Sunday, September 03, 2006

Why Can't Centanni and Wiig Be More Like Osama bin Laden?

Move over, David Warren. Another brave armchair warrior has come forward to condemn Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig for declining to martyr themselves to The Glorious War of Our Religious Values Are Better Than Your Religious Values. Precariously perched in the battle zone of the Chicago Sun-Times's newsroom, Mark Steyn unfavorably compares Centanni and Wiig with fictional characters in a novel he read when he was a child, who choose to die rather than convert to Islam:

... [E]ven as men with no religious convictions, they cannot bring themselves to submit to Islam, for they understand it to be not just a denial of Christ but in some sense a denial of themselves, too. So they stall and delay and bog down the imam in a lot of technical questions until eventually he wises up and they're condemned to death.

One hundred ten years later, for the Fox journalists and the Western media who reported their release, what's the big deal? Wear robes, change your name to Khaled, go on camera and drop Allah's name hither and yon: If that's your ticket out, seize it. Everyone'll know it's just a sham.

But that's not how the al-Jazeera audience sees it. If you're a Muslim, the video is anything but meaningless. Not even the dumbest jihadist believes these infidels are suddenly true believers. Rather, it confirms the central truth Osama and the mullahs have been peddling -- that the West is weak, that there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing it's not willing to trade.

Take a moment to absorb what Steyn is saying here: He takes it as a given that Osama bin Laden's definition of weakness is correct. Clearly, Steyn is accepting the "jihadi" understanding of strength and courage, because he savages Centanni and Wiig for not making their life and death decisions in accordance with that understanding. Steyn, in effect, is embarrassed! He is mortified that Centanni and Wiig made themselves look weak in the eyes of their jihadi captors!

Instead of allowing himself to be so influenced by political and religious extremist understandings of wisdom, strength, and courage, maybe Steyn should find more positive role models: like Demosthenes, or Kenny Rogers.

Of course, there are some core, bedrock values that Steyn is willing to trade for being safe in the moment. Glenn Greenwald has more on those:

... So much of the neoconservative warrior cries are built on an ethos of deep fear, of exactly the desperate desire to be protected and saved which Steyn and company claim is the hallmark of the girlish, soul-less West. As they strike the warrior pose, they are desperately willing, even eager, to fundamentally change the character and principles of our republic and to sacrifice the core liberties which define it because they are scared and want, more than anything else, to be protected.

Do you want to hear what a person sounds like when they really are -- to use Steyn's words -- "weak, that there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing it's not willing to trade"? Here is Bush loyalist Sen. John Cornyn, explaining why we should allow the President to break the law and eavesdrop on our conversations without any oversight: "None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead." And here is Pat Roberts, showing how willing he is to trade all American values in the hope of being protected from the things he fears: "I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties. But you have no civil liberties if you are dead." That "rationale" means we do anything -- give up all freedoms, relinquish all values -- because desperately trying to stay alive is the only thing that matters.

So someone -- like Centanni or Wiig -- who recites a few words that they don't mean in order to avoid death is a wretched, feminine coward who has no core values and nothing they are willing to die for. But if that's the standard, then people like Steyn and his fellow neoconservative warriors -- who want to place blind faith in the Government in exchange for promises of "protection," vest in the President the most unlimited powers, and fundamentally change how our country functions and the values which define it, all because they think that doing so is necessary to increase their chances of living -- are drowning in a self-protective cowardice that dwarfs by many magnitudes that which they mock in others.

The creepy spectacle of watching one warrior after the next insist that we must risk other people's lives and bomb more people so that we don't feel girlish and scared and submissive is repugnant enough, in itself, to have to witness on a daily basis. But the fact that these same people are the ones whose deep, irrational fears of The Terrorist override virtually all other considerations, and who demand that we change our nation and relinquish all of the values and liberties which have always defined it and which make it worth fighting for, all because they believe that doing so is necessary to allow them some marginally greater chance of avoiding death, renders their accusations and warrior dances -- on top of everything else -- an exercise in the grossest and most absurd hypocrisy.

Mark Steyn and his comrades think they are so courageous (as they make clear virtually every day). But a courageous act entails risk, and they never risk anything. Quite the contrary, they are desperate to eliminate all perceived risks to their "safety," regardless of the costs. Their entire world-view is based upon and driven by their deeply irrational fears, which lead to a never-ending desire to sacrifice liberty (theirs and ours) and a hysterical, risk-free insistence that the Bad Scary People (along with hundreds of thousands or even millions of others near them) be bombed, incinerated and killed -- all so that they aren't so scared any more, so that they can feel safe.

On a daily basis, they re-enact writ large the ritual in which Centanni and Wiig engaged -- submitting to unlimited Government power, relinquishing all of our national values, and assenting to the most crazed wars fought by others, without limits, all to assuage their own fears, in order to obtain illusory feelings of "safety." As Steyn put it in purportedly describing Centanni and Wigg, "that there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing [they're] not willing to trade."

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