Sunday, September 17, 2006

Testimony at the Point of a Gun
Mike Rappaport

The Pope's apologies are only the latest outrage that is being committed by Radical Islam.  Clearly, the Pope is apologizing (for the reaction to his comments) to prevent further harm to innocent Christians.  Alas, Radical Islam has now succeeded in intimidating and coercing so many people that discourse in the West (and other places) is becoming exceedingly misleading.  The main problem is the statements that are never made -- those that are chilled, as First Amendment doctrine puts it.  As Victor Davis Hanson (who is not chilled) says about Oriana Fallaci:

And few Christians in positions of influence and respect have publicly defended their faith and the civilization that birthed it. Candor, after all, can get one killed, exiled, or ostracized—whether a Danish cartoonist, a Dutch filmmaker, a Wall Street Journal reporter, or a British-Indian novelist. So here, ill and in her seventies, returned Ms. Fallaci one last time to take up the hammer and tongs against radical Islam.

Are all Palestinians in favor of the Intifada?  We don't really know.  Those that are not and speak up are killed.  General and specific deterrence there.  Consider the strong statements made by the Prime Minister of Lebanon during the recent Hezbollah-Israeli war:  He seemed very anti-Israel, and he may have been, but we don't really know, since he faced a strong risk of assassination had he said anything else. 

In his book on democracy, Natan Sharansky speaks of fear societies like the Soviet Union and much of the Middle East.  Everyone there is required to give the accepted answers, to Westerners and to one another, but that does not imply they believe it.  Indeed, this phenomenon accounts for the sudden transformation of such societies when the threat of coercion is reduced or eliminated.  But Sharanksy also notes that Westerners are often oblivious to these threats and treat the statements at face value, much as some commentators treated elections of Saddam with 100% as reflecting his support. 

There may not be much that the West can do about these threats.  But one thing is essential and largely risk free: refuse to treat statements that may be coerced as genuine.  It was worthwhile for people in the West to point out that the Prime Minister of Lebanon's statements were possibly coerced and to question whether he meant it.  Let us and others never forget the man behind the curtain.

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Mike Rappaport


I'm wondering if a soviet/ maoist style fear society driven by a wide-ranging bureaucratic culture differs in important ways from a more fragmented fear society in the Middle East where multiple parties (from JI to Hezbollah, Hamas, and smaller, independent factions) seem to vie for power by using symbolic language and engaging in symbolic acts whose underpinnings are more local and varied.

It is possible that distributed fear society (where a single ruling from a single cult of personality leader has far less influence that a statement written in Mao's little red book) might be less stable than a society where local interpretations of official statements always run the risk of being superseded by a new set of statements issued by a single authority (this happened repeatedly during the great leap forward in China).

Or... social movements based on far smaller sets of premises (Israel should be wiped out, western values are corrupting Islam) but seemingly flexible frameworks for action (from classroom lessons to street protests to suicide bombing) may be more durable than Soviet or Chinese communism since they are more fualt tolerant, able to adapt to the loss of leadership.

Which seems more likey?

Posted by: pastrami44 | Sep 17, 2006 7:25:02 PM