Thursday, September 30, 2010

Elizabeth Moon and Islam 2

I talked in my previous post about how the history of the US has been the history of accommodating new people and minorities. What I didn't mention is how difficult this often is, and how hostile and violent the majority has often been. Consider slavery and the struggle to end it. You don't get much more violent than the American Civil War, at least until the 20th century.

Which brings me to the famous Frederick Douglass quote:
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.

Struggle need not be as violent as the Civil War, and let's hope it isn't. But Douglass is right about power. It doesn't concede anything without demand, and that demand must be backed by determination.

The problem right now is twofold. The US needed an enemy after the collapse of the Soviet Union to explain why it remains so highly militarized and why ordinary Americans cannot have the country they want.

9/11 provided an enemy. Unfortunately the enemy in question was a tiny group of criminals. Hardly a replacement for the Soviet Union. So the enemy had to be expanded. This was done by connecting Al Qaeda to Afghanistan and Iraq. There were Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan at the time, though the plotting for 9/11 was done in Germany and the people involved were mostly Saudi. Strange that the US did not attack Germany or Saudi Arabia... Iraq had no connection at all to Al Qaeda, but it did have lots of oil, and a strategic position in the Middle East. In any case, the enemy was expanded first to Afghanistan and Iraq, then to the entire Islamic world, except American allies such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

It is an odd, cobbled-together, patchwork enemy -- not a state or empire, as the Soviet Union was, but a bunch of varied countries and people who do not necessarily get along. None of these countries has anything close to the military power of the old USSR or anything close to Soviet Union's international reach. Even together, they are not comparable.

So, that is one issue: the need for an enemy. The second issue is demographics in the US: the country is less and less white. It will be majority nonwhite by the middle of this century, and this is making many white Americans crazy. At the same time that this is happening, lift is getting less good for most Americans, and they need an explanation for why this is happening -- aside from the obvious explanation that the rich are sucking up all the nation's wealth, leaving very little for the rest of us.

The current hatred of Muslims is in response to the patchwork enemy, created because the US government needs an enemy, and the changing demographics in the country. There is a lot of political power and white fear behind this hatred, which makes it dangerous; and it is a distraction from the real issues that the US needs to face, if the country and the planet are going to survive.

In general, I have faith in America's ability to overcome its old habits of prejudice and become a richer, more complex, more varied nation with much better food.

But never underestimate the power of jerks and fascists.


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