Daily Roundup Feb 17, 2008
After the Read More! The NYT describes how young Egyptians without prospects in a dysfunctional society have sought solace in strict Islam. Marc Ruel Gerecht says the image of thousands of Jihadis thronging to Iraq is a myth. Susan Jacoby argues its easy to sell myths when nobody wants to know anything, even in America. The War on Terror is so yesterday. Make room for the Eco-Mom. Plus, up to 80 killed in Afghan bombing.
The NYT follows the life of an young man whose life, like many Egyptians, has hit a dead end. He's no longer young but can't become an adult, making him just the right recruit for radical Islam.
“I can’t get a job, I have no money, I can’t get married, what can I say?” Mr. Sayyid said one day after becoming so overwhelmed that he refused to go to work, or to go home, and spent the day hiding at a friend’s apartment.
In their frustration, the young are turning to religion for solace and purpose, pulling their parents and their governments along with them. With 60 percent of the region’s population under the age of 25, this youthful religious fervor has enormous implications for the Middle East. More than ever, Islam has become the cornerstone of identity, replacing other, failed ideologies: Arabism, socialism, nationalism.
It may be impertinent to point out that each of those nostrums -- Arabism, socialism, nationalism -- once enjoyed a vogue in Western intellectual circles. So now does Islam. But I doubt it will get Mr. Sayyid any further than the rest. What's left to try? Maybe freedom and enterprise. And that's the one thing poor Mr. Sayyid will ever be offered.
Gerecht makes some interesting observations about the global Jihad that wasn't.
"First, if we make a comparison with the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979-89, which was the baptismal font for al-Qaeda, what's most striking is how few foreign holy warriors have gone to Mesopotamia since the U.S. invasion in 2003 ... A second striking fact about Islamism and the Iraq war is that the arrival of foreign holy warriors is deradicalizing the local population -- the exact opposite of what happened in Afghanistan."
Josh Manchester probably put his finger on the reason. Islam's problem isn't America. It's with Islam. From Saudi Arabia to Britain to Pakistan, the so-called global Jihad has become a system for relieving the strains in societies which are beset by their own local devils. The dissatisfied youth go abroad to find the brotherhood that isn't there. They arrive with apocalyptic dreams in places like Anbar only to discover that people want good crops more than they want their heads lopped off. Maybe the reason so many "international fighters" are accused of going out and blowing themselves up as if suicide were an end in itself is because it is. What else do you go when even your dream turns out to be a fraud but trigger the detonator?
The universality of Jihad, like President Bush's reputed imbecility, may in large part be a media myth, created not just in Egypt but sadly, in Western capitals too.
And myths are easier to sell, writes Susan Jacoby in the Washington Post, in today's United States which is "in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations".
As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible -- and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be. Harvard University's Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate -- featuring the candidate's own voice -- dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.
The gradual disappearance of exposition is probably why images have become so important. People now read a book by its cover -- why open it? -- and 21st century society ironically resembles the medieval when everyone wore the livery of his social station. People are their images. Nothing else matters. Jacoby continues in words which might have been crafted to describe Code Pink.
The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge. ... That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place.
I think the reason for this contempt for knowledge is that people in the West have become so insulated from the consequences of their own actions that they fail to see the value of knowledge at all. They are kept safe no matter what they do. If like Code Pink, you can do or think anything at all with the sun still coming up the next day, the birds twittering in the trees and the supermarkets still open, then you will do so. If Rowan Williams can propose sharia law and still wake up in Lambeth Palace the next day, then why not?
But of course reality will not be denied in the long run. Sooner or later a society that keeps dipping into its legacy will find the ATM running on empty one day. A country which keeps electing politicians dedicated to appeasement into office will find the enemy at the doorstep at the last. On that day people -- even Code Pink -- will begin to learn again. The hard way.
Until that day of awakening, it's business as usual. People know what's really important. The NYT describes the latest trend: the EcoMom Party.
Move over, Tupperware. The EcoMom party has arrived, with its ever-expanding “to do” list that includes preparing waste-free school lunches; lobbying for green building codes; transforming oneself into a “locovore,” eating locally grown food; and remembering not to idle the car when picking up children from school (if one must drive). Here, the small talk is about the volatile compounds emitted by dry-erase markers at school. ...
The notion of “ecoanxiety” has crept into the culture here. It was the subject of a recent cover story in San Francisco magazine that quotes a Berkeley mother so stressed out about the extravagance of her nightly baths that she started to reuse her daughter’s bath water. Where there is ecoanxiety, of course, there are ecotherapists.
Can you really blame Obama for running on his Face? Or Al Gore for selling carbon credits? Maybe the fault is not with our leaders but with ourselves. They simply give us what we crave.
And though it's far less important than reusing the bathwater, the AP reports that "a suicide bomber penetrated a crowd watching a dog-fighting competition in the Taliban's former stronghold Sunday, killing up to 80 people in one of the bloodiest bombings since the regime's 2001 ouster. ... A prominent militia commander who stood up against the Taliban was killed in the attack and officials said he may have been the target. The bombing crumpled several Afghan police trucks and turned the field a bloody red."