Monday, March 18, 2002

Could spam email be at the root of Muslim anger toward America? Think about it--a steady stream of annoying offers of pornography, herbal remedies, and get-rich-quick schemes from merciless American marketers could easily have driven harried Middle Eastern email users such as Al Qaida (we know they used email routinely) to launch their terrorist campaign against the U.S. President Bush needs to act now to eliminate this source of international tension before the "Arab street" finally explodes in rage over America's spamming arrogance, with deadly consequences for the entire civilized world.

Okay, I admit it--spam may bother me a lot, but it probably doesn't weigh heavily on the minds of Osama bin Laden's followers. Projecting one's own gripes onto wild-eyed Islamic fanatics is a popular game these days, though. Take Thomas Friedman's latest proposal for addressing the "why do they hate us?" issue. "Since Sept. 11," writes Friedman, "President Bush has often noted that the world has fundamentally changed. Yet, time after time, he has exploited the shock of Sept. 11 to argue why his same old, pre-Sept. 11 policies were still the only way to proceed — only more so." Friedman, a much wiser man than Bush, naturally argues instead for his same old, pre-Sept. 11 policies: a new "Marshall Plan"-style foreign aid program, vigorous promotion of free trade, pressure on allies to enact democratic reforms, and ratification of the Kyoto environmental protocols.

Now, whatever one's opinion about, say, the supposed urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the notion that doing so might have any palliative effect on the anti-Americanism of fanatical Muslims, or of their more moderate brethren, or of anybody outside Thomas Friedman's circle of globetrotting chatterers (and even they are far from a sure bet) is pure fantasy. Muslim nations are for the most part poor, undemocratic breeding grounds for Islamic militancy, to be sure, but neither free trade nor foreign aid nor even encouragement of democracy will have much more than a cosmetic effect on the mammoth complex of thorny problems bedevilling these places. On the other hand, some of the poorest, most benighted, most dictatorially brutal places on earth pose not the slightest threat to the safety of Americans at home. A sensible anti-terrorism policy would focus on what makes Egypt and Saudi Arabia more dangerous to America than, say, Congo or Myanmar (maybe it's the carefully controlled, virulently anti-American press, for instance? The fanatically anti-Western clergy and their power over the education system?), not on what makes them less livable than, say, Switzerland.

Of course, if you're a self-absorbed globetrotting journalist who has to drag yourself to visit the world's hotspots, hobnobbing with the local chattering classes, then the latter question is obviously a much more pressing concern.....

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