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Rant #56
(published September 6, 2001)
Hobbits Liked to Have Books Filled with Things They Already Knew:
Further Reflections on a Post-Soviet Kazakhstan
by Erik Garner Warren

Last week's rant, on the persecution of Kazakhstani Hobbits, was succesful in inspiring quite a few liberal head-shakes, a general grumbling on the hell-bound state of the world (especially it's towel-headed portions), not to mention a healthy few hosannas for dear, wise Erik Garner Warren—always sharp as a tack.

And I wonder, now. I wonder: Did no one note how reductive (and factually incorrect) my take on Islam was? Did no one note that, although the Hobbit-torture news item was about Kazakhstan, my only hard-factual references were to the Taliban government of Afghanistan? These are seperate nations, after all, both geographically and politically. Did no one find this inductive leap to be over-general, or at least somewhat suspect? Did no one note that Kazakhstan does not even have a Muslim government? That Kazakhstan is less than 50% Muslim? (It's 47% Muslim, 44% Russian Orthodox... maybe it was the Beareded-Icon-Lovers that had it in for the Hobbits?)

The Taliban is certainly a problematic regime guilty of vast crimes, but do we not question our one-seded understanding of them as villians? Is their cortoonishly pure evil nature not suspicious?

Or do we simply not hunger for facts which might complicate our simple understanding of the world?

Take, for example, those precious Buddhas detonated by our camel-jockeying comrades. Do you know why the Taliban insisted on icing those reclining fellows? Fact: A group of rich Western Europeans approached the Taliban with an offer along these lines: "listen, we wanna sink a coupla million smackers into restoring these fine antiquities for ya. Whaddya say?" And the Afghan towelheads replied "No problem. Those statues happen to be located in some poor-ass villages. Feel free to spend a few bucks helping out our people."

"Sorry. We're not interested in your people. See, it's the statues that are just so super."

At which time the Taliban said fuck it all and blew the statues up.

Keep in mind that not only do graven images mean fuckall to Muslims (especially strict Muslims, who take the second commandment very seriously— they don't even keep graven images of ANIMALS in their home), but, in general, mean fuckall, religiously, to Buddhists. Buddism, after all, being in essence about the untangle of your embeddedness in the World of Things.

But Afghanistan wasn't ever really a part of the USSR, to my recollection, so that's all to the side. (Despite how badly the Soviets may have wanted it to be.)

But, keep in mind that the Muslim States in the artist-formerly-known-as-USSR were more-or-less forcefully aquired. Imagine what The Dakotas might be like if 1) they were suddenly ceeded back to the Sioux and 2) there were a fucklot of them and 3) they'd kept close ties to their animist pasts (which, for all I know, they do, so #3 is fairly conditional.) I doubt they'd give two fucks about icing a few churches that pissed them off. Because, hey, animists generally care fuckall about man-made structures. And, for that matter, the Protestant Reformation teaches us that real Christians should give fuck all about the structure, too, as the Spirit of Jesus lies in the heart, not in "His House." The point being: American news agencies went nuts over the vast affront committed by the Taliban when they destroyed those statues, but can't be bothered to notice similar desecrations committed by American business and governmental agencies on American soil? This is perhaps off topic, but how many Americans know that Mount Rushmore is a desecration of Thunderbird Mountain, sacred to the Lakota Sioux? How many care? Are you one of them?

For all of the liberal back-patting we did last week, congratulating ourselves on being able to take the cynical long-view of the plight of the Kazzy Hobbits, why did no one call me on the following balderdash:

Consequently, socially conservative regimes like Muslim governments in the south have run up against a horde of hippies in the form of former Soviet Citizens living "bohemian" lifestyles within their borders. Mostly this means that people treat women with a requisite level of dignity and respect and that they generally expect to be allowed to live in a manner that suits them.

