In the Star Trek episode "Day of the Dove," humans and Klingons are stranded together on the Enterprise by a non-corporeal life form that feeds on hate. They ultimately outwit the creature by banding together. Commander Kang declares, "Only a fool fights in a burning house!"
The world's literature is filled with gods and demons to which we ascribe great power; but students of history know that otherworldly interventions are not needed to explain human bellicosity.
Some Americans did not lay down their rhetorical swords as celebrations broke out following the news that Osama bin Laden was dead. On the far right, Glenn Beck called President Obama's memorial visit to Ground Zero "obscene," "grotesque" and "victory laps," though what actually took place was a solemn wreath-laying.
On the far left, Noam Chomsky denied the evidence that bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and wrote, "We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush's compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden's…." In what alternate universe is such a claim uncontroversial?
And did you hear about the flag flap? On May 5, Jake Tapper of ABC News tweeted from Ground Zero, "One minute to air and they decided to take the flag down from the live shot!" The right-wing blogosphere, incited by Michelle Malkin and Matt ''First & Worst'' Drudge, jumped to the conclusion that Obama had ordered the U.S. flag removed. This despite news photos that clearly showed the flag on display during the wreath-laying.
As Media Matters notes, "Tapper's tweet was posted at 6:30 pm – hours after the president had left." In fact, the flag is taken down every night; but the 'wingers were so hooked on their Obama-hates-America narrative that the story was too good to check.
Let's turn to another global hotspot, the City University of New York, where trustee Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld persuaded his colleagues to block an honorary degree for playwright Tony Kushner, whom he accused of charging Israel with ethnic cleansing. Kushner expressed outrage, though he admitted making the remark.
Wiesenfeld, meanwhile, said to The New York Times about Palestinians, "People who worship death for their children are not human. … They have developed a culture which is unprecedented in human history." Blogger Andrew Sullivan slammed "not human" as meaning "less than human." He noted that the Palestinians and their allies do even more of this to the Jews; but like others he drew a false moral equivalence between the embattled Israel's excesses and its enemies' explicitly eliminationist policies.
[Update: The executive committee of CUNY's Board of Trustees voted on May 9 to give Kushner the honorary degree.]
Amid so much rancor, a fleeting moment of unity, or at least levity, came to America's sparring elites on May 6 in the strange guise of a lawsuit. Scott Bloch, the anti-gay former head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel who was brought down after hiring Geeks On Call to wipe his government computer of incriminating evidence, sued a bipartisan honor roll from Karl Rove to Elaine Kaplan to the Human Rights Campaign on a bewildering array of racketeering and other charges. Everyone, it seems, was out to get him.
Some conspiracies are real, of course, but the voices in our heads are usually from gods and dogmas of our own making. Leaders who replace ideology with thoughtfulness and pragmatism can chart a wiser course, as Obama did in Cairo two years ago when he addressed the world's Muslims. Proceeding now from strength, and lifted by the Arab Spring of young Muslims risking their lives for freedom, the president has an opening to outflank the fanatics here and abroad who fight in a burning house.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.