Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fort Hood and Berlin

Obama was in the news for two things toward the end of last week: his reaction to the shootings at Fort Hood, and skipping Germany's celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some people are outraged about his non-appearance in Berlin. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it certainly does seem strange to me. Of course, the president can't go everywhere he is invited, but this does seem like a particularly strong case: Germany is a very powerful country, and one of our close allies; the fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the seminal moments in German history in the past 50 years; and America was closely involved in the story of the Berlin Wall, both its erection and its destruction. I don't know why he would choose to miss a chance to celebrate the occasion. I'm sure the Cold War is not one of Obama's strong points; as someone pointed out, Obama was hobnobbing with Marxist professors at the time the Berlin Wall fell. Still, this was a no-cost opportunity to talk about the triumphs of freedom over tyranny and to strengthen relations with an important ally, and I don't see why he would miss it.

I occupy a similar sceptical position regarding Obama's response to the Fort Hood shootings. Some people are outraged that he began the announcement with some light-hearted comments about other events, including a shout-out to a colleague. (Remember when Sarah Palin gave a shout-out during her debate with Biden, and it was widely ridiculed? See, e.g., the fourth paragraph of this article. Funny how Obama is now doing it.) I don't feel strongly one way or another: on one hand, the moment was obviously serious; on the other, it doesn't seem too bad to get the less important things out of the way. Perhaps if I was there, I would have a stronger visceral sense of the rectitude (or lack thereof) of his actions.

What I don't understand so well is his warning not to jump to conclusions on the motive of the shootings before we have all the facts. In general, I agree that not jumping to conclusions is a good thing. Most major events are followed quickly by people journalists and opinion-makers jumping to drastic conclusions about their significance. After a close election in 2000, we heard that America was permanently divided; after Obama's victory in 2008, the Republican party was doomed; after the election last week, not so much. Everyone wants to make a big deal out of everything, because that is how you get attention. You don't get a lot of hits on a blog by making qualifications; you get them by making assertions.

Even so, I have to wonder, what was Obama afraid of? If some people do jump to conclusions, what then? Are there going to be riots in the streets and massacres of innocent Muslims in America? Almost certainly not -- if there weren't after 9/11, there very likely won't be any after Fort Hood. Perhaps Obama did not have enough information at that early stage to identify the motive himself, but I don't think he needed to urge people to caution. Moreover, now that the incident is well over and it is perfectly clear what the motive was, I think he needs to make a statement placing it in context. The problem is, I'm not sure he understands the context.

Until the Fort Hood shootings, I didn't realize how little liberals grasped the nature of our struggle against radical Islam. Sure, they opposed the Iraq war, but that was not primarily motivated by the conflict with terrorists. Sure, large numbers of Democrats think Bush was responsible for 9/11, which is scary, but a lot of people who aren't closely attuned to politics have nutty views, and I try not to worry about it too much. But I thought that most liberals realized that there were Muslims out to destroy our country; Muslims who preached against the United States and whipped people into a fury about us and even urged people to commit suicide to hurt us more effectively. Now there's a guy, a Palestinian Muslim, who not only opposed the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but who actually said he supported the other side -- this guy shouts "Allahu akbar" and shoots nearly 50 people, and liberals are still, like Obama, not sure why he did it. Oh, Muslims shout Allahu akbar all the time, it doesn't have any particular meaning. Sure it doesn't. I have known some devout Muslims, and I have never heard them say Allahu akbar (or the translated equivalent); and while I wouldn't be surprised, or even particularly alarmed, if they did say it, I would certainly consider any subsequent action to be religiously motivated.

Come to think of it, this really does have a lot to do with the Berlin Wall, because, in both cases, liberals refused to recognize our enemies even when the enemies themselves declared themselves as such. They justified the "we will bury you" quotation as humourous or ironic, and they ignored or justified all the other explicit Communist statements about destroying capitalism; and now that radical Muslims are making very similar statements about the U.S., liberals are again examining the situation carefully and concluding that their attitude isn't somehow fundamentally hostile.

There's a book in the library in my children's school called "The Lovables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem." I'm not sure I would believe it was real if I hadn't seen it myself.

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