This is a great question, ably answered by Juan Cole in a posting with the same name on his web site, Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion. Cole is a history professor at the University of Michigan.
Noting that the population of the United States is over eleven times that of Iraq, he starts his essay by multiplying statistics from Iraq by that number.
“Thus violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and mortar attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week. That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly, or monthly toll.”
He continues in this vein, bringing home the madness of simplistically characterizing the Iraqi resistance as “evildoers” or “bad guys.” I liked this observation:
“What if entire platoons of the Christian Soldiers militia holed up in Arlington National Cemetery, and were bombarded by US Air Force warplanes daily, destroying thousands of graves and even pulverizing the Vietnam Memorial over on the Mall? What if the National Council of Churches had to call for a popular march of thousands of believers to converge on the National Cathedral to stop the US Army from demolishing it to get at a rogue band of the Timothy McVeigh Memorial Brigades?”
I also want to recommend a wonderfully written essay by James Poniewozik, “The Age of iPod Politics,” that appeared in TIME magazine recently. Here’s his thesis: “Through niche media, niche foods and niche hobbies, we fashion niche lives. We are the America of the iPod ads—stark, black silhouettes tethered by our brilliant white earbuds, rocking out passionately and alone. You make your choices, and I make mine. Yours, of course, are wrong. But what do I care?”
He then goes on to say, “It’s not surprising that we would try to apply the same principles to politics and political news….I can go to my favorite political sites and follow the blogrolls, link after link, discovering how vast is the universe of people who realize that I am entirely right about everything.”
After reading this essay I’ve been trying more often to grit my teeth and stab my finger at the car radio preset button that brings on whatever arch-conservative ideologue KXL is broadcasting at the moment. I know that I likely won’t agree with Larson, Ingraham, Savage, or whoever, but at least I’ve broken out of my isolated personal iPod political world for a few minutes. Ditto with tuning into Fox News instead of CNN.
So many people applauded Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic Convention where he said, “Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America—there’s the United States of America.”
Nice words. But where’s the reality? So long as most of us live in an iPod world, jiving solely to the political music unheard by half the population, how are we ever going to dance together harmoniously as one people?