Friday, May 25, 2007

Life Imitates Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry was an amazing guy, right up there with Rod Serling: a keen sense of social issues and a willingness to hire the best sci-fi and fantasy writers to create allegories for his audience. One such writer was Jerome Bixby, whose short story "It's a Good Life" is still the most frightening piece of short fiction I've ever read. ("It's a Good Life" became a fair episode of the original The Twilight Zone and a poor episode in The Twilight Zone: The Movie.)

Bixby wrote "Day of the Dove," an episode of the original Star Trek series. A synopsis:

A U.S.S. Enterprise landing party beams to a human-colonized planet in answer to a distress call. A Klingon ship, apparently damaged, is detected and a group of Klingons accuse Kirk of having damaged their ship. Kang, their leader, claims the U.S.S. Enterprise as a prize and Kirk beams the Klingons on board, reluctantly. However, Spock is warned by Kirk and quickly takes the Klingons prisoner. Both ships seem to have received the same, false, distress call.

A malevolent entity has entered into the U.S.S. Enterprise computer and excites both sides to aggressive behavior. It forces the ship out of control, rushing toward the galactic rim, while isolating a number of Klingons and U.S.S. Enterprise crew, heightening their sense of paranoia and violence turning them against each other. Phasers become swords and the battle begins.

Spock finally realizes that the entity feeds off hatred and emotional excitation and has acted as a catalyst to provoke combat, keeping the numbers on both sides even. Kirk is able, in the end, to make a common-cause truce with the Klingons and they drive the creature out of the ship with their laughter.

Today, in Iraq, as reported by Joe Klein in Time magazine: "Is al-Qaeda on the Run in Iraq?"

There is good news from Iraq, believe it or not. It comes from the most unlikely place: Anbar province, home of the Sunni insurgency. The level of violence has plummeted in recent weeks. An alliance of U.S. troops and local tribes has been very effective in moving against the al-Qaeda foreign fighters. A senior U.S. military official told me—confirming reports from several other sources—that there have been "a couple of days recently during which there were zero effective attacks and less than 10 attacks overall in the province (keep in mind that an attack can be as little as one round fired). This is a result of sheiks stepping up and opposing AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] and volunteering their young men to serve in the police and army units there." The success in Anbar has led sheiks in at least two other Sunni-dominated provinces, Nineveh and Salahaddin, to ask for similar alliances against the foreign fighters. And, as TIME's Bobby Ghosh has reported, an influential leader of the Sunni insurgency, Harith al-Dari, has turned against al-Qaeda as well. It is possible that al-Qaeda is being rejected like a mismatched liver transplant by the body of the Iraqi insurgency.

The Sunnis, Shi'ites and coalition troops may not yet be laughing together and slapping one another's backs as the humans and Klingons did in the face of their common alien enemy, but the Sunni elders seem to be realizing the truth of Kang's aphorism, "only a fool fights in a burning house."

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