Open Letter: Malkin

Dear Michelle --

I saw your blurb about Hanif Kureishi today, and I think it's an interesting opinion in the mix of the general atmosphere of our culture after the firing of Don Imus. For the record, I think Ann Coulter got the Imus thing exactly right, so that's my context for sending this along. What Imus did should not have been a career-ender, it was also not really very funny, but his target was a group not in a public conversation. They were not fair game, and that was his mistake. The "lesson learned" there is that we have to pick our targets of humor and/or scorn with an eye on what's right.

Your concern, I think, is that Kureishi's screenplay has a subject so reprehensible that there is no humor in it -- that finding anything laughable there is reprehensible. In one respect, I am sure you are right: the barbarism and the gruesome arrogance of the beheadings is an outrage against the idea of civilization. If we think about it for a second, I am sure that's exactly what the jihadists who did these things were thinking: they wanted to desecrate everything related to what you and I would call civilization, and they'd be proud to be seen as bloody enemies of everything we would consider reasonable and valuable.

The real irony, of course, is that Kureishi's story robs them of that. These men are certainly fair game. Yes: the situation is still not even scarred over yet in a historical sense, but to reduce those events to a sort of sit-com of dark comedy robs the Jihadists of their only real intellectual weapon -- which is seriousness, or credibility. There is a real value in confronting their vile disregard for human life with caricature, laughs, and dark sarcasm: it turns their cause -- in the same way cartoons of Hitler did during WWII -- into something beneath contempt and only worthy of derision.

The victims of these crimes are innocent casualties of war -- no question. /Their/ sacrifices cannot be short-changed. But we cannot allow ourselves to be so serious and obsessed with a military victory that we sacrifice all the things we hold dear -- including our intellectual freedoms -- in the prosecution of this global war. We must see all our allies in this fight as allies and not as enemies on other fronts. If Imus was wrong -- and he was -- then we ought to take the lesson there and apply it to this situation where the weapons of words are being used against an enemy who deserves it.

Just food for thought on a Monday.

Grace and Peace to you,


P.S. -- this version of this note is slightly different in the first paragraph, which is a little weird, so I apologize for that.