Posted by: Staff | 12.12.2007

When the Pen Fails

SAM O’REILLY ’09

It is an almost universally accepted truth that the pen is mightier than the sword. Ideas are stronger catalysts for change than violent acts. Logic is generally more effective in persuading people than violence. These ideals are embodied in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, in which everybody is given the right to protest, petition, and speak freely. America is a place where the pen is mightier than the sword, because the right to use the pen is unfettered, and one piece of writing can change the opinion of the people. But what about when the pen fails? What if a person is convinced fully that what he has to say is true, but those with power refuse to listen? If that person has no doubt in his mind that he is correct, and if the pen genuinely does fail, is he justified in using the sword as a last resort?

Imagine being a devout Muslim leader in the Middle East. You have dedicated your entire life to a cause that you believe in to its very core. No matter how hard you try to demonstrate the righteous virtues and love that Islam teaches, the world continues to view your religion as that of an extremist. You want to change the world through love, but the American media does not pay attention to anything good happening in or coming from Muslim countries in the Middle East. The people of some nations may have a fair opinion of Islam, but the average American citizen does not fall under this category. The average American citizen knows little about the core reasons for modern religious conflict. The average American knows that Muslims blow stuff up as a way to create change, but rarely consider what was so drastically in need of change that a human being felt it necessary to resort to violent action. Then again, would Americans pay any attention to the struggle of Muslims if their own lives were not in danger? How many people could really point out Afghanistan on a map or knew who the heck Osama Bin Laden was before September 11, 2001? It is becoming more and more apparent that the only message that America will bother to pay attention to is that of a violent nature.

Islam in The American Media

Do the American people really have that terrible a view of the Muslim world? It is hard to understand the viewpoint of an entire populace unless one were to go to some non-partisan voice of the people…Bill O’Reilly! Yes, Bill O’Reilly has an hour-long show every day, has published numerous books, and has a daily talk show as well. The words of Bill O’Reilly must resonate with some large group of people for him to be able to express his opinions in such a vast arena. One could rely on the words of Bill O’Reilly to judge the nature of a populace. When Bill O’Reilly said on national television, “”I don’t have any respect by and large for the Iraqi people at all. I have no respect for them. I think that they’re a prehistoric group that is. The big lesson is that we cannot intervene using ground troops in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do, is bomb the living daylights out of them, just like we did in the Balkans. Bomb the living daylights out of them. But no more ground troops, no more hearts and minds; ain’t going to work. They’re just people who are primitive.” One cannot make the sweeping generalization that Bill O’Reilly embodies the opinion of the everyday America. One can and should however be alarmed that such a violent and ignorant message is part of mainstream American culture.

What kind of message is America sending the Muslim population by having radicals such as Bill O’Reilly on the air? What kind of message is America sending to the Muslim population when the bad guy on 24 is always Arab? America is not sending the message that it legitimately is concerned about or is willing to listen to the problems concerning Muslims throughout the world. The American people sub-consciously promote the stereotype that all Muslims are terrorists through passive acceptance of such typecasting in the media. The American media does little to report on and consider the ideals of moderate republics, but has a heyday whenever some radical blows something up.

Religious Wars

Religious wars have changed over the years. The root of many historic conflicts lies in religion and religious ideals. Unlike modern religious conflict, many historical wars consisted of unified nations facing off on battlefields. Today, conflict over religion is as wide spread and intense as ever. Innovations in communication during the 20th century have changed the nature of religious conflict and given power to terrorists. The people who are victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks never intended to fight a war. They were just shopping or going to work and in the process became casualties of a war that knows no borders. Terrorists brought the war to the streets of New York City and to the doorstep of capitalism. Civilians were the targets and civilians were the casualties. September 11 destroyed two towers, killed 3,000 in a country of 300,000,000, but most importantly, instilled a sense of fear in the American people. Terrorists could never possibly stand up to the might of the American army, and therefore resort to fear as a tactic. Religious war is no longer fought on identifiable battlefields, but on the streets of every city in the world. It is a media battle over which side can make their people despise the enemy more than the other. It is an intimidation battle over who can make the other feel more threatened. Which side can make a man genuinely scared for his life and that of his family? That is the real battle. It is a guerilla war that neither side can genuinely win.

It is not a war that can be won because it is impossible to fully wipe out either side. Even if terrorists miraculously destroyed America, some other similar power would arise. There will always be some kind of imperial power, weather it be Rome, Great Britain, or America. This empire, almost by definition, will have people that hate it so much that they will go to extremes to hurt it. Yet even if the new empire that arose after America was not as strong or oppressive, some group of radicals would find a way to blame everything on that country. Radical energy will be directed towards the most powerful nation, regardless of its nature. The nature of the war in itself makes it impossible for either side to win.

Americans view terrorists as people too indoctrinated with a backwards ideology that they cannot even be reasoned with. This, incidentally, is how many terrorist leaders would describe Americans. They would say that America is too set in its views and too content with ignoring the rights of Muslim people. These people may be from such countries as Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are identified with their religion. Many Americans clump the entire Middle East into a religious group, and furthermore identify that entire group with violence. The most alarming aspect of the stance of the everyday American is the lack of initiative to learn about Muslim culture and the expectation that Muslims should stop using violence and realize that the American way is the correct one. No wonder these alarming circumstances go both ways. Even if Americans may not view the war in Iraq as a holy crusade, many Muslims do.

