Jewish World Review Oct. 21, 2002 / 15 Mar-Cheshvan 5763

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Facing up to evil | Perhaps the massive bomb blast on the Indonesian island of Bali will cause some second thoughts -- or perhaps first thoughts -- by those who blamed the United States for having provoked the September 11th attacks by its actions and policies in the Middle East. Very few of those killed in Bali were Americans. What had all the Australians, Swedes, etc., done in the Middle East to provoke such terrorism against innocent tourists?

Recently Pakistani Christians were killed in a terrorist attack in Pakistan. What did Pakistani Christians have the power to do, even in Pakistan, much less in the Middle East?

In this era of non-judgmental mush, too many Americans have become incapable of facing the brutal reality of unprovoked hatred, based on envy, resentment and ultimately on a vicious urge to lash out against others for the pain of one's own insignificance. That has been a common thread in things as disparate as ghetto riots, two world wars, and now Islamic terrorism.

There are always rationalizations, ranging from a need for "living space" (Nazi Germany), natural resources (imperial Japan) to other reasonable-sounding excuses for age-old human evils. Today there are more Germans living -- prosperously -- in less space than in Hitler's time, and Japan has been able to buy natural resources far more cheaply than financing wars of conquest.

Langston Hughes, writing about a riot in his beloved Harlem back in the 1940s, was honest enough to have one of the characters in his story explain his resentment at a white-owned store when he had to "look at that window and say, 'It ain't mine! Bam-mmmm-mm-m!' and kick it out."

Langston Hughes did not blame this on any grievances or sufferings, though there were plenty of both, but on the mindless lashing out against others for one's own lack of fulfillment.

Someone has pointed out that most of the wars going on in the world today involve Islamic countries. Anyone familiar with history, or who has seen such things as the great mosque at Cordoba, knows that Islam was once one of the world's great civilizations -- as pre-eminent in science and scholarship as in military power and political hegemony over others.

But that time is now long gone. When do you hear about the Middle East these days, except when people are talking about oil or violence? What great scientific, medical, or other breakthroughs have come out of Islamic countries anywhere in recent times?

Meanwhile, Christians and Jews -- people to whom Moslems are supposed to feel superior -- have left the Islamic world completely in the shadows when it comes to achievements. Violence has become the only way of moving out of those shadows.

The question is not whether Islam is a religion of war or peace or -- more likely -- has doctrines that can be quoted either way, as Christian doctrines have been adapted to both. Islam is more than a religion, it is a civilization -- a civilization once brightly shining with achievements but now in eclipse.

Few peoples anywhere have taken such historic reversals of fortunes graciously. To be ruled by people you once conquered and disdained has not set well with Poles or Central Asians. Why would Moslems be expected to be the first to accept such reversals quietly?

Perhaps the reason the Islamic states in the Middle East have such a hard time living at peace with Israel is that they would have a hard time living at peace with themselves, when there is a very different, and far more advanced, country in their midst as a constant reproach to their backwardness by its very existence and a constant mockery to their pretensions of superiority.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, there are people so preoccupied with being one-up on other Americans that they are quick to seize opportunities to blame their own country for the ages-old ills of the human race. During the Vietnam War, some of these people even cheered for the Communists in Southeast Asia, who killed more people after the war was over than had been killed in years of military conflict.

Maybe we cannot do much about how other people think -- except not let their confusion become ours. We can also let them know that we plan to retaliate big time if their thoughts turn into bloody actions against Americans.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late.


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© 2002, Creators Syndicate