The symmetry: Charlie Hebdo

What we tend to do is look toward the enemy. We’re only looking one way: from us to them. But the good commanders take two other views. They mentally move forward and look back to themselves. They look from the enemy back to the friendly, and they try to imagine how the enemy might attack them. The third is to get a bird’s-eye view, a top-down view, where you take the whole scene in. The amateur looks one way; the professional looks at least three different ways.

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I am concerned about hatred, simmering here, boiling over there. I am concerned about what sparks hatred, and what fans it. What I want to draw your attention to here, though, is the process by which one hatred fuels abother, the process of mirror imaging.

Mark Juergensmeyer, a terrific scholar of religion who has published on topics ranging from Gandhi‘s nonviolence to the violence of religionists who consider themselves sanctioned by the scriptures of various religions, makes the point in a recent Religion Dispatches post thus:

The US-based Islamophobes behind the insulting and amateurish video “The Innocence of Muslims,” and those behind the violent protests it allegedly caused around the Muslim world, are kindred hatemongers. Both are extremists with a political agenda, and both want to use this incident to discredit the legitimacy of the moderate governments in power in their respective countries. There is a symbiotic relationship between the strident protesters and the bigoted filmmakers; each needs the other.

We are in a hall of incendiary mirrors, with plenty of kindling: in my view, we should avoid playing with matches.

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Thank God, there are also asymmetries.

In a companion post, I’ll take a look at recent, very promising events in Benghazi (h/t to Pundita for a pointer to this particular article), the not particularly unsurprising but unwelcome attitude of a Pakistani minister, and the imbalances that go along with the dangerous balances I’ve discussed in this post.

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Oh, and let me digress…

I won the Divinity essay prize back in my schooldays at Wellington College, and received my chosen prize book, the Liber Usualis with its glorious collection of Gregorian Chants, from the then Minister of Defence, John Profumo, MP. Not long thereafter, it was discovered that he pillow talked with one Christine Keeler, a night lady of class, who also pillow talked with the Russian defence attaché. And the story was broken, week by glorious week, by the British satirical magazine, Private Eye.

Which I consequently have an affection for, after all these years. And I tell you this, because Charlie Hebdo, or Weekly Chuck as we might call it over here is, I’d suggest, a plausible latter-day French rough equivalent of Private Eye.

I don’t really like our guys posting inflammatory materials, you see, but I also have an affection for freedom of speech — and for magazines with a satirical bite, too…

So sue me, I contain multitudes.

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5 comments on this post.
  1. Charles Cameron:

    Addendum:
    .

    I somehow missed one of the key points I wanted to make about symmetric standoffs, halls of mirrors, echo-chambers: the fact that symmetric standoffs can oh so very easily climb the ladders of escalation, halls of mirrors can oh so very easily warp perceptions, echo chambers so very easily create howling feedback loops.
    .
    I’ll let David Ignatius make the point for me.  In his WaPo post Lessons from an Iranian war game three days ago, Ignatius wrote: 

    the scariest aspect of a U.S.-Iran war game staged this week was the way each side miscalculated the other’s responses — and moved toward war even as the players thought they were choosing restrained options.

    That was pretty much his opening salvo — and he concluded, quoting Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Saban Center, who had organized the war game Ignatius was describing: 

    The lesson of the exercise, concluded Pollack, is that “small miscalculations are magnified very quickly.”

    Not good.
    .
    And if I may go all psychological for a moment: those who are most adept at making rapid decisions may not be the people best equipped for avoiding cross-cultural misunderstandings. Eh?

  2. Pundita:

    Charles — re  “I won the Divinity essay prize back in my schooldays at Wellington College, and received my chosen prize book, the Liber Usualis with its glorious collection of Gregorian Chants, from the then Minister of Defence, John Profumo, MP. Not long thereafter, it was discovered that he pillow talked with one Christine Keeler, a night lady of class, who also pillow talked with the Russian defence attaché.” —
    .
    Divine.  Absolutely divine.  An aside: One wonders why, with so many ministers to choose from, the defense minister was considered suitable to bestow a prize on a Divinity student. I will be peevish if you provide a prosaic answer such as Profumo went to Wellington — unless, of course, he was also a Divinity student.       

          

  3. Charles Cameron:

    Thanks, Pundita.  Prosaically, I was only one of many prizewinners that day, the school was founded in the name of the Iron Duke and provided back then an eighth of the Sandhurst intake, and thus for a general prize-giving, the Minister of Defence was appropriate.  Less prosaically, they wanted to invite the Pope but learned he had no battalions, so turned to the nearest guy who did.  And in the grand lila of things, Great Irony knew I’d wind up at Zenpundit and thought it would be fun in retrospect, and provide me with a neat paragraph.
    .
    I do hope I haven’t left you peevish. 

  4. Pundita:

    Charles –  “Less prosaically, they wanted to invite the Pope but learned he had no battalions, so turned to the nearest guy who did.  And in the grand lila of things, Great Irony knew I’d wind up at Zenpundit and thought it would be fun in retrospect, and provide me with a neat paragraph.”

    Somehow all this reminds me of a perfectly ghastly true story about the Buddha.  I will have to dig up the details I read it so long ago, but the gist is that a king sought his advice on a political matter; this was years after he’d established the Sangha.  Being a renunciate he couldn’t speak to the matter but answsered in a general fashion.  The king then used his observations as justification to launch a massacre.  In this way the Buddha learned:  never make general observaitons to a man with an army at his command.

              

  5. Pundita:

    PS: Charles — That last shouldn’t be taken as any kind of a criticism of your interest in war because that would be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.