Know When To Fold ‘Em

On the front page of today’s Times there’s a photo from Pakistan: Hillary Clinton — the West’s most powerful diplomat, an inspiration to women everywhere, and an essential symbol and embodiment of Western liberty, strength, and confidence — in a Muslim headscarf. Again.

Oh well, at least it will be a few years before she feels the need to wear a burqa.

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  1. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – I think you are aware of the low esteem in which I hold Ms Clinton. Nonetheless, I think this sort of cheap shot is quite unbecoming — for you, not her. She’s acting in her official role as a diplomat. By covering her hair, she signals her sensitivity to her host’s sensitivities. Also, by this simple expedient she deprives the hypersensitive among the locals of an easy distraction from the very serious matters that need to be addressed.

    Posted October 30, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  2. chris g says

    They should send Michelle Obama over there in her revealing piñata outfit.

    Posted October 30, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Hi Bob,

    Yes, I realize this is why she is doing this, and I anticipated that commenters would make this point (haven’t heard from “the one-eyed man” yet, but I’m sure he’d agree).

    I understand the “realism” that underlies the decision to subordinate principle to the getting — perhaps — of desirable results. Nevertheless, it rankles; I am not aware of any conspicuous recent examples of the Muslim world exhibiting much concern for our sensitivities. As usual, we bend over backwards — prostrating ourselves if necessary — to avoid giving offense, while the Ummah we seek to mollify calls for our destruction.

    I am not suggesting that Ms. Clinton wear a Kurt Westergaard bomb-turban pin as a symbol of our commitment to free speech — but to see our Secretary of State adopt a public symbol of the second-class status of women under Islam is nothing to be proud of. I felt the need to comment.

    Posted October 30, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Doesn’t it bother you too? Really?

    Posted October 30, 2009 at 11:12 pm | Permalink
  5. JK says

    Just to let you know your not alone Malcolm, I totally agree, if and until, her Muslim counterparts begin to exhibit the mores of “When in Rome” leave the hair uncovered.

    However, I might give her some slight “benefit of the doubt.” That bomb going off just as she arrived might have resulted in a bad hair moment.

    Posted October 31, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    Been traveling all week on business (in Orlando, Florida) and haven’t had idle time to spend on the Internet. Needless to say, this is no big deal. Nothing different than John Lindsay wearing a yarmulke in a synagogue. A sign of respect. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Posted October 31, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    No, Peter, not a big deal, I suppose, compared to some of the deals out there. But comparing it to the wearing of yarmulkes by New York mayors is quite mistaken.

    Posted October 31, 2009 at 9:17 pm | Permalink
  8. JK says

    Well. Looks like the news ain’t all bad.

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 1:49 am | Permalink
  9. the one eyed man says

    So if it is OK for the state to prevent a Muslim doctor from wearing a headscarf because of its “no-hat policy,” should it also prevent doctors who are Orthodox Jews from wearing a yarmulke?

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    Perhaps so. No hats means no hats!

    But I would also have no problem with making distinctions and discriminations as far as different cultural symbols are concerned; the benevolent fiction that all cultures stand in exactly the same relation to the West is naive at best, and in my opinion dangerously foolish. I consider, for example, that symbols of Muslim repression of women are at a far greater distance from our own culture than a yarmulke is, and I see no persuasive reason for us to feel obligated to tolerate them.

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  11. the one eyed man says

    Well, I don’t think that burqas or headscarfs symbolize the “Muslim repression of women,” and neither do those who wear them. However, we’ve been there before, and I’m disinclined to revisit this issue. Personally, I really don’t care if my doctor wears a yarmulke, a headscarf, or a Yankees cap (go Yankees!), as long as he or she is a good doctor.

    However, I’m curious to know your thoughts on a related topic (to Hillary Clinton and Pakistan). An excellent article in this week’s New Yorker reports that we’ve killed between 300 and 600 innocents in Pakistan this year using predator drones targeting suspected terrorists. The drones have decimated Al Qaeda, but the collateral damage has been enormous. Basically we are attacking a country which has never attacked us, and which we are not at war with. Your thoughts?

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    Like you, I would prefer that we not kill non-combatants. When you put this in terms of war against “countries”, however, you are thinking in rather outdated terms.

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink
  13. the one eyed man says

    That’s a weaselly answer. Everyone would prefer that we not kill non-combatants. The question is whether we ought to stop the drones because of the ineluctable result of collateral damage.

    The article frames it this way: if we knew that Osama Bin Laden was in a room with a four year old, most people would say go for it. What if he were in a classroom? A hospital? Where do you draw the line?

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Ideally, I would, having located him, try to keep tabs on him until I had a clear shot that would not require killing children. But war doesn’t always work that way. It seems though, that your position is that the taking of innocents as human shields is a tactic against which we can make no effective response.

    Obviously OBL et al., however, have none of the qualms that liberal Westerners do about the killing of civilians; they see it as nothing more than a further sign of our weakness and irresolution. This one of many reasons why I am not particularly optimistic about our prospects.

