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Hullabaloo


Thursday, September 02, 2010

 
Left Literalism

by digby


Ok,I was going to drop this until I read the book because well --- it's stupid for any of us to be arguing a bout a book none of us have read. But I can't let this one thing pass. Ta-Nehesi Coates and Matt Yglesias (both of whom I have great respect and even affection for) are being bizarrely literal about this subject.

Markos has written a polemic called "American Taliban" in which he draws an ironic comparison between the far right in American politics and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He isn't saying they are interchangeable. That's ridiculous. Obviously, one exists within a secular Western democracy with a rule of law and the other well ... doesn't. And just as the American far right doesn't require beards and pray to Mecca or speak Pashtun, neither do they execute women in the middle of sports stadiums for adultery. But that doesn't mean they aren't, in fact, repressive, authoritarian, theocratic, anti-feminist and (on the fringes) quite violent. (Abortion clinics have been under physical siege for decades by these people.)

Are they mirror images? Of course not. But it's infinitely interesting to consider the ways in which they are alike and for a liberal writer to not be intrigued by the huge irony that these similarly anti-modern fundamentalists are now organizing themselves around the idea that the other is the devil just strikes me as inconceivable. I think it's a fascinating and provocative observation. I mean, come on --- just last week-end we watched a rally at the Lincoln Memorial where a bunch of conservative religious folks listened raptly to a loon talking up a black robed regiment of religious leaders as he decried the pending takeover of Sharia law! Setting aside the politics for a moment, what kind of writer doesn't isn't struck by that image?

Since only one person in this exchange has actually read the book I'm guessing writing is not the real source of this argument. It feels remarkably like the many old arguments we've had over the years about whether or not "the left" is embarrassing everyone by acting out and breaking the rules of polite political discourse. And that argument's been going on as long as I can remember. In fact, when I was younger I was on the other side, often uncomfortable with the idea that the country was deeply divided in ways that are fairly irreconcilable. It didn't comport with my idealistic belief in the perfectibility of the Union. I don't think so anymore --- I came to see American politics as an endless struggle between two big competing visions with progress being made by two steps forward one step back most of the time. (That one step back can be a real bitch, btw.) But I've written about that before ...

Meanwhile, we'll have to disagree about whether or not it's politically smart to make comparisons between today's far right and the Taliban. I don't imagine that it will convince anyone who doesn't already see the political divide in these stark terms, but if it helps anyone on the left stiffen his resolve and work to keep these people from power then it's successful on its own terms. That's a dirty job, to be sure, but somebody's got to do it.


Update: Paul Rosenberg has more.

Update II: Also I have to say that it's remarkably uncharitable for so many people to make the unsupported assertion that Markos wrote this book to gain attention, traffic or whatever. It's become a very nasty, reflexive habit lately to accuse everyone you disagree with of corruption and it's not fair. Markos has been writing all this stuff on his blog for years. His reputation as a left wing shit disturber is secure and I would doubt very seriously if he will get rich on this book. It would be nice if people would at least grant that he might have written this book for honest reasons even if you disagree with it.


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