Home > Islam, Religion, United States, World events > The anger of imbeciles

The anger of imbeciles

In his 1938 memoir, A Diary of My Times, French writer Georges Bernanos has this sentence that applies to so many situations in our present era of extremism: “The anger of imbeciles fills the world,”* Thus again with the terrible events in Benghazi and the riots now raging through Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Tunisia, and other countries.

“I’m always angry. See this row of buttons on my forehead? Push one and I’ll explode into irrationality.” This is what we hear, over and over, from various countries, mostly Islamic, mostly in the Middle East. Political correctness makes us keep saying that it isn’t so. Sorry, but it is.

I consider myself civilized. If I don’t like you, if I find you offensive or unpleasant, if you insult me or a principle I hold important, I’ll walk away—and I’ll never break bread with you. This civilized response will not be that of Tea Partiers or extremists of any sort, of anyone blinded by ideology or rigid religiosity or conservative agendas, even in our countries. Even less so if I live in Pakistan or Libya or Afghanistan or Yemen or Iran. If you insult my faith—Islam—or my Prophet—Mohammad—I’ll set fire to your house, kill you and your family, cut off your head, and feed your remains to the dogs. I will not listen to men and women of the same faith who preach moderation and compromise, who tell me that an insult or perceived insult by a cretin does not deserve a response. As a result, we live in a world that goes from explosion to explosion. Starting, more than twenty years ago, with the fatwa on Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses, going on to Danish cartoons, Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s film, etc. etc., and now a purported movie that apparently only exists in trailer form and was made by a multi-aliased nobody. All these episodes become excuses for roaring crowds of fanatics to vow to wash the offense in blood and start clambering up the walls of the embassy of whatever country they consider guilty of transgression, generally the U.S. by default.

The U.S. has two strikes against it. First, it’s the nefarious super power that is determined to enslave all nations and impose its own laws and corrupt values upon the world. Actually, each and every one of these developing countries knows for a fact that Amreeka’s plan is to destroy it. You think Obama might be preoccupied with the economy, with healthcare, with the European Union’s decline, the shenanigans of China or Russia or his own reelection? Think again. Or ask the Islamic Republic of Iran, for example. They’ll tell you that the U.S.’s only goal is to bring about regime change in Iran and get their hands on the country’s oil.

Second strike: In backward countries with repressive regimes (yes, even the so-called “moderate” ones), populations know that nothing—and particularly no piece of propaganda—happens without official, if covert, blessing and encouragement from the state. People have no idea what freedom of expression means, so if benighted individuals in the United States make an offensive film or what-have-you, it can only be because either Obama or Hillary Clinton ordered it made and financed it to further the evil objectives of the U.S. Government.

Are these populations to blame for their stupidity or should we find excuses for them and chalk it up to historical or national-psyche causes? My rationale for saying yes, they are to blame, is that in the worse corners of the world, you find people who grew up under the same skies and in the same culture, yet have open minds and are endowed with reason and logic (never mind that they generally rot in jail or don’t live long). For the rest, master manipulators with their own agendas pull the strings of these puppets, feeding the frenzy. A look at the recent riots in Cairo, Benghazi, or Sanaa shows us what? That an American with an equal grudge against Islam, the United States and Israel (from which country he or someone initially claimed he was) brought together, under false pretense, a bunch of would-be actors, made a semi-pornographic and completely idiotic film a few minutes long about Mohammad, put it up on YouTube as the so-called “trailer” of an actual feature film of undetermined name, and everyone went crazy. (Whether the tragic deaths of Ambassador Stevens and his three colleagues at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi are related or the result of an actual terrorist attack commemorating September 11, we have yet to find out.)

As a footnote to this post, I will add that a fallout directly relevant to the United States and the upcoming presidential elections is Romney once again sticking his foot in his mouth and accusing Obama of pandering to terrorists. But there are enough media comments on the subject and bigger questions to tackle. Such as, till when are we going to pretend that all faiths are equally respectable and all brains have the same size?

*”La colère des imbéciles remplit le monde.” Les grands cimetières sous la lune.

