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Understanding 'Understanding'[Deb Weiss]
vie drudge ^ | April 16, 2002 | Deb Weiss

Posted on 04/16/2002 3:57:02 PM PDT by Roscoe Karns

April 16, 2002

One of the most grating messages to have erupted in recent weeks -- thumping and echoing in an endless loop, like ideological Muzak -- is the notion that we are obliged to "understand" the mentality that leads to bloody acts of terror.

Even Yasir Arafat's wife, Suha al-Taweel Arafat, is getting in on the act. Recently, in Paris, where she supports the revolution through heroic acts of shopping and dining out, she declared her solidarity with the terror-bombers.

"Resistance is a legitimate right for every occupied people," explained the Missus, adding that "[suicide] operations are an indivisible part of that right."

Yes indeed, children: after a brief time-out (precipitated by that little incident with the airplanes last September), Root Causes are back.

Lest we be tempted to forget, Palestinian spokesmen like Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat remind us a thousand times a day -- more, if you have cable.

We are obliged to understand, they say -- we must understand.

Alas: precisely WHAT we are to understand is subject to extreme revision.

They are -- these heroes of the revolution -- curiously unwilling to concede that the act of strapping explosives to your body and dashing into a pizzeria actually IS an act of terror.

On the contrary, they gloss with eerie lightness over the implications, or play word-games with definitions. If pressed, they will halfheartedly mumble the word "deplore", before launching into venomous fictions about massacres and bulldozers and United Nations resolutions.

What we are left to understand, it seems, is a Root Cause woven largely if not entirely from whole cloth, stripped clean of context, and liberated from such awkward details as the Net Effect.

Worse, guided by their American mentors, Palestinian spinmeisters have become increasingly Begalafied -- the politics of death now comes to us through the filter of the focus group.

Didn't your very own Mr. Patrick Henry (they ask) once say "give me liberty or give me death?" And haven't the Palestinians merely updated this noble sentiment ( "give me land or everybody dies") to reflect their own particular struggle for independence?

There you have it. It would be racist, imperialist, culturally chauvinist, politically naive, right-wing and retrograde indeed, to impose a category like "terror" on the detonating martyrs of the PLO, when what they really are is Patrick Henry.

This makes Mr. Arafat George Washington, I guess, or why else would Hanan Ashrawi so vigorously assure us that he never told a lie?

You see the logic.

Western journalists are many things, but what they are above all is image-conscious. They desperately don't want to be considered racist, imperialist, culturally chauvinist, politically naive, right-wing or retrograde.

So they chant phrases like "cycle of violence" on cue, and agree that it was Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount that "caused" the crisis. They worry almost maternally about the Arab Street, and murmur that just because there wasn't actually a massacre at Jenin doesn't mean the Palestinians were lying when they said there was one. In short, they Understand.

Don't get me wrong. In principle, I'm all for Understanding.

I understand, for instance, that since 9/11 the left has suffered an acute collective case of Root Causes Deprivation. For them, the current crisis in the Middle East came just in time -- otherwise they might well have exploded themselves, bloated to bursting by the accumulated strain of suppressing their angry lifelong critique of the West.

You'll remember that in the immediate aftermath of our own little adventure in terror, they sprinted before the cameras to explain its Root Causes to the rest of us, frantically hoping to make us See Reason before we could rush out into the American Street and misbehave, burning flags and effigies, chanting vengeful slogans, racially profiling innocent passers-by, and the like (apparently such actions are only adorable when undertaken by officially sanctioned foreigners).

It didn't seem to occur to them that we Americans are not, on the whole, inclined to such diversions.

We had to understand, they urged (mumbling the word "deplore" when absolutely necessary) that it was really our own collective guilt that had caused thousands of us to die so hideously, that lovely fall morning. Our pro-Israeli bias is what drove those Saudi rich boys to take out the towers.

During an amiable interview with ABC's Peter Jennings barely 48 hours after the attack, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi seized the opportunity to educate us, cheerfully blaming Israel and Washington for the bloodshed.

It was quite a performance, but it was a bit much, even for the chattering classes. Tom Shales, The Washington Post's churlish media critic, blasted Mr. Jennings for letting it happen at all.

