TCS Daily


The Problem Child

By Lee Harris - May 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Imagine the following scenario:

Tomorrow morning, an Arabic language newspaper of some stature publishes an article in which one of its investigative journalists claims that officers in the Pakistani Army had once used the Bible as toilet paper. Then imagine that within days of this report, and without any further inquiry into the truth of these allegations, Southern Baptist ministers across the United States begin to whip their congregations into a frenzy of outrage over the alleged desecration, inciting violent and bloody riots to break out in hot spots across the American Bible belt -- riots that leave a death toll of 300 or more people. (The Koran riots killed only 15 or so people, but, in my imaginary scenario, I am adjusting for the fact that there are a great deal more Americans than Afghanis.)

Now ask yourself honestly, if this preposterously unlikely scenario were to occur, who would get the blame for the Bible riots -- especially if it turned out that the original report was false? Would anyone in America or the world community seriously blame the Arab language newspaper because the Southern Baptists had rashly concluded that the report was true, and then, even more irrationally, had decided to take to the streets over the matter, rioting and killing each other in their fanatical fury?

On the contrary, I expect that there would be article after article denouncing the dangers of Christian fundamentalism and the threat of unbridled fanaticism posed by Southern Baptists, and not a bit of blame would be put on the Arab newspaper simply for publishing the report.

And, after all, wouldn't there be some point in blaming the bloody Bible riots of 2005 on those who incited it no less than on those who participated in it? When a group of people is capable of exploding into violence over a rumor, when they are willing to take to the streets and kill each other over a report of the mistreatment of a book, however sacred it may be to them, shouldn't the people who responded in this manner share some of the blame for the damage done by their own penchant for rash, irresponsible, and deeply irrational behavior? No collectively sane people could get so excited about something like the Newsweek story.

Those who are blaming Newsweek for the Koran riots are engaging in the same old special pleading for the Muslims that has permitted them to lag behind the rest of mankind for centuries now. They are, in essence, saying that the Muslim world cannot be held responsible for their irrational behavior. Muslims, according to this point of view, are exempt from the same standards of civilizational accountability that apply to everyone else; they are allowed to have their collective tantrums, and there is no lack of those in the West who are prepared to justify them.

After 9/11, there was a host of commentators who tried to persuade us to understand the root causes of this irrational act of terror, and to throw the blame for it on the West, and particularly on the United States. And now, over three years later, there is the same urge to blame the Koran riot not on those who created it, but on the American magazine that published the original report, proving once again that all the ills of the Muslim world are really manufactured by the United States. Newsweek caused the riot, we are told, and with the same degree of confidence as we were told that American foreign policy caused 9/11.

It should be noted, however, that the people who are blaming the USA for the Koran riot are not the same people who blamed the USA for 9/11. Indeed, they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum on this issue -- or, at least, they sincerely believe they are. Those who blame Newsweek for the Koran riots are basically pro-American, whereas those who blamed the USA for 9/11 are basically anti-American. Yet, when it comes to offering apologetics for Muslim misbehavior, where is the difference between these two camps? Both are willing to attack their fellow citizens because of outbreaks of insanity halfway across the world, in a region in which political and religious irrationality is a tradition that goes back to the original Arab conquest.

Why do the Muslims divide us so deeply? Why do their acts of violence split us so often into bitterly hostile camps?

This ability to create family feuds is the hallmark of the problem child, and perhaps there is no better way of characterizing the Muslim world than by saying that it has become the problem child of the human race.

Every family has a problem child. You can recognize him easily because he is the kid the parents are always fighting about. The other kids pose no serious problems, and hence present no occasion for serious disagreements. But a problem child has to be handled. He requires decision-making, and moments of decision are often moments of crisis and controversy. Add to this the well known tendency to pay more attention to a problem child, precisely because he is a problem child, and you can easily understand why children who do not cause problems often bitterly resent the ones who do. And why shouldn't they resent him? There they are going along, not causing any grief or bother, and yet they are given far less attention than the Dennis the Menace they have to live with, and who probably isn't quite as endearing as the cartoon version.

Obviously, this is an unfair situation, and yet it is the situation that the rest of the world has been in ever since the Muslims became mankind's number one problem child. The critically important issues affecting the rest of the world have all been put on the backburner of history by the proven capacity of the Muslims to monopolize the world's attention to the exclusion of far more worthy candidates.

Forget about those complicated geopolitical models of international relationships -- the relationships that occur in almost every family are the relationships that most illuminate the challenge presented to the West by Islam. The Muslim world is the problem child who clamors for attention for no good reason, and who simply because of his clamor actually ends up getting the attention that others, less selfish and egocentric, deserved far more.

Is there a solution? Yes, but it is one that neither the Bush administration nor the Democratic party, let alone any parties further to the left of the spectrum have the guts and gumption to do -- it is to begin to hold Muslim accountable for their irrational behavior, and not to seek to place the blame on ourselves or on our political opponents. Problem children remain problems so long as we are willing to find an excuse for their tantrums -- and that is why I say, Don't blame Newsweek for the Koran riots; blame the rioters instead.

Lee Harris is author of Civilization and Its Enemies.

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