Jewish World Review March 27, 2002/14 Nisan, 5762
"No, sweetie," said Daddy, patiently. "The French were the good people, too."
Hmm. I'd have given a more nuanced answer myself, but let it go. The moppet wanted to keep things straightforward. "So who were the bad people?" she asked.
"Well, there aren't really bad people, sweetie. Not whole countries of them."
I gave an involuntary snort behind my copy of Le Monde. Daddy and Mommy glanced over in my direction, but I hastily exuded a passing imitation of Gallic charm. Though Daddy's characterization of the Second World War -- no bad people were involved in the making of this global conflict -- is not yet received opinion, the same disinclination to take sides colours our view of almost all contemporary disputes. Countries A and B may be at war, but there is no good side and no bad side, just two parties "trapped" in a "mindless" "cycle of violence" that "threatens the peace process." The "peace process" tends to be no peace and lotsa process, in which Western panjandrums have invested considerable amounts of their prestige. That's why in Paris this weekend most of my dining companions were outraged not by the deaths of Palestinians or Israelis but by the shelling of Palestinian Authority buildings. "These buildings," one indignant Frenchman told me, "were built with money direct from the Union!" -- i.e., the European Union. "We have given billions, and now it is rubble."
"Oh, your money's perfectly safe," I said. "It's sitting in the Hamas bigshots' numbered bank accounts in Zurich."
Fortunately, the World Trade Center was not an EU aid project, so the French are far less mad at Osama. "The great question facing us all today," declared one old acquaintance of mine gravely, "is how to halt and reverse American power before it destroys the world."
"No doubt many agreeable dinners will be devoted to exploring this question," I said, ordering another cognac. Everyone professed to "understand" how America felt about September 11th, but more importantly they also understood how everybody else felt, too.
"Your Mister Bush," said his wife, a chic lawyer, "he sees always the B-movie western: America is the good guy so her enemies must be the bad guys."
"Well, in the case of al-Qaeda, he's not actually wrong, is he?"
Pitying looks from around the table. "Bush is crippled," said someone else, "by his Rambo view of the world."
"I very much doubt Bush reads Rimbaud," I said.
And on and on, round the clock. The following point was made to me twice within the space of 24 hours, so I assume it's the current sophistry doing the rounds. "Ah, Mark," said the first, with a wry self-congratulatory twinkle, "the British and Americans, they go on all the time about democracy. But you do realize there are six billion people in this world and that, if you gave them the opportunity to vote for Mr. Bush or Mr. bin Laden, why, one billion would vote for Bush and five billion for bin Laden." Pause for stunned reaction from boneheaded North American, and then, with a sardonic courtly nod: "I myself would, of course, vote for Bush."
The second time I heard this observation the speaker gave a slightly different tag: "I myself would, of course, probably vote for Bush." Take Two sounds about right. Leaving aside the precision of the math, this droll jest neatly encapsulates the French world view: Naive Washington thinks all will be well if you liberate the will of the people, the European elite knows that civilization depends on restraining it. At heart, they believe the opposite of the American tourist on the train: There are no good peoples, just different groups of bad peoples whose baser urges have to be adroitly managed -- as Western Europe failed to do between the wars but which it has done with some success since. That's why the EU likes the Emirs and the Ayatollahs, old Arafat and Boy Assad. They feel those fellows are engaged in the same project as theirs: Holding the excesses of the people in check.
This worldly cynicism would have more to commend it if it weren't for the overwhelming evidence that the opposite is, in fact, the case -- that these regimes preserve themselves by actively encouraging their people's worst instincts. Take my old friends the Saudis. In London, His Excellency the Saudi Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Sheik Ghazi Algosaibi, has been amusing himself with my plans for his kingdom, as recently outlined in these pages. "Ever since Mark Steyn, maps at the ready, threatened to dismantle Saudi Arabia," says His Excellency, "our population has been living in a state of high anxiety and fear. Our children are having nightmares and our old men and women are quaking in terror. We are desperately trying to save ourselves." Ah, that famous Saudi sense of humour.
I don't know whether the Saudi people are quaking in terror, and nor, I suspect, does Mr. Algosaibi. If their children are having nightmares, it may be because they fret over finding themselves, as recently happened to some young Saudi girls, fleeing from a blazing schoolhouse and being beaten by the mutaween (the religious police) and forced back inside the building to perish in the flames. Why would officials of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice do such a thing? Because the girls, in their haste to escape the inferno, had neglected to put on their head scarves. Fifteen of them died. They were, in Mr. Algosaibi's phrase, "desperately trying to save ourselves," but in Saudi Arabia that's not allowed, not for girls. The Saudis, in an attempt at damage control with the Western media, have suggested that the beaters were not bona fide members of the mutaween but impostors. I'll bet it's those Jews again.
The other day, the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh ran a column headlined "The Jewish Holiday Of Purim": "For this holiday the Jewish people must obtain human blood so that their clerics can prepare the holiday pastries," wrote Dr. Umayma Ahmad Al-Jalahma of King Faysal University. "The victim must be a mature adolescent who is, of course, a non-Jew." Wow. That's some recipe, I thought. But, of course, the average Arab reader just yawns and sighs, "Big deal. So the Jews use gentile blood in their cookies. Is the Pope Catholic? What else is new?"
John Derbyshire, in National Review, says we shouldn't be sending peace negotiators to the Middle East, but teams of psychiatrists. The majority of its 300 million inhabitants are, he says, "nuts." And he has a point. It's possible to believe in "the plight of the Palestinians." It's just about possible to believe that Israel wishes to kill all the Palestinians and that therefore the Jews should be driven into the sea. It's even possible to believe that Mossad are so ingenious that they pulled off the September 11th attacks and framed a bunch of innocent Arabs. But no rational person can seriously believe that your average Jew cookery show begins "First, take your Gentile victim and drain his blood." Yet such an assertion passes without comment in the Saudi press.
Do the majority of Mr. Algosaibi's compatriots go along with this stuff? We don't know. But we do know that his government's mouthpiece thinks it useful to propagate the old blood libels. Whether or not you can make rational human beings of the Middle Eastern peoples is unclear, but there's no question that you're never going to do it as long as the present gang's in charge.
Forget the "cycle of violence" and the "peace process." History teaches us that the most lasting peace is achieved when one side -- pref
erably the worst side -- is decisively defeated and the regime's diseased organs are comprehensively cleansed. That's why National Socialism, Fascism and Japanese militarism have not troubled us of late. One can imagine how World War Two would have ended had, say, Mary Robinson, the UN Human Rights poseur, been sitting in Downing Street instead of Winston Churchill. Her crowd should not be running World War