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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Why Cartoons Matter

When it comes to riots, Muslims certainly know how to do it up right. As Muslims torched embassies over the weekend, the crowds resembled nothing so much as the draft-card incendiaries and bra-burners of the 1960’s. There’s a good reason for that.

While many commentators are discussing the similarities between the most recent Muslim unrest and the 1938 Kristallnacht event, there are other connections that are at least as important. In order to see what is going on now, we have to remember what happened then.

When a seventeen-year old Parisian Jew, upset at his uncle’s deportation from Germany, assassinated one of the members of the German embassy in France, Goehring used the event to justify Kristallnacht, the 1938 German pogrom against the Jews.

While everyone remembers the rioting, few remember the purpose behind it: Goehring meant to use Kristallnacht as an excuse to seize goods and materials from every Jewish businessman in the country. Kristallnacht allowed the Nazi government to re-locate literally billions of marks, both in cash and goods, into government coffers.

Seen in this light, Kristallnacht was essentially the same eminent domain process recently approved by the US Supreme Court, although marvelously expanded and focussed entirely on a single group of people. Indeed, Goehring explicitly insisted the situation was an economic one. He intended to remove Jews from the German economy.

In 1938, Germany had been a fully integrated nation for less than seventy years. Prior to the 1871 unification under Bismark (accomplished only by the waging of the Franco-Prussian war), German territory was divided into literally thousands of fiefdoms – in 1781, there were 1,781 separate governments ruling over various pieces of the territory we now call Germany.

Seventy years later, the union had not fully quashed those earlier rival fiefdoms. Even on the eve of World War II, Hitler worried that Bavaria would defect to Italy – everyone knew Bavarians paid more attention to Catholic Rome than to Protestant Prussian Berlin.

While anti-Semitism was real, it was also a tool, a way to unite Germans against a common enemy, a way to maintain national vision and purpose among disparate people. Indeed, anti-Semitism served a very similar role in Poland, a country that had been completely wiped out of existence and only reconstituted at the close of World War I.

Year of the Barricades
Fast forward to 1968. The world-wide baby boom had created a late-60’s world-wide population heavily weighted towards the under-25 age group. The skew was more accentuated than normal because the war had already killed off a large proportion of what would otherwise have been mature adults.

This unusually high disparity between the population of old and young, matched for the first time with a factory school model that eliminated most of the traditional one-on-one mentoring mature adults had historically used to temper the impetuosity of youth, resulted in a world-wide explosion of that same youthful impetuosity. In 1968, riots broke out across the industrialized world.

No matter what country you looked at, violent demonstrations were in full force. Poland, France, Spain, Britain, Japan, America – each one rocked repeatedly as the youth streamed out into the streets at the slightest provocation.

The Muslim Riots
There was in 1938 Germany a very popular joke: “The Aryan is blond like Hitler, slim like Goehring, and tall like Goebbels.” Anyone who looked at Hitler’s dark hair, Goehring’s corpulence or Goebbels’ height could instantly see that none of the people in government lived what they promoted. Still, the myth of the ideal Aryan gave a divided people something to cling to.

Now, according to Muslim theology, faith and state are a single entity, a combined unity stronger than even medieval Christendom ever envisaged. And that’s the match to the fuel.

Today’s Muslims simultaneously face two problems, each of which was enough to cause enormously violent responses in European and American societies.

Like 1930’s Germany, the vision modern Islam has of itself is nowhere to be found. Instead, the reality is rife with dissension. Muslim populations are split both theologically and geographically. Despite the common Quran and the Hajj, there is no common Muslim identity. The two elements of common book and common journey, elements meant to maintain Muslim unity, are beginning to fracture under the load.

As competing groups each seek to make their vision the guiding one, each has to do something that is louder, purer, stronger than the last. Thus, images of Mohammed that had never caused issue before now become lightning rods. Whether this is by accident or design is not particularly relevant. The images couldn’t have been used as lightning rods unless they spoke to an inherent fear within the Muslim community of incipient apostasy.

The Meaning of the Riots
The Muslim fight is not ultimately against the Danes and their cartoons any more than Hitler’s fight was ultimately against the Jews. Certainly Hitler killed millions of Jews, but he did so as a means to an end – he wanted a united Germany, a united vision of Germany, and anti-Semitism was his preferred method for accomplishing that vision.

His anti-Semitism worked precisely because Germans already had an inchoate sense that they were not united, that something was keeping them apart. Rather than blame themselves, rather than blame their history or their vision, they blamed the Jews. It was a convenient story that resonated with an unstable population that wasn’t given to introspection.

And that describes modern Islam in a nutshell. Muslim countries are the only countries that have positive population growth. They have more young people per capita than any other population in the world. Historically, this has never been a problem as long as the economy has something for the youth to do.

Unfortunately, Islam is composed mostly of dictatorial, soviet-style economies that are not strong enough to handle the influx of young workers. As the West has demonstrated time and time again, well-educated youth are more likely to riot than poorly educated youth. Something must be done to keep the young from rioting against their elders, a la 1968.

The West, especially the United States, solves the problem by maintaining an inferior educational system and a hedonistic culture. The strong emotions of youth are kept uninformed, unguided. They are also channeled towards mindlessly numbing entertainment. Bread and circuses worked for the Romans. It works for us. We create eunuchs.

The Muslims took a different approach. They solve their problem through a similarly inferior educational system, the madras schools. However, they have a long history of experience with eunuchs, and are aware of the problems inherent to that system. Today, they choose a different path.

Not only does the madras system of schools keep the youth ignorant of all things except the Quran, it creates strong hostility against all things non-Muslim. Thus, the riotous youth, insofar as they become riotous, are already predisposed to point out towards the rest of the world instead of in towards the despots that rule them. Instead of creating eunuchs, they create xenophobes. For them, anti-Semitism is merely the particular instance of a larger worldview.

This is why cartoons that were published in September become an issue in February. This is why the Muslim who abhors pictures or drawings of persons is willing to smile into the cameras and watch himself on television. This is why all the signs are in English, and why all the Danish flags appeared as if from nowhere.

Even as the orthodox Muslim watches his own image on Islamic television, he knows he is blond like Hitler, slim like Goehring and tall like Goebbels. But that doesn’t matter. The burning is a carthartic balm to the nagging concern that the faith which is Islam, the faith which is his identity, is somehow crumbling into ash and dust. If a few Danes must be knifed, or a few priests must be shot in order to maintain that soothing self-image, well then, so be it. Mohammed assassinated those who questioned his image. It is just.

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