Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Left used to think triumphalism was bad

Prior to the Coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Left warned of a bloodbath. Saddam's army was the third-largest in the world; it had advanced weaponry, much from France and other top armament producers; its chemical weapons would rain down on the invaders. Media reports of the military ordering up 200,000 body bags for U.S. service members deepened the atmosphere of dread.

In the actual event, Iraq's military proved extremely weak. The invasion moved swiftly and Baghdad fell in just three weeks.

But rather than exult in the swift victory and express gratitude for the light loss of American and British lives, the Left instead invoked an even greater danger ahead. America, it warned, was going to fall victim to a demonic force of its own making: Triumphalism.

American triumphalism, they said, would turn the Iraqi people against us. Shi'ite triumphalism would alienate the Sunni and cause them to engage in sectarian violence. The British in Basra were held up as a model of moderation: unlike the Americans with their imposing and fearsome helmets and dark glasses, the Tommies patrolled Basra in berets and uncovered faces.

Looking back, certainly Shi'ite triumphalism stoked Sunni fear and anger, but not as much as the Sadrite Shi'ite militia or the Islamofascist influence of Al-Qaeda or the resentment of deposed Ba'ath party members did. And the British seemed early on to be winning the hearts and minds of the people of Basra -- until the city started on a downward spiral of terrorism and murder, and a few of the British soldiers turned out to be bad apples willing to torture and kill Iraqis in their custody.

But the Left had a valid point about Triumphalism: putting up monuments to act as a constant reminder to the people you defeated of their failure is much more likely to make them hate you than love you. And even if your intention and belief is that the monument should only represent respect and honor to the victors and not malice or humiliation to the vanquished, it's unlikely the vanquished will see it that way.

So who in their right mind would defend the Park51 project as a good idea for promoting respectful dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims? Even if the developers' intentions are pure, they should be now realize that a lot of non-Muslims don't see it that way.

And there are a few Muslims who go further and ascribe malicious intent to the developers. The Dubai-based general manager of Al-Arabiya television, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, says, "I cannot imagine that Muslims want a mosque on this particular site, because it will be turned into an arena for promoters of hatred, and a symbol of those who committed the crime." Canadian Muslim writers Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah go further:

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it's not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as "Fitna," meaning "mischief-making" that is clearly forbidden in the Koran.

The Koran commands Muslims to, "Be considerate when you debate with the People of the Book" -- i.e., Jews and Christians. Building an exclusive place of worship for Muslims at the place where Muslims killed thousands of New Yorkers is not being considerate or sensitive, it is undoubtedly an act of "fitna."

Maybe we ought to believe these people, who understand Islamic sensibilities from the inside, when they say that they understand how Park51 could be seen as triumphalist, and may indeed be intended as an expression of triumphalism.

But the Left, which used to rail against the evils of Triumphalism, now gives it their full-throated endorsement. And they turn a blind eye to the actual Muslims warning against Park51's triumphalism. Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast writes, "It’s telling that the people Republicans are turning to for their anti-mosque street cred are not 'moderate, peace-loving' Muslims, since even Muslim Republicans are disgusted by their party’s actions. The GOP’s new heroes are former Muslims like Nonie Darwish and Ayaan Hirsi Ali." Nor does he reserve his venom exclusively for Republicans: "We’re supposed to believe, we savvy, pragmatic liberals, that the Democrats fleeing the anti-Muslim stampede are mere opportunists, not actual bigots."

This isn't narrow-mindedness, it's razor-thin-mindedness, and it ignores the fact that America is in fact a far more tolerant and accepting country for Muslims than even many Muslim countries are. In the United States, Sunni or Shi'ite or Sufi or Ahmadi Muslims need not fear being murdered in their homes or mosques by the religious majority or oppressed by their government; the same cannot be said in Pakistan or Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Jonah Goldberg at National Review writes, "In any decent society, tolerance must work both ways. If the majority is expected to show respect for a minority, the minority must also show some tolerance for the values of the majority. I’m no strict majoritarian – one with right on his side is the majority as far as I’m concerned. But this isn’t a clear-cut issue of right and wrong. It’s more complicated than that. It’s about deference and decency and common sense. And one of the things common sense should tell us is that it is not only unfair but terribly ill-advised to portray 7 out of 10 Americans as bigots when they are anything but."

Common sense also tells us that anyone sincerely seeking dialogue between faiths and communities should avoid even the appearance of triumphalism -- and that anyone who persists in giving that appearance in the face of protests from a majority of his neighbors isn't at all sincere about peace and harmony.

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