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May 26, 2005


Bob Detlefsen

My take on this flap is somewhat different from yours and Press's. In the first place, while there's no doubt that U.S. intelligence on Iraqi WMD was faulty, it's not entirely clear that Bush himself knew this when he invoked it as his ostensible reason for invading Iraq. Let's not forget that the Bush administration was hardly alone in asserting that Iraq possessed WMD; the Brits and others had reached the same conclusion based on their own intelligence. (Of course, this is not to say that Bush and the neocons in his administration weren't intent on invading Iraq regardless of whether Saddam posed a viable threat to U.S. security.)

My larger point is this: The sniping between the Bush administration and the press over the Newsweek story is a sideshow that diverts attention from the more important issue raised by the frenzied public demonstrations and riots that occurred in response to the Newsweek story, which is that a large number of the world’s Muslims will eagerly and reflexively commit murder and mayhem over virtually any slight, real or imagined, against their religion. This tendency alone should give pause to those who naively believe that liberal democracy has a bright future in the Islamic world.

Collectively, the news media in free societies make countless reporting errors every day, so it really shouldn’t matter if Newsweek happened to get this particularly story wrong. On the other hand, if it eventually turns out that the story was accurate, what, after all, is so monumentally egregious about flushing a Koran down a toilet? By pretending that doing so would be an unconscionably horrific act, we legitimate the religiously-inspired thuggery that is all too common in the Islamic world. If mobs of Christians or Jews went on a murderous rampage because someone desecrated a bible, our opprobrium would be aimed quite properly at the rioters—because we rightly expect Christians and Jews to behave better than that. Indeed, in this country, when religionists peacefully protest the removal of the Ten Commandments from a courthouse, the mainstream media portray the protestors as dangerous zealots. But where Muslims are concerned, both the press and the White House apparently agree that a very different standard should apply. Political correctness, to which they are both in thrall, requires each to condemn the other for doing anything that might offend the tender sensibilities of Muslims.

R.J. Lehmann

First off, let me just say I'm honored that you've managed to find my hunble little corner of the web, Bob!

I don't substantially disagree with any of the points you raise, except that I am (perhaps due to an inherent journalistic bias) a bit more apt to be put out by political figures deigning to tell the press what it ought and ought not say. When the criticism in question is that the journalist in question relied to heavily on imperfect unnamed sources, and the administration in question launched a war based on just such information, I'm doubly concerned.

That said, as a thoroughly secular person, I can't find any quibble with the argument that it is madness to consider "defiling" a religious book to be a proper excuse for murder. The two cannot be equated. I don't know that the parallel to the bible is perfect -- my (very limited) understanding of Islam is that physical manifestations of the Koran are afforded a status as "sacred" that goes a good deal beyond that which Christians grant the Gospels or that Jews grant the Torah. But that's probably irrelevant to the larger point that barbaric behavior, by any party, should be condemned, not rationalized away.

But finally, the fact that such demonstrations have gone on repeatedly through the ages in that particular corner of the world is actually PRECISELY one of the reasons I was leery of the Iraqi War to begin with. If there is any group who has demonstrated a "naive belief that liberal democracy has a bright future in the Islamic world," I think it's the administration itself.

Bob Detlefsen

Regarding your last paragraph, I couldn't agree more. I too was "leery" of the administration's plan to invade Iraq. The only reason I wasn't unequivocally opposed is because I felt I had no choice but to believe the claims that were being about Iraq's WMD and Saddam's plans to use them against us. Under those narrow and compelling circumstances, I was willing to support a pre-emptive attack. But I never bought the notion that Saddam was in any way responsible for 9/11, and I certainly never believed that it was possible for us to bring "freedom and democracy" to the Middle East -- especially by means of a military invasion.

It is this foolish notion for which the administration needs to apologize, but instead it has made it the raison d'etre of the U.S. occupation -- even as events continue to unfold on a daily basis that confirm the futility of our putative mission.

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