Monday, November 12, 2007

Behind the Anger

British journalist Patrick French gives you stupid Americans The surprising truth about Rage Boy, America's hated poster-boy of Islamic radicalism. He brings us "the real person behind the cartoon," a man-child named Shakeel Ahmad Bhat.

[Perhaps "Bhat-Boy" would be the better name.]

He's "quite an idealist," you see. Everything wrong with him can be traced to his poverty. He just wants freedom for his homeland. He never killed anyone, he only tried to. And those pictures of him all over the Internet? They hurt his feelings.

Now don't you feel bad already?

And -- word to the ladies -- he's looking for an infidel wife.

Yes, the article is that bad. It starts by setting up a background of nastiness about poor Ahmed Anger. The background is largely stitched together from anonymous comments on anti-jihad Web sites. Honest to God. A third-rate blogger knows better than to do that and expect to be taken seriously. But our very serious British journalist apparently does not.

He starts out with the fundamental error of the over-earnest: "Bloggers decided he was the embodiment of all they feared and despised in radical Islam." No, we didn't. We decided he looked funny and was ripe for mocking.

He blames Ahmed's anger on history. "His story ... showed the personal torment of life in a society that has gone wrong."

When India became independent and Pakistan was created in 1947, the Kashmir valley became a part of India despite having a large Muslim majority – a decision that was to have fatal historical reverberations.

Never mind the deep complexities of that, or the fact that tens of millions of Muslims ended up living in India and became peaceful, productive citizens and not rage-fueled street-screamers. And note the nice passive voice that history lapses into. Things just "became" the way they are. You'd never think that anyone actually had any agency in it. Or that the nation responsible for the mess that is South Asia is -- Britain! Not America. But bad decisions made in history are either due to "America" or to "became."

When he turns to Bhat's personal story, as recounted by Bhat himself, he admits, "it is hard to prove the authenticity of his story ...." Hard, that is, if you don't bother to try or don't care to try, because his story happens to fit your preferred narrative. The journalist, having admitted he can't verify any of this, then goes on to write as thought it is unquestionably true, and to spin out his own interpretations and conclusions from the unverified statements. It's as shabby a piece of work as you can find in any newspaper.

What excuse does French give for his absolute credulousness? "[G]iven my knowledge of Kashmiri political history over the past 20 years, everything he told me sounded plausible: after all, what reason would he have to lie?"

I can think of about a dozen reasons he would have to lie, including telling the wealthy Westerner, or the global media, what he wants to hear. What kind of journalist approaches a source with such childlike trust? [Answer: One you never should trust.] And what does the nature of Kashmiri politics have to do with the veracity of this one man? His mendacity, or lack of it, is in his personality, not on the social order. But, like a good unthinking modern progressive, French sees everything in terms of the context of society, not the will and choice of the man.

So if some people certainly were abused and repressed in Kashmir, then everyone who claims to have been abused and repressed in Kashmir must be telling the truth. What kind of journalist thinks this way? You don't have to work very long in this trade to get disabused of that kind of stupidity. Just go cover your first SEPTA bus fender-bender and notice that 200 people come forth in neck braces claiming to have been aboard a bus that can hold 40 tops and is usually making a run with fewer than 10.

Because we're taking Bhat at his word here, then, he became a militant at age 13 and joined the Pakistani Mujahideen because Indian police fatally injured his sister and then his grandfather. It had nothing to do with religion, you see. Even though every single thing he has protested and fought against was in the name of Islam and often had nothing to do with Kashmir, including "the Pope's comments about Islam" and "the honouring of Rushdie."

Bhat is a "failed militant," you see. That makes it OK.

Shakeel was not a very good militant. When I asked him how many people he had killed, he looked embarrassed.

"I gave scares but I never killed anyone," he said. "I couldn't. I never hurled a grenade in a public place."

His greatest achievement was opening fire on the cavalcade of a visiting Indian government minister.

Ah, well, who here hasn't opened fire on cavalcades in his reckless youth? It's just part of growing up. And the fact he never hurled a grenade in a public place? That makes him a saint in my book.

For a journalist, again, French is curiously uncurious about follow-up questions. He lets Bhat's statement that "I thought Kashmir should have the right to self-determination" stand unquestioned. In fact, he makes it the centerpiece of his own stirring apologia for Bhat.

Shakeel became a not very successful militant because he thought Kashmir deserved self-rule and his sister had been thrown out of a window.

Now, the "right to self-determination" in Kashmir is often a buzzword for "absolute Islamist control." French claims to know the region and its politics well, but he never bothers to follow up and ask Bhat what he thinks self-determination would look like, or whether he'd be for it if it didn't end up in Islamist rule.

In the same vein, he touts Bhat as a man who only wants world peace. What a saint! But Bhat does French's job for him by revealing that "world peace" means "world submission to the will of God as presented by Islam."

I asked what would stop him protesting. What would satisfy him? "If peace were to prevail in the entire world and people would understand the message of the Koran. You can't bring peace by beating the drums or killing people," he replied.

But French leaves that, too, out of his apologia.

In scolding us for mocking Bhat, French can't resist mocking him himself:

"I want to marry a non-Muslim woman and convert her to Islam."

Why? I asked.

In a moment that might have come straight out of the Borat film, he answered in a soft, serious voice: "I have been told that if I can convince a non-Muslim woman to marry me – but not convert her by force – then there will be a place for me in heaven."

Along the way we also learn Bhat believes "America's own government ... had arranged the [Sept. 11] attack," because "There is a strong lobby in the USA that opposes President Bush. He wanted to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. He had to justify that to his own people."

But, lest you think Bhat is a heartless sort who thinks it's OK to shoot up cavalcades or throw grenades in crowded public places, be informed: He does know terrorism when he sees it. And it pains him in his heart:

Shakeel stopped on an image of his face superimposed on a pig.

He looked profoundly shocked and upset by this picture. What did he feel?

"I surely get hurt when I see these pictures," he said. "This is terrorism for me. The people who do this are showing their own culture, so why do they tell us that we are uncivilised?'

Er, um, might it have something to do with the hand grenades or the AK-47s or the marrying a woman just to convert her and thereby launch yourself into paradise?

"Shakeel ... may be more representative of Muslim anger around the world than we like to admit," French intones. Certainly not more than French would like to admit, however. He's working up a sweat burnishing his icon of saintly Ahmed Anger. "He doesn't understand us, and we don't understand him." There, see? We're equal. Moral equivalence all around.

"Our assumption that any form of unrest or protest by Muslims must be connected to the Al Qaeda cause is plainly wrong." Whose assumption is that? The anger and seething resentment and ignorance and ramped up sense of grievance and victimization in the Muslim world, along with the historical Islamic insistence on the right to dominate the world, is the matrix from which al-Qaida arises and draws its strength. The two are not identical. But you wouldn't have one without the other.

Shakeel Ahmad Bhat is the product of poverty, lack of opportunity and state brutality. Islam is to him a way of life.

Never mind that an objective survey of the terrorism problem concludes:

Despite these pronouncements, however, the available evidence is nearly unanimous in rejecting either material deprivation or inadequate education as important causes of support for terrorism or participation in terrorist activities. Such explanations have been embraced almost entirely on faith, not scientific evidence.

And as the sun sets over the beautiful Kashmiri mountains, we bid a fond farewell to smilin' Shakeel Ahmad Bhat, just another product of a world where billions live with poverty, lack of opportunity, and state brutality, but only one religious subset of them seems to routinely and systematically lash out against innocent victims by the thousands as a result. And after reading this article, we still don't have a clue why.