April 29th, 2007

What’s the news in Iraq?: the blind men and the elephant

As the Democrats declare the Iraq war moribund and failed, others are not so sure. General Petraeus (oh well, what does he know?) reports that Sunnis are turning away from support for al Qaeda, and that the number of killings is significantly down since the surge began.

The perception in the MSM is different, and it’s no accident. That’s because the terrorists in Iraq are focusing on big bombings, media events that get our attention and cause a perception of ever-increasing carnage. Terrorists are savvy about how our media works, and about how to wear down support for the war still further; they have no reluctance to use the murder of Iraqi civilians to speak to Reid, et al, in the language they understand and respond to.

But statistics indicate the terrorists’ overall killing capacity is down, at least for the moment. Quite a few leaders have been captured recently, as well, although the operation is fueled by resupplies from Syria and Iran, the engine that drives the whole thing.

I was listening to an interview with Foud Ajami on Fox News, in which he made reference to an item with a fairly low profile on the media radar screen, the resignation from the Maliki cabinet of six al Sadr supporters. Ajami thought it was a good thing, symptomatic of al Sadr’s growing weakness, and good in the practical sense as well because these particular six ministers were overwhelmingly corrupt and useless (in some cases, actually illiterate).

But like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, the same news is seen differently by different analysts and “experts.” Well, they can’t all be right; here are two divergent views on the subject (hint: it’s no surprise Juan Cole finds the development ominous. My guess is that Harry Reid feels the same. The former Iraqi Ambassador Rend al-Rahim, on the other hand, sees it as a weak protest from a Sadr wounded by the surge. And the basic MSM line is a quick assertion that it’s a blow to the Maliki government.)

Ajami, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins and author of a 2006 book on Iraq and the US entitled The Foreigner’s Gift, sees signs of hope in an Iraq that has seen changes in the Sunni perception of the struggle. Sunnis have been accustomed to being rulers there, but their numbers are now reduced (partly by emigration) and they are disillusioned with promised hope from foreign Arabs who never came, or came only to cause more trouble. The Shias, on the other hand, are turning on their erstwhile champion al Sadr and his cabinet ministers (and this was written before their resignation):

There is a growing Shia unease with the Mahdi Army–and with the venality and incompetence of the Sadrists represented in the cabinet–and an increasing faith that the government and its instruments of order are the surer bet. The crackdown on the Mahdi Army that the new American commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has launched has the backing of the ruling Shia coalition. Iraqi police and army units have taken to the field against elements of the Mahdi army….To the extent that the Shia now see Iraq as their own country, their tolerance for mayhem and chaos has receded.

That last sentence probably is true of all elements in Iraq, and holds the key to any eventual healing. The surge is having an effect on Iraq that could, over time, lead to a possibility of such healing. But one thing we may not have is the luxury of time.

Ajami made it clear in the interview I watched that the Iraqis are following events in the US government avidly. They understand that President Bush will be in power until January of 2009, and that he will stand firm in the face of a Congress determined to repeat the “helicopters on the roof” scenario of 1975. In the race between the forces of chaos and order in Iraq, both see January 2009 as an exceedingly important date.

67 Responses to “What’s the news in Iraq?: the blind men and the elephant”

  1. james wilson Says:

    The concept of the term “healing” in war is more often than not describing a desired process rather than a remote possibility. We generally see peace with one faction dead or dominated. The United States is attempting to prevent either, and in an environment that is as contrary to mitigation as it is possible to get.
    We see in our own ordinary lives that we pursue tasks, with some success, to find we were not done opening doors; that one led to another, and as we better understood our environment it afforded us not an ending to our efforts but only a sense of their permanence.
    If power hates a vacum, so does evil. Evil has found our vacum of delicate artifices as a dog smells fear.
    To most of us nothing is so invisible as an unpleasant truth. (Hoffer)

  2. Cappy Says:

    “helicopters on the roof” scenario of 1975

    The liberals seem to love this scenario. As a therapist, do you think they’re reliving their greatest days, or doe it go deeper?

  3. Ymarsakar Says:

    Next problem coming up is with Basrah, Neo. Expect to see something done in S Iraq by Iran, as a counter-surge, given recent British targetings and promises of withdrawal.

  4. sergey Says:

    Hardly Israel will wait so long, until January 2009; the longer it waits, the less sure preventive strike at Iranian nuclear facilities became. Important events radically changing the whole ME situation almost certainly will take place before this date.

  5. a guy in pajamas Says:

    nytimes.comSome very qualified good news on the surge at the NYT.

    Anbar Province, long the lawless heartland of the tenacious Sunni Arab resistance, is undergoing a surprising transformation. Violence is ebbing in many areas, shops and schools are reopening, police forces are growing and the insurgency appears to be in retreat. …

  6. jake Says:

    So much for the Iraqi “government”:

    NYTimes BAGHDAD, April 29 — A department of the Iraqi prime minister’s office is playing a leading role in the arrest and removal of senior Iraqi army and national police officers, some of whom had apparently worked too aggressively to combat violent Shiite militias, according to U.S. military officials in Baghdad.

  7. Tatterdemalian Says:

    Scooter Libby getting indicted for perjury = sign of hope for America.
    Iraqi ministers getting indicted for terrorism = sign of failure in Iraq.

    Whatever, dude.

  8. Joanne Says:

    cnn.comIt sounds as if you’re looking for good news whereever you can find it. The loss of support for Sadr, changes in Sunni perceptions, and the lower casualties are all welcome developments, but we don’t know how how meaningful they’ll turn out to be. Even good developments here and there don’t signify that the whole situation is going well.

    Whatever good signs you want to grasp onto, I still feel that this war was a mistake. No, I’m not callous about the Iraqis living under a murderous tyrant. But our getting involved in Iraq with such poor planning for the aftermath of the war was really opening a can of worms.

    And now we hear from CNN about a letter of protest from six high-level CIA people saying that Tenet went along with Bush in starting the war in spite of–not because of–CIA intelligence. If what they’re saying is true, then Tenet’s behavior resembles the groupthink that paved the way for the Bay of Pigs. There, too, people who should have known better shut up and went along.

    The article quotes from their letter. I’ve pasted part of the article here:

    ” ‘CIA field operatives produced solid intelligence in September 2002 that stated clearly there was no stockpile of any kind of WMD in Iraq….This intelligence was ignored and later misused.’

    “The letter said CIA officers learned later that month Iraq had no contact with Osama bin Laden and that then-President Saddam Hussein considered the al Qaeda leader to be an enemy. Still, Tenet ‘went before Congress in February 2003 and testified that Iraq did indeed have links to al Qaeda.’

