Jewish World Review May 6, 2004 / 15 Iyar, 5764

Stanley Crouch

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In war we better not let any politically correct qualms about indulging in stereotypes get in our way | As the war heats up in Iraq, we find ourselves confronting a dilemma that always has to be faced during brutal conflicts but is especially complex when ethnicity and religion are involved: How are we to handle our natural tendency to indulge in stereotypes while maintaining our democratic vision of individuality being more important than category?

The problem is that we have been wrong about groups of people so often in the past that we find ourselves in sort of a quandary when faced with the responsibility of protecting our shores now.

We have problems assessing the nature of other societies or religious practices because the rule of thumb of the moment is one of relativity - aka political correctness. It is naive, but it may be better than the old feeling of superiority that shaped our view of the world.

The history of Western Europe and of America is full of the bodies of people who were taken down because they were seen as inferior in their beliefs - although in actual fact they were simply in the way of European nations acquiring raw materials or of the United States taking the land that would allow it to expand.

The upshot of these past sins is that we are surrounded by sanctimonious types who are obsessed with not having a repeat of those ruthless policies.

So now, when we find ourselves in a battle with the soldiers of jihad, we are told to pretend that they and what they believe are equal items on the smorgasbord of human belief and style. We have to be careful not to stereotype them as we have blacks, Indians, the Irish, Italians, Jews, Asians and whomever else we mistreated in the worst days of our past - or the least attractive moments of our present.

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We still suffer from the human inclination to stereotype people, but we also are more willing to question such inclinations or to recognize that the shortcomings we observe in others are part of the makeup of the species rather than the defining qualities of a given group.

Nevertheless, when we get to the soldiers of jihad, we have to look at them quite differently from the way we look at other groups. Some things are simply too obvious to deny.

Actually, we don't have to stereotype these radical Islamists, because their own actions stereotype them far better than we ever could.

Let us remember that Osama Bin Laden and his crew were very comfortable under the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was their idea of a good, solid Islamic society - a place where women were beaten in the streets for violating the Muslim dress code, where there were public hangings and where the atmosphere of intimidation was the kind that goes with all totalitarian orders, whether secular or religious.

The Sunni Muslims in Fallujah doing battle with our Marines are not fighting for freedom. They want power over the Shiites. They want to get a taste of that old-time religion: domination or death.

We had better understand that and not let any politically correct qualms about indulging in stereotypes get in our way.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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