"Jennings convened a little pro-Palestinian seminar on Thursday afternoon," wrote Mr. Shales, "that went overboard in attempting to 'understand' the kind of monsters who would turn airplanes into bombs and make a nation weep. Most prominent in the segment, which droned on for 23 long minutes, was Jennings' old pal Hanan Ashrawi."

Beyond the Beltway, too, such arrogance met with fierce and instantaneous resistance (there are times when I'm immensely proud to be one of the booboisie: this was one).

Most Americans knew instinctively that the 9/11 attack was a colossal act of madness, of unspeakable ugliness, of nihilism, of inhumanity. They also knew, without being told, that the left's instinct to rationalize and justify the slaughter was as profoundly corrupt as the act itself.

Very soon, the left felt compelled to turn down the volume, though not without considerable wailing about the "danger" of suppressing the free speech rights of -- well -- themselves: (poor darlings, they do so hate to be disagreed with). For long, tedious months, they were obliged to think before they spoke, a condition as novel for them as it was disagreeable.

Little wonder, then, that they've fallen on the current predicament with bird-like cries of joy and relief. After all those months of swallowing their words, it's been a kind of glorious emesis: Dr. Ashrawi and her chums are finally -- to cop a phrase from the bad old days -- Back On Message.

Hanan Ashrawi is an interesting case. After receiving an advanced degree in Medieval and Comparative Literature from the University of Virginia (like most Oppressed Revolutionaries, she has led an exceedingly privileged life), she threw her lot in with the wretched of the earth -- grand work, if you can get it.

"I represent a narrative of exclusion, denial, racism, and national victimization," this posh and prosperous woman recently informed a United Nations gathering.

As a longtime advisor to Yasir Arafat, she has spent years spinning wildly -- whatever narrative she represents, it is first and foremost fictional.

To a gallery of reliable sycophants in the press, she routinely claims that the Little Chairman fills his time with such virtuous exercises as "preparing his constituency for peace". Such claims go mostly unchallenged, despite assassinations and bombings and hijackings and other assorted acts of mayhem.

Still, we must be understanding or die. No doubt Dr. Ashrawi's cordial media reception has a Root Cause or two of its own.

ABC's Jennings, for instance, can be excused for his convivial treatment of Dr. Ashrawi since, as everybody knows, they used to date. You could hardly expect him to diss an old girlfriend on national TV.

Surely, though, she hasn't dated up Ted Koppel, Brian Williams, Tim Russert, and all the boys on the bus as well -- there simply isn't time for that much social life, not when you're leading a movement of national liberation.

Right-wing media-watchers suspect (not always irrationally) that for some journalists the Root Cause boils down to something less romantic and more practical: a poignant longing, perhaps, to erode Mr. Bush's approval numbers before the fall elections.

In any case, I'm tired of being told to understand terror. Clearly, it means something that in sophisticated lands like France and Belgium, where such understanding is more highly esteemed and more noisily endorsed than it is in our own crude, New World culture, Jews are being beaten and synagogues are being torched.


At the end of the day, one is tempted to believe that the road to hell may well be paved, not with good intentions, but with excess understanding.

TOPICS: Editorial

1 posted on 04/16/2002 3:57:02 PM PDT by Roscoe Karns
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To: Roscoe Karns
THey had some very good wines!
2 posted on 04/16/2002 4:01:03 PM PDT by swarthyguy
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To: Roscoe Karns
I understand all ready! Children are sent to be bombers and murderers, because the adults of their culture are cowards.
3 posted on 04/16/2002 4:12:00 PM PDT by abclily
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To: Roscoe Karns
Excellent post!

Improves the 'understanding'. lol

4 posted on 04/16/2002 4:22:08 PM PDT by headsonpikes
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To: Roscoe Karns
Our own Deb!

Right on!

5 posted on 04/16/2002 4:27:35 PM PDT by tet68
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To: DebO21
Great job, Deb!
6 posted on 04/16/2002 5:17:32 PM PDT by solzhenitsyn
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To: Roscoe Karns
Roscoe, thanks for posting this excellent column.
7 posted on 04/16/2002 5:19:27 PM PDT by solzhenitsyn
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Comment #8 Removed by Moderator

To: Roscoe Karns
Bump for another excellent commentary by Deb.
9 posted on 04/16/2002 7:13:18 PM PDT by Jean S
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