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Monday, April 17, 2006

When Conficting Civilizations Collide

Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist

April 17, 2006

In H.G. Wells' "Time Machine," the helplessly fattened Eloi spend most of their time waiting around their pleasant surroundings to be snatched away by cannibal Morlocks. Those succulent pinkish Eloi who luckily aren't invited for dinner this time can only wait their turn, not so much in fear, but--simpletons that they are--in resigned ignorance.

Though he wrote it more than 100 years ago, Wells nonetheless had many of today's Americans nailed. Today's Eloi are Americans whose only "strategy" for dealing with the dreadful and grisly terrorist assaults on us is to pull back and wait for the next one.

The death sentence hearing of Zacarias Moussaoui, the "12th hijacker" of Sept. 11, 2001, has been a gory reminder of just what this non-strategy can produce. We relived it last week in the jarring words, sounds and sights of doomed people begging in the last seconds of their lives for help; screaming in terror as the World Trade Center collapsed around them; leaping in desperation and flames to a crushing death; or engaging in a final, fruitless life-or-death struggle with their murderers.

Such evidence, as well as Moussaoui's affected disinterest in the carnage, kindles a deep yearning for revenge. Creative revenge. Not simply execution, but just compensation. Suffocation in toxic smoke. Slow immolation. Drowning in blood gushing from his slit throat. A shove out the 86th floor. Release to the public at high noon on ground zero.

Maybe it's a measure of a civilized America that such suggestions are only newspaper column babblings and, thankfully, not a widespread sentiment. Even more, I sense that many folks, even in the face of the horrific evidence unveiled last week, aren't really that outraged anymore. At least in Chicago, it seemed to provoke less indignation than the news, revealed in the Chicago Tribune, that Sun Myung Moon, the head of the "controversial" Unification Church, is a lurking force in the sushi business.

As much as Moon's involvement bothers some, it serves an additional purpose by illustrating the relative importance of things. For example: What's worse, a religion that calls for arranged marriages or one that publicly stones women, but not men, for infidelity? A religious leader who says offensive things in the name of God, or adherents who invoke God's name as they murder thousands of innocent people? As much as it repulses some, Moon is trying to buy world domination, not grabbing it with terror and violence.

Thankfully, in America those offended by Moon only call for fish boycotts, not beheadings.

The Moussaoui trial should underscore the fact that we're fighting brutish enemies over more than power and money. We're fighting over values and beliefs. Moussaoui unapologetically claims that the Koran requires Islamic world domination and that non-Islamic nations must pay tribute to Islamic ones. "We have to be the superpower. You have to be subdued," he said. And in pursuit of that goal, his only regret is that he couldn't fly a planeload of innocents into the Capitol.

Moussaoui understands it better than Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and others who see little of global import in our conflicts and counsel a vague sort of withdrawal. Moussaoui sees beyond the gotcha politics of the Beltway and correctly regards this as an engagement of fundamentally conflicting civilizations: One more advanced and compassionate against another--violent and monstrous--that still is fighting in the Dark Ages, against Crusader spooks.

The fight over how and why the Iraq war is being fought is a legitimate one. But Iraq is just one part of the larger and more important debate. That bigger debate should have been settled by now.

To all you naysayers

Speaking of Iraq, some readers, in response to my April 3 column, explained that good news from Iraq isn't reported because there's no good news to report. None. Period. So, in response to their challenge to come up with some, I give you the liberal Brookings Institution and its "Iraq Index."

The index (, brought to my attention by blogger Jim Bowman, is, to my knowledge, the most comprehensive statistical compilation of Iraqi conditions, tracking economic, public opinion and security data. While partisans make sweeping assumptions about what are factual questions, the periodic report lays out such comparative data as pre-war and current levels of telephone and water service, unemployment, Iraq security forces, troop facilities and coalition strength.

I won't try to characterize the report one way or another, except to say that those blind to any good news will be surprised.


robert beebe said...

Rev. Moon is not trying to buy his way to world domination, but is making tremendous efforts to bring warring religious factions together in the search for peace. Because essentially the clash of civilizations that has been spoken of is a clash of religions that have led to vastly different values and worldviews.

In the past several years Rev. Moon's organizations have sponsored numerous trips involving several thousand participants to the Middle East of mostly Christian pastors but also including some American Jewish and Muslim leaders to engage their Middle Eastern counterparts in peaceful and respectful dialogue. They have marched in both Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for peace, putting their lives on the line in the process.

Now this would be an interesting story to pursue for those who are sincerely seeking ways to bring reconciliation to our polarizing world.

Mike N said...

It doesn't do much for your assertion that you speak for an advanced and compassionate civilization when, the day after the holiest of Christian holidays, you put forward violent and monstrous thoughts of vengeful death to be inflicted on those who do evil to us.

As to your assertion that reporters are missing all the good news to be found in Iraq? Since reporters on the ground lack either the competency or the courage to get out and report the truth, the situation cries out for you to journey there to report things the way they ought to be reported. Bon voyage!

Anonymous said...

2 thoughts first why do we have 130,000 troops in Iraq which had nothing to do with 9/11.
Second the sources Byrne cites in many ways show the insurgency as worse then reported. For example in 2004 it was common to hear the insurgency numbered 20,000 well for 2004 the sources Byrne cites shows 23,000 insurgents killed or detained if the size of the insurgency was static they would be wiped out. Instead for 2004 an 2005 the same sources show something like 48,000 insurgents killed or detained.
When you listen to a Bush supporter you are usualy being lied to .