Some Thoughts on the American Street

I wrote this a while ago. In rereading this, it strikes me that we always refer to the American public as a public, whereas the Arab public is referred to as a street. Given the political rewards to be gained by appealing to our baser instincts, I don’t think we should be so haughty:

Before the war, we constantly heard commentators warn us of angering the “Arab street”. I have always thought there is little to fear from the Arab street: a beaten man rages, but very rarely strikes. Far more important is the American street, neglected by most pundits. Regarding the support for the war, there were two impulses, one vicious and despicable, and one far more legitimate.

The despicable impulse, fanned by the shirker in the White House, was to kill some Arabs (or “git some folks”, if you prefer). Those who wanted war in Iraq for this reason do not discriminate among different Arabs; the moderate Arab physician is no different than the suicide bomber. If you can’t get the bomber, get some other Arab (and typically a slur is used instead of Arab).

The other impulse, ignored by the anti-war movement, was a backlash against making all evils morally equivalent (this is not the same as moral relativism). Despite all of the horrible crap we’ve been responsible for, many Americans were turned off by the notion that our war possessed the same moral degeneracy that Saddam Hussein’s regime did. This is perhaps exemplified by the reaction to Ashcroft: as disgusting as he is, he is not arresting dissidents, and raping family members in front of them in order to break their will (note: what Ashcroft doesn’t realize is that he’s making it easier for some other person in the future to do so).

You may ask what Ashcroft has to do with the war. The other pro-war impulse was a reaction to the Chomsky-ite view that whatever the United States does is wrong, even though we have built a decent, albeit imperfect society. Many people thought, “our economic status is better (though not for all), we have more liberty, we do not suffer from pervasive gender apartheid—perhaps we do have the right to tell these cruddy little countries how to live.” Until the left confronts this view in a positive way that does not make their fellow citizens choose between “America, love it or leave it” and Noam Chomsky, the American street will still be angry.

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