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  1. Jonathan Agronsky
    September 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Thank you, Saideh! Eloquently argued and eminently credible because you, the writer, grew up in a Middle Eastern country whose citizens, not too long ago, enjoyed a certain amount of personal freedom, even under a dictator (the Shah). It is indeed frightening to consider how effective (and cynical) the modern-day Islamic dictators are at exploiting the “imbeciles” under their rule. Like you, I believe that every individual is ultimately responsible for his or her beliefs and actions, including the imbeciles.

    Jonathan Agronsky
    FBB

  2. Ed Levy
    September 16, 2012 at 3:05 am

    Very well said

  3. Jan
    September 16, 2012 at 9:48 am

    I am not sure how to take this post Saideh…I agree philosophically, but am pragmatically in disagreement.

    Are societies to blame for their stupidity? I would agree with you in cases where that society was born into a generally free political regime, with a mostly impartial judicial system, with fair social flux, and the ability to improve quality of life through work and meritocracy. If a society that has these characteristics fails to develop them further, or lets them fall, then yes, they are responsible for their stupidity. (A similar logic was echoed in Joseph de Maistre’s :”Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.”) Yet this responsibility only extends to the generation that had all of this and lost it, it cannot as easily be extended to the generation that is born into the degraded status quo and knows nothing else.

    Paraphrasing Nietzsche: It is the responsibility of the privileged to elevate the masses. This could have happened under the previous regimes, but it didn’t, and now there is a critical mass of ignorant hooligans that spans nearly two generations and is spawning into an ever greater spiral of violence. Indeed, the calmer and more educated voices of reason in these countries have been systematically purged. Who are the voices of moderation left that the masses will listen to?

    This is partially the result of loss of negative liberty–a concept post WWII generations in the West have difficulty understanding because it is so well protected that it has become a a mundane part of their social structures. It is perhaps the corollary to your keen observation on the perception of propaganda. Both sides are not understanding a key point in the other’s formation. By way of analogy, ask the average Japanese to distinguish between r and l, or for that matter an Arabic speaker to distinguish between b and p. At some point a society cannot hear a sound it has never spoken, even when uttered by a foreigner.

    Who is responsible for this rampant social ignorance? Who is responsible for the lack of education and economic opportunity that are the symbiotic kindling for the march of violent masses? If we answer “society itself” then we can exonerate the leadership responsible for instigating Rwanda or those who engineered the Final Solution. Leaders by taking action (or not) at key junctures can influence how the masses react.

    Yes, at some point every human is potentially able to decide for themselves and choose the route of moderation. But when the leadership of the society that the individual was born into has denied the building blocks that permit a person to develop objective ethical judgment, then the potential to exercise free choice is indoctrinated into bleating stupidity. Responsibility falls on those who had the opportunity to influence the masses into being and thereafter doing better.

    Individual free will is a romantic illusion, particularly below a certain level of education, opportunity and, (heresy!) intelligence. Collective free will is and even further idealistic oxymoron. If the aggregate conditions of a society lack education and fairness, then (in disagreement with Jonathan above) the ability of each individual, particularly an imbecile, to choose the ethically better option is non-existent. If an individual is ultimately responsible for his actions in the aggregate, then leaders are not needed because we could each benignly shepherd ourselves and each other. Alas, enter le bon sauvage! But can you blame a pack of wild dogs for not being trained?

    • September 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      Jan, Thanks for the comment. You have given this a lot of thought and I appreciate many of your points. On the whole, though, you won’t make me change my mind. People are responsible, victimhood or the weight of history or the brute force exercised by governments on their people or this or that alignment of the stars notwithstanding. Believe me, I know how lucky I am to be living in a free society and allowed to make my own choices and have my own opinions. But in the very countries where mass protests are going on right now, I have known people, not particularly privileged or educated or of superior intelligence, who won’t let themselves be brainwashed. I have no respect for what is not respectable, I don’t think it’s a matter of principle to understand values different from ours, be it hysterical religiosity or cannibalism. Universal values exist and they can be applied everywhere by people of good will, no matter the context. (Yes, I do keep in mind Mao’s cultural revolution and Nazi Germany and the Rwandan genocide, etc. there is no dearth of horrors if we want to go down the list). Whipping uneducated populations into a frenzy is easy to do in Pakistan or Libya, but there will always be people who choose to stay home. Those individuals, few and far between, I grant you, are the hope of humanity (and not Rousseau’s “bon sauvage”).

