Americans are so used to their own political process that it is difficult to grasp that other cultures operate by completely different rules. Our politicians want to appear to be nice guys, people who, whatever else they are about, care about the suffering of those who are down on their luck. This nice guy, tolerant human being is best personified by a friendly smile. That’s what keeps their ratings high.
Arab leaders don’t give a damn about coming across as nice. Like Stalin, and Hitler, like the North Koreans, like Hamas and Hezbollah, and now Isis they prefer to come across angry, to create fear in those they rule, and everyone else. The worst sin is to appear weak, which in this mindset, smiling conveys. For it is weakness that will embolden their enemies and lead to their own demise.
It isn’t just an image of anger. Furious is closer to the passion they convey. Think Hitler, during one of his speeches denouncing the Jews. Think Hezbollah’s Nasrallah on the same topic. But it isn’t just Jews. It’s America. For Stalin it was the counterrevolutionaries attempting to undo the wonderful accomplishments the Bolsheviks saw as their doing. And while often their fury is presented as fighting a deserved target, so that loyal members of their society can unite with them with matching fury, usually that eventually changes. The original idealistic cause fades while the essential message remains. They still want their enemies, real and potential, to live in fear of them.
Stalin killed millions. Hitler killed millions. If Hezbollah or Isis can have their way, they will kill millions. It will be relished by their followers, by their new recruits. Indeed, there is a rumor that Hezbollah will try to steal the spotlight now owned by Isis. Isis may have cut off the head of a few innocent Americans (and others who they deemed enemies) but Hezbollah could produce a slam dunk, show their might by killing a whole lot of Jews. Hamas is feeling pretty good about itself. They praise Iran for supplying them with missiles and training. But Hezbollah has had a comparative advantage. Without a blockade they have had the ability to be armed to the gills. Iran has supplied them with very sophisticated and powerful rockets, that are accurate and can blow up huge areas in Israel. They have also spent three years fighting in Syria, gaining valuable sophistication and experience.
It isn’t just the lack of smiling leaders. I don’t get why new recruits seem to be flocking to them. Yes especially the young are attracted to winners. I can understand how young people are stirred by a future in which their side will win the battle. A caliphate ruled by Muslim law, a Germany in which the superiority of the Nordic race would be a given. The young are nothing if not ruled by their image of the future.
But still how could a young passionate, idealistic potential recruit be enamored by hatred? How? Let’s face the facts. They are. I sometimes read on the internet hate pieces about the one per centers, or Monsanto, or after a black teenager is killed, white society. In his day Nixon was hated, LBJ, George Bush, Cheney. It drives passionate politicos nuts that their ability to change things are so limited. The validity of the young person’s identity is sustained by those they hate. It especially energizes those willing to do something about it. And all of a sudden they can
Would our young haters enjoy a video in which the current head of Monsanto was beheaded? They wouldn’t. Hate yes but being nice and seen as nice is too important to them. Presumably the strategy of vegans is anything but fear. Some of the radicals in the 60’s were into that, blowing up a target, so those it was aimed at, would fear them. But I don’t see that happening now. For the most part America continues to provide a relatively splendid every day existence. iPhones and iPads, Spotify, local produce, Netflix, reality TV, Lady GaGa, malls filled with goodies, a perennial Christmas, consumer fantasies coming true again and again and again all year long. God bless America. Yes hatred of Monsanto, but for good cause. Protecting the health of people. No one is dying en mass from the poison of non organic food. They are actually living longer than people have ever lived since we have been on this planet. Our supply of food, our agricultural productivity is mind boggling. (See the plenty at any supermarket in America) But activists are sure it is only a matter of time until unnatural chemicals will produce the result they are so alarmed by. Fear is at the center of this campaign to stop the poisoning, but just how excellent life in America is can be measured by hysteria about a danger that is not presenting itself in any way. As Michael Specter points out in his August 25th New Yorker article, since 1996 humans have consumed trillions of servings of foods that contain genetically engineered foods, yet there has not been a single documented case of any person becoming ill as a result. The Iraqis should have problems like that.
Still how could young people in the West, mostly Muslims, but also others be stirred to the point that some are willing to give their life to the cause. Are they so captured by the future, so repulsed by contemporary Europe and America ?
When I was growing up I could not imagine anyone who spent time in America not loving it. I’m curious if young people still feel that way. When I would read about how, under George Bush we were hated all over the world, I knew we certainly were not popular on the left bank in Paris, or with the BBC. Clearly many Arabs, especially Iraquis hated us (although many like us a great deal) But when I listened to quite a few of those radicalized, the most persistent theme was not that we were imperialists. It was that we were infidels. Lady Gaga, and New Jersey Housewives, transvestites, gay priests, the immodesty of our sexuality, our love of mall goodies, shopping until we dropped- all were signs that we were spiritually dead, the devil had won us to his cause.
I can imagine a pious 18 year old, a young person very taken by right and wrong getting carried away, being so repulsed by what we represent that he or she would be willing to die for God’s cause.
This should not be taken as a dig at our free sexuality. I’m no saint, nor probably are they. But if we are going to examine why certain young people can be successfully courted for their cause, we have to be willing to take seriously what they consider evil.
On the other hand, I assume, on some level, they know they are evil. Why else the masks? Why did the Ku Klux Klan wear masks when they were up to no good? At least they were dressed in white. Isis is dressed in black. They surely must know that the bad guys dressed in black. Or did they not watch American movies? Or is that a variation of the original point? They have no interest in appearing to be the good guys. “God is great” they proclaim as they kill. Clearly they believe enacting the vengeance of God is a holy stance? To modern liberal Americans it is inconceivable that God would be anything other than a good guy, forgiving, on the side of gay marriage, abortion, and other good guy causes. But there was a time when Christians used to kill infidels, a time when God fearing was a compliment about a person’s character. God was not a good guy during the Inquisition. And actually I have never seen a representation in which he was smiling.
Is history repeating itself?