Ideology matters more than biology

Posted: Mar 20, 2002 12:00 AM
Do the Saudis love their children too? If you don't get the question, give me a moment to explain. In 1985, Sting, the former lead singer of the British rock group The Police, released a single off of his first solo album. Titled simply, "Russians," it was widely received as a thoughtful and ironic criticism of the Cold War arms race. I thought it was morally obtuse puffery. Here's a typical stanza: "How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy There is no monopoly of common sense On either side of the political fence We share the same biology Regardless of ideology Believe me when I say to you I hope the Russians love their children too." The first thing worth noting is that even the most rabid anti-communists were well aware that we shared the same biology with Russians, thank you very much. I've read extensively about the Cold War and anti-communism, and I've never seen even a hint that Whittaker Chambers or John Foster Dulles secretly suspected that the Soviets were androids, aliens or hairless simians. Civilization's greatest battles have not been with Styrofoam, dog hair, gerbils or toe jam. Nazis are human beings. Murderers and pedophiles are human beings. To say that humanity somehow exonerates, rather than confers accountability, is to say that humanity is in fact meaningless. Joe Blow killed a child? Well, he's just a human being - cut him some slack. Sure, Jack the Ripper was a rough chap, but he was a carbon-based life form. Years ago, Sting explained in an interview with Playboy that he "discovered" that Russians in fact do love their children too and therefore maybe the Cold War was a giant misunderstanding. This sort of addled thinking was common during the no-nukes days of the mid 1980s. While I cannot see how the United States was mistaken in opposing a totalitarian aggressor simply by virtue of the fact that the average Russian loved his children, I'm willing to concede it's an interesting question. And that's why I ask, "Do the Saudis love their children too?" Last week, a fire swept through an overcrowded school in Mecca. The Saudi religious police, known as the mutaween, or by their official name, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, prevented firemen from rescuing the schoolgirls. Why? Because the clothed girls weren't wearing the headscarves and cloaks required for women in public. According to one witness, the police told rescuers, "It is sinful to approach them." So, to protect the delicate sensibilities of everyone involved, the police tried to lock the gates and let the children burn. Three policemen beat a girl who tried to escape. Fifteen girls died, most of them crushed in the panicked stampede to escape. The parents of these children are obviously furious. After all, they love their children too, as Sting might say. In a rare exception to the rule, these parents are being permitted to voice their outrage at the religious police in the press. This horrific episode is instructive of why the question, "Do they love their children too?" and the ideas behind it are so unhelpful. Saudi Arabia is ruled by a tyrannical elite, even more than the Russians under Communism. At least in the Soviet Union a peasant like Kruschev or Stalin could rise to power in the party. Sure, you had to be an enthusiastic totalitarian and murderer but, hey, merit is merit. Saudi Arabia is still a monarchy, and unless you are a crown prince, your concerns do not amount to much. Of course, the average Saudi, Arab or Muslim loves his children too. Humans, as a rule love their children, "regardless of ideology." But in much of the Middle East, ideology requires that, love or no, children are expendable. Saudi Arabia's radical brand of Islam holds that it would be better for a schoolgirl to burn alive than to have her exposed forehead or kneecaps poison a man's eyes. They export this ideology - called Wahhabism - around the globe. The same radicalism in Hamas, one of many radical Islamic terrorist groups, celebrates when children blow themselves up killing other children. One of the most horrifying pictures to come out of the intifada is that of a young boy, no older than 10, with "toy" dynamite sticks strapped around his waist. In the Soviet Union, the vast majority of Russians loved their children, but the official ideology, enforced by a self-serving elite, held that the state took precedence. In Saudi Arabia, another official ideology, enforced by a self-serving elite, holds that the state, or more accurately, the state's religion comes first. Regardless, