Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Murphy was an Optimist

Surfing past C-SPAN last night, I heard a great deal of nonsense about "Muslims" who want to "kill us all for not being Muslim" and many equally ignorant references to a "Sunni-Shi'ite split" that "goes back for centuries."

I've mentioned before (somewhere, I know) about the peculiar form of American exceptionalism which imagines "tribalism" and "factional strife" are products of "the Old World," a term vaguely defined as any country across the Atlantic, preferably a European one, but more recently expanded to include both Middle Eastern and African countries. (Our own racism and general fear of immigrants, of course, has nothing to do with such ancient, primal passions.) Of course, part of that ignorance, as NPR has previously pointed out, is simply ignorance of American history and involvement in creating the idea of nations in the Middle East (few Americans even realize that nationalism is a 19th century idea, one this country largely grew up with. Like all adolescents, we imagine the world that created us is the world as it had always existed, and to the extent that isn't true, then people who lived under other conditions are a sadly benighted folk).

But now NPR is running a commendable series aimed at, of all things, putting the issues of the Middle East in context. Today, for example, we learned that the Sunni-Shi'ite split currently plaguing Iraq is actually a product of the law of unintended consequences, not centuries of animosity. As I've said before: the times, they are a changin'. Changing back, for the most part, but changing, nonetheless.

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