Sunday, October 31, 2004

What is Wrong With the Bush Administration

At least concerning the Middle East, sen. bob has it right as he references T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The Bush Administration has not looked to history, has not examined the culture of the near east. So their take on Bin Laden is woefully inadequate as they focus on the prejudices about the Middle East that have been built here in the West for over two hundred years. The scholar Edward Said forcefully makes this case in his Orientalism, absolutely essential reading for anyone in government working the Middle Eastern desk.

Said's thesis is that attitudes towards the Middle East have been built through imagery that tells a distorted tale, and I would pick up on that even more -- it is imagery that offends evangelical Christians more so than run-of-the-mill Westerners. Below is a small copy of Jean-Leon Gerome's The Snake Charmer, featured ont he cover of Said's text.
And here you can find a larger reproduction. As described by the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, where the painting resides: The Snake Charmer "focuses on a naked boy handling a python while an old man plays a fipple flute. Watching intently is a group of mercenaries differentiated by the distinctive costumes of their tribes, by ornaments, and by weapons. Such erotic and exotic imagery of Near Eastern subjects was very popular in the late nineteenth century. Despite the nearly photographic realism employed by GĂ©rome, the painting is a pastiche of Egyptian, Turkish, and Indian elements that have no basis in reality."

Imagine that this is what folks like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney think of when they imagine Arabs and others of the Middle East, savage mercenaries positively lusting not only about our women, but about our boys. These men of the collective Western imagination, these Arabs, are comfortable with the serpent, which evangelicals clarly see as symbolic of the devil. Edward Said makes an impressive argument that the unexamined Western mind has picked up such cultural baggage concerning the Arab, and it all seems to hit hot buttons of evangelicals, who are not noted for examining pre-conceived notions.

There isn't time to make Edward's case by examining all the distorted images he cites, from Richard Burton's translation of the Arabian Nights in the mid-19th Century to David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, but each of those touches on images of savagery, of ruthlessness, and of homoeroticism that must drive evangelical Christians nuts. It is not just that these Arabs are infidels bent on destroying our Christianity, but they are, in this imagery Said finds rooted within the Western subconscious, all about undermining the most sacred values of Evangelical Christians, those values they seem most nervous about, such as sexuality.

But, of course, Evangelicals don't know what drives their actions, because they don't examine their own motives, and the sources of their motives. No, not at all. And that is why we must get rid of them in the political arena, because of this lack of self-reflection.

Edit: A bit more about my notion of Evangelicals and their lack of self-examination is necessary, lest I come off as stereotyping. Of course I mean those Evangelicals who are so believing of literal interpretations of the bible that it has become the center of their subconscious vision, so much so that nearly all decisions are guided by it, unquestioned. There ARE good Christians out there who are tolerant, but it is my feeling that the extreme Evangelicals, such as Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft, are unable to adequately examine their motivations because they believe to be guided by God and the Bible.

This manifests itself in many ways, not least an intolerance of other religions. Their view of women results in this campaign's ugliness regarding Mrs. Kerry. Their view of gays and lesbians manifests itself in many ways, not least at being offended that someone would call Mary Cheney, long living an open life as a lesbian, a lesbian. There simply is no compromise on their beliefs, and when there is no compromise there is no room for tolerance, much less understanding.