Another Perspective

On Forecasting Fratricide in Iraq

Shock at massacres inside Islam?

By 11.15.06

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Want in on an argument?

On one hand, there's me, and maybe some of you. On the other hand is Dennis Prager, and my friend Bookworm. Prager you probably know by reputation, seeing as how his radio show and philosophical outlook are well established in conservative circles. Bookworm works anonymously on a smaller stage, airing her exasperation with progressive thought on a fine blog called "Bookworm Room."

Bookworm drew the curtain up on our scene by citing this essay by Dennis Prager as being worthy of study. In comments on her blog, she then remarked that she agrees with Prager that "widespread massacres of Iraqi civilians by other Iraqis and Muslims" were "completely unforeseeable."

Prager used the word ("unforeseeable") first, and Bookworm followed. To both of them I say with a certain Spanish bemusement, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Some context: It's true that, as Prager writes, no Japanese blew up their own temples to rid Japan of American soldiers after World War Two. It's also true that Germans did not slaughter each other in an effort to compel withdrawal by the American, British, French, and Soviet occupiers that carved Germany up between them for a while.

But the examples that Prager cites do not shed any light on Iraq, because neither comes from a state with a Muslim majority. Erudite and level-headed though he often is, Prager seems to have forgotten the Muslim-on-Muslim violence of the Iran-Iraq war. Even more surprising, he seems to have forgotten that staple of the debased curriculum in Palestinian schools, "Fun with Semtex and Other Explosives."

In trying to exonerate President Bush from some of the mistakes that some on both the Left and the Right charge him with having made, the ever-chivalrous Prager leaps to the conclusion that fratricidal behavior as a means of resistance to occupation is unprecedented. That is a strong (and, I contend, both inept and inapt) descriptor for forecasts involving a religion that exalts "martyrdom" of the kind that takes not only a bomber's life but also the lives of people around him or her, without regard for creed.

If President Bush had spent more time learning about Islam from people like Robert Spencer, Steve Emerson, Daniel Pipes, Brigette Gabriel, and Bat Ye'or, he might indeed have foreseen the fratricidal nature of strife in Iraq after Saddam Hussein. Were anyone in the aforementioned group not available, the president could have learned much the same thing in consultation with the Kurds, or conversation with still-fugitive author Salman Rushdie, or any Muslim convert to Christianity.

Even those of us who've never had a power lunch or darkened the door of a Beltway think tank are pretty sure that Muslim leaders do not offer balloon animals and lollipops to apostates from their faith, or host birthday parties for them down at Dairy Queen.

SO HAS ANYONE ASKED Tony Snow whether people in the president's inner circle learned lessons from the life of Mohammed, or the etymology of the word "assassin"? Those are leading questions, to be sure, but they're scrupulously nonpartisan as well.

My problem with Prager's defense of the president is that the allegedly inevitable lack of foresight on which it is premised can only be called inevitable if your understanding of Islam is shaped exclusively by well-meaning dilettantes or apologists for that religion. Let's name names: Karen Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey, and Robert Fisk will never foresee Muslim-on-Muslim violence unless they can blame Zionism or Uncle Sam for having provoked it, and it never occurs to them that their most common defense of Muslim honor turns Muslims into children through the alchemy of condescension.

Team Bush should have known that as far as inconvenient truths go, the only global warming worth worrying about is the one caused by the rising fires of Islamist intolerance. Moreover, while we're all capable of cruelty, some religions turn more of a blind eye to that than others.

Novelist Lee Child makes a related point about what is and is not foreseeable in his book, Echo Burning, when the main character observes that in any situation where male and female criminals are both armed, it's "standard counter-terrorism doctrine" to "take the woman out first."

It's not just mordant irony that makes the protagonist of that book put the axiom "Ladies First" in a whole new light. By that point in the story, he knows he's chasing a team of contract killers that includes a woman. For the benefit of discomfited listeners, he explains that a woman in that environment is unusual enough that she must be considered even more dangerous than her male counterparts. In other words (and assuming the author's research withstands scrutiny), anyone shocked at the target priority involved in the forthcoming shootout does not understand the rules of engagement.

I do not know whether Dennis Prager reads Lee Child, but I am certain that both he and Bookworm have read Shakespeare, and the pep talk that the Bard had King Henry V give his troops before the Battle of Agincourt might also have helped this administration in planning for "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and its sequels. Hark back to 1415 via 1599, and think on the power of speech like this from a commander:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

The force of that exhortation comes not only from its passion and craft, but also from the Judeo-Christian assumption that "holding manhood cheap" was and is undesirable, because all life is precious. A culture that at its best (still) embraces life must give thanks for its theological inheritance, because not all cultures are so blessed.

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About the Author

Patrick O'Hannigan is a writer in North Carolina.