      • Jan
        September 21, 2012 at 6:16 am

        I did not mean to convey that the bon sauvage is the answer. Quite the contrary, the sauvage cannot be good by his very nature. If he were, well, we could all live in harmony without the need for learning any set of values other than those we were born with. The savage lives in all of us and he is frequently aggressive, mostly egotistical, and cooperative and kind because it often suits him, if only for positive self reinforcing loops of pleasure. Yes, I am cynical, but I see evidence of this savage code frequently. I think yesterday we had 16 decapitations…I’ve lost count. Violence, blood, death, and usually the perpetuator comes from an environment with few alternative inputs to redirect his savage code; a code compounded by lack of opportunity and education.

        So where do responsibility and respectability exist our core in such a manner that it may always have the potential to emerge, even in the darkest circumstances?

        In our soul? Unlikely. This would imply there is a deity that programs it into us, like a programer and his software. No proof of that. Religion and the derived codes of conduct are learned behaviors.

        In our genes? Maybe. The simple argument is to cite maternal instinct, but that is really just genetic egoism in action. However, there is a growing body of evidence that points to cooperation and empathy having genetic origins– as observed in primates and elephants. But careful, because there is also growing indications that systematic violence also has genetic origins, as illustrated in the absence of war in Bonobos but existent in Chimps (yes, war, albeit at a very primitive level). There are also some very interesting studies emerging that trace either the lack of violence or the excessive violent behavior in people with genetically caused learning disorders. But if both types of disposition exist in us, then when should we use each one, that would likely imply a learning process…which brings us to the third depository vessel.

        In our mind? Most definitely. This by definition implies it is a learned behavior. A mind that has not been subject to a sufficiently strong source of education will act in deviated moral patterns that in the aggregate become corrupt ethical values, that in turn feed a vicious cycle of eschewed moral patterns. In the absence of even a corrupted ethical pattern of behaviors, humans will likely act on urges and instinct. (e.g. A violent fundamentalist has adopted a corrupted set of ethical values, but even these values keep some urges and instincts at bay.)

        Responsibility and respectability are epistemological concepts that require learning either through example or through trial and error. Without proper examples or leaders it is not surprising the mobs will turn violent, and that aggression will emerge as the strongest urge. Those of us who have learned otherwise, have the responsibility to teach, and when the mob fails to react differently, it is the ultimate measure of our failure.

        I wish I could think like you, and consider our core to be responsible and respectable, but I can’t.

  4. September 16, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Hello Saideh,

    I agree totally that the current murderous riots by Muslim fanatics across the world are fueled by uneducated rage, are directed by evil forces, and are harmful to the well-being of all humanity as well as the unfortunate individuals who take part in them.

    But as an associate of yours through the FBB writers and editors support group based in Washington, D.C., I have to take you to task for sloppy syntax and sloppy writing that betrays a lack of rigor in your thinking.

    I am particularly concerned about this sentence in your post:

    “This civilized response will not be that of Tea Partiers or extremists of any sort, of anyone blinded by ideology or rigid religiosity or conservative agendas, even in our countries.”

    It lumps Tea Party activists with extremists, and individuals blinded by ideology with political conservatives.

    Have you taken the time to review the platform of the Tea Party? Do you know that there has been not one incident of unlawful or even discourteous behavior reported from a Tea Party rally anywhere in the country?

    Have you studied the history of the conservative movement in the United States? If so, what aspect(s) of conservative thinking do you associate with the instigation of murderous mob behavior?

