The roots of root causes

Last week I watched a History Channel program that dealt with the Viking invasions of Europe.  It occurred to me that one of our main problems in responding to the Muslim menace is rooted in the sorry Judeo—Christian miasma of guilt, from which the Muslim doesn't suffer. 

The prayers of the European victims began with 'God save us from the fury of the Northmen!' or some variation.  Then the prayers were accompanied by penance, for the assumption was that they, the victims, had sinned and that the Vikings were being permitted by God to punish them — or some such nonsense.  In some areas penance included driving out the God—killers, the Jews.  Our European ancestors didn't advance as far as we have in searching for the root causes of their misery, but they showed us the way.  The root causes of the Viking raids and invasions, of course, were simply that the Viking women did the farming and cooking, and during the summer men could fish or go on raids; raiding was much easier.  The Europeans were relatively wealthy through their hard work, and had become the peaceful citizens of small towns.  They were sitting ducks for quick and bloody raids up the shallow rivers.

The Real Root Cause

The deeper root cause, of course, was greed combined with the fact that the Vikings could get away with it.  Moreover, it was in the nature of their warrior society.  What were the root causes of the various dynasties of Mongols sweeping across seven thousand miles of nearly barren plains to reach Poland?  Or the root causes of Tamerlane's conquest of southeastern Europe and the Middle East?  In each case — and also that of Alexander's conquests — the root cause was megalomania and the warrior culture that produced it.

What were the root causes of the Arabs' conquest of North Africa, southern Europe and the Byzantine Empire?  Had the peoples of Hispania or Italia attacked them?  Stolen their oil?  The root cause was religious frenzy fueled by loot.  In all of these cases there were, of course, other contributing factors — but in essence these were the root causes.  These do not require sophisticated inquiry into human behavior.  The present root causes are the Arab and Muslim psychosis of shame, the Muslims' simmering resentment at having been expelled and repelled from their conquests of Europe — O Andalusia! — and religious fanaticism serving as a soothing balm for political and economic incompetence — in other words, as substitutes for thought and work.  All this is strengthened by the West's self—hatred and guilt for its sins of colonialism, which give the aura of justice to the Muslim dreams of reconquista.

On the days after 9—11 the academic halls and pulpits of America were filled with vacuous maunderings about our guilt, our crimes (stealing oil, murdering Iraqi children, etc.) which brought this attack upon us — as in 'chickens coming home to roost.'  There was earnest arguing that the days of an—eye—for—an—eye were past.  (I received two absurd round—robin emails from my old university — where Ward Churchill holds forth — urging me to sign a letter to President Bush pleading that he do nothing.)  Thousands bearing the burden of a Ph.D. or D.D., or both, attempted to persuade the nation to lie still and understand.

The guilt trip hasn't ended.  The Presbyterians are busily 'divesting' themselves from Israel, or from anyone who knows an Israeli.  The Lutherans have joined the Gadarene herd.  The Jesuits and Episcopalians are no doubt preparing for their re—run of Vietnam, ready to offer sanctuary to deserters from a volunteer army.  (There is always a delicious irony in a 'personal tragedy,' such as that of the Monsignor who condemned America as the most immoral nation on earth then being sacked by his bishop for adultery.)  The response is still 'What have we done to incur the fury of the Northmen?'  But the overpowering sense of sin has disappeared; Christianity is too weak to burden us with the idea of having displeased a personal God.  In the place of a traditional sin, our intellectual and religious leaders have substituted economic and political crimes.

It's Reagan's Fault!

Later on the same day, I watched an episode of C—SPAN's Book TV in which a very learned Muslim political scientist explained solemnly how the current atmosphere of political violence was created by Ronald Reagan in his Ahab—like pursuit of the Evil Empire.  The same man had just explained how the Islamist theorist Qtub ('the book') had formulated the necessity of violence to revitalize Islam.  The lecturer — a very bright man — seemed unaware of any conflicts among the points he was making.

A steady theme in all this guilt—mongering is, of course, Israel.  The Jews are the only semi—theological cause of catastrophe left to us from the Middle Ages.  As a medievalist, I feel very much at home in the current atmosphere — reading The New York Times, The Guardian, Daily Kos, Democratic Underground and all the rest.  I recall the days of St. Hugh of Lincoln, when we could blame any otherwise inexplicable unpleasant phenomena on the Jews.  More recently, the Jews had a bit of 'good press' because of the Holocaust — but of course that couldn't last.  The Jews are the most useful people in history; if we don't sin ourselves then the Jews sin for us.  I note that Mrs. Cindy Sheehan has called for Israel to get out of Palestine and, one presumes, Israel as well. All the Muslim problems stem from capitalism and democracy, in both of which the Jews figure prominently.  And there is always the Zionist entity.

We have gone from 'God save us from the fury of the Northmen' to 'God save us from the fury of al—Qaeda' — and we still think it's all our fault.

Donald Baker is a retired Professor of English at the University of Colorado.

