The Long View 2004-04-09: Good Friday

The best thing I can say about this post from twelve years ago is that almost nothing has changed in that time.


Good Friday

Let us begin with the Stations of the Cross. For our meditations, we will use the lyrics to Fires (Which Burned Brightly), by the old art-rock group, Procol Harum (all rights reserved):

This war we are waging is already lost
The cause for the fighting has long been a ghost
Malice and habit have now won the day
The honours we fought for are lost in the fray
Standards and bugles are trod in the dust
Wounds have burst open, and corridors rust
Once proud and truthful, now humbled and bent
Fires which burnt brightly, now energies spent
Let down the curtain, and exit the play
The crowds have gone home and the cast sailed away
Our flowers and feathers as scarring as weapons
Our poems and letters have turned to deceptions

Now snap out of it. Pull yourself together. In a few days, we will see that the tomb is empty.

What we are seeing in Iraq now is not a general uprising, or even a coup d'etat, though the latter seems to be what Moqtada al-Sadr intended. What we are seeing is another eruption of the lawlessness that met the Coalition forces when they arrived in Iraq. No alternative to the Provisional Government is on offer. Neither is there much prospect of a national guerrilla underground. Casualties in the current disturbances are more like those from a riot than from a war. That includes Falluja, where damage and casualties do not compare with the urban fighting during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. It will be seen, presently, that the opponents of the Coalition and of the nascent Iraqi government have done their worst, and their worst is no great shakes.

One could argue that the same was true of the Tet Offensive, which began on January 31, 1968. In that case, too, the offensive was a military failure. The Viet Cong never entirely recovered from it. However, public morale in the United States collapsed in the aftermath. That was partly because of the way the offensive was presented by the news media, but chiefly because the US government itself was shaken. Lyndon Johnson soon announced he would not seek reelection. The US theater commander was fired. American policy thereafter was to fight for a draw, and the North Vietnamese knew it.

George Bush and their Administration have their faults, but lack of resolve is not among them. They have a virtue: they won't try to compromise with people who can't be trusted to keep an agreement. Those are the essentials.

This is not to say that victory in the Terror War is assured. Only the tried-and-true method of assuring civil peace in the Middle East could do that: slaughter civilians in their thousands and tens of thousands, until the feuding communities are stunned with horror. The great Islamist bombings of civilians in the West are simply another expression of that political culture. That is not all there is to the societies of the Middle East, however. Shia Islam in particular has resources that could support a humane politics, if only a space is available where those resources can develop. That space can and will be created. Whether anything will grow in it in the long run remains to be seen.

* * *

Another factor is that patience with Islam is wearing thin in the West, even in the most unlikely places:

[In March], the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, formerly a preacher of multiculti boilerplate and now morphed into a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy...said in a speech in Rome that Islam is "authoritarian, inflexible and under-achieving". Taking no prisoners, he drew attention to the "glaring absence" of democracy in most Muslim countries and suggested that they had "contributed little of major significance to world culture for centuries."

This could be part of a larger trend in Britain toward, well, Britishness:

Britain's race relations chief Trevor Phillips was attacked by politicians, community leaders and commentators yesterday after he called for the country to abandon its attempts to be more multicultural. In a newspaper interview the head of the Commission for Racial Equality said that 'multiculturalism suggests separateness' and added that the UK should strive towards a more homogeneous culture with 'common values ... the common currency of the English language, honouring the culture of these islands, like Shakespeare and Dickens'.

The interesting thing is that the man who said this was not actually lynched, or at least not by the time of this writing.

* * *

Meanwhile, in the US, the engines of social deconstruction grind on. There is, for instance, a serious move afoot to allow non-citizen aliens to vote in New York City elections:

At first glance, it may seem a long shot in an era of orange alerts and stepped-up border patrols. But quietly and carefully, elected officials, labor unions and community groups are starting to push the notion of allowing legal immigrants who are not United States citizens to vote in New York City elections....

A stumbling block was removed this year when lawyers for the City Council reviewed state election law and decided that the city could alter its voting statutes without the approval of the State Legislature, where noncitizen voting measures were introduced without success three times during the 1990's...

"In many ways, this prepares people," said Gouri Sadhwani, the executive director of the New York Civic Participation Project, one of the groups pressing the issue. "They start local, and then they become citizens and vote in national elections."

That last comment is, of course, simply wrong. An alien franchise would not prepare resident aliens for participation in national life. It would make it possible for them to forgo participation in national life entirely. It would be fatal to assimilation, since the local institutions that have traditionally Americanized immigrants would be controlled in part by people with no interest in assimilation. For three decades, the opponents of assimilation have busied themselves institutionalizing multiculturalism. Except for the scandal of bilingual education, these efforts have for the most part been harmless rackets. We can no longer take that attitude, however. Multiculturalism has become a national security threat.

New York City politics is a universe unto itself; though I live just across the Hudson, I cannot gauge what chance this measure has. If it became the law in New York City, it would quickly become a national issue. Once that happens, America as a whole will shout it down. If the state government does not forbid alien voting, then Congress will. The text of the Constitution may suggest that this sort of thing is a state matter, but the area of voting rights has been federalized so extensively that such an objection can no longer stand. God help the Supreme Court if it finds otherwise.

* * *

The citizenship issue could follow a trajectory like that of the gay-marriage campaign: both involve basic institutions that were being successfully undermined, until the underminers broke into daylight. It is, perhaps, no accident that the most honest proposal to abolish marriage also comes from New York City:

The same-sex marriage controversy took a new and dramatic turn [in early April] as one of the state Legislature's few openly gay members proposed abolishing marriage altogether in New York. Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) said she would introduce legislation today to remove all references to marriage from the state Domestic Relations Law and replace them with the term "civil unions."

This is the direction in which progressive family law has been moving for years. The program has been effectively implemented in parts of Europe, the dying continent. It's more a symptom than a cause of morbidity, but it does make recovery more difficult.

* * *

Speaking of Good Friday, I was greatly surprised to see that expert opinion on the Shroud of Turin has undergone another revolution. According to the PBS series Secrets of the Dead, the Shroud probably is a first-century Palestinian artifact. That unpleasantness with the radio-carbon dating a few years ago was the consequence of choosing a dirty corner to test.

I would still want to see another carbon-14 test on the Shroud. I also want to see a test on the Sudarium, another supposed piece of burial clothes. It has stains that allegedly match those on the Shroud, and it is reliably known to be at least as old as the eighth century.

In any case, the question now appears in a different light.  

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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