December 20, 2002

No Peace in Our Time

No Peace in Our Time

I'll admit it, peace is a fine idea. I truly like the idea of everyone coming together for on big sloppy hug, with Palestinians and Israelis sitting side-by-side in the Dome of the Rock spinning draidles and laughing, and Saddam Hussein suddenly changing his blackened heart 180 degrees and stopping his mad quest for weapons of mass destruction and instead using his oil-laden wealth to construct a huge amusement park open to the world, including weapons inspectors, that features peace-themed rides like the Peace On Earth Tilt-O-Whirl, and the Power Tower of Peace and Love and Friendship and Cute Little Puppies and Kittens Playing In Meadows.

But the reality is that this world is not yet conducive to an all-encompassing peace. So long as the Israelis live and breathe, the Islamic world will hate them, and so long as the United States continues to be the wealthiest nation on the planet, we'll have enemies. If you're a disenfranchised, poor and uneducated soul living in Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or Yemen, and the only voice you hear is the local mullah telling you that the source of all your misery is the West, eventually you're going to hate the West, and no amount of common sense reasoning is going to sway you. You won't ask why. You'll just want to seek revenge. Enter al-Queda, and Islamic Jihad, and the Jihadists of Islam, and the Islamic Jihadists of Jihadist Islam, and the Jihadist Islamics of Jihadist Islam Who Are Better Than the Jihadists of Islam and the Islamic Jihadists of Jihadist Islam Combined.

It's not easy to go up against a religious culture that, at its most fundamental core, is an outdated throwback to a belief that women are submissive slaves to the whims and wishes of their male masters. Yes, there are Islamic offshoots that extend tentative arms into the realm of women's rights, but for the most part, it's the veil and home for most women of Islam. It seems each week that I venture into news items coming out of Iran, I'm treated to yet another story of a woman being stoned to death for infidelity. Or, consider the male theif who was sentenced to being thrown off a cliff in a sack who, if he survived the plummet, would be hanged to finish the job. Much of the world of Islam is an alien culture that simply can't be bargained with.

My parents teach in an international school in Tokyo, a school that teaches some Islamic students who come from insanely wealthy families. My father, during his sexual education class, tries to explain the virtues of a husband and wife partnership team, but his teachings are often met with puzzled looks by the Islamic students who are pretty much destined, through the huge inheritances they're going to receive, to have as many as three or four wives. The concept of a single wife for them is as alien as having four wives is to us, although I have to admit that it holds a certain amount of charm. The point is, because massive wealth equals more wives, you can kind of see why brainwashed fundamentalists will fly airplanes into buildings with the promise of 21 virgins awaiting them in the afterlife.

In third-world Muslim countries, where the vast majority of the wealth and power is held by a scant few shieks and mullahs, it's a tricky business to keep a firm grip on power while also keeping the poor masses below them from outright revolt. So, they twist the situation to their favor, pointing accusing fingers to the wicked West, a culture that allows women to go about in revealing clothes, and permits adultery with only minor repurcussions. We truly must represent a very real threat to them, even though we mostly want to establish more McDonalds and Starbucks rather than obliterate their precious way of life. But try convincing your run of the mill fundamentalist of that. As far as he (or she in some cases) is concerned, we want to deconstruct Islam and pollute their cultures with our infidel ways.

The only way to truly slice the head off the hateful snake slithering its way through third-world countries is a sustained, expensive, and admittedly difficult campaign of reprogramming their societies to understand that the West isn't out to destroy them. It would require tons of financial aid to keed the poor at subsistence levels enough to find the time to become educated to a point that would elevate them beyond their seething hatred of all things Western, a hatred fueled mostly by ignorance. It would require that Islamic countries institute a broader import/export policy that would include goods beyond oil. Seriously, when was the last time you bought something stamped "Made in Yemen" or "Made in the United Arab Emirates."

I know, it sounds fanciful, and incomplete, and arguably laughable to the core, but here's the deal. Without a viable peaceful plan, the only bargaining chip we have left when it comes to dealing with pukes like Saddam Hussein is the threat of a good old-fashioned ass whupping. America has the capability to wipe out every country it doesn't like with a few strategically placed nukes, and we've shown considerable restraint from doing just that. The biggest and most glaring rebuttal to the Islamic fundamentalist belief that America is out to destroy Islam is the fact that their countries aren't at this very moment smoldering heaps of radioactive heat. If we were really out to stamp out Islam, we wouldn't have allowed a shipment of SCUDS to continue on its way to Yemen. What does Yemen need SCUDS for anyway? A super cool fireworks display? As the Daily Show with John Stewart pointed out, Yemen isn't our enemy, it's just an anagram of ENEMY.

Which brings us back to Iraq. I don't like the thought of war with Iraq. I don't like the thought of American soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians being killed. But, seriously, what are our options? You have a scheming dictator, still smarting from an embarrassing military obliteration 11 years ago, who is, pretty much without a doubt, working tirelessly to build and arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. To what end? Building such an arsenal is not something you do in your spare time, for fun, just to see if you can do it. These weapons will have a purpose and, even though striking America with them is extremely unlikely, striking the American air base in Saudi Arabia is not. Saddam would be hailed as a hero for freeing the holy soil of Saudi Arabia of the American infidels. And he'd do it. He'd do it in a beat of his demented black heart. Any leader who announces his intent to carry out a scorched earth policy on his own country in the event of an invasion, and blame it on the West, is frankly capable of anything.

Ours' is a dangerous world, and the deep political and religious divides can't be smoothed over with a big smooch or a poorly made quilt. There's a reason America maintains a military edge in the world, and it's not so rag-tag orgazinations like al-Queda can buzz and sting us, or so Hussein can eventually launch ebola into Israel. We have this military so we can protect outselves and the fragile institutions of democracy and freedom. We have this edge now, and as distasteful as it may seem to the Sean Penn's of the world, there are cases when its use is justified, even if it means acting without a world theater opinion backing our actions.

Sure, there are peaceful alternatives, and they could bear fruit in two generations or more. The question is, given the stage we're playing on right now, and the actors involved, is it really wise to wait and see? I tend not to think so.

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Posted by Ryan at December 20, 2002 10:51 AM
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