July 20, 2004

"Root Causes"

This one may take me awhile, so if you plan on reading the whole thing, grab a pew, missy (as I tell my daughter when I want her to sit down and as she delights in repeating back to me). If you don't plan on reading this one, that's ok, I bet someone else is writing about this in a better way than I am.

The Root Causes. Everyone seems to think that we need to understand the root causes of terrorism, the root causes of ceaseless anti-American hatred, the root causes of anti-Semitism, the root causes of _______ (fill in the blank, how about obesity?). The world faults us for failing to understand the root causes. They want us to ask: why do they hate us? What did we do wrong? The media drumbeat on this point, in our own newspapers and from our allies, is as relentless as it is nonsensical and downright contemptuous.

You can see how silly this is here, in the words of British "journalists" (dig my scare quotes?):

Why is there no coverage in America given to the root causes of terrorism? We try to understand why Palestinian people feel driven to take such extreme measures as suicide bombings. I understand why Israel is building a wall to stop terror, but terrorists only flourish if they have grievances to exploit.

The root causes of terrorism are hatred and fear, not economic. The suicide bombers are not motivated by issues such as fair trade and labor regulation. As others have noted, the World Trade Center bombers were from the highest socio-economic classes their society had. They were not protesting American influence on foreign exchange rates. No, they hated us. They still hate us and we are to ask why, if you believe the pundits. What impels the hatred?

The hatred, I believe, stems from fear. They fear our freedom and our liberalism because the freedom to decide for yourself is not compatible with their vision of a society subservient to the dictates of Islam as they understand them. We are seductive and corrupt. We will infect their youth and destroy the power they hold over their women. We are a disease that must be halted. This is not hard to understand. They hate us because our values are so different from their values. They hate us because they cannot fathom how they are righteous and we are not and yet we are successful (so, add jealousy to the volatile mix).

In other words, while I am prepared to ask the question why, I reach a conclusion different from that urged by those who constantly stress the necessity of its asking. I conclude that the fault lies not within us, Horatio (nor within the stars), but within them.

There. I asked why, I answered it and I feel so much better now.
Well, not really. Now I want to ask about the root causes of another problem (no, I don’t mean stomach issues experienced after too much spicy Indian food, although I am curious to know why Indian food and why not Thai): Western anti-Americanism. You know the kind I mean, the feelings and beliefs expressed by our allies, by Europeans, among others, who believe that America is evil and the greatest threat to world peace but who stop short of flying planes into our buildings or bombing our Naval vessels (the USS Cole). This question is one I’ve been exploring of late and I don’t have a real good answer for it. How is it that a book in France which hit the best seller list there and was taken seriously when it asked whether the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were faked. I really don't know. But I can send you to some of what I’ve been reading to help me understand it and maybe these works will help you (assuming you share my confusion).

First of all, I’ve been reading Jean Francois Revel’s book, Anti-Americanism. I cannot excerpt any of it here. It is too tightly woven for me to pick apart any of its arguments here. I think it is a must read. I seldom urge people to pick up a book, but I do so now.

Second, I just read Bruce Bawer’s essay in the Hudson Review: Hating America. This is also a great read. Dr. Bawer is an American living in Norway.

Third, I’d send you to Robert Kagan’s slim book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. It seeks to explain how and why America and Europe have taken such different paths.

If you have other recommendations, I'd be pleased if you'd share them with me.

What does it all come down to? Europe resents the Pax Americana, at its base. Europe lacks the capacity or ability or will to project power beyond its borders and, while enjoying the fruits of a free society protected by American servicemen and women, is unhappy about it at the same time. At the end, I perceive that nothing can be done about it.

So, where does that leave us? Where are we now that we’ve asked the questions about the “root causes”?

We are at the same place we were when we started (although you didn’t know that). We are at my cousin’s funeral. I attended my cousin's funeral in the days after 9/11 and her death at the top of the World Trade Center. It was a funeral held with an empty coffin. There is space enough in her plain wooden box to fit the questions of why do they hate us and what did we do wrong. I’d like to bury these fucking questions there and get on with the business of uniting our country to oppose a common foe who seeks our destruction.

Of course, that won’t happen, but I can dream, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at July 20, 2004 11:57 AM

wow, that was helladope. I don't see all of the same root causes as you, but I do believe that there are quite a few things that america needs to put in a box somewhere and bury. I'm going to be in the backyard diggind a deep hole if anyone needs me.

Posted by: shank at July 20, 2004 12:16 PM

That's fine. I don't expect people to agree with me. That's what makes a horse race.

That said, I think I'm right.

Posted by: RP at July 20, 2004 12:23 PM

Very nicely done. Eloquent.
(This is not just sucking up, either. I have thought these very same thoughts; although I must say you said them sooo much better than I could have.)

Finding the "root cause" is a gigantic waste of time. We won't understand the answer should we ever get one.

