Thursday, April 19, 2018

On Fear with Garry Wills

Garry Wills, 83 years-old & still at it. Rejoice!
I've just embarked on reading What the Qur'an Meant: And Why It Matters by Garry Wills (2017).

The first section of the book addresses the awful decision to invade Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, and in particular, he has a chapter entitled "Fearful Ignorance" that resonated with me. I've written before that fear is a wonderful warning system and an awful guidance system. Wills, I think--although much more articulately--says much the same thing. The chapter discusses the fears and attendant decisions of the post 9/11 era and the problems that arose from these fear-based decisions. He also, quite aptly, compares these reactions to the Cold War hysteria about communism. It's not that we needn't have had any fears about Communist subversion during the Cold War or about Islamic terrorism, but that fears become inflated and exploited and become counter-productive. His book (the remainder from this point) explores the Qur'an to learn what it really says and how it is not "the enemy."  

Fear is rarely a good guide. The first impulse when disaster strikes to run around, as the saying goes, like a chicken with its head cut off. Just when the head is most, it is the hardest thing to find. President Roosevelt, struggling for calm during the Great Depression, wisely counseled that " the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." yet even he yielded to fear after Parel Harbor, consigning a hundred thousand loyal Japanese Americans to concentration camps, expropriating their property, and denying them court procedures. (54)

What caused that fear? [Of Islam after 9/11] In a word, war. War, as Clausewitz argued, tends of itself to become total because of a reciprocal "ratcheting-up" (Wechselwirkung) of hostilities. In order to mobilize reaction to war conditions, threats from the foe must be emphasized, stating or overstating the peril-- which prompts any foe, actual or potential, to resond in kind. When hostilities occur, no matter who commits them, they are often attributed to an entire body of adversaries, which may not even have known about them. (58)

Fear, no matter how justified initially, slips easily out of any restraints imposed on it. (58-59)

Our enemy in this war [War on Terror} is far less localizable than it was in World War II or the Cold War. It was hard enough to find and defeat an ism like Communism. Terror is a tool, not a country. Declaring a war on it is less like normal warfare, country versus country. It is more like the War on Poverty or the War on Drugs. These have often seemed wars on phantoms, fought with tools randomly or overly used, getting results hyped as promising or intended to encourage further efforts, with strong lunges in wrong directions justified by consolatory gestures, as cash evanesces into the indiscernible. There is no VE Day or VJ day in such wars. (61)

Living with fear is corrosive. It depletes the patience to sort out threats and to calibrate responses. The less we know about the reality of Islam, the more we will fight shadows and false emanations from our own apprehension. Ignorance is the natural ally of fear. It's time to learn about the real Islam, beginning with its source book, the Qur'an. (61) 

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