    ” ‘You showed a lack of leadership and courage in January of 2003 as the Bush administration pushed and cajoled analysts and managers to let them make the bogus claim that Iraq was on the verge of getting its hands on uranium…You helped set the bar very low for reporting that supported favored White House positions, while raising the bar astronomically high when it came to raw intelligence that did not support the case for war being hawked by the president and vice pesident.’ ”

    Here’s the link:
    http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/29/tenet.letter/index.html

    These people may be playing politics, but I doubt it. I remember hearing similar things at the time.

    You have to admit that sometimes the MSM gets the story right. You cannot overcome a knee-jerk tendency to believe everything the MSM says with a knee-jerk tendency to dismiss everything the MSM says. Like the five blind men and the elephant, it does get some things right.

    By the way, The blind men with the elephant were all correct, but they were all only partially correct. The error of each of these blind men was in mistaking his part for an accurate depiction of the whole. I don’t know if these bits of good news you’re giving us is an accurate depiction of our whole situation over there in Iraq.

  9. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Joanne, perhaps it was just your usual choice of words, but can you give us any better than what you “feel” about what we should have done in Iraq? Or what reason you have to “doubt” that these fine CIA-folks are being political? Sometimes the MSM does get things right, but what is your basis for thinking so here?

    What you are describing is an overall impression based on some of the information. I submit that overall impressions are more susceptible to cultural biases, not less, than the interpretation of individual events.

    Wars go badly. Wars always go badly, because people die in them and the lives of the survivors are marred. The evidence that this war is going particularly badly is mostly impressionistic – the elephant viewed from a distance by people who once saw an elephant in a book.

  10. G. Hamid Says:

    wordinfo.info”The Blind Men and the Elephant” is an excellent analogy and applies to much more than just the war. Nineteenth Century American poet John Godfrey Saxe had an amusing take on the story you may enjoy.

  11. Torq Says:

    You’ve landed an interesting parallel with the three blind men and an elephant analogy.

    It’s obvious to me that the MSM lacks the elasticicity to report on the complexities and ever changing strategies of the insurgency. In general, the MSM lacks the ability to report with substance on anything that is somehow not related to celebrity worship or scandal
    The MSM media in the United States in a major disappointment to liberals and all of those in between.
    Ring a bell and they salivate, throw a bone and they fetch.

    Fortunately the real story is usually found in the opinion journals.

    But you’ve touched on something more important than the blindness of our media in the U.S.

    In the HumanEvents.com piece the question is asked,
    “This adds up to a trend toward success in the classical counterinsurgency fight. But is the trend sustainable? No one can say yet.”

    I think that long term, the answer is no.

    Here’s why:

    Unless the surge includes more and more troops. However, that’s unlikely to happen as the people are learning more of the pretences of this war and growing tired of the mismanagement in Iraq — this result is not entirely the fault of the MSM by the way.
    Even though the MSM is inadequate, the truth tends to rise like cream.

    The surge reminds me of a parable too. I think of the the legend of the brave Dutch boy who put his finger in the dyke to prevent a flood.

    Fact is this parable has all of the elements that a good neocon should love, bravery, commitment, self sacrifice, etc. It perpetuates the myth of a good and worthy citizen.

    For those who are unfamiliar the story goes like this:

    “A good little Dutch boy was taking cake to a blind neighbor, when on his way home he came across a dyke that was leaking.

    The boy’s father was a Sluicer. The sluicer raises the gates more or less according to the quantity of water required, and closes them carefully at night, in order to avoid all possible danger of an oversupply running into the canal, or the water would soon overflow it and inundate the surrounding country. As a great portion of Holland is lower than the level of the sea, the waters are kept from flooding the land only by means of strong dikes, or barriers, and by means of these sluices, which are often strained to the utmost by the pressure of the rising tides. Even the little children in Holland know that constant watchfulness is required to keep the rivers and ocean from flooding the country, and that a moment’s neglect of the sluicer’s duty may bring ruin and death to all.

    In an exemplary exhibition of self sacrifice and commitment (in the case to the community) the boy plugged the hole with his little finger. That little hole, he thought, would soon be a large one, and a terrible flood would be the result.
    He thrust his tiny finger in and in an instant
    The flowing stopped! Ah! He thought, with boyish delight, the angry waters must stay back now! Haarlem shall not be drowned while I am here! “

    The troops are there too, pluging a hole in the dyke, but unlike the boy who braves the cold and lonely night, to be relieved by the morning, the troops will likely have no relief. There will likely be no reinforcement and there will be little reward if any for their efforts.

    We lost this occupation when we didn’t put the people to work, when we didn’t give the people purpose and meaning, safety, shelter and security in their lives.
    No amount of troops surge will improve that condition.
    We blew the coup in the beginning of the occupation with our lack of insight, and lack of empathy for the Iraqis people.

    I seriously doubt that the surge will stabilize Iraq for any meaningful amount of time.

  12. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    But statistics indicate the terrorists’ overall killing capacity is down, at least for the moment.

    I’d be curious to see sources for this statement.

    The evidence that this war is going particularly badly is mostly impressionistic…

    And this one too.

  13. Ymarsakar Says:

    Arabs don’t really respect touchy feeling “empathy” things.

  14. sergey Says:

    Vox Populi [Cliff May]

    Some interesting polling results in recent days. For example:

    *
    According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 61% of Americans oppose “denying the funding needed to send any additional U.S. troops to Iraq,” and opposition is up from 58% in February. (3/23-25, 2007).

    *
    A Bloomberg poll reveals 61% of Americans believe withholding funding for the war is a bad idea, while only 28% believe it is a good idea (3/3-11, 2007).

    *
    A recent Public Opinion Strategies (POS) poll found that 56% of registered voters favor fully funding the war in Iraq, with more voters strongly favoring funding (40%) than totally opposing it (38%); (3/25-27, 2007).

    *
    POS found also that a majority of voters (54%) oppose the Democrats imposing a reduction in troops below the level military commanders requested (3/25-27, 2007).

    *
    A separate POS poll finds 57% of voters support staying in Iraq until the job is finished and “the Iraqi government can maintain control and provide security for its people.” And 59% of voters say pulling out of Iraq immediately would do more to harm America’s reputation in the world than staying until order is restored (35%); (2/5-7, 2007).

    *
    A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll show 69% of American voters trust military commanders more than members of Congress (18%) to decide when United States troops should leave Iraq. This includes 52% of Democrats, 69% of Independents and 88% of Republicans (3/27-28, 2007).

    *
    According to a recent Pew Research survey, only 17% of Americans want an immediate withdrawal of troops (4/18-22, 2007). That same poll found a plurality of adults (45%) believe a terrorist attack against the United States is more likely if we withdraw our troops from Iraq while the “country remains unstable”

    *
    Should a date for withdrawal be set, 70% of American believe it is likely that “insurgents will increase their attacks in Iraq” starting on that day. This is supported by 85% of Republicans, 71% of Independents and 60% of Democrats. (FOX News/Opinion Dynamics, 4/17-18, 2007).

