This class was full of incredibly talented students in a high performing suburban high school in California. It was from schools like this that the engineers who could build skyscrapers and jet airliners came from. It was from honor’s classes like this one that young women and men would move onto college and then the world of work as engineers, doctors, journalists, accountants, teachers, scientists, and a myriad of other professional positions in the American world of work. Especially to my female students, I told them if you wanted to poke one in the eye to Osama bin Laden in response to September 11th, then you should become a powerful, educated, confident, and happy Western woman - exactly the most threatening thing to him and his followers. It was from an honor's class like this one that the true strength of American could be seen, and they would go on to help make America what it has always been. It was the real strength of the United States. It was why over decades I saw that America would win the war with bin Laden and his associates.
Osama bin Laden might be able to knock down two skyscrapers, but there is no way he could build one. The Islamists could hide in caves and strike at the West here and there where they could, but they could not produce operating system software, microcomputer processors, a cure for a disease, or a better way to fly across oceans. Osama bin Laden had an anti-message to the West, but his prescription for the Muslim world was to move back to the 15th century. That will not work.
I remember the scene where American soldiers, with cheering Iraqis surrounding them, pulled down that ostentatious statue of Saddam Hussein. (How symbolic was that? The Iraqis could not pull down the statue themselves!) I always thought in the place of Saddam Hussein they should have put up a statue of an engineering textbook. Replace the cult of personality of a dictator or a religion with a commitment to building up their tottering country - that, in a nutshell, is why the Arabs are so weak. Talk to me about the time an Arab nation produces its own fighter aircraft, its own assault rifle. Talk to me when it develops its own computer operating system. Talk to me when it does not need to bring in thousands of European or American engineers to build infrastructure. Talk to me when the most notable sources of news from the Middle East is not a that most asinine of low tech weapons, the suicide bomber.
THE WOMAN QUESTION
A successful, confident young American woman in a leadership position is a standing refutation to almost everything Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri stand for, and such a woman is a role model not only in America but in the Middle East. She can make up her own mind without father or husband dictating her thinking. She is sexually confident and in control of her social life. She has a career and a family; and the family is but only one aspect of her life – not the center of it. I remember distinctly reading about Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb, and how much he had hated living in New York after WWII; in particular, he hated the American women with their frank looking men in the face – the lust, the boldness, the confidence, the shamelessness. It is not that an Islamist such as Sayyid Qutb hates not what he knows not about America; the more he came to know it, the more he hated it. Nowhere was this more in evidence in his view of women: even in his native Egypt he felt women were becoming too Westernized and complained of being unable to find a woman of sufficient "moral purity and discretion" to marry and so lived a bachelor.
There is a culture clash between the West and those in the Islamic world who hate it so much. The clash is much more about values and how one should live than about weapons or the War in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is a war that will continue for decades, akin to the Cold War, and it will be an ideological war more than a shooting war. This conflict will be going on long after American troops exit the mess of Iraq. The struggle between Islamism and the West started not on September 11th, 2001, but when the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from France on February 1, 1979 and the US Embassy was stormed. That was when it began.
I will be overjoyed the minute the last American soldiers exit Iraq. I strongly hope the American profile will be vastly reduced in the Middle East, with my fellow citizens out of harm’s way. The Iraqis and the Lebanese and the Israelis and the Palestinians can kill each other day and night, as they most likely will, with Americans more wary bystanders than active participants. But the struggle will not end, and the angry “Arab street” will foment and seethe against the "Great Satan." Like we contained communism, we should at arm’s length closely contain Islamism. Quarantine it as you quarantine rabies. Kill al-Qaeda when and where we can, but use more the rapier, less the blunderbuss. The tank or the aircraft carrier is not the weapon to win the war on terror with. Our weapon is the computer operating system. It is New York City. It is the idea of freedom. It is a future where reason and rationality rules the affairs of men – the rule of law. It is Google. It is iTunes. It is Lotus Notes. It is the American Muslim who dates a Christian. She maybe even marries him.
Let America go about its business of modernizing and adapting and building and moving forward to the future. The future is in Asia. The Middle East is a fetid caldron of ancient hatred and religious fanaticism, in my opinion. Little good will ever come from it. Contain the danger from it while advancing American projects and interests in other parts of the world. The Islamists win if they can force a fight in some nasty desert town. We win by managing not to fight them, as they eventually begin to kill one another. One American Marine’s life is not worth ten semi-literate Islamist foot soldiers from the Pakistani madrassas fighting in dusty Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Last week American military aircraft expertly targeted a giant caravan of Taliban fighters as they drove across the Pakistan-Afghani border at night to reinforce their colleagues fighting a pitched battle against NATO forces. We very efficiently and brutally killed thousands of these Pashtun fighters, using night vision equipped drones and precision guided munitions. But the world is full of such enemies – impoverished young men who barely know what they are fighting for, and have little otherwise to do – and they are hardly worth the killing. Best that they rot in some obscure corner of the world. Let the more obvious hatreds lessen with time.