    I support both the Tea Party platform to curb government spending and I consider myself a political conservative. And I take offense when a journalist or a blogger associates me with the fanatical lunatic movement that brought us the Nairobi embassy bombings, the attack on the Marines barracks in Lebanon, 9/11, and the murder of the first U.S. ambassador on duty since 1979.

    But I am fond of all fellow FBBers, and so I exhibit the same civilized response about which you write in this post, which is to either walk away, or to engage in a dialog that might bring two human beings closer to mutual understanding in a confused world.

    • Jonathan Agronsky
      September 16, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      I’ve got to say, right on, Saideh, for inspiring such an interesting discussion of how to interpret and most constructively respond to the destructive anger of the so-called “Arab street,” and suggestion that we should not give a moral passhold to the cynical leaders in more than 20 countries, lay and clerical alike, who are only too happy to use that anger and frustration (and, yes, widespread ignorance) for their own destructive ends.

      In response to your latest commentators, I would suggest just two things:

      First, the day that one concedes that only certain–for example, Western, educated and/or enlightened–individuals should be held fully accountable for their actions, I believe, is the day you set the stage for global anarchy (see, e.g., today’s headlines).

      Secondly, I would respectfully suggest that, in a civilized country, the host government is obliged to protect the physical safety of the foreign diplomats stationed on its soil. Period. End of discussion. Obviously, scores of countries around the world have chosen to ignore or openly violate that ancient and honorable custom, to the peril of everyone, including, perhaps, in the forseeable future, the very governments who condone or incite such barbarism.

      Jonathan Agronsky

      • Jan
        September 21, 2012 at 6:31 am

        Jonathan, this is a great discussion.

        I would not suggest that only the educated and/or enlightened be the only ones held fully accountable for their actions. I only mean that we cannot hold the ignorant responsible for not choosing otherwise, when it is the privileged who have failed to provide the means to learn and act differently. Leaders now should not be shy to use negative reinforcement to correct destructive behavior, but it has to come with education and opportunity, otherwise if feeds resentment. A great recent example of this is perhaps NYC, zero tolerance, and simultaneous grass roots community efforts.

        You are absolutely right in host governments needing to protect the safety of diplomats on their soil. There is of course the issue of having real ability to control and govern–which in most countries where the violence is happening is indicative of the shortcomings in legitimate power the governments have. Nonetheless, I think there is a coded message that is a response to the growing disregard the US has shown toward sovereign rights of other nations. The extreme example is intervention in Iraq. The more subtle example is the illegal extradition of enemies of the state and the use of drones to target individuals and cross borders. This is already creating friction among NATO allies who have had their nationals targeted in drone attacks (albeit in hostile territory). The US, unfortunately has a large credibility gap in this regard.

  5. Ann Siegal
    September 16, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    I applaud your stellar insight into the any-excuse-for-rioting crowd. If it weren’t an obscure film, something else would have fanned the flames.

    However, I also have to take issue with your statement, ” “This civilized response will not be that of Tea Partiers or extremists of any sort, of anyone blinded by ideology or rigid religiosity or conservative agendas, even in our countries.”

    Please tell me where in the conservative or Tea Party movement you’ve seen the kind of destruction, filth and crime that has become synonomous with the Occupy and anarchist protests around the country? Where have Tea Partiers or conservatives bashed windows, overturned cars, set fires, stormed businesses and battled police?

    Poltical disagreement in the form of peaceful protests is not uncivil just because one may disagree with the message. To ignore the left’s hand in U.S. protests that truly are uncivil is appalling.

    I’ve actually attended several huge Tea Party events in the DC area, as well as the Glenn Beck Restoring Honor rally. Police were never needed to control the crowd. There was no property destruction. There wasn’t even any pushing or shoving, nor was there any trash left behind. Permits were obtained, rules and boundaries were accepted and all behaved quite amicably.

    It’s very sad when such good insight on the Middle East turmoil gets thrown offtrack by trying to make a moral equivalency between those U.S. citizens who primarily want to rein in Federal spending and the Islamic fanatics who continually destroy property and threaten lives on the basis of being “offended” by films, cartoons, books and rumors.

    Very sad indeed.

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