    *
    An LA Times/Bloomberg polls reveals that 50% of Americans say setting a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq “hurts” the troops, while only 27% believe it “helps” the troops (4/5-9, 2007).

  15. Torq Says:

    Ymarsakar Said:

    Arabs don’t really respect touchy feeling “empathy” things

    Ever see an Arab get upset enough to protest? Well, that’s empathy.

    There is nothing “touchy feely” about having concern for one’s neighbor.

  16. stumbley Says:

    Torq said:

    “We lost this occupation when we didn’t put the people to work, when we didn’t give the people purpose and meaning, safety, shelter and security in their lives.”

    And leaving them now is helping, how?

    The soldiers who have “put their finger in the dike,” as you put it, will have relief when the Iraqi army is strong enough to deal with the dwindling number of “insurgents” (read Iranian- and Saudi-supported al Qaeda operatives) that are left. We’ve already seen reports of Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar abandoning their support for al Qaeda as the realization that al Qaeda is not in Iraq to “help” them begins to dawn. As Iraqi citizens begin to see themselves as Iraqis and not as serfs to a powerful dictator, things will begin to get better.

    But it’s going to take time that—for all your pretended empathy for the poor, downtrodden Iraqisyou aren’t willing to spend.

    Best if you spent your time polishing that “Free Tibet” bumper sticker or the “Save Darfur” sign on your window.

  17. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    ‘Arabs don’t really respect touchy feeling “empathy” things.’

    Nothing quite listening to a teenager expound on the inner workings of the minds of several hundred million people, not one of whom he is likely ever to have met. Ah, the hubris of the youthful and the ignorant!

  18. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    ‘Scooter Libby getting indicted for perjury = sign of hope for America.

    Iraqi ministers getting indicted for terrorism = sign of failure in Iraq.’

    The torturous logic that could produce a conflation of these two events – the operation of a judicial process that applies even to high-ranking government employees, demonstrating that justice is blind and that all enjoy equality before the law in the US, and the murder of other citizens by a high-ranking government official in a country with a weak central government, wracked by civil and sectarian violence that often seems to be holding on by a threat – makes it difficult to imagine that I could have a meaningful dialog with the author.

    Really? You think the fact that two government officials in two different countries were charged with violations of the law mean that Iraq is A-OK and just like America? The fact that in one case, the violation was perjury and the government is not under threat of being overthrown, while in the other, the violation was TERRORISM by a government minister and the government is under extreme threat of being overthrown or torn apart from within, does not strike you at all?

    This is, I must admit, profoundly alien.

  19. stumbley Says:

    Yo, Anon…

    I think you missed the point. I believe that Tatterdemalian was indicating that you “progressives” believe that Scooter’s indictment was indicative of the total, fascist, Rethuglican army of Chimpy McBushitler’s being taken to task…and that that was hopeful for America, whereas, the actual arrest of ministers who were antithetical to democracy in Iraq was a sign of how that miserable, filthy, land of wogs who couldn’t spell democracy if it weren’t tortured out of them by illegal CIA prisons was emblematic of the whole uselessness of trying to get those beknighted animals into the 21st century.

    I think that was what Tatterdemalian meant, not that Iraq is like America because two officials were adjudicated.

  20. Torq Says:

    Based on the tone of your response, the vitriol, the anger and hatred, I’m guessing that your are a conservative.

    Maybe I’m wrong about that assuption; ok so I might have a faulty premise, but hey, who’s keeping track anyway.

    It always amazes me, the sheer hyrpcrosy of conservatives who yell, let them stand on thier own, let them pull them selves up by thier boot straps!! Incidentally this statement is usually leveled to the poor and downtrodden, those without any boots.

    The classical conservatives world view maintains that we are a nation of rugged individuals, fiersely independ loners who are motivated by their need to survive and to excell.

    Well, thats what’s needed in Iraq at this point: motivation.

    If we provide the opportunity for the Iraqis to boot srap, they will, right?

    By the way, we can agree or disagree, but do you have to be such a jackass?

  21. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    ‘But it’s going to take time that—for all your pretended empathy for the poor, downtrodden Iraqis—you aren’t willing to spend.

    Best if you spent your time polishing that “Free Tibet” bumper sticker or the “Save Darfur” sign on your window.’

    Whereas you, on the other hand, are willing to do something other than slap a yellow sticker on your car and declar your support for the troops?

    Unless you are willing to get up out of your chair, remove your hands from the keyboards, and actually sacrifice something to change the situation, there is absolutely zero difference between a hippy with a “Free Tibet” sticker who never lifts a finger to free Tibet and, well, you. Without action, you’re all just jerking off.

  22. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    “I think you missed the point. I believe that Tatterdemalian was indicating that you “progressives” believe that Scooter’s indictment was indicative of the total, fascist, Rethuglican army of Chimpy McBushitler’s being taken to task…and that that was hopeful for America, whereas, the actual arrest of ministers who were antithetical to democracy in Iraq was a sign of how that miserable, filthy, land of wogs who couldn’t spell democracy if it weren’t tortured out of them by illegal CIA prisons was emblematic of the whole uselessness of trying to get those beknighted animals into the 21st century.”

    I imagine that if you were to remove all of the strawman arguments from this paragraph, you would be left only with a handful of prepositions and pronouns. If you’re willng to explain this argument without relying on what you imagine, incorrectly, other people believe, then that’s fine. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    It is, in fact, generally a hopeful thing when even high-ranking government officials are held accountable, like every other citizen, to the law. It is generally a bad thing when high-ranking government officials participate in terrorist attacks against their fellow citizens. Or do you disagree? Is it not, perhaps, an argument in favor of pessimism for the American project in Iraq if the government that young men and women are dying to support is literally composed of terrorists?

  23. harry Says:

    Torq:
    Based on the tone of your response, the vitriol, the anger and hatred, I’m guessing that your are a conservative.

    Thats nothing you should see the libs go at it on Hufpo or daily Kos, and that includes at each other!

    Other than that, I cant remember the last time I heard of a conservative shout down a guest speaker at a University, or a winner of the Nobel Peace prize threaten to kill a sitting Democrat President, or a Republican attempt to force a woman off the highway for having a “Kerry/Edwards” bumper sticker on her car.

    It always amazes me, the sheer hyrpcrosy of conservatives who yell, let them stand on thier own, let them pull them selves up by thier boot straps!! Incidentally this statement is usually leveled to the poor and downtrodden, those without any boots.

    What happened to your compassion? Arent you the guys who are supposed to care?

  24. Torq Says:

    To Harry:

    “That’s nothing you should see the libs go at it on Hufpo or daily Kos, and that includes at each other”

    You raise a good point here, one which I think illustrates the disconnect from reality that many bloggers default to.
    In most cases people are polite to each other, especially during face to face exchanges.
    I speak to people of many different socio/political persuasions and I find that most people are very amiable when face to face.
    The blogisphere diminishes that courtesy and entangles people on technicalies rather than the substance of an issue.

