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If you want to make productive criticism, focus on the higher principles of justice and human dignity and leave the street-level sniping to those who don't understand higher principles.

The response so far is not beyond reproach, but a productive end ought to be served by criticism.

My productive end is to say: No bombs, no war, and to criticize vehemently those who are fanning the flames of barbarism within our own country.

* * *

The biggest problem we had with Vietnam--which this situation looks like a lot more than it does Pearl Harbor or the Gulf War--was, according to no less a player than Robert McNamara, a failure to try to understand the mind, biases, and ambitions of the enemy.

To think of Bin Laden and Islamic terrorists in general as deranged yahoos is to make the same mistake. We don't want to understand their motivations, it seems: so we simply project supervillian, comicbook qualities on them: they are intelligent and evil; they have blind hatreds, etc.

* * *

Islam is about 1300 years old--almost the precise age of Christianity when Christianity began--finally--to self-critique itself. (Judaism was about that old around the time of Christ, which explains part of healthy the revisionist thinking that enabled Christ to pour new wine into new sacks, and after the divergent stream of Christianity assembled itself, Jewish commentaries really took off.) When Christianity was 1300 years old, it behaved in roughly the same way the Islam is behaving today.

So, you conservative fundie Christians, don't imagine to think that your religion is "better" than theirs, or that you come from such an ohso different tradition than Bin Laden's.

It is in this period of self-critiquing and a tradition of tolerance for new points of view that humanity becomes civilized. (The Jewish and Catholic track records of tolerance of opposing views were not too hot in their first 1300 years of existence, either--and the primitive, race-based tribalism that was inherent to Judaism, as well as the martyr-cult of Christianity lives on, even today, as Orthodoxy on the Jewish side and Fundamentalism on the Christian side.)

Islam, though old and with many practitioners, has no system or history of self-critique yet, and cannot yet police itself very well when dealing with critique. One has been emerging, thus far with limited success. The fatwa issued against Rushdie for commenting on the Koran in The Satanic Verses was a stunning example of this. But it is cultivating one, slowly, even as Francis cultivated a new order of the old monied church, Luther protested it, and Paris got over the burning of Aquinas's books and began to accept his theology.

* * *

Anyone who has taken a class in nearEastern history first learns that the concept of a national border, even a nation itself, is an uneasy fit for the peoples who constitute Islamic majorities. (I can even remember growing up with maps of the Saudi peninsula on which Muscat and Oman had no real borders, the arbitrary national border just kind of drifted off up the peninsula into the Saudi sand.) These people are still by and large living in city states, not nation-states. To hold "governments"--constituted of not much more than arbitrary lines in sand drawn by colonial Englishmen--responsible for heinous acts against humanity just doesn't work when dealing with these people--hasn't the failure of identifying Arafat, or for that matter even Saddam, as a leader of a united people already failed a hundred times? No, projecting nation-state qualities on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which makes it easier for us, does not really work "diplomatically" with the near Eastern arab states, and that has been demonstrated thousands of times.

* * *

In the meantime, as Islam evolves, the world must deal with its threats, actions, and spectacular growing pains. (Images throughout Islam of Israelis bulldozing Palestinian settlements and displacing people certainly do not help advance the Islamic intellect--but because of our own nation's paranoias and guilts, critiques of the hawkish side of Israeli domestic and foreign policy is too-often denounced as anti-Semitism and silenced, and we too for a moment join in the tribal groupthink.)

My feeling, first a political one, secondarily a civilized one, is that we are better off addressing Islamic extremists by refining our counterterrorist abilities than we will be by inspiring an endless cycle of payback violence, which only serves to keep the cycle going. Shrub and other conservatives who thrill to hear the word "war" employed in conjunction with anything Arab have another POV, and I'm not advocating your silencing, but I'm saying consider that this is like Vietnam, and you are only going to escalate your way into another 50,000 dead for nothing. It is really presumptuous for anyone to think me any less "American" than anyone else, or any less "concerned" than anyone for not embracing the warring groupthink POV.

When we lose our ability to criticize and dissent, we lose precisely the quality that has made us an evolved civilization and, with difficulty over long epochs, ultimately made the religions of Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity great moral apparatuses. Why throw that evolution in our own religious apparatuses away? You people who denounce me for denouncing the phoney, preposterous, warmonger Shrub at this time--Shrub, who went straight to a declaration of war against an enemy he hasn't even identified, and therefore cannot possibly understand yet--you are in danger of becoming what you accuse your enemies of being: tribal, eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth barbarians.

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