Monday, August 21, 2006

Fear Over Facts


London - Swift action by British intelligence services foil an imminent terrorist strike by religious extremists that would have resulted in mass death and social upheaval on an unprecedented scale. Government ministers heatedly denounce the plotters as the evil agents of a worldwide sectarian conspiracy seeking to impose its totalitarian ideology on free nations everywhere.

The country goes on high alert, with raids on private homes and places of worship. Native adherents of the suspect faith fall under a cloud of suspicion as "the enemy within"; neighborhoods are riven with distrust. Any attempts at exploring the grievances that so radicalized the plotters are dismissed as treasonous coddling of a monstrous foe impervious to reason.

The year, of course, is 1605.

The foiling of the Gunpowder Plot 400 years ago - when a small group of radical Catholics tried to blow up Parliament and the royal family - is still celebrated as one of the chief national holidays in the UK: November 5, "Guy Fawkes Day," named, oddly enough, after the chief plotter. Effigies of the dastardly terrorist - who was tortured, hanged, drawn and quartered for his pains - are still burned each year at night rallies across the country.

This is about as far as you can go in Muslim-baiting short of calling for an outright pogrom. It appeared in one of the nation's most venerable and respected papers. It evoked not a single spark of controversy. Indeed, it represents the conventional wisdom of an Establishment that, with few exceptions, now seems addicted to the manufacture of hysteria, the exaltation of fear over facts: blind to the corrosive effects of its own use of death and violence for political ends; inflating moderate risks into existential threats; sacrificing liberty for an illusory security; and obliterating the complexities of reality with cartoonish rhetoric that poisons public discourse - and official policy - with fear and suspicion.

Happy Rashid Rauf Day everyone. Don't forget your effigies.

"Americans" traditionally burn different 'things' at our 'night rallies', now don't we? The ones who do that may go from burning crosses to burning crescents.

There's nothing new.

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