02 July 2010

Didn't feel like putting much effort into it today, so I go for low hanging fruit: Charles Krauthammer

You have to love Charles Krauthammer for writing bitter diatribes that are great for rousing the rabble, but particularly useless for understanding issues. Krauthammer's latest sally from moronville takes issue with the Obama Administration's reticence to use the term "Islamic fundamentalist" in describing the terrorists involved in recent actions here and abroad. The bitter windbag writes:
Indeed, Islamist fundamentalism is not only a risk factor. It is the risk factor, the common denominator linking all the great terror attacks of this century -- from 9/11 to Mumbai, from Fort Hood to Times Square, from London to Madrid to Bali.

Of course, on a literal level, he's right. These attackers did share a belief that they were waging a holy war, a crusade even, against the infidels, the Great Satan, what have you. Western civilization.

And, as usual, here's where Krauthammer's hard rhetoric reveals the simplistic, hateful mind that crafts the words. In Krauthammer's world, it's always going to be us v. them, an unending conflict of cultures between the civilized West and the barbaric Orient; the only thing different between now and the late 19th century is that it's no longer the "yellow peril" we need worry about (although without Islam, Krauthammer would most likely be focused on the "rising tide of color" led by China), but rather this amorphous blob called the Islamic World. But don't take my word for it. Krauthammer actually deploys these terms in his column:
It trivializes the war between jihadi barbarism and Western decency, and diminishes the memory of those (including thousands of brave Muslims -- Iraqi, Pakistani, Afghan and Western) who have died fighting it.
Ah, note how clever the great deceiver is...he includes the "brave Muslims" fighting the "jihadi barbarism" that elsewhere he simply wants to call "Islamic fundamentalism." And that's where he fails and is perhaps too blind to see his own argument unraveling in front of him.

Let's play a little language game. Let's switch "Islamic" for "Christian." Forget about linking any Christian fundamentalists to terrorist acts like assassinating doctors or planning to take out police officers, but just consider the amount of people covered by the term "Christian fundamentalist." Now, let's imagine further that certain sects that identified themselves as Christian armed themselves, preached death to the government, carried out assassinations and other crimes, and the government started to talk about the scourge of "Christian fundamentalism."

How would that fly?

Now imagine you had to deal with countries, and in fact included some among your allies, that called or considered themselves Islamic. It might put you in a bit of a delicate situation to explain to them why you were impugning a rather broad segment of their population with such sloppy rhetoric.

I really can't overemphasize that enough. Krauthammer suggests sloppy rhetoric as a positive. It's not a positive and would only serve to impede cooperation between governments in Muslim dominated nations. And it's not as if there isn't precedent for this sort of linguistic sensitivity. It may seem decades ago (because it largely is), but the U.S. never referred to the Irish Republican Army as "Catholic terrorists" or consider it motivated by "Catholic fundamentalism." Oh, certainly some more radical members of the Unionist movement made that connection and used that language, but those are the same groups, along with the Republican splinter groups, who assuage their being shut out in the cold with occasional outbreaks of violence (thankfully usually only rhetorical).

Now with this analogy, I accept that there's no perfect correspondence, but as they say, all analogies limp. However, the point is that language is much more complex than Krauthammer gives it credit for. Even his closing argument is a pathetic bait and switch, infinitely worse than my analogy, because he manages to bring the Nazis into the equation:
Churchill famously mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. But his greatness lay not in mere eloquence. It was his appeal to the moral core of a decent people to rise against an ideology the nature of which Churchill never hesitated to define and describe -- and to pronounce ("Nahhhhzzzzi") in an accent dripping with loathing and contempt.
Yes, the Nazis. An actual defined organized group in charge of a country. What Krauthammer forgets is that we do have an equivalent today, and it's called "Al Qaeda." Sure, they don't have their own country that we can invade and occupy, but they are a real group with a fairly clear mission statement. Krauthammer's example should also give us another reason to understand the counterproductive nature of his demands: especially in the post-war years, it was crucial to de-link the larger signifier of "Germans" from specific crimes of the Nazi regime. Therefore, one doesn't really talk of "German fascism" or "German war crimes": one talks of "Nazi war crimes."

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