President Bush barely mentioned the war in Iraq when he met with Republican senators behind closed doors in the Capitol Thursday morning and was not asked about the course of the war, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said.

“No, none of that,” Lott told reporters after the session when asked if the Iraq war was discussed. “You’re the only ones who obsess on that. We don’t and the real people out in the real world don’t for the most part.”

Lott went on to say he has difficulty understanding the motivations behind the violence in Iraq.

“It’s hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what’s wrong with these people,” he said. “Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israeli’s and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.” ~CNN

Via Doug Bandow

Isn’t it encouraging to know that the administration and the Senate Republicans don’t “obsess” about something as minor as the Iraq war?  I mean, they have more important things to do than worry about the old “central front” in the “ideological struggle of the 21st century,” as do all of the “real people out in the real world.”  Pay attention, kids–it’s an election year!  Can’t be wasting time on war-this and war-that.  People who want to talk about Iraq just want to divide this country, and we can’t have that.  After all, there’s a war on!  

Presumably this means that the Iraqis themselves are either not “real people out in the real world” or that they, too, are fairly easygoing about the course of the war these days.  Which is it, Senator?  The rest of what must be the fake world is dying to know!

The rest of Lott’s comment is almost unbelievable.  I mean, I have a hard time believing someone actually said something this ridiculous.  It is right up there with Rodney King’s “Why can’t we all just get along?” in its vapidity. 

What’s wrong with these people?  Well, how much time do you have?  In a sense, there is nothing wrong with them that isn’t also wrong with everyone on this planet.  What is wrong with them is that they are human and are powerfully attached to a religion that glorifies violence as a means of fulfilling religious duty.  (This would be the moment for my necessary paleo remark that culture and religion are very significant and determinative of the kind of political life a people will have.)  Why do people kill in the name of religion?  Because, well, they believe it is part of being religious and as a way of defending their religion and, yes, glorifying their god, which may not seem like much of an answer to some, but if you ask a patriot why he kills on behalf of his country or why a nationalist kills on behalf of the Nation he would give much the same answer.  Take patriotic zeal, then magnify the importance of the thing being defended by a hundred, and you begin to understand why they do what they do.  Why do liberal interventionists will the deaths of supposed violators of human rights?  Because they think they are protecting something precious–religious war, when understood in the same way, seeks to protect one of the most precious things of all.  We used to understand this, when we considered the Faith to be something precious and worthy of complete devotion. 

If a man believes his religion has been insulted or his coreligionists injured by others, even though his religion preaches peace and forgiveness, the passion to vindicate the honour of the religion through acts of revenge is deep-seated and powerful.  Christians are called to forgive and pray for their enemies, which is often extremely difficult, because the same passion to defend the honour of the Cross exists in us.  Of course, God reserves vengeance, as He reserves judgement, for Himself–it is not our place.  But as with so many things we seek to claim for ourselves roles that are not ours. 

It is a basic human passion, one that can be restrained or unleashed by the religion in question, but one that every normal human being–some might call them “real people”–ought to be able to understand.  Understanding is not approval, but it should hardly be so difficult or so foreign to us.  The role of honour and vendetta in dictating behaviour, so completely familiar and understandable to Western men until not that long ago, is central to understanding all of these conflicts.

As for Lott’s last asinine question and statement, I am moved at once to laughter and despair that men such as this are responsible for making policy and passing laws in our government.  It takes someone with a truly superficial mind and superficial acquaintance with the problems of the region to focus (one might even say “obsess”) on the similar appearance of Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs, as if that, rather than their names, where they live, where they go to worship and who their relatives are, was going to be the way that people from different sects distinguish themselves from each other.  I wonder whether this is some particularly American hang-up that makes it so that Americans cannot grasp group differences if they are not marked clearly and plainly by a colour line.  Thus the Balkan wars in the ’90s must have seemed equally baffling to Mr. Lott–Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, who can tell the difference?  Of course, to those who know how to look and know what to look for, the differences can become apparent readily enough, but even when they are not apparent they remain powerful differences.