    It’s a shame really.

    As for my compassion, yes, of course I care. That’s precisely why I think that we should implement a timed withdrawal.

    Most of the insurgency groups view themselves as waging a muqawama or a resistance. A resistance is not the same as jihad.

    It is no coincidence that the Association of Muslim Scholars called for a commitment to a timely U.S. withdrawal in exchange for it’s participation in the resistance. The Association of Muslim Scholars are one of Iraq’s most influential Sunni Arab body, and one closely tied to the indigenous majority of the insurgency.

    The Shiite’s are also calling for a withdrawal. The Shiite cleric Mustafa al-Sadri has made a similar demand. So has the mainstream leader of the Shiites’ Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who made his first call for U.S. withdrawal as early as April 23, 2003.
    Not to mention a majority of the people of Iraq who are tired of the U.S. occupation.

    If the people the U.S. military is ostensibly protecting want it to go, why should the soldiers stay?

  25. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Anon 2:22

    First, a metacommunications tip. Conservatives are less affected by condescending tone than progressives. The stereotype that we don’t “get it” is indeed partially true: the social component of one’s political beliefs is less important to us, and we often miss or ignore the social cues that tell us “but smart and good people don’t believe that.” No one is entirely immune to such tones, of course, but they are less likely to have persuasive impact with us.

    To the content: it is rather a false antithesis to maintain that we may not generalize about a group because we do not know some majority of them. I will return a false antithesis of my own. Are you claiming that conservatives should not make any generalization about a group unless they know many of them well? If so, I would reject that on two fronts: human beings necessarily generalize as an aid to efficient thinking; secondly, you yourself generalize about others here.

    If your point is rather that this generalization about Arabs/Middle-easterners/Muslims is inaccurate, you are under some obligation to show how or why. Simply saying “you have no right to make that generalization” is inadequate. There is indeed available current evidence of the behavior and motivation of large numbers of Islamists. That “empathy” does not seem to be a common characteristic in that part of the world is abundantly testified to by many comments from their own people. If you have a clearer explanation, let’s hear it. Such refinements might come along many lines. You might note that certain population groups under examination are empathic while others are not on the basis of some evidence you share. The rising generation might be different than the older people, or Egyptians may be different than Persians. There may be aspects of empathy that Arabs do indeed possess which we overlook, or the ones we read about may be unrepresentative of the culture as a whole.

    Similar arguments might be made concerning your other point, assuming the pretense that there is not possible way that the Scooter Libby indictments and the Iraq indictments cannot be compared. There is again the false antithesis of “are you saying Iraq is A-OK?” While it is possible to see evidence that the indictment of Libby was a good thing and the indictment of Iraqis a bad one, the easy and reflexive jumping to that conclusion by progressives is not acceptable. Tatterdemalian did not attempt a lengthy proof, but merely noted the irony.

    Final metacommunication note: if you are going to attempt the “you’re so young and impulsive” insult, it is bad form to use all caps yourself.

  26. stumbley Says:

    “Unless you are willing to get up out of your chair, remove your hands from the keyboards, and actually sacrifice something to change the situation, there is absolutely zero difference between a hippy with a “Free Tibet” sticker who never lifts a finger to free Tibet and, well, you. Without action, you’re all just jerking off.”

    Since you can have no idea of what I do for a living, you have no way of knowing whether I contribute to the effort in Iraq or not.

    And there are more ways of helping our young men and women in the field than by taking up arms and joining them. Some of us are too old to contribute in that fashion…and have occupations that save lives in other ways.

    Sorry if I touched a nerve…but as you’ve seen, the “chicken chicken” argument (why aren’t you doing anything about Tibet or Darfur other than slapping a sticker on the car?) is just as foolish as the “chickenhawk” argument (why aren’t you fighting yourself?). Glad you saw the parallel.

  27. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    “Are you claiming that conservatives should not make any generalization about a group unless they know many of them well?”

    No. I am claiming that people, in general, should not believe that they have intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the minds of other people whom they have never met. This is especially true when the people in question number in the hundreds of millions who live in dozens of countries, practice different relgions, engage in different occupations, speak vastly different dialects from one another, and so forth. That is, it would be like saying “speakers of the English language lack the ability to empathize.” Even if I know many speakers of the English language, in what way can this statement be useful to anyone? It is such a gross generalization based on no evidence as to be worthless and offensive.

    “If your point is rather that this generalization about Arabs/Middle-easterners/Muslims is inaccurate, you are under some obligation to show how or why.”

    Actually, it is typically the person making a claim, especially one as grandiose and patently absurd as that, to defend the claim. If I were to assert, for example, that all conservatives were rapists, I doubt you would feel an obligation to respond with anything more substantial than a fully justified “go to hell.”

    “There is indeed available current evidence of the behavior and motivation of large numbers of Islamists.”

    You are correct; there is plenty of available evidence with regard to the behavior and motivations of many Islamists. This is also entirely beside the point. Most Arabs are not Islamists and many Islamists are not Arabs. If we are talking about Population X, and a small percentage of Population X is contained within Group Y, and Group Y also contains many members of Population Z, then what does the behavior of Group Y tell us about Population X? What would, for example, the behavior of African Catholics tell us about the behavior of all Americans, as some Americans are Catholics? Would it make sense to observe the behavior of a Japanese professor of mathematics and believe I could therefore derive the behavior of an Egyptian farmer, because some Egyptians are also professors of mathematics?

    “You might note that certain population groups under examination are empathic while others are not on the basis of some evidence you share.”

    I might be mistaken on this, but a general trait of almost all human beings, regardless of the group they belong to, is the ability to empathize. An inability to empathize is often pathological, as in psychopaths. Some cultures might value empathy more than others, but empathy is a human trait, not a racial or cultural trait.

    “Egyptians may be different than Persians.”

    This, I think, illustrates the problem nicely: Egyptians are Arabs, while Persians are, well, Persians. They languages belonging to entirely different language families, they practice very different branches of Islam (those who are Muslims), they have very different historical and cultural heritages, they have very different geographical experiences, and so forth. The fact that you either do not know this, or could not be bothered making the distinction, is indicative of the mindset that could believe generalizations like “Arabs do not value empathy” is a meaningful statement of anything but your own biases and ideological misconceptions.

    “There may be aspects of empathy that Arabs do indeed possess which we overlook, or the ones we read about may be unrepresentative of the culture as a whole.”