Pretty much any Muslim worth his or her salt will be able to tell you that:

1) The sort of treatment women recieve in Afghanistan is pretty strictly verboten in the Koran.
2) "Fundamentalist" Islam has about as much to do with the great mass of Muslims as "Fundamentalist" Christianity has to do with most Christians and "Orthodox" Judaisim to do with most Jews. In point of fact, all of these "Fundamentalist" paradigms ("Fundamental" seems to hail from the Latin fundare which comes from fundus which is the "bottom." We get "Foundation" from the same root, for obvious reasons— and can clearly see the bait and switch folks are attempting to pull when they start calling their narrow belief set "Fundatmental.") are generally fairly late inventions in each case. One example: in the case of Orthodox Judaism, we're looking at something codified in the mid- to late-1800s. For a religion that has a verifiable history of some 3000 years, and a mythological history of 5000 years, this is a fucking spit in the downpour, time wise.
3) The differences between the excesses of the Taliban and the excesses of our own American Fundamentalists is a difference of degree, not of kind. Stem cell research? Skylarov? Mitnik? Crackdowns on techno clubs? Racial profilling? Violence in the Schools?

This is not hidden knowledge I am sharing with you, friends. This is common. And yet, in all of the "this Warren has some great points," and "this EGW is on the ball," and "thumbs up on the sharp analysis," I do not seem to have recieved a single "you have Islam all wrong" or "you're being really, really bigoted." Despite the fact that, beyond denial, I was. Why is that, gentle readers?

I made a point, I did not fail to always refer to the governemtns of the former Islamic States of the once-USSR as "Muslim Governments" (despite the fact that Kazakhstan, for one, is far less Muslim than certain cities in Michigan), although I, in all likelihood, would never deign to call the US Governemnt a "Christian Government", although it most certainly is.

How about you, friend reader? Did you read my rant, and then talk politics around the water cooler? Did you show off how sharp you were on international affairs, regale your office-mates with the plight of the post-Soviet Hobbit in the land of the sand niggers? Did you call Kazakhstan a "Muslim Government"? Have you ever called the United States a Christian governemnt? Our tax dollars pay for a giant pine to be hauled across the country each year, propped up before our Presidential Palace and decorated with millions of tiny, electricity-wasting bulbs— are we not Christian?

We are the frogs, friends. We are turning up the heat. There are bigger fish to fry, and they are us.

I guess my real dissapointment is that the ultimate sum of my rant's equation was "Muslims BAD", and no one seems to have noticed. We're a country that is far too eager to bash and demonize Islam; far too eager to see our point of view as non-biased. Yes, there are clear historical reasons for this fear and loathing, but they are not really good reasons, just historical. For further reading, please see: Islam and Black Americans circa 1970, The Shiite Minoroity in Worldwide Islam and its Beliefs Pertianing to the Place of Religion in National Leadership, Jihad, Ethno-religious Make-up of Oil Producing Nations, etc.

The only Muslims that we, as a nation, have any pity for are the Palestinians, and we never call those poor sons-of-bitchs "Muslim" (FYI, Palestine is 97% Muslim. The remainder is almost entirely Christian, with one stallwart sect of Orthodox Jews who consider themselves to be Palestinians and do not wish to live under Isreali rule), we just call them "Palestinian." I wonder if most Americans make that little leap: That the beautiful losers of the Middle East are Muslims? I'd be willing to wager that John Q American is more quick to realize that the Tyrants of the Fertile Crescent are Jews, then he is to Realize that the Good Guys Fighting the Good FIght are Muslims. But that's a different rant, isn't it?

My final point can only be this: In trying to say something good, last week, I said many awful things. And no one stopped me. And no one corrected me. Oh, America— my heart goes out to us, poor, stupid children that we are. I recall, now, Yeats' words to the Stolen Child, tempted by faeries and bogarts into the dark and enchanted woods:

For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

See, and now I shake my finger at you all, when I mean to shake my finger at myself, and boy do I feel much better. The water is boiling all around. Did you notice?

A special thanks to Sarah Whitney Womack for being the one critically astute reader of this fair publication— the single shining exception to the many rules I have detailed above. All the rest of you may now hang your heads in shame.

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