason and information that contradicts these insane beliefs?

And they are insane, make no mistake about that.

And it's not just the editorial judgment, however despicable and dodgy, of the mainstream media, nor is it the apparently bottomless cynicism and depravity of the political Left. A significant number of good, decent, and normally well-informed people are actively choosing to enlist on the side of madness.

Clearly the current conflict has touched some deep, irrational, unreasoning chords in the collective psyche of many people and, as recent polls have shown, these constitute a substantial and influential segment of the public. What is more assertion of these beliefs is interfering (as Blair notes in his article) with the legitimate functions of government. And beyond this, even the entire enlightenment enterprise is being called into question by the dilemma of how to respond to Islamic radicalism. We are facing a situation in which our habitual modes of discourse and conceptual frameworks are not just inadequate; they are dysfunctional.

And it's not just in the US and Britain. Similar issues are troubling the political and intellectual elites of Europe.

In normal times it is possible to ignore, or at least to mute, the disagreements over fundamental principles that characterize our culture. But these are not normal times and troubling issues are being forced upon us unwillingly.

I think that much of the public revulsion for the current conflict stems from a heartfelt desire to return to "normalcy" and to put these troubling things away. But that, I fear, is not going to be possible. The threat from Islamic extremism has exposed deep and abiding contradictions in our culture and is forcing us to seriously reconsider just what we stand for and why. This is not a comfortable and attractive enterprise, but it is not one that we can avoid.

How the West respond to a persistent and ruthless challenge to its fundamental assumptions and values is the great moral issue of our times? It is one that I find endlessly fascinating, because it gets to basic questions about who and what we are as a society and culture.

These are interesting times -- and promise to get much more interesting in coming years.

I can hardly wait!