My deepest sympathies for the loss of your cousin.


Posted by: Emma at July 20, 2004 01:58 PM


It's an interesting piece. I've always believed that such a passionate emotion as hatred was akin to love, though complete opposites. When you love people you try to make their lives better; when you hate them, you try to destroy their lives. Both require the same devotion. But indifference only comes into the equation when you're of little to no consequence.

People need to blame somebody for their misfortune, or their once majestic country's fall from grace. It is America's lot in life to suffer the burden of being the hated, at least in this day and age. I'm not naive enough to believe that US supremacy will last forever. More dominant empires in human history have faded away.

Pursuing the reason for their hatred is futile. To stop them from hating us we would have to cease being who we are: free, happy and successful. Only in our total failure would the world's malcontents stop wasting their arrows on us. They would have to find another target.

Posted by: Mick at July 20, 2004 03:49 PM

Em, thank you very much, both for your sympathy and your kind comment.

Mick, you raise an interesting point. I think that you would really enjoy the Revel book I recommended. I just finished tonight on the train going home and I intend to quote from it a little bit tomorrow. As for your love/hate dichotomy, the problem I have is that I think that these guys are all burnt out of love and ain't got nothing left but hate. And that's an ugly place to be.

Posted by: Random Penseur at July 20, 2004 09:37 PM

Yes, excellent observation. Though I think there might be a little bit of shame entwined with the jealousy. Remember the I Love Lucy episodes where they were travelling through "old" Europe? Lucy trying to learn how to smash grapes for the wine? Yep, Europe was smashing grapes with their bare feet even post-Marshall Plan.

Maybe that was just DesiLu Hollywood romanticism. But maybe it was an allagory of what Europeans see as the failure of their own cultures.
They were the most technologically advanced continent until America upstaged them, and maybe they just, neuroticly, want to pretend that that isn't true anymore by shouting out about how old they are.

Bah! It's so simple. They see themselves as the creators of "military prowess" and just hate hate hate not being that anymore. Nowadays they pretend to hate power, but, please, like any good modern socialist, they crave it.

Blind anti-Americanism may well bring about a resergence of BolviShit inclinations, but, hopefully history can finally teach these backward retards that -- in a free country anyways -- the word "responsibility" has a meaning beyond the word entitlement.

Idealistic fucktards... (sorry, I've been feelin' a bit ranty lately..... :)

Posted by: Tuning Spork at July 20, 2004 10:10 PM

Yes, on both counts. I don't refute your points. However, and be it perhaps noblesse oblige, as the dominating force on this earth we are subject to microscopic observation of our efforts, and the judgemental eye of mankind upon us. On nobody else will it be so harsh.

We cannot combat their hatred, we must learn to live with it. That's what I'm saying. There is no solution to be found by kissing their arses, and trying to figure out why they dislike us. We have to protect ourselves from their bad intent, because no matter what we do they will continue to hate us. They hate us for being us, and that's not something we should be willing to change to apease them. Is it???

Posted by: Mick at July 20, 2004 11:57 PM

Just wow. I wish I had a better understanding of the world around me. I wish that I could powerful opinions on things such as you do. I love reading your blog, amber's, mick's, and tink's because you guys have great stories to tell, intelligence to share and lots of passion to do it.

Posted by: Holly at July 21, 2004 09:00 AM

I did particularly enjoy the scarequotes, RP.

Rob wrote about this a while back from the British perspective on the USA.

Posted by: Jim at July 21, 2004 09:08 AM

Thanks, y'all, for your interesting and thoughtful comments. I lack the time today to treat them in the depth they deserve, but, in the words of the Governator, "I'll be back" to this topic.

Posted by: RP at July 21, 2004 11:59 AM

I spent a whole summer a few years ago reading up on serial killers. A child not far from us had been abducted and murdered that summer and it turned out the guy had done it many times before. I was burning with the need to know *why* do some people do things like that? Why molest children? Why kill innocents? Why do some people lash out in that way while others with a similar history do not?

What is the reasoning, or, the "root cause"?

I never came to a nice, pat conclusion. I never came to an understanding either. Sure, I read horrific stories of those who had horrible childhoods and grew up to become abusers themselves. Read of twisted psyches and sick desires.

But there was no definitive answer for me. Because many people suffer horrendous childhoods and terrible events and never choose to kill or harm others over it. They pull themselves up out of the muck and insanity and move on. Sometimes under the worst conditions imaginable.

We all have root causes. We all have reasons for what we do. But it's not an excuse. It's not even an illumination. It means....nothing, really, except that, when you do something wrong to an innocent human being because something wrong was done to you, then you've failed at what it means to be human.

Posted by: Amber at July 21, 2004 01:56 PM

How totally perfect, Amber. Thank you for putting the exclamation point on my post.

Posted by: rp at July 21, 2004 02:03 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?