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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lady Gaga and the Right's Calls for Terrorist Appeasement

If there's one tactic Republicans have down pat, it's fearmongering. We see it in the "death panels" in the healthcare reform debate, we saw it in nonexistent WMD in preparing the public to invade Iraq, we see it as a "slippery slope" argument against same sex marriage, where people will inevitably begin having sex with their dogs. They know who their base is and, when they want to whip up hysteria, they turn to the most gullible and cowardly of Americans. Despite the fact that history reflects poorly on it, McCarthyism has never died, it's just been perfected. Don't like something? Well, just make some crap up, make sure it's extra scary, then present it as if it's both sensible and true.

Case in point:

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal:

Lady GagaPop quiz -- What does more to galvanize radical anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world: (a) Israeli settlements on the West Bank; or (b) a Lady Gaga music video?

If your answer is (b) it means you probably have a grasp of the historical roots of modern jihadism. If, however, you answered (a), then congratulations: You are perfectly in synch with the new Beltway conventional wisdom, now jointly defined by Pat Buchanan and his strange bedfellows within the Obama administration.

That's right, it's all Lady Gaga's fault -- along with "Madonna, Farrah Fawcett, Marilyn Monroe, Josephine Baker or any other American woman who has, at one time or another, personified what the Egyptian Islamist writer Sayyid Qutb once called 'the American Temptress.'"

A few points here: First, this is insane beyond words. So insane that even people on his side of the fence are mocking it. "That must be why America was beset by jihadist attacks since at least 1948," writes Daniel Larison for The American Conservative. "Oh, wait, this never happened? How strange. That might mean that the decadence-as-cause-of-terrorism argument grossly exaggerates the importance of such cultural factors in explaining jihadist violence as a way of distracting us from remediable political grievances. In fact, attacks on Americans and American installations began after we inserted ourselves into the region’s conflicts and began establishing a military presence there."

Second, in taking credit for 9/11, al Qaeda cited Bosnia and Chechnya, not "American temptresses." In fact, I gave up looking for some example of al Qaeda complaining about western women's unchaste ways. Bin Laden himself is said to be someone who's obsessed with Whitney Houston and reads Playboy. The men who carried off the 9/11 attacks frequented strip clubs, slept with prostitutes, and bought porn.

Third and finally, why are we supposed to give a crap what terrorists think? Stephens is trying to downplay the importance of settlements in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the argument that terrorism is all our fault for being so decadent and secular isn't a new one on the right. In his book The Enemy at Home, conservative icon Dinesh D'Souza writes, "In this book I make a claim that will seem startling at the outset. The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11... In faulting the cultural left, I am not making the absurd accusation that this group blew up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world. The Muslims who carried out the 9/11 attacks were the product of this visceral rage -- some of it based on legitimate concerns, some of it based on wrongful prejudice, but all of it fueled and encouraged by the cultural left. Thus without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened."

D'Souza argues that terrorists don't hate us for inserting ourselves in local politics around the world, they hate us for Hollywood and gay rights and host of other "cultural left" issues that conservatives don't like and terrorists have failed to mention -- he also argues that this terrorist reasoning of his own invention has some validity. It's an "eat your peas or the boogeyman will get you" argument; live the way conservatives want you to live or terrorists will kill you.

Earlier this month, Jeff Walton of The Institute on Religion and Democracy warned that an openly lesbian Anglican bishop would get people in Africa killed. "When a Muslim sees the newspaper headline, 'Anglican elects partnered lesbian bishop,' they don't draw a distinction between African Christians and European or American Christians," he wrote. A Republican running for Roy Blunt's Missouri senate seat, Gary Nodler, argued that repealing "don't ask, don't tell" would anger terrorists and put military personnel at risk. And we all remember the national freak-out over trying terrorist suspects in New York City. The argument there was that it would anger terrorists and make NYC a target. This always struck me as an especially stupid argument; 9/11 happened there, it's already a target.

What so often jumps out at me when I write about conservatives is the hypocrisy. Republicans love to accuse Democrats and liberals of "appeasing terrorists" -- even though nothing could be further from the truth. Then, they turn around and argue that we have to literally appease terrorists; albeit appeasement of demands that terrorists have never actually made. Call it terrorism by proxy. It's not "make your culture more Godly or I'll kill you," it's "make your culture more Godly or they'll kill you." These aren't arguments, these are hollow threats.

If we do get hit again by terrorists, I will bet any amount of money you like that the video al Qaeda releases following the attack won't include the words, "...and put some clothes on Lady Gaga."


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