    Here’s the meat of the problem: I suspect that you know no Arabs, Muslims, or people from that part of the world generally; that you have never traveled to that part of the world; and that the sources of information about these people and that part of the world that you frequent looks at everything through the lens of “The Islamofascist Threat.” If all you ever read about Arabs is third-hand information regarding the small subset of Arabs who are Islamists, and the small subset of Islamists who are violent extremists, then I could understand why you might come to the conclusions that you have. There is a whole world out there; I recommend only that you broaden your horizons. If an Arab youth knew about Americans only by reading the comments section at Little Green Footballs and watching “The Real World,” would he or she be justified in believing that all Americans were over-sexed, lazy alcoholics who lusted for nuclear attacks against Mecca and genocide against Muslims?

    “Final metacommunication note: if you are going to attempt the “you’re so young and impulsive” insult, it is bad form to use all caps yourself.”

    Please let me know when your shrinking violet has woken from its fainting spell at the sight of the terrible impropriety of capital letters used to emphasize a point.

  28. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    ‘Sorry if I touched a nerve…but as you’ve seen, the “chicken chicken” argument (why aren’t you doing anything about Tibet or Darfur other than slapping a sticker on the car?) is just as foolish as the “chickenhawk” argument (why aren’t you fighting yourself?). Glad you saw the parallel.’

    The deeper message behind this is, as Baudrillard said, that we have become trapped in a maze of our own symbols, and have lost touch with authenticity and reality. We are content, for example, to let bumper stickers take the place of genuine action. A common theme among conservative bloggers and their commenters, I’ve noticed, is the belief that by engaging in the writing of blogs that support the war, they are, in effect, accomplishing something. This is as delusional as thinking that a “Free Tibet” or “Support the Troops” sticker on your car does anything other than give you a sense of smug self-satisfaction. It’s all political theater, meant not to actually change anything, but only to gratify our own egos.

  29. stumbley Says:

    Anon:

    Again, you can have no clue as to what I do or do not do in service of our country. The implication that I all I do is post to “gratify my own ego” is rather presumptious on your part. My guess is that trashing the “conservatives” or “neo-cons” who contribute to the comments section of this blog serves much the same purpose for you as that you decry in others.

  30. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    “My guess is that trashing the “conservatives” or “neo-cons” who contribute to the comments section of this blog serves much the same purpose for you as that you decry in others.”

    Basically, yes. At least I recognize my own failings.

    Out of curiosity (and you can be as vague as you want, I’m not after personal information), what is it that you do that contributes to the security of our country or the lives of our service men and women? I’m honestly curious to know what, between blog posts and yellow stickers on one end and enlistment on the other, people here consider to be a genuine contribution and sacrifice.

  31. stumbley Says:

    Defense contractor. I can’t say more.

  32. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    Fair enough. I was one too for a couple of years.

  33. stumbley Says:

    “Fair enough.”

    Okay, so we’re straight.

    See, it’s the hypocrisy that disturbs me. On the one hand, you have “progressives” saying “Iraq is not worth one more American life, it’s time to get out!” and yelling “America’s not doing anything about Darfur and Tibet!” out of the other side of their mouths, when Darfur and Tibet have much less to do with our national security than Iraq. You know, the people who say “We can’t be the world’s policeman!” and then b***h about how we’re not policing Third World conflicts. I’ve read comments on this blog that were of the type “Let the Iraqis fend for themselves” and “Let them kill each other then, instead of killing soldiers.”

    It seems a rather callous attitude to hold, from folks who profess great empathy for people in other parts of the world. It’s what leads me to believe that “saving soldier’s lives” and “concern for the Iraqis” are the last things on the minds of these “progressives”—that it’s much more about political power and hatred of the West.

    It’s the unquestioning acceptance of the statements by anyone critical of the current administration, while disbelieving anyone who says something in support of Bush’s policies. It’s the unbelievable idiocy of the “truthers” and Rosie O’Donnell who postulate incredible plots to destroy the WTC, when a tanker truck and a bridge in Oakland demonstrate the validity of the truth about 9/11.

    It’s the rush to embrace George Tenet—and believe his every pronouncement—now that he seems critical of the Bush administration, while conveniently forgetting that it was the incredibly slipshod CIA he headed that gave us bad intelligence in the first place! (You know, that “covert operative” Valerie Plame, the Middle Eastern WMD expert—no doubt she had the goods on Saddam’s nuclear capability…)

    Anyway, I do my part. And I know why we’re in Iraq, and why it’s essential that we do everything we can to see that democracy takes hold there.

  34. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    Wait a minute. Stumbley, I’m sure you’re a great guy and all, so don’t take this personally, but I fail to see how working for GE (or whatever defense contractor) is “doing one’s part,” and considered a “genuine contribution and sacrifice.”

    UB
    (Who, by the way, does not even own a car upon which to place a bumper-sticker.)

  35. stumbley Says:

    Kind of depends on what one does, doesn’t it? Since you haven’t got a clue, makes no sense to hypothesize, does it? When you’ve sacrificed for anybody, let me know, okay?

  36. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    “Iraq is not worth one more American life, it’s time to get out!”

    Though I can’t speak for others, I have never thought or argued that Iraq is not worth any number of American lives. I tend to think that our presence is at best not accomplishing anything, and is far more likely to be making the situation worse by removing incentives to find a political settlement between Shi’a and Sunni militias.

    I do not think that when people are critical of US policy towards, say, Sudan, it’s not because they are advocating the deployment of US troops to Darfur (if we thought Iraq was a mess, wait until that happens). Instead, they’re critical of US policy towards Sudan for not using more of the broad array of US power to influence the Sudanese government. The US played an instrumental role in ending the north-south civil war in Sudan, for example, and could likely help achieve a settlement within the framework of the agreement that ended that conflict. The US could be doing more by, say, funding AU peacekeepers, putting political and economic pressure on the Sudanese government, working with the various Darfuri rebel factions to present a unified front in negotiations, and so forth. With regard to China, the US has an enormous economic relationship with China, yet seems to do remarkably little to leverage that relationship to change China’s behavior. Could the US do much? Probably not. Could it do more than it is? Probably. The key that you seem to be forgetting is that the US military is not the only asset available, and that all calls for the US to “do more” are not calls for invasion.

    “Rosie O’Donnell”

    I have never, in my life, met anyone who treats Rosie O’Donnell as a serious source of information about security, terrorism, international politics, or anything. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who takes her seriously over anything. Likewise, I have never met anyone who takes Ward Churchill seriously or any of the other fringe liberal demagogues trotted out to illustrate the depravity of the left. Both sides, I must remind you, have their own fringe; Ann Coulter, for example, has advocated the murder of Supreme Court justices and has expressed a desire for terrorism to be committed against New York City. Bill O’Reilly, likewise, has called for acts of terrorism against San Fransisco. I have met far more people who take these two seriously than I have who take Rosie O’Donnell seriously. Maybe this is because of a discernible difference, or maybe this is because I am more attuned to noticing extremism on the other side of the political aisle, but these people serve, in essence, as red herrings who distract us from the really important matters at hand in order to line their pocketbooks. They are, in other words, utterly irrelevant to anyone who actually makes decisions that matter; I recommend that everyone else follow suit. If everyone but crazies ignored the crazies, it would be easier to spot the crazies.