Last week I watched a History Channel program that dealt with the Viking invasions of Europe.  It occurred to me that one of our main problems in responding to the Muslim menace is rooted in the sorry Judeo—Christian miasma of guilt, from which the Muslim doesn't suffer. 

The prayers of the European victims began with 'God save us from the fury of the Northmen!' or some variation.  Then the prayers were accompanied by penance, for the assumption was that they, the victims, had sinned and that the Vikings were being permitted by God to punish them — or some such nonsense.  In some areas penance included driving out the God—killers, the Jews.  Our European ancestors didn't advance as far as we have in searching for the root causes of their misery, but they showed us the way.  The root causes of the Viking raids and invasions, of course, were simply that the Viking women did the farming and cooking, and during the summer men could fish or go on raids; raiding was much easier.  The Europeans were relatively wealthy through their hard work, and had become the peaceful citizens of small towns.  They were sitting ducks for quick and bloody raids up the shallow rivers.

The Real Root Cause

The deeper root cause, of course, was greed combined with the fact that the Vikings could get away with it.  Moreover, it was in the nature of their warrior society.  What were the root causes of the various dynasties of Mongols sweeping across seven thousand miles of nearly barren plains to reach Poland?  Or the root causes of Tamerlane's conquest of southeastern Europe and the Middle East?  In each case — and also that of Alexander's conquests — the root cause was megalomania and the warrior culture that produced it.

What were the root causes of the Arabs' conquest of North Africa, southern Europe and the Byzantine Empire?  Had the peoples of Hispania or Italia attacked them?  Stolen their oil?  The root cause was religious frenzy fueled by loot.  In all of these cases there were, of course, other contributing factors — but in essence these were the root causes.  These do not require sophisticated inquiry into human behavior.  The present root causes are the Arab and Muslim psychosis of shame, the Muslims' simmering resentment at having been expelled and repelled from their conquests of Europe — O Andalusia! — and religious fanaticism serving as a soothing balm for political and economic incompetence — in other words, as substitutes for thought and work.  All this is strengthened by the West's self—hatred and guilt for its sins of colonialism, which give the aura of justice to the Muslim dreams of reconquista.

On the days after 9—11 the academic halls and pulpits of America were filled with vacuous maunderings about our guilt, our crimes (stealing oil, murdering Iraqi children, etc.) which brought this attack upon us — as in 'chickens coming home to roost.'  There was earnest arguing that the days of an—eye—for—an—eye were past.  (I received two absurd round—robin emails from my old university — where Ward Churchill holds forth — urging me to sign a letter to President Bush pleading that he do nothing.)  Thousands bearing the burden of a Ph.D. or D.D., or both, attempted to persuade the nation to lie still and understand.

The guilt trip hasn't ended.  The Presbyterians are busily 'divesting' themselves from Israel, or from anyone who knows an Israeli.  The Lutherans have joined the Gadarene herd.  The Jesuits and Episcopalians are no doubt preparing for their re—run of Vietnam, ready to offer sanctuary to deserters from a volunteer army.  (There is always a delicious irony in a 'personal tragedy,' such as that of the Monsignor who condemned America as the most immoral nation on earth then being sacked by his bishop for adultery.)  The response is still 'What have we done to incur the fury of the Northmen?'  But the overpowering sense of sin has disappeared; Christianity is too weak to burden us with the idea of having displeased a personal God.  In the place of a traditional sin, our intellectual and religious leaders have substituted economic and political crimes.

It's Reagan's Fault!

Later on the same day, I watched an episode of C—SPAN's Book TV in which a very learned Muslim political scientist explained solemnly how the current atmosphere of political violence was created by Ronald Reagan in his Ahab—like pursuit of the Evil Empire.  The same man had just explained how the Islamist theorist Qtub ('the book') had formulated the necessity of violence to revitalize Islam.  The lecturer — a very bright man — seemed unaware of any conflicts among the points he was making.

A steady theme in all this guilt—mongering is, of course, Israel.  The Jews are the only semi—theological cause of catastrophe left to us from the Middle Ages.  As a medievalist, I feel very much at home in the current atmosphere — reading The New York Times, The Guardian, Daily Kos, Democratic Underground and all the rest.  I recall the days of St. Hugh of Lincoln, when we could blame any otherwise inexplicable unpleasant phenomena on the Jews.  More recently, the Jews had a bit of 'good press' because of the Holocaust — but of course that couldn't last.  The Jews are the most useful people in history; if we don't sin ourselves then the Jews sin for us.  I note that Mrs. Cindy Sheehan has called for Israel to get out of Palestine and, one presumes, Israel as well. All the Muslim problems stem from capitalism and democracy, in both of which the Jews figure prominently.  And there is always the Zionist entity.

We have gone from 'God save us from the fury of the Northmen' to 'God save us from the fury of al—Qaeda' — and we still think it's all our fault.

Donald Baker is a retired Professor of English at the University of Colorado.