The Islamists have nothing better to do than fight for Allah, as they see Him. We have a whole future to build, a dynamic society to reform and maintain, a future of peace and prosperity to enjoy. The Islamists hope to die for their cause, and when prudent and necessary we should help them to do so. But we have better things to do than die for our cause, if at all possible. We have technology to improve in a “can do” culture of optimists. We have a national destiny to fulfill. Where once there was a hole at ground zero where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed, in ten years New Yorkers and citizens of a hundred other nationalities will swarm in new office buildings.
We gain little from fighting the Islamists directly. On the world stage they have little reason to exist without us. What the Islamists do have is fanaticism and oil. Get rid of oil, and the Middle East is the backwater it has been for centuries. What is the one thing in which all acknowledge the Arabs excel? Praying. They invest in their mosques. Their national political cultures are immature in the extreme: between the Scylla of the ruling authoritarian secular elites (Egypt, Syria) and the Charybdis of popular Islamist religious parties (Iran) there seems little to no room for moderates in the Middle East. It is a place where the "good guys" don't get far.
In fact, time and time again I have wondered at the immense folly of President Bush trying to launch a new democratic Middle East, in some idea of the future that exists only in his and other Neoconservative’s imaginations. The real world is made of some other thing! Any democracy would badly need the services and talents of moderates, and if there is anything more feckless than a Middle Eastern moderate I know it not. Talk about building castles in the sand!
And Bush has invested thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in a cause which will garner the United States no thanks at all. I have never regretted voting for any president like I regret having voted for George W. Bush – and it all comes down, for me, to one issue - the decision to invade Iraq.
But the fight is so much bigger, and will last so much longer, than the drama currently taking place in Iraq.
And this takes me to my real point in this writing piece...
“OSAMA” AS NAMESAKE
There is, for example, the symbolism surrounding Osama bin Laden.
To Arabs (and non-Arabs) who feel ashamed and humiliated by four hundred years of cultural decline in the Islamic world, Osama bin Laden is the great anti-hero able to stand up to the success story of the last century – the United States. I remember distinctly in the days after September 11th listening to Muslims sing his praises, as in all corners they named their children “Osama” in honor of him. Over the next few decades thousands of young men named “Osama” will grow up in the wake of their namesake. Their parents will instruct them in the glories of Osama bin Laden and his cause.
Well, I soon will have a daughter.
Her middle name will be “Emerson,” and I have put much thought into this. Partly she will be named after the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, the man who arguably helped to invent American literature in the great Transcendentalist era. Emerson was one of the first great love affairs that her father enjoyed in his rich intellectual life – that enough warrants a naming.
But party Julia will be named after Jeremy Glick’s child, “Emerson.” Jeremy was one of the airline passengers who brought down United Flight 93 after it had been taken over by Islamist hijackers and turned around as a weapon towards Washington D.C. Jeremy was a sales and marketing executive for an Internet company, Vividence. He was a judo champion in college. Jeremy was just an ordinary American suddenly caught up in extraordinary events. Right before he and other passengers stormed the cockpit, Jeremy told his wife Lyzbeth to take care of Emmy (Emerson), their 12-week-old daughter, and "have a good life." In honor of Jeremy Glick, our daughter will bear his daughter's name, "Emerson."
In the year 2032, my daughter Ms. Julia Emerson Geib will turn 25 years old.
I see Julia happy and strong as a young woman. She is well educated
and ambitious, and she can move easily in the professional world. Technology
is like a second language to her, and she possesses an advanced university
degree. She is sexually confident and knows what she wants. She does
not cry or run home to daddy when challenged. She knows how to use birth
control. She uses it. She wears a bikini and wears it well. She can fire
an M-16 rifle. She would not walk five yards behind her husband simply
because she was a woman. She would not tolerate a man looking down on
her just because she was a woman. On occasion she drinks tequila straight
It is she who will take the fight to Osama bin Laden and his ideological descendents. It is because of she – and who she is, who we Americans are – that the Islamists will lose.
The Spartans used to claim that their city's walls were its fighting men and its borders the tips of their spears. They needed no fortified works. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Julia's partial namesake, claimed, "The true test of civilization is, not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops - no, but the kind of man the country turns out." Exactly.
Julia, my firstborn, should arrive around March 8, 2007.
A long line of Geibs precede you, Julia. They await your arrival as blood calls out to blood.
Julia Emerson Geib. The world, and your father, await you to live up to your destiny.
October 12, 2006
FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS: WHY AMERICA WILL DEFEAT THE ISLAMISTS
"The United States is a sovereign with its
own self-interest, but America
as an idea of individual freedom and happiness is powerful and has no border."
UC Berkeley Historian Franz Schurmann