    ‘You know, that “covert operative” Valerie Plame, the Middle Eastern WMD expert—no doubt she had the goods on Saddam’s nuclear capability…’

    This one, more than any other, angers me. Real, live human beings died as a result of her cover blown. That’s all I have to say about that.

  37. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    “Kind of depends on what one does, doesn’t it? Since you haven’t got a clue, makes no sense to hypothesize, does it? When you’ve sacrificed for anybody, let me know, okay?”

    Gee, I asked you not to take it personally.

    It’s just hard for me to understand how working for a defense contractor, which unless I am mistaken, by definition means you are profiting from the defense industry, can be considered “sacrificing.”

    I’m totally willing to be proven wrong here. I just need a hypothetical sutuation in which earning a living as a defense contractor equals “sacrificing” for the war effort.

  38. stumbley Says:

    “Real, live human beings died as a result of her cover blown.”

    Name one.

    I just need a hypothetical sutuation in which earning a living as a defense contractor equals “sacrificing” for the war effort.”

    Say, spending a good six months living away from your family in a very remote location you can’t disclose, working 12- and 14-hour days. Does that help?

    Again, since it’s pretty clear you don’t have any idea what constitutes defense work (there are many, many facets to the industry), it would behoove you to refrain from assuming that you do.

    “by definition means you are profiting from the defense industry”

    Have any investments in a mutual fund? Participate in a government (city, state, or federal) retirement fund? Have any stocks at all? If the answer is yes, then you, too are “profiting from the defense industry”.

    Sheesh.

  39. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    Stumbley calm down please.

    “Say, spending a good six months living away from your family in a very remote location you can’t disclose, working 12- and 14-hour days. Does that help?

    Again, since it’s pretty clear you don’t have any idea what constitutes defense work (there are many, many facets to the industry), it would behoove you to refrain from assuming that you do.

    I was willing to be corrected and shown otherwise, but as far as I can tell you took that job by choice and are presumbably handsomely compensated for it, so I have a hard time seeing how exactly it can be called a “sacrifice.”

    “by definition means you are profiting from the defense industry”

    Have any investments in a mutual fund? Participate in a government (city, state, or federal) retirement fund? Have any stocks at all? If the answer is yes, then you, too are “profiting from the defense industry”.

    I may well be that I do, but I sure don’t call it a sacrifice.

  40. stumbley Says:

    UB:

    What constitutes “sacrifice,” for you then? Must we all die for what we believe in?

    You first.

  41. stumbley Says:

    Sorry, got carried away.

    This all started when folks began asking me what my “contribution” was…I spelled that out. Somehow, my “contribution” wasn’t enough, the requirement for me to be able to comment on Iraq policy morphed into “sacrifice”. Just another example of “progressives” moving the goalposts so that their arguments are always right.

    UB, you win!! I’m a chickenhawk!! I’m a warmongering capitalist Rethuglican brownshirt!! When the BushReich comes, you’ll be the first in the gulag!!

  42. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    Well of course sacrifice can be many things, up to and including dying, but I don’t think being compensated monetarily is normally included in the mix.

    For example, I think Pat Tillman made a tremendous sacrifice, even before he was killed by his own unit.

    Now in your example, if after 9/11 a person quit his high-paying cushy desk job in Manhattan to take a lower-paying job for a defense contractor working 12 hour days making widgets in a remote location because he truly believed that this contractor was providing essential widgets for the war effort, then yes, I guess that would qualify.

    But being a career engineer with KBR and suddenly getting transferred to Iraq just because Halliburton won the contract wouldn’t.

    Fair enough?

  43. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    Sorry stumbley, but the original question was:

    I’m honestly curious to know what, between blog posts and yellow stickers on one end and enlistment on the other, people here consider to be a genuine contribution and sacrifice.

    To which you replied:

    Defense contractor

    Was I way out of line to interepret that as “my contribution and sacrifice is that I am a Defense Contractor?”

  44. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    That said, I think one could replace “genuine contribution” for “sacrifice” in my above statement and still have a reasonable argument.

  45. stumbley Says:

    “But being a career engineer with KBR and suddenly getting transferred to Iraq just because Halliburton won the contract wouldn’t.

    Fair enough?”

    No. That “career engineer” is still putting himself in harm’s way—even though he’s getting compensated for it. Or have you forgotten the Blackwater guys?

    Oh, that’s right—you and Markos say “screw them.”

    Again, your sacrifice? Or contribution? To anyone?

  46. stumbley Says:

    “Well of course sacrifice can be many things, up to and including dying, but I don’t think being compensated monetarily is normally included in the mix.”

    And now I finally understand…in order to “sacrifice” in your terms, I need not only die, but die penniless.

    You first.

  47. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    ‘Oh, that’s right—you and Markos say “screw them.”’

    Recall, stumbley, that Markos and UB are not, so far as I know, the same person. You would do well to recognize that people who disagree with you are, in fact, individual human beings and not a seething, homogeneous and monolithic mass of evil doers.

  48. stumbley Says:

    Anon, the implication is that people who are paid to either provide support (indirect or direct) or who participate actively in the war effort are somehow “not worthy” of commenting on policy. UB will understand, even if you don’t. Your comprehension problem extends even to this thread.

  49. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    Actually, stumbley, you’re an ass. My ability to comprehend written English is not a problem and there is no need to resort to petty insults (mine, however, is a totally justified retaliation). Also, kindly refrain from ever criticizing anyone ever again for condescension.

    But! First: I pointed that out only because you have, several times, conflated one person who disagrees with you (UB) with all people who might potentiall disagree with you. To wit:

    ‘This all started when folks began asking me what my “contribution” was…I spelled that out. Somehow, my “contribution” wasn’t enough, the requirement for me to be able to comment on Iraq policy morphed into “sacrifice”. Just another example of “progressives” moving the goalposts so that their arguments are always right.’

    I am not folks, I am just me. UB and I are not “progressives” who move “goalposts.” We’re two individuals. I chose not to push you on your statement about being a defense contractor, while UB did. This is because we are, amazingly enough, separate individuals capable of making different choices. You’re failure to see this is yet another example of conservatives who make vast, unsupportable generalizations that demonize people who disagree with them.

    Second, UB has a point. It’s possible to earn money and still make a sacrifice and a contribution – soldiers, for example, earn pay for their sacrifice, but we do not treat their sacrifice as any less heroic for it. But “defense contractor” is a broad category that includes many people who make no material contribution to our troops and make no sacrifices to help them. It’s entirely possible, for example, that you are an adhesives engineer who is working to perfect the adhesives that attach yellow stickers to cars. I doubt this, but UB has done no harm in asking further.

