Monday, May 16, 2005

How many fingers am I holding up?

Here are two very different writers, on two very different subjects. Or are they? Christopher Hitchens, from Slate:
This campaign of horror began before Baghdad fell, with the execution and mutilation of those who dared to greet American and British troops. It continued with the looting of the Baghdad museum and other sites, long before there could have been any complaint about the failure to restore power or security. It is an attempt to put Iraqi Arabs and Kurds, many of them still traumatized by decades of well-founded fear, back under the heel of the Baath Party or under a home-grown Taliban, or the combination of both that would also have been the Odai/Qusai final solution. Half-conceding the usefulness of chaos and misery in bringing this about, Bennet in his closing paragraph compares jihadism to 19th-century anarchism, which shows that he hasn't read Proudhon or Bakunin or Kropotkin either. In my ears, "insurgent" is a bit like "rebel" or even "revolutionary." There's nothing axiomatically pejorative about it, and some passages of history have made it a term of honor. At a minimum, though, it must mean "rising up." These fascists and hirelings are not rising up, they are stamping back down. It's time for respectable outlets to drop the word, to call things by their right names (Baathist or Bin Ladenist or jihadist would all do in this case), and to stop inventing mysteries where none exist.
George Wiegel, from an address given at Gregorian University in December, 2004:
If democratic institutions and procedures are the expressions of a distinctive way of life based on specific moral commitments, then democratic citizenship must be more than a matter of following the procedures and abiding by the laws and regulations agreed upon by the institutions. A democratic citizen is someone who can give an account of his or her commitment to human rights, to the rule of law and equality before the law, to decision-making by the majority and protection of the rights of minorities. Democratic citizenship means being able to tell why one affirms "the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law," to cite the preamble to the European constitution. Who can give such an account?... It is all very strange. For the truth of the matter is that European Christians can likely give a more compelling account of their commitment to democratic values than their fellow Europeans who are a-theos — who believe that "neutrality toward worldviews" must characterize democratic Europe. A postmodern or neo-Kantian "neutrality toward worldviews" cannot be truly tolerant; it can only be indifferent. Absent convictions, there is no tolerance; there is only indifference. Absent some compelling notion of the truth that requires us to be tolerant of those who have a different understanding of the truth, there is only skepticism and relativism. And skepticism and relativism are very weak foundations on which to build and sustain a pluralistic democracy, for neither skepticism nor relativism, by their own logic, can "give an account" of why we should be tolerant and civil.

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