Friday, December 28, 2007

Nasty, Brutish and Short

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto causes us to wonder anew why Islamic countries seem unable to advance beyond what passed for civilized behavior in the 6th century and why Western nations have.

Perhaps the reason is that the Christian worldview which shaped the West has fostered, albeit unevenly, a culture of technological, economic, and moral progress. Christian nations have been concerned with advancing the condition of the people who live in them, and, perhaps more to the point, Christianity has taught that we are to love our enemies, forgive those who offend us and tolerate those who disagree with us.

Islam has never been much concerned with progress, which Muslims often see as a path leading to apostasy. Nor have they been overly concerned with love and tolerance. Instead, Islam has throughout its history placed religious purity above all else, and in its radical modern mutation, at least, stresses not love, but hatred of one's enemies. A religion or ideology based on hatred will never advance nor progress. Its votaries are too busy settling scores and ridding themselves of heretics to be concerned with science and other progressive pursuits. For such people war, so far from being a necessary evil as it is often seen in the West, becomes a way of life. War and death in the cause of jihad become the whole point of earthly existence. In such a culture no progress is possible. It calls to mind the masterful cadences of Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan:

"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

If it weren't for the fact that many Muslims, at least in the Arab world, happen to be living on top of vast deposits of oil, which they by themselves could neither extract, refine, or ship to market, they'd still be subsisting just as their ancestors did a thousand years ago, living in tents and merrily slaughtering each other whenever the opportunity arises.


The Right Word

There are a number of adjectives which come to mind to describe the kind of people who kill themselves in order to kill others - deranged, cruel, evil, vicious, sick, scum - but what they most emphatically are not is cowards. Anyone who is prepared to die to accomplish his purpose, no matter how twisted and malevolent that purpose may be, is not a coward. Why President Bush insists upon calling them that, most recently in his remarks on Benazir Bhutto's murder, is beyond me.

Perhaps he's just taunting the terrorists, but if so, it would make more sense to use some other pejorative. There are plenty of them available which would accurately describe these vermin without having to use one that doesn't describe them at all.


Huckabee Hints at Pardon

Mike Huckabee has a knack for co-opting issues guaranteed to endear him to social conservatives even though many fiscal and secular conservatives are very much put off by him. His latest example of this is to suggest that he would pardon Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, two border agents serving 10 to 12 years for shooting a drug smuggler in the buttocks and trying to conceal that they had violated some rules of engagement. Let's hope Huckabee's being sincere.

It is one of the most disgraceful legacies of George Bush's tenure that he has failed to pardon these men and anyone who says he'll do what Bush has refused to do is going to score big with conservatives. Perhaps they should have been suspended without pay. Perhaps they should have been fired, but they don't deserve to be doing twelve years in jail where one of them has already been severely beaten by inmates. Bush, to his shame, has commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby but refuses to get involved with Ramos and Compean.

Huckabee doesn't always say the right thing, in fact, he frequently says the wrong thing, but his Christmas ad and the hint of a pardon for Ramos and Compean show a certain political adroitness that keeps him in the race.