(updated below - Update II)
David Brooks’ column today perfectly illustrates what lies at the core of our political discourse: namely, self-loving tribalistic blindness laced with a pathological refusal to accept responsibility for one’s actions. Brooks claims there is a unique evil that one finds in the “fringes of the Muslim world”:
Most people select stories that lead toward cooperation and goodness. But over the past few decades a malevolent narrative has emerged.
That narrative has emerged on the fringes of the Muslim world. It is a narrative that sees human history as a war between Islam on the one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other. This narrative causes its adherents to shrink their circle of concern. They don’t see others as fully human. They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so.
This narrative is embraced by a small minority. But it has caused incredible amounts of suffering within the Muslim world, in Israel, in the U.S. and elsewhere. With their suicide bombings and terrorist acts, adherents to this narrative have made themselves central to global politics. They are the ones who go into crowded rooms, shout “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” and then start murdering.
But Brooks himself was a vehement, vicious advocate for the attack on Iraq, which caused this:
The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq has resulted in the deaths of many Iraqi civilians . . . Many international organizations, governments and non-governmental organizations have counted excess civilian casualties using such methods; however all have reported different numbers. Reports range from 128,000 to 1,033,000.
That’s at least 128,000 innocent human beings — at least — whose lives were eradicated by the war Brooks repeatedly cheered on. It also resulted in this: ”More than 4 million Iraqis have now been displaced by violence in the country.” But Brooks accuses Islamic fanatics — but not himself — of “causing incredible amounts of suffering.”
Brooks also justified the Israeli attack on Gaza, including its worst excesses — a war that wiped out the lives of 1,400 Palestinians (including 252 children under the age of 16) and that entailed ”the shooting of [Gazan] civilians with white flags, the firing of white phosphorus shells and charges that Israeli soldiers used Palestinian men as human shields,” all of which, according to a U.N. investigation, were “the result of deliberate guidance issued to soldiers.” He also cheered on the Israeli bombing campaign of Lebanon and derided those calling for a cease-fire, even as the war wiped out more than 1,000 Lebanese people, at least 300 of whom were women and children, during which “Israeli warplanes also targeted many moving vehicles that turned out to be carrying only civilians trying to flee the conflict.” And Brooks is now demanding escalation of the war in yet another Muslim country, this one in Afghanistan — making it the fourth separate war on Muslims he’s cheered on in the last six years alone.
So here’s a person who is constantly advocating and justifying the killing, bombing, and slaughtering of Muslims, including well over 100,000 innocent civilians. And yet today he writes a column saying: Look over there at those radical Muslims; can you believe how degraded and inhumane they are? In fact, he says, “they” — those Muslims over there — “don’t see others as fully human. They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so.” That’s from the same person who cheerleads for the endless deaths of Muslims and destruction of the Muslim world while thinking that it makes him strong, resolute, Churchillian, righteous and noble — exactly that which he accuses “fringe Muslims” of doing. And even as he blames the U.S. for “absolving” radical Muslims for the ”evil” of their choices, Brooks will never make the connection between what he does and its results because he believes he is free from accountability and that his righteousness justifies the killings he desires — again, exactly that which he says today is the hallmark of Islamic monsters (“They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so”).
The tribalistic narcissism and depraved refusal to accept responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions on vivid display here is hardly unique to Brooks. The very same people who express such moral outrage and self-righteous horror over events like the Fort Hood shootings themselves have immense amounts of innocent human blood on their hands, but they simply avert their eyes from what they have caused or believe that they are too inherently Good to be responsible, let alone culpable, for what they unleash.
UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru reads this and claims to believe that the point I was making is this: ”If you didn’t oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you have no standing to object to the Ft. Hood murders.” That has nothing to do with what I wrote.
If one needs to reduce my point to a single sentence, one can try this: ”if you constantly cheer on one war after the next that results in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings and the extreme suffering of millions more (as Brooks has done — beyond Iraq and Afghanistan — and continues to do), then you can’t coherently claim that the targets of your wars have a unique disregard for human life; that they — but not you — “don’t see others as fully human”; that they — but not you — “cause incredible amounts of suffering”; and that they — but not you — “come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so.”
Brooks advocates exactly that which he condemns — and he does so over and over again. That doesn’t mean his condemnations are wrong (criminals can coherently condemn other crimes). But it does mean that his claim that such sentiments are unique to Muslim radicals is plainly false.
UPDATE II: Brooks’ claim here recalls the statement of Gen. William Westmoreland that “the Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner; life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient, and as the philosophy of the Orient expresses it, life is not important.” The willingness of Gen. Westmoreland — of all people — to make that claim of superiority about “the Orientals” versus Westerners strikes me as quite similar to neocon David Brooks’ similar claims about those Muslims over there versus people like him (h/t reader cl).