    The idea that, because UB pushed you on this, he thinks (like all progressives who hate freedom and the troops and puppies and apple pie, of course) that the contractors in Fallujah deserved to be burned to death, is simply absurd. I recommend tuning down the righteous indignation.

  50. stumbley Says:

    “You’re failure to see this is yet another example of conservatives who make vast, unsupportable generalizations that demonize people who disagree with them.”

    Pot, meet kettle.

    “It’s entirely possible, for example, that you are an adhesives engineer who is working to perfect the adhesives that attach yellow stickers to cars.”

    Of course that’s entirely possible. But that engineer is not likely working for a defense contractor. And those adhesives, even when used for something other than “attaching yellow stickers to cars” (“Also, kindly refrain from ever criticizing anyone ever again for condescension.” You first.) The implication—and you know it—was that only those people who fight and die and are actually in Iraq are making a material contribution to the war effort, and therefore entitled to comment. I would remind you of the old cliché “There are no small parts, only small actors.”

    If you think otherwise, perhaps you’d agree with Robert Heinlein’s thesis in “Starship Troopers.” It’s the “chickenhawk” argument taken to its logical extreme.

    You disagree with the war and the reasons advanced for pursuing it. Fine. I will just say that if the American public could know what it can’t know for strategic reasons, there would be a lot more support for the effort.

  51. stumbley Says:

    Should have said “those adhesives, even when used for something other than ‘attaching yellow stickers to cars’ might actually save lives in a given situation.”

  52. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    “Pot, meet kettle.”

    Perhaps your ability to detect over-the-top irony is not working this week?

    “The implication—and you know it—was that only those people who fight and die and are actually in Iraq are making a material contribution to the war effort, and therefore entitled to comment.”

    Incorrect. I said there exists a spectrum between “putting a yellow sticker on your car and writing blog posts,” on the one hand, and “serving in combat in Iraq,” on the other. I was curious to know what people here understood to be a genuine sacrifice and contribution on that spectrum. You said “defense contractor,” but I know a defense contractor who designs websites that make only a very tenuous contribution to US national security. It’s worth asking, then, what difference there is between a web designer who designed Pets.com and a web designer who designed websites from DoD that have nothing to do with the war effort – both do the same work, draw the same paycheck, sit in the same chair in the same cubicle, and contribute the same thing to the war effort: zilch. It’s not a sacrifice. There are defense contractors who do and defense contractors who don’t – UB just pointed out that you might be one of the latter.

    So, basically, my three options stated so far: yellow sticker, enlistment, and getting a job. Go troops!

  53. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Well, everyone having a whack at one commenter is hardly fair, but Anon seems to be maintaining at least most of his composure under it. I shall have another go.

    You assume greatly about what I do and do not know. Egyptians and Persians were specifically chosen for my example because of their ethnic difference. As to the difference in language, as linguistics is one of my specialties I am fairly well aware of the difference between Indo-European and Semitic. This example of your casual assumption is one among many, though I have certainly chosen it as one of the more dramatic.

    Your belief that empathy is a human trait, perhaps approaching the universal in each population is perhaps true, but outside of my point. On an individual level, with members of their own group, many cultures do evidence empathy. Sometimes this can even transcend group boundaries on an individual level. But empathy of one group for another is quite rare culturally, and I see no evidence that any of the Middle-Eastern cultures other than Israel demonstrates an above-average amount of it. It is true that my direct knowledge of the Middle East is slight. I am, however, quite familiar with Eastern Europe and its many competing, suspicious cultures, and don’t find it much of a stretch to apply that to cultures that appear to be acting in similar fashion.

    As to who has the burden of proof, I return it to you. In the example you give, a hypothetical accusation that conservatives are rapists, it would indeed be the person making the alarming claim who had the burden of proof. Were there to be a body of evidence that something resembling that accusation was taking place, however, the defenders might bear the burden of proof. In this instance, there is certainly a body of evidence that suggests that some Arabs are trying to kill us for stated reasons which indicate they do not understand our motivations; that many other Arabs confess some sympathy for their goals if not their methods; that the non-empaths are in positions of power nearly everywhere; that the others, for good reasons or bad, do not contain them. If this is not evidence for lack of empathy, it is evidence for something strongly resembling it. Discounting the accusation requires an alternative explanation for the evidence.

    Certainly there are millions of Muslims who are not identical, and whose ability to empathise varies. Their collective behavior in many nations points toward some failure of apprehension of the points of view of others, however. For this reason some generalizations about nation or culture is warranted.

    Americans are known as an informal and friendly people throughout Europe and South America. Yet we all know Americans who are unfriendly and/or formal. Nonetheless, the generalisation is an accurate one, if we are mindful of its limitations.

    As to all-caps. On-line, all-caps does not have the meaning of emphasis, but of shouting, or even screaming. While this is convention, it is widely recognised. I see that your all-caps was not childish shouting, then. However, it will be taken for such and you should be aware of it.

  54. Ymarsakar Says:

    You can’t demonize someone that is already a demon.

  55. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    guardian.co.uk”But empathy of one group for another is quite rare culturally.”

    “You can’t demonize someone that is already a demon.”

    Are you sure it’s just Arabs who lack empathy?

    I’m too tired to respond in detail, but a very simple point is: the concept of “Arab” is too broad and heterogeneous to serve as a meaningful subject for something like the bastardized psychoanalysis you’re trying to conduct. A Christian Arab Lebanese man living in Detroit and working as a university professor likely has little in common with a Muslim Arab goat herder in Morocco; even if they both speak Arabic, they likely speak mutually unintelligeble dialects of Arabic. To make generalizations about “Arabs” – no, worse than that – to make generalizations about the psychology of Arabs is like declaring that people from the southern hemisphere are entertained by slapstick while people from the northern hemisphere are entertained by madcaps. The generalizations are worthless at best and racist at worst.

    With regard to your error I recommend Amartya Sen’s “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny” and John Mueller’s “The Banality of Ethnic Conflict.” Here’s a link to a response to a similar attempt to know the “Arab mind” from afar: http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,1223525,00.html

    You still haven’t tried to prove that conservatives aren’t rapists. The burden of proof rests with you.

  56. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    AVI at 10:27pm:

    “But empathy of one group for another is quite rare culturally, and I see no evidence that any of the Middle-Eastern cultures other than Israel demonstrates an above-average amount of it. It is true that my direct knowledge of the Middle East is slight. I am, however, quite familiar with Eastern Europe and its many competing, suspicious cultures, and don’t find it much of a stretch to apply that to cultures that appear to be acting in similar fashion.”

    AVI at 10:43 am:

    “What you are describing is an overall impression based on some of the information. I submit that overall impressions are more susceptible to cultural biases, not less, than the interpretation of individual events.”

