Thursday, April 15, 2004

Should being liberal mean being angry at the right, or should it mean being more willing to ask why not merely conservatives but many moderates think those who opposed the invasion of Iraq crazy for being so angry at Bush? Do we believe in thinking hard to see if we could do anything better in dealing with our opponents - or merely with the enemies of our country? I propose to ask again why they hate us - why pro war people hate people who opposed the war. Most of them will say that they don't, except perhaps for a few of us on the fringe. Most however, in addition to disagreeing with us, will also say there is something fundamentally wrong with our way of thinking. Indeed many have tried to say what it is - yet somehow our premises may seem so obvious to us that what they say may not make it past what we expect to hear. This is an attempt by one liberal to ask 'why they hate us' - partly because if we can't even understand conservatives, how can we hope to understand Arabs? Just as we always remind conservatives that attempting to understand what is going through peoples heads is in no way agreeing with them, I don't in fact agree with these arguments, but I'm trying to begin to understand and help others understand why things that seem so obvious to us make no impression when explained to 'them'.

Asking 'Why they hate us', is now a cliche. Oddly enough, the most serious thought I've seen on this topic comes from a conservative, but I've seen him repeatedly express disdain for the question itself, whatever role it may have played in his thoughts. Is asking why they hate us merely self destructive, or is it part of what is best in America?

In a review of a Michael Moore production, Steven says, You know, I don't recall a lot of people asking, "Why do they hate us?" But I sure remember a hell of a lot of people saying, "Ask yourselves why they hate us." It was a stupid question then, and it's a stupid question now, because it always implied, "If they hate us, shouldn't we hate ourselves?" And sure enough, if the prerelease quotes are accurate, it sounds true enough in the case he is discussing. I wonder if that's what being a liberal really means.

For many conservatives, it is axiomatic that what Bush has done has made the United States not weaker but stronger, not more vulnerable but less so. To be sure, they feel that Bush's claim that Iraq had WMD was reasonable at the time - but they also seem to believe that even if some other nations suspect he lied, even if he really had lied, the end result will not be that we are hated and distrusted and attacked more, but that instead they will have more respect for us and be less likely to attack us. If we seriously believe being liberal means accepting that understanding why they hate us is the key to defeating them for various values of 'they' and 'us', it would behoove us to get as far inside the heads of these Bushophiles as possible.

I previously discussed a post on Citizen Smash that provides a good starting point.

I think it's great that Citizen Smash is trying to understand the mindset of people in the Arabian Gulf.

I WAS SITTING in a carpet shop in Dubai when an Arab merchant asked me a startling question. “America is a very powerful country,” he began, “Why do you not finish Saddam?”

The year was 1998, and two US Navy carrier battle groups were on station in the Gulf, flying around-the-clock missions over the southern “no-fly-zone.” I took a moment to collect myself, and then offered the man a fumbling explanation about UN weapons inspectors and international law.

The merchant wasn’t impressed. “Saddam is a very dangerous man. You cannot trust him. Why don’t you finish the war? You do not need United Nations.”

That’s when it hit me: for many Arabs, the Gulf War didn’t end in 1991. They realized that Saddam wasn’t finished, and they believed that he was playing a waiting game, hoping that the Americans and British would ultimately grow weary of “containing” him and go home. Indeed, many Arabs suspected that Saddam had designs on the entire Arabian Peninsula.

They saw our reluctance to “finish the job” as a sign of weakness. But this wasn’t just an isolated incident. They remembered our tepid reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and our helplessness during the Iran hostage crisis. They remembered how we turned tail and ran away after setbacks in Beirut and Mogadishu. They saw how we failed to respond after attacks on the USS Stark and, a few years later, the USS Cole.

In short, they believed we were a paper tiger.

Is this point of view idiosyncratic? Not too long ago I read "The Essential Difference", a book about the differences between brains, especially of men and women. It examined a wide range of sources in the quest to separate the biological from the cultural, and summarized:

It is a shocking statistic that in pre-industrial societies one in three young men is killed in a fight, between men. They tend to be men who feel that their reputation has been disrespected. In order that such "loss of face" does not lead to a loss of status, they stand up for themselves. They send out the signal "Don't f*** with me." And how better to signal that you are a man of action, and not just words, than to kill someone. If you kill someone in a competetive fight, your social status goes rocketing up. Whereas in the developed world a murderer is considered to be a viscious person who should be locked up, in pre-industrial societies a murderer (following the provocation outlined above) is someone who gains respect.

Perhaps there is some oversimplification about other cultures here, and lumping them all together. Yet if you watch boys in a schoolyard, the most popular and respected ones are not the ones who do everything they can to avoid a fight. It really seems there is something deep inside humanity that acts as the pro war people seem to intuitively expect the rest of the world to react.

Of course, most adults have at times been treated rudely by other adults, perhaps enough so that they have felt a punch would improve the other persons disposition. Most of us have learned to control these impulses after generations of cultural evolution in a society with policemen and courts. But the world community has no generally respected nonpartisan court with power to enforce nonviolent international relations, so this is not a good analogy.

Have I switched sides? No. I'm going to leave this up for a few days before posting why I haven't. Even liberals who have thought about these issues may enjoy formulating answers in their minds - and some people who favor what Bush has done may think about the possibility that the inability to conceive the harsh logic of the real world is not the only reason anyone could have for disagreeing with them. I welcome any attempts by conservatives to explain why you REALLY hate opponents of the war - or ahem, not hate but think them far wronger than merely wrong on a group of issues.

No comments: