A friend of mine, given to glumness about matters Middle Eastern, dismisses me as a half-witted optimist. Yes, I conceded, but I can’t help it if my kupp is half-full (she is sufficiently fluent to know that kupp means head in Yiddish). Now my powers of positive thinking will be heavily taxed, as I try to answer the President’s call to look at the bright side of events in Iraq. When the Prez is moved to bid more good humor, it’s our duty to respond with good morbid humor.
The truth is that I was very fond of Gallo’s humor when, like Billy Joel, “I wore a younger man’s clothes”. But then the younger man called the cops, and since that time I’m laying off the wine. So to the gallows themselves we must repair with our heads held high. We rely on the Pythagorean Theorem which concludes that ‘only a square would not go high on pot to the noose’. Or, as it is popularly restated: a square, to be square, must see square.
Yes, there is one seriously encouraging phenomenon of the no-noose-is-good-noose variety. No more beheadings.
REMINDS ME OF OUR PARLOR GAME which featured a funny Q-and-A with the ‘per’ words. Like this: “How does an actor get paid?” “Per forming.” “How does a soldier get paid?” “Per mission.” “A jailer?” “Per durance.” “An executioner?” Here a debate raged. I thought that “per capita” was funny, but broke the one-word rule. My favored answer was “per severance”. And sure enough, our perseverance has paid off and the beheadings have been… er, cut off.
Why? Who knows? Maybe a CIA guy will do a tell-all in a few years about how we sent Joe Pesci to Zarqawi with eight heads in a duffel bag and he capitulated. Maybe they got bad reviews for their al-Jazeera videos (“Hair-raising” – Cairo Proctor, “Bristles with victimhood” – Beirut Force), despite the dramatic recaps. Arabs may have reacted badly, fearing they were next, a dis-turban image. And Zarqawi wants to be thought of as Zorro, not to have Canadian Arabs saying ‘Off with his zed’. Or maybe someone else is in charge now who has a head on his shoulders.
This may seem like a small enough blessing. The bad guys in Iraq still do dirty rotten things. Mayhem to men, and they may hem your burqa if you’re a woman. They inflict daily punishment on the capital, and capital punishment for them would be capital. Still it’s an important step that they no longer look to decapitation as a way to get ahead, if that’s the phrase I want.
We recall a fairly recent foe, once seemingly implacable, that specialized in beheading (and suicide bombers, for that matter). Namely, Japan in World War Two. At the time, this sort of atrocious behavior made it appear like these people could never be rehabilitated to function in civilized society. Now all this seems like a memory that is jarringly discordant with today’s Japanese people. They seem content to make ever smaller cars and ever larger televisions: the worst atrocity they visit on the West these days is to charge them large sums of money to eat raw fish (which they probably harvest from the waters around Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
Seeing the terrorists forswear beheading is hopeful. It’s a whit, or perhaps a half-whit, of progress. It tells us that maybe they can stop losing their heads and make accommodation with reality. And although there are no intellectual reasons to anticipate that they will suddenly mature, the quirks of insurgent movements are unpredictable. Nobody defeated the SDS or the Baader-Meinhof Gang or the Japanese Red Army or the Black Panthers, they melted away like yesterday’s snow.
Those are my grounds for optimism. The first clue to any degree of normalcy, of their recognizing that the world is out there, that diplomacy or politics have meaning, that they need to moderate their escapades to conform to some level of public opinion, reignites my optimism. The kupp is much less than half-full, but it is not completely gone. There just might yet be a tomorrow brighter than today.
For today, we still indulge our grim chuckles amid the horror. Some will sniff at the escape into humor, but this is a legitimate haven against the incursion of barbarism. (Yeah, yeah, I’ll clip the barber joke right here and end on a serious note.) Let us hope that Iraq is on a track to civility. What it needs next is a solid, secure head of state.