    Don’t forget where this whole preposterous hypothesis originated — Yammer.

  57. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    And yes – empathy is a human trait shared by everyone except psychopaths. A person without empathy is almost, by definition, a psychopath, no? (I could be totally wrong about this – I would not, for example, claim that familiarity with Eastern European cultures makes me an expert on psychiatry or pretty much anything else at all.) So the assertion that “Arabs do not experience empathy” is something akin to “Arabs are psychopaths” or, more generally, “Arabs are, as a group, inhuman monsters.” Hurray for dehumanization of hundreds of millions of people because they share a language!

  58. stumbley Says:

    “And yes – empathy is a human trait shared by everyone except psychopaths.”

    You’re certain of this, are you?

    “You’re failure to see this is yet another example of conservatives who make vast, unsupportable generalizations that demonize people who disagree with them.”

    Pot, meet kettle.

  59. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    “And yes – empathy is a human trait shared by everyone except psychopaths.”

    Maybe people with autism spectrum disorders as well. Like I said, not an expert.

    “Pot, meet kettle.”

    Again, I thought we had discussed this earlier. What I tried to do was create an example of a vast, unsupportable generalization that is highly critical of a group of people to which you belong that is based on no evidence at all. The point was to highlight the absurdity of trying to make an accurate, factual statement like “Arabs do not exhibit empathy.”

    I’m sorry I did not spell that out earlier, causing confusion.

  60. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Anon and unknown. I have to conclude you are playing with words rather than concepts.

    Of course Arabs/Muslims/Middle-easterners are overlapping concepts. I choose at some points “Arab,” at others “Muslim,” at others “Islamic states” not to exclude at each point, but to show the overlap. If you really wish for me to use the formulation “various predominantly Muslim cultures founded on the tribal rivalries of Arab, Persian, and Central Asian peoples” at every turn I could certainly do so, but it would be rather unwieldy. The conflicts are primarily tribal, and have been since before the Common Era. Islamic supremacism has given this tribalism some religious cover, and with some, has supplanted the tribal aims with religious or pan-Arabic ones.

    As there is a cultural continuity as regards warfare, family and clan relationships, government, dress, food, music, hatred for Israel, resentment of US power, economy, and considerable similarity in language and religion across the region, your repetition of the rather obvious fact that there are also some difference does not persuade me that generalizations should be forbidden.

    As to knowledge of psychiatry and Eastern European culture I have both, though from different sources. Combining these with linguistics, world history, and recent reading about the ME does not make me an expert, but does allow me to hazard a guess or two about what is going on there. Thus the idea you object to, that Arab cultures do not exhibit empathy, while it was not my statement originally, still carries weight. Your reflexive belief that no generalization about such a diverse group of people is supportable does not persuade me.

  61. stumbley Says:

    “Anon and unknown. I have to conclude you are playing with words rather than concepts.”

    It’s the favorite dodge of the Left. It all depends on what your definition of “is”, is.

  62. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    Honestly, I don’t see much point to continuing to discuss this.

    “here is a cultural continuity as regards warfare, family and clan relationships, government, dress, food, music, hatred for Israel, resentment of US power, economy, and considerable similarity in language and religion across the region…”

    Only someone who knows nothing about the subject at hand – someone who doesn’t know an Arab, Muslim, or Persian, someone who has never visited any of those countries, someone who utterly lacks any real knowledge could make statements like this. Similarity of dress in Morocco, Bosnia, and Indonesia? Similar clan relations in Tehran and Dhaka? This is, and I don’t like using this term and don’t throw it around, but this is orientalism at its best. Only someone who simply does not know what he’s talking about could imagine homogeneity and monolithisism in any part of the world that encompasses over a billion people.

    I was in Cairo just a few weeks ago, for the first time. There I saw incredibly wealthy Egyptians and incredibly poor Egyptians. I saw fat Egyptians and skinny Egyptians. I saw women in burqas and women who would not look out of place in LA. I saw men dressed in robes and men dressed in designer jeans. I met Muslims and Copts. I saw black people, white people, and everybody in between. The diversity of even one city block in Cairo gives lie to your absurd assertion you’re making.

    I’m not arguing that no generalizations can be made; I’m arguing that, as frameworks for understanding groups of people, terms like “Islam” or “Arabs” are, essentially, worthless. Like “Christianity” or “white people,” these terms are so broad as to lack any analytical value. What’s an Arab? Someone who speaks one of the many dialects of Arabic. What on earth could this tell us about the ability to emphathize of such a person?

    Again, I recommend you start with John Mueller’s “The Banality of Ethnic War,” which does a nice job of dissecting the worthless concept of “ethnic war” or “tribal conflict.” Clausewitz said that war is an extension of politics; conflict is always and ever a political act. To believe that some people fight because of their “tribal cultures” is, in essence, to believe that they are irrational apes incapable of fighting over anything more than primordial insticts to do violence against those different from oneself.

    So: according to you, Arabs don’t empathize and they fight not over the things we civilized people fight over, but rather over their uncontroled urges and passions. A century ago it was black people; now it’s Arabs. Maybe in fifty years it will be the Chinese? Parochial fools like you never change, do they?

  63. Anon Y. Mous Says:

    “It’s the favorite dodge of the Left.”

    Oogity boogity! I am the Left! I hide under your bed and wait for you to fall asleep at night! Oogity boogity! Did you remember to turn on your Ronald Reagan nightlight so the Left couldn’t get you? Oogity boogity!

    You’re a clown.

  64. Ymarsakar Says:

    You’re a clown.

    Why is y, always talking about himself?

  65. stumbley Says:

    My middle name is Bozo. You found me out!

  66. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Anon – false antithesis again.

    The “tribal” meme is not merely a primitive one, but is the underground river even in western civilizations.

    Let’s try it from the opposite direction, then, if you are so fond of the oversimplification: Are you maintaining then that there is no connection between terrorist violence in Indonesia, Pakistan, London, and Lebanon? Why not write a book defending that claim, then?

    Perhaps people making overgeneralizations has baited you into the reflexive response of claiming that all generalizations are extreme, without attending too much to the actual statements. Your central argument has been “no, no, you fools! There is too much variety among people of the regions east of Albania to allow any negative generalizations! These people are individuals!” That point has been taken and understood, but you have offered nothing but its repetition in greater detail, along with, increasingly, insult. It has not moved me from my premise that the rhetoric and violence directed against the West from Muslim cultures has more than a few connecting threads across the cultures, including the premise that as nations, they do not display much ability to put themselves in the shoes of others. This is hardly unusual, as few nations outside of the West do either.

    O agree this grows tedious. For my part, you may have the last word if you wish.

  67. royal carribean Says:

    royal carribean…

    Get started by clicking a featured ecard further down or sail the menu on the Heraldry sinister ! No banknotes prizes – yet ! …

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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