Reflecting on our post-Enlightenment condition, I recall the cartoonist Al Capp, creator of the L’il Abner comic strip and inventor of a species of creamy-white, roly-poly, pure-minded critters called shmoos, denizens of the Valley of Shmoon, who were able and willing to transform themselves into chicken dinners and other delectables to satisfy the appetites of the hungry folk around them. It wasn’t long before trouble arose. Shmoos proliferated in such numbers as to undermine the welfare of Dogpatch, Capp’s vision of homey, down-to-earth, hardscrabble America, rendering labor unnecessary and the reality principle obsolete.
Shmoos are not, strictly speaking, bad, but as one of the comic strip’s characters, Ol’ Man Mose, warned, they are bad for humanity “because they are so good.” Or at least they think they are. They recognize no threats, treat everyone as a friend and, even as they are about to be voluntarily exterminated, are all smiles and contentment. For they are committed to improving the human condition and are convinced that they are doing so.
Flash forward to the world in which we live and and adjust to the reality of the civilizational conflict in which we are embroiled. The dilemma is somewhat different and yet, in one alarming respect, very much the same. Dogpatch is in serious trouble.
According to our contemporary shmoos, who obviously flourish on the political Left, there are two cognate approaches for dealing with the Islamic terrorists at the door. The first is to run down our culture and assume the blame for what has been inflicted on us—maybe the killers will forgive us. We transform our antagonists into our conscience. The second is to talk to our assailants, expecting them to respond in kind. There is a wonderful scene in the James Bond film Goldfinger which illuminates the occasion. Bond asks his torturer, “Do you expect me to talk?” and Goldfinger replies, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”
Nevertheless, the shmoos of the day insist upon “engaging” our enemies in endless palaver. The motives of those who have mobilized against us must be respected, their resentments understood, their economic prospects improved: fine words, empathy and a flow of dollars will do the trick. Although this strategy has miscarried with Western-style dictatorships and terror regimes, and although many of the terrorists and their supporters hail from backgrounds of affluence and privilege, the Left insists against all the evidence that its policies and recommendations will succeed with the jihadists and their host governments, who must be relishing the carte blanche they have been given.
Be nice, the theory goes, and they will be nice back. Show understanding, and they will respond, not with violence but with gratitude. Apprehend the “roots” of their outrage and lo! we will suckle on fruit of the suddenly low-hanging branches. Thus President Obama seeks to open a respectful discussion with a nuclearizing Iran and President Ahmadinejad responds by declaring an “era of dialogue” while racing to acquire the bomb. And of course, Ahmadinejad’s “era of dialogue” comes with a long set of preconditions which are tantamount to American abjection and surrender.
There are no low-hanging fruit in the Islamic orchard, no easy solutions or merely discursive reconciliations. The attempt to “understand” jihad will often culminate, intentionally or not, in humanizing it and therefore, through a subtle process of “reasonable” argumentation, in providing it with an intellectual alibi. Such efforts at exempting terror from condemnation through grasping empathetically its supposed roots have become a prospering industry in today’s ideological world.
An excellent example of this sacrificial attitude is Thomas Hegghammer’s lengthy excursus, entitled Jihadi studies, in the TLS for April 2, 2008. Citing carefully selected sources, Hegghammer, a research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment in Oslo, mantles his “study” in the garb of scholarly impartiality and dispassionate erudition. This allows him to argue with apparent authority that the primary motivation for the perpetuation of violent jihad is not religion, the favour of Allah or the reward of 72 black-eyed virgins in Paradise, but pan-Islamic nationalism and resentment at “foreign occupation” of territory claimed as rightfully Islamic—a thesis developed more fully by Robert Pape in his rather silly and reductionist 2005 book, Dying to Win. What neither Pape nor Hegghammer realize is that they represent a cohort that is just dying to lose.
“It is only when we see the jihadists not as agents of evil or as religious fanatics,” Hegghammer concludes, “but as humans, that we stand a chance of understanding them.” And of course—if we know how to read this invisible writing—not only of “understanding them” but of furnishing jihad with all the justification it needs to pursue its murderous onslaught against the culpably innocent.
And so, as we are enjoined to extend the hand of supplication, we must not forget to keep inveighing against the moral cretinism and the long-past imperial aggression of the West, in the hope of gaining the respect of our adversaries while fumigating our own history. We must enrol our students in Peace Studies programs and teach them the subtleties of the “deep culture” approach, enabling them to see that our “enemies” are only expressing the fundamental traditions and postulates of their cultures, which are generally regarded as benign or at least neutral. It is our own culture that is warped and depraved and therefore a licit object of the rest of the world’s hatred. Terrorism is not terrorism but justified vengeance.
As a result, out of a fear of offending, a hereditary tendency to political appeasement, an attachment to the shamanistic rituals of “conflict resolution,” apprehension for personal safety, a profound ignorance of the Islamic scriptures and the consequent refusal to take the true measure of an adversary who schemes our destruction, an unholy bargain has been struck. The “good” people have given hostages to fortune and allowed the situation to deteriorate to the point where it can only be hoped, let us say, to “manage the damage” that can no longer be averted. And even that hope may prove to be chimerical. So much for Dogpatch.
The shmoos are now swarming in the public, political and intellectual life of the West, intent on self-immolation. They seem determined not only to to feed a hungry and insatiable enemy but to offer themselves up for their nourishment, like poet Molly Peacock’s fish on a platter that “almost wag/their tails, so happy are they to be served” (“Old Friends”). What we are remarking, however, is neither a comic strip nor a poem. When “good” men actively conspire with those who would undo them, when the missionaries eagerly jump into the bubbling pot, the end is surely in the offing.
Such is life in the Valley of Shmoon.