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Friday, 23 April 2010


Mannie Sherberg
Unquestionably, the "life lie" explains much that is wrong with Muslim behavior in the modern world. But it doesn't explain enough. Fundamentally, what's wrong with Muslim behavior in the modern world is that it is based on a religious belief that rejects the modern world root and branch -- and rejects, moreover, all the values that make the modern world modern: the rule of law, human rights, civil liberties, basic science, secular education, and -- more than anything else -- equal rights for women. If an American president took Rick Richman's advice and challenged Arab rulers to "tear down those camps" and stop the "affront to human rights" that the camps represent, the rulers in turn would either roar with laughter or sneer with derision, but either way they'd ignore the president's plea. Why would they stop an affront to human rights when they consider "human rights" just another sacrilegious invention of the infidels? Muslims will stop living the life lie when they reform their religion -- and make it consonant with the modern, humanistic world. I am not holding my breath.
Rick Richman
Mannie -- the Soviet Communists (and not a few mainstream mediaists) also sneered at Ronald Reagan's suggestion that the Berlin Wall be torn down, but Reagan's speech helped energize those within the Communist world who could see through the sneering laughter of their rulers. Reagan's words gave life and legitimacy to an idea, and ideas have consequences. The idea is not to convince the Islamists but to bring hope (and ultimately change) to those imprisioned in a world where certain ideas cannot currently be expressed.
Mannie Sherberg
Rick -- thanks for your very thoughtful response -- and thanks, too, for the wonderful work you do on "Contentions" and, of course, on "Jewish Current Issues," which I've been reading faithfully for a long time. (Thanks to your recent post, I've ordered "Pen of Iron." I've never read a book by Robert Alter that didn't teach me a lot, so I'm looking forward to this one.) As to the effect of Reagan's speech, I agree with you; whether a comparable speech would have as compelling an effect in the Middle East is something I'm less sure of. If the "imprisoned" folks you're referring to are the Armenians, the Kurds, and the Christians in Lebanon and Egypt, you may well be right -- and it would certainly be worth a try. But if you're referring to Muslims, I'm not so sure. I could be dead wrong; the sad truth is that we know very little about what goes on in the minds of ordinary Muslims in the Middle East. I suspect such a speech would hearten a good many Iranians; about Muslims in other countries ... Who knows? I guess the only thing I can say with much assurance is that we're not likely to hear the speech you've recommended, or even anything close, from Barack Obama.

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