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 8:07 pm | Permalink
  15. the one eyed man says

    Not surprisingly, I would answer it differently. There are practical reasons not to use drones (every son and daughter who is killed creates numerous implacable enemies; dead men can’t yield actionable information; etc.). But that’s a wimpy answer,

    It is the moral dimension which I think is most interesting, and I’ll have to go with Alyosha Karamazov on this one. In the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, Alyosha is asked what he would do if he could stop all human suffering, if and only if a small child were tortured to death. He said no. In my view, this is the only defensible moral position.

    I recognize that others may differ, and Alyosha Karamazov never met Josef Stalin. I get that. I’m also a big John Rawls fan, and he might answer it differently. Nonetheless, that’s my belief, and I’m sticking to it.

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 8:21 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    Well, that’s a principled position, Peter, and one that many here in the West share. The problem is that it puts us at a mortal disadvantage against foes who are ruthless enough to exploit it. This is why I think we may well not prevail in this ancient conflict; hence the title of this post.

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 8:58 pm | Permalink
  17. the one eyed man says

    I think the weakness of your argument is this: why should we let Al Qaeda set our moral standards?

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 9:18 pm | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says

    I think the weakness of yours is: why should we extend moral consideration to those who will only use it to destroy us?

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 9:24 pm | Permalink
  19. bob koepp says

    Malcolm asks, “why should we extend moral consideration to those who will only use it to destroy us?” A satisfying answer to that question probably involves the point that being the sort of society that would extend moral consideration in such cases is part of what’s worth trying to protect from destruction. I agree that this is disadvantageous, but not mortally so. We do not need to attack our adversaries in circumstances or using means that cause the slaughter of civilians who are just trying to get through their daily grind.

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 10:36 pm | Permalink
  20. Malcolm says

    Well, that is of course the essential tension here, Bob. The key assertion in your comment is that “this is disadvantageous, but not mortally so.”

    You may or may not be right about that. It certainly gives our foes a powerful weapon.

    “Not mortally so.” What if you’re wrong? Just what should we be willing to sacrifice for this principle? Even when pitted against implacable enemies who will stop at nothing to achieve our subjugation or extermination, will we nevertheless play by our kind-hearted rules, rules which to them are nothing more than a laughable weakness? Is there to be no qualification for inclusion in the circle of moral obligation? Must we pursue this ideal even unto our own destruction?

    Posted November 1, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Permalink
  21. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – If I’m wrong, and knowingly sacrificing civilians to get the bad guys is actually necessary to prevent our own destruction, then I’ll allow that such actions are morally permissible. But I doubt that anybody can muster the evidence that would persuade me of this. So I’ll take your “even unto our own destruction?” as just a bit of rhetorical fluff.

    Posted November 2, 2009 at 10:42 am | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    Fair enough, Bob: that settles the moral question, and the issue now becomes an empirical matter of just how high the stakes are, and what concessions we are willing to make in our own security in order to reward our enemies for their use of human shields.

    I am certainly guilty as charged as regards the occasional rhetorical flourish.

    Posted November 2, 2009 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  23. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – There are rhetorical flourishes, and then there are simple misrepresentations… Making concessions regarding our own security is, presumably, done in order to avoid killing innocents — not to reward our enemies.

    Posted November 2, 2009 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  24. Malcolm says

    Point taken as regards motive. The effect, however, is exactly as described: we reward and encourage their taking of human shields by sparing their lives when they do so. We demonstrate to them that it is an effective tactic — even though they themselves obviously don’t give a damn whether their innocent pawns live or die.

    Posted November 2, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  25. bob koepp says

    Right. Part of what makes the bad guys bad is that they don’t give a damn whether their innocent pawns live or die. Of course, they don’t admit that they don’t give a damn. They say things like “It’s necessary to promote the greater good.”

    The good guys can’t remain good if they mimic such behavior.

    Posted November 2, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  26. JK says

    If I knew bin Laden was in a room with a four year old, I’d be kinda suspicious that he’d run out of older kids to recruit for “missions.” As to what a four year old is gonna do with all those virgins, I haven’t a clue.

    Posted November 2, 2009 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  27. Malcolm says

    Well, we’re starting to go round in circles here.

    Again: it seems that the use of human shields is a very effective way for our jihadist foes to tie our hands; it is a way that they can use our own moral scruples (which they do not share and see as a sign of weakness) against us, and they know it.

    You and I agree that our own moral qualms about attacking them when they employ this tactic are justifiable only in proportion to the severity of the existential peril of staying our hand: the level of the threat determines the appropriate response.

    So we cede to them a cheap and powerful means of defending themselves. As I remarked above, the issue now becomes an empirical matter of just when we decide that the stakes are high enough, and the cost of tolerating this tactic severe enough, to justify denying it to them.

    Posted November 2, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  28. the one eyed man says

    Not to pick nits, but the innocents who are getting killed in Pakistan aren’t being used as human shields. They are simply in the same building or location as the targets, and suffer the same fate.

    Posted November 2, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink
  29. Malcolm says

    Don’t be naive, Peter. The jihadists are combatants in a war, and know very well the situation they put these civilians in when they hide amongst them. They are also very well aware of the propaganda value of civilian casualties.

    We bend over backwards to avoid these casualties; the jihadis go out of their way to create them.

    Posted November 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink