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Reactionary Lessons
David Brooks, Grand Mufti

Here’s how David Brooks opens his column today in the Times: “One of the lessons of this past week is that the international system is broken. The world community might make declarations — on preventing Iranian and North Korean nukes, disarming Hezbollah, or preventing genocide in Darfur — but when it comes to actually uniting to take action, words and resolutions lead nowhere. Thanks to a combination of American errors, European escapism, and Russian and Chinese greed, the worst people in the world now drive events while the best people do nothing.” Who, one wonders, does he mean when he refers to “the best people”? He doesn’t say, as if it’s an insult to even ask. So right off, the United States is set out as if by inalienable, if not divine, right, to be “the best people.” With a series of angry toned “lessons,” Brooks then unleashes his usual arsenal of presumptions similarly calibrated to show up the “elite” against the man on the American street: “Elite debate is restrained by a series of enlightened attitudes that amount to a code of political correctness: be tolerant of cultural differences, seek to understand the responses of people who feel oppressed, don’t judge groups, never criticize somebody else’s religion.” Read those lines again: Are we to think that, given his derisive tone, these ways of seeing the world are now liabilities? That they’re wrong? Irresponsible? Disconnected?

In Brooks’s view, absolutely, because “As anybody who has traveled around the country or listened to talk radio of left, right and center knows, these genteel manners do not inhibit the masses. Millions of Americans think the pope asked exactly the right questions: Does the Muslim God accord with the categories of reason? Are Muslims trying to spread their religion with the sword?” These genteel manners. So then by all means, let’s join hands and all become fanatics. Let’s celebrate intolerance. Let’s praise the Pope and join the chorus for neo-crusading send-ups of Islam. Let’s indulge our own (and the Pope’s) complete silence about the Church’s own bloodied and far more murderous, and not all that distant, past. Did the Christian god ever accord with the Crusades? The Inquisition? The genocidal forced conversions and massacres in the New World? The Vatican’s complicit silence during the Holocaust? Does the Christian god now accord with Bush-type crusading in the Mideast?

Brooks may not necessarily think so, but because “millions of Americans” think so, then legitimacy (if not god) is on their side, and never mind the Church’s past. That’s history. Over and done with. Let’s not quibble, let’s not be relativistic. The here and now is Islamic fundamentalism: “What these Americans see is fanatical violence, a rampant culture of victimology and grievance, a tendency by many Arabs to blame anyone other than themselves for the problems they create.” But who disagrees with that, even among the “elite”? It’s not a matter of differing views of the world, but of responses. The so-called elite might oppose responding to fanaticism with fanaticism. The American street does not. The so-called elite might take Iraq as an example of what not to repeat, least of all regarding Iran. Brooks does not: He goes on to decry the “passivity” with which the United States is letting Iran’s mullahs creep toward a nuclear arsenal, decries what he perceives as a policy of containment instead of confrontation—“In other words, a policy that was designed to confront a secular, bureaucratic foe—the Soviets—will not be used to confront a surging, jihadist one.”

What is he proposing? War? Not even he would go that far. And is he suggesting that the American street and his beloved radio shout shows are actually behind more confrontations in the Mideast despite America being “exhausted by Iraq” (his words in the same column)? Of course not. So his columns ends up being a cheap shot, a blast of sneers couched in the shape of “lessons” that teach us only one thing: the irresponsibility of the right-thinking American right is as reactionary as ever, and no less bankrupt in ideas than when the Iraq war started.

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