by Victor Davis Hanson
Real Clear Politics
There is only a thin veneer that separates civilization from man’s innate barbarity. Some 2,500 years ago the historian Thucydides once warned us about the irony of revolutionaries and insurrectionists destroying this fragile patina of culture, as if they themselves might be exempt from ever wanting it back again.
Yet no sooner, he warned, have such outsiders torn down the system of law than they are in need of it themselves when they assume power and the responsibility of governance. Even the worst terrorist apparently wants his wife and kids to be safe — and able to drink clean water when turning on the faucet. The trick apparently is to blow up the neighborhood’s electric pylon while still finding enough light and power to assemble an IED device.
When the United States toppled Saddam Hussein, a number of Baathists and Sunni militant groups turned to terrorism to thwart a democratic government that would leave them as a minority without their accustomed and inordinate privilege and influence. Suicide bombing, roadside mines, and kidnapping were all welcomed tactics — along with alliances with savage al Qaeda terrorists to torture and behead innocent civilians.
But then radical Islamists in their newfound zones of control began even to butcher their erstwhile Sunni allies in horrific ways. And when they destroyed power, water, and sewer services, suddenly such nihilism seemed a bad idea. Too late — since Sunni Iraq is now a miasma of random killing, open cesspools, and abject lawlessness. Only belatedly have Sunni tribes at last come forward to join Americans and Iraqi government forces to rid Iraq of the primordial al Qaeda terrorists in their midst — and restore the civil society that they once helped to destroy.
“The Palestinian people will never forgive the Hamas gangs for looting the home of the Palestinian people’s great leader, Yasser Arafat,” Palestinian Authority spokesman Abdel Rahman recently exclaimed. “This crime will remain a stain of disgrace on the forehead of Hamas and its despicable gangs.”
For years Fatah and Palestinian Authority-sanctioned terrorists themselves have undermined civil society by torturing, murdering, and bombing innocents. It was accepted by them that the laws of civilization — due process, exemption of civilians from attacks, and the rule of law — did not apply to Yasser Arafat’s government that was as corrupt as it was savage. If you ever were in need of dialysis after you blew up the local clinic and shot the doctors, you could always cross the border to the nearby Zionist entity for treatment.
But suddenly such Fatah terrorists are being out-terrorized by an even more barbaric Hamas, whose thugs have even looted the Nobel Peace Prize given Arafat. What barbarians! Where is the law?
So now the outgunned Fatah gangsters are suddenly crying about the uncivilized evils of looting, gangs, and random killings. Just as Thucydides warned about insurrectionists destroying civil society, so Fatah once erased civilization’s protocols on the presumption that no one else would dare do to them what they routinely did to others. How bizarre that Arafat’s followers of all people are reduced to appealing to international norms of decency and legality to avoid their utter destruction in Gaza by Hamas.
Middle Eastern and North African Muslims flock to Europe to enjoy a chance at tolerance and freedom long denied at home. But no sooner have many arrived than they slur their adopted continent as decadent, and chose instead to live by a de facto intolerant code of Sharia Law. Only in a free West do these immigrants have the opportunity of denying the free choice of association and lifestyle to their fellow Muslims. And yet if the West were to adopt their own Middle East nihilism, it would eventually itself devolve into a Libya, Syria, or Egypt. Then disenchanted, but unrepentant Muslim immigrants would desperately search for some new West that they could once again both simultaneously enjoy and destabilize.
Mexico counts on sending almost a million illegal aliens into the United States each year to ensure billions of dollars in remittance from expatriates, a sympathetic Hispanic lobbying presence in the United States, and easy exits for potential dissidents unhappy with Mexico City’s failure to provide basic services for its own indigenous people.
To facilitate such massive illegal immigration, Mexican officials hector their American counterparts about our supposed illiberality in not letting millions more stream in unchecked. They have even gone so far as to publish a government comic book instructing their own citizens how to cross the American border safely — and in flagrant violation of our laws.
But Mexico has nearly the same problem with its own 600-mile southern border with Guatemala as we do with our own 1,800-mile common boundary with Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of Central and Southern Americans try to cross into Mexico, either to work as cheap laborers or to make their way eventually into the United States as competitors to illegal aliens from Mexico.
In response, Mexico’s policy toward illegal immigrants on its southern border is as brutal as America’s is humane. Violators are often summarily deported — if they are not first robbed by Mexican officials or beaten and killed by criminal gangs. Mexicans may lecture Americans about our purported sins in trying to secure our border, but they don’t seem to care what their own government does to Guatemalans. Again, the irony arises that a government that has abandoned the rule of international law suddenly is worried that another country may be doing to it what it does to others.
What lies behind this abject hypocrisy of first undermining civilization and then demanding that it reappear in the hour of need?
Double standards depend on demanding from United States and Europe a sort of impossible perfection. When such utopianism is not — and never can be — met, cheap accusations of racism, colonialism, and imperialism follow. Such posturing is intended to con the West into feeling guilty, and, with such self-loathing, granting political concessions, relaxing immigration, or handing over more foreign aid. Left unsaid is that such critics of the West will always ignore their own hypocrisy, and, when convenient, destroy civilized norms while expecting someone else to restore them when needed.
What, then, to do? Stop feeling guilty, apologizing, and trying to rationalize barbarity. Instead insist on the same uniform standards of humane behavior from our critics that they now demand from us.
Finally, remember that there is a reason why millions flood into Europe from the Middle East and to America from Mexico — and not vice versa. There is a reason why Democrats and Republicans don’t shoot each other in the streets of Washington, or why blue-state America does not mine red-state highways. And there is a reason why a Shiite mosque in Detroit is safer in the land of the Great Satan than it would be in Muslim Saudi Arabia. It’s called civilization — a precious and fragile commodity that is missed even by its destroyers the minute they’ve done away with it.
©2007 Victor Davis Hanson