Worse Than We Imagined

     The most chilling moment in the film LAWRENCE OF 
ARABIA occurs when the Arabian Prince Feisal (Alec 
Guinness) explains quietly why his army doesn't leave its 
wounded alive for the enemy Turks to find. His puzzled 
American interlocutor asks if the Turks torture them. 
Feisal replies gravely, "Worse than I hope you can 

     Those words made me shudder 45 years ago, and they 
come back to me every time I hear news of Americans 
captured in Iraq.

     We don't have to imagine what is done to them now. 
Our press, less delicate than in previous wars, reports 
the most dreadful mutilations.

     Lest anyone think the killing of the cruel Abu Musab 
al-Zarqawi had taught his followers a lesson, they 
captured two American soldiers south of Baghdad, 
torturing and disfiguring them so badly that their bodies 
had to be identified by DNA testing.

     So much for the idea that Zarqawi's death was a 
"turning point" in the war on terrorism. There are plenty 
more where he came from, and they are not going to be 
appeased by voting booths.

     Once again the United States has ventured into an 
incomprehensibly savage part of the world in the hope of 
transforming a jungle into Main Street, only to learn 
that it's not dealing with the local Chamber of Commerce.

     We could have had a war like this in the 1980s, if 
Ronald Reagan had decided to "stay the course" in Lebanon 
after a terrorist suicide bomber killed 241 Marines in 
Beirut. We could have had another in the 1990s if Bill 
Clinton had "stayed the course" after a similar incident 
in Somalia. But both presidents had the sense to "cut and 
run," as the hawks now say, and two quagmires were 

     Even the first President Bush, in his two wars in 
Panama and Iran, defined his war aims clearly and stopped 
when they were achieved, leaving the hawks unappeased.

     Making a war is like causing a hurricane. Once it 
starts, the elements are out of control, the destruction 
incalculable. Only a fool would predict happy results.

     Again I can do no better than recommend Paul 
Fussell's great study of World War II, WARTIME.

     Meanwhile, President Bush has made another surprise 
visit to Iraq, notifying the prime minister of his 
arrival only five minutes before he landed.

     A funny way to treat a sovereign, independent 

Origins of Jihad

     The columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave, writing in THE 
WASHINGTON TIMES, reminds us that the militant Islamist 
movement didn't begin in the Arabian deserts among the 

     It began with an Egyptian student of American 
literature named Sayeb Qtab at the University of Northern 

     In 1952 Qtab had his epiphany at a church dance. On 
this seemingly innocent occasion, he was revolted by the 
way American women adorned their faces, exposed the shape 
of their bodies, and danced chest-to-chest with men to 
the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

     With a prophet's eye he saw horrible decadence in 
the scene and was alarmed at the thought that it 
threatened to spread around the world, engulfing Islamic 
culture and morals as it went.

     Returning home, Qtab spread his message, and it 
resonated with his fellow Muslims.

We've Come a Long Way

     "Why do they hate us?" we ask. Well, sometimes for 
obvious reasons of military power and political 
intervention; but also for countless things we are hardly 
aware of or assume to be innocuous, such as culturally 
fraught customs of women's dress. Their blood may boil at 
things we take for granted.

     Imagine: a church dance in Colorado in 1952! What 
could be more tame and normal than that?

     But Qtab saw a mortal danger to the world he loved. 
And it does take some imagination for us to understand 
his point.

     It may help to recall how strict Christians were 
once shocked by such things as the waltz and revealing 
bathing suits -- even men used to keep their chests 
covered at the beach.

     And imagine what the people at that church dance in 
1952 would have thought of America in 2006. We've come a 
long way from "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

     But maybe Qtub wouldn't be surprised.

Conservatism, A To Z

ISI Books, is a 997-page survey that covers just about 
the whole conservative movement, from the 
"paleoconservatism" of Russell Kirk to the 
"neoconservatism" of Irving and William Kristol, along 
with many variants.

     The book is featured on the front page of THE NEW 
YORK TIMES, and it promises to be a feast for the mind.

     Interestingly, it omits entries for George H.W. 
Bush, Dick Cheney, Charles Krauthammer, Tim LaHaye, and 
"compassionate conservatism"; it does include C.S. Lewis, 
Dan Quayle, Pat Robertson, and Southern agrarianism.

     Willmoore Kendall gets three times as much space as 
Newt Gingrich, which shows a nice sense of proportion.

                 +          +          +                  

     "Nothing is so unpredictable as the past." 
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                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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