I’m completely wet. Tonight we’re going to see the new Pirates movie, Piratas del carribe 3: en el fin del mundo, as they call it here. So to accompany that, we’re going to watch the first movie on a projector here at the school. Well, we were supposed to meet at 4pm, so I headed out into a nice thunderstorm to get there on time-ish. I had an umbrella, I had a sweatshirt, I rolled up the bottom of each pant leg, but to no avail. The front of me got soaked all the way to my hips, and my backpack was hit just as hard!
Well, it should be dry at least by the time we watch the new movie at 8:30 tonight. Meanwhile, I’ve had some interesting realizations about America and Europe. To summarize: I’m more grateful for my homeland than ever. There are certainly problems there, but in many ways it’s like a fairy tale compared to the rest of the world. I didn’t realize how much we have, materially, culturally, spiritually. Also, I’m more grateful for our friends here in Europe. While the United States made great sacrifices in the second World War and in providing an alternative to communism, we never had our country overcome by dictators or destroyed by nightly bombing raids. We never lived in the shadow of the Soviet Union or had to endure German occupation. In other words, many of our sacrifices were made from a safe distance. Theirs were made right at home. I’ve had conversations with people here in which I’ve been able to understand a little better their frustrations with our involvement in Iraq. They see the Iraq war as having been a misguided quest for petroleum. They also feel like the Iraq war has been the cause of the terror attacks in London and Madrid by radicalizing muslims into islamists. Europeans speak much of the fall of the American “empire,” which has always confused me. But they (some of them, anyway) also realize that they themselves are part of that empire. The whole of the west enjoys the protection of American strength. Spanish and Dutch people I’ve talked to feel that America has gone in search of terrorists far away in Iraq, while we already know that such people can be found amongst our own populations, in terror cells in Spain, France, Holland, whatever.
Most people acknowledge that we’re seeing a clash of civilizations. The disagreement is really in the implementation details. The question we have to face is whether it’s best to stay the course in Iraq. If so (and I think it probably is so) then we must decide how to best improve the situation there. If not, we have to find an exit strategy that is minimally harmful, though I don’t know if we can hope to influence things too much as we’re on our way out. Either way we need to keep the confidence of our allies in Europe. While in many ways western culture as embodied in western Europe is quite an embarrassment in its abandonment of almost all forms of morality and in its paranoiac fear of armed conflict. But, western culture is my culture, one way or another. Here in Spain, there are so many similarities in thought and values to those I am accustomed to that it is clear that we and they have some common roots. We, meaning the United States, need to accept that and encourage solidarity amongst all of the West.
We also want to avoid self-fulfilling prophecies. I think there is truth to the observation that much of the conflict we see right now is a result of East-West culture differences. However, let’s not let that observation guide our possibilities too much. We should do whatever we can do to encourage good relations and cultural and economic exchange with the Arab/Muslim/Eastern world. Let us fight the war on terror in the way it’s being waged against us. This does not mean that we will adopt the tactics of fear and pointless destruction that we face. Instead, it means that we need to work smart. We’ve already given in to the temptation to try to bludgeon terrorism with the blunt end of our military might. Instead, we need a specialized intelligence corps – not the FBI, not the CIA, not Special Forces, but something different. Instead of “terror cells” we need antiterror cells. Instead of letting radical propoganda win on the Internet and in public forums, we need people to communicate our message. What is that message? That there is a better way. That America doesn’t want to control your destiny. Here, it’s yours, take it. Do something good with it. Strengthen your people. Build a beautiful culture. But don’t resort to hate. Instead of a cry of jihad let us make a cry of libertad! Let’s make Western culture something worth defending. We must not only be the guardians of democracy, but let us also be good people. So to libertad let’s add bondad! The jihadists make some accusations against us, such as that we are immoral and materialistic. Let’s make sure there’s as little truth to those charges as possible. Just as NATO provided an alternative culture in contrast to the Soviet empire, the free world needs to provide if not an entire culture than at least cultural elements that members of the Arab world seeking an alternative can turn to instead of jihadism.
Anyway, I’m sort of rambling. I’ll need to refine these thoughts a bit, but here are some kernels of my latest ideas. Take care!