Many believe that the religious world conflict is past the point of negotiation. It is an endless cycle because the American government has proved incapable of being realistic with Muslim leaders. This causes some Muslims to use violence, which in turn hardens the stance of American leaders. The cycle continues, resulting in more deaths each day. Both sides expect the other to one day smarten up or just give in, without even considering the possibility that they themselves could be wrong. America tries to represent itself as the side with morals, and hides its own terrorist tendencies.

The Nature of Terrorism

“Terrorists use fear and intimidation to usher in change.”

If one were to accept this statement as fact, then America would be categorized as the biggest terrorist in the world. America holds a nuclear arsenal that, if employed, will destroy military targets and civilians alike. The nuclear arms that America can launch at the drop of the dime are too powerful and not accurate enough to physically spare civilian lives. Over 180,000 lives were lost when America dropped the first two atomic bombs on Japan, but the general consensus in our society is that these losses were acceptable in a time of war. America scares much of the world. At any given point of time, America has the capability to level every square inch of any nation. It is as if a permanent gun is held to the head of every individual in the world. If America does not intend to use such weapons ever again, then why have they not been deactivated? Why has America led a movement to put down these weapons for the safety of humanity? The reason that America does no such thing is that its nuclear capabilities give it a higher standing in the world. America is logically more powerful with nuclear weapons. Other countries are less inclined to stand up to the United States because of fear. Doesn’t all of this sounds like terrorism and intimidation on a very large scale?

Americans fail to see that their country has taken a path that is viewed by many outside their country as similar to that of terrorist groups. For instance, the imprisonment of people that may or may not be terrorists in Guantanamo Bay violates the Constitution. According to the organization “Iraq Body Count,” the war in Iraq has taken over 75,000 civilian casualties.[1] Despite these indisputable violations of human rights, Americans act proud and frown down upon Muslims as if they are ignorant. Americans view their nation as a righteous one, and struggle to see why anybody could hate them.

The biggest problem is the inaction of the American people and politicians by making little attempt to understand the root of the conflict. It is as if this war between America and Islam started so long ago that nobody bothers to ask when and why it started. It is rare that an America leader proposes trying to understand why so many people hate America with such a passion. America must study its own actions in trying to understand the conflict.

The war in Iraq has taken far more innocent lives than terrorist attacks ever have. Do American politicians believe that killing more innocent people will stop all of the violence? Do they genuinely believe that turning a deaf ear to logical Muslim leaders and only focusing on killing the radicals will fix anything? Unfortunately, violence seems to be the only way that Muslim leaders can get the attention of American politicians and citizens alike. The cultural and political ramifications of terrorist attacks are much greater than the physical damage, for they can be seen across the country. America only seems to pay attention when something blows up or somebody dies. Nobody wants to hear about trying to understand Muslim culture as a means of pursuing peace. Terrorist organizations can only get their point across with violence. There are many different groups to blame when a terrorist attack happens. Although the American people are not entirely at fault, they should study their own nature as a means of understanding and in turn preventing attacks.

Conclusion

So what about the original question? If the pen fails because those with power refuse to listen, must one make them listen? Must one sacrifice the lives of the innocent people to amplify the message that one knows is right and knows will ultimately make the world better? Both Americans and people from the Middle East “know” as a fact that the other side is simply ignorant. The other side simply won’t listen to logic. Perhaps the mightiest weapon isn’t the pen. Perhaps it is the ability to read what the pen has to say. Maybe it is the ability to listen to others and learn from them. But until people on both sides learn to stop talking and actually listen, the sword will be seen as the only way. Until humans learn to listen, neither side will put the sword down, because each side believes it is holding the sword of god.

[1] Iraq Body Count. 2007. Iraq Body Count. Nov 4, 2007. http://www.iraqbodycount.org/

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Responses

  1. What if humans can never “learn to listen”? How can “the pen” be used to settle religious conflicts that are caused by such profound differences?

  2. Anakin Skywalker: Sometimes I wonder what’s happening to the Jedi Order. I think this war is destroying the principles of the Republic.
    Padmé Amidala: Have you ever considered that we may be on the wrong side?
    Anakin: What do you mean?
    Padmé: What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?
    Anakin: I don’t believe that, and you’re sounding like a Separatist.
    Padmé: What this war represents is a failure to listen. Now, you’re closer to the Chancellor than anyone, please, ask him to stop the fighting and let the diplomacy resume!
    Anakin: Don’t ask me to do that.

    Excellent article, Sam. 🙂

  3. Great Article Sam. You mention how the villain on 24 is ALWAYS Arab now. Well, the villain on 24 used to always be Russian. In fact, not so long ago it seemed as if every villain on TV was Russian. It is interesting to see such a switch the the portrayal of the most frightening of “villains,” and I think that it proves your point exactly.

    Nice work Sam, really strong piece.
    – Dan


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