Monday, July 25, 2005

Idle Vices

If you want to understand what motivates suicide bombers, watch the recent movie Downfall. Based on eyewitness accounts, it chronicles the final days inside Hitler's bunker. In a particularly harrowing scene, Joseph Goebbels and his wife are given the opportunity to have their six young children flee to safety. But Magda Goebbels refuses and instead drugs the kids to sleep. Then she inserts a cyanide capsule into each child's mouth and presses the jaws until the capsule breaks. When explaining why she won't allow her kids to escape, Mrs. Goebbels explains, "I can't bear to think of them growing up in a world without national socialism."
That chilling opening makes a good point. Ideological hatred is not confined to one group or region of the world - although it may take different forms depending on the soil it finds itself in. Fareed Zakaria's article on ideological hatred at Newseek is worth a moment of your time, regardless of your views on the Iraq conflict.
Like all ideologies, radical Islam is a phenomenon of the educated class. From Muhammad Atta to Mohammed Sidique Khan, almost all suicide bombers have been men who read and write. In V. S. Naipaul's book A Million Mutinies Now, the author interviews a young Hindu fanatic. The man explains his fascistic views, and then Naipaul asks the man's father, who happens to be sitting there, what he thinks. The old man explains that he works at a factory from morning till night and doesn't really have time for these kinds of ideas. Extremist ideology is a leisure-time pursuit.
Zakaria suggests that we might do a lot of good in being circumspect about who is and who is not a legitimate voice of dissent seeking asylum in the west.
We're fighting a military battle against a phenomenon that is largely nonmilitary. In a battle of ideas, no one bullet will win... The director-general of Al Arabiya TV, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, asked two weeks ago in the London-based daily Asharq Al-Awsat, "Why would Britain grant asylum to Arabs who have been convicted of political crimes or religious extremism, or even sentenced to death? Not only were they admitted to this country, but they were also provided with accommodation, a monthly salary, and free legal advice... for those who want to prosecute the British government." Recall that bin Laden's original declaration of war against the West was published in only one venue, a London-based newspaper. Next time, let him publish it in Saudi Arabia if he can.
It is going to be seriously difficult to determine if a person from a country with a legal system and political culture that is very different from our own is being justly prosecuted or unjustly persecuted. We are removed from the facts in several respects. But it seems to me that Zakria may be on to something when he suggests that a person demanding extra legal methods to being about change - either here or there - has crossed a line. No matter how corrupt a state may be, advocating violence against its people is never excusable. Statements like that are past the limit of what free speech can reasonably be said to be. We should not allow ourselves to be a safe haven for the dissemenation of such hatred. Dissent yes, gathering allies, yes - but do it on your own time and dime, and do it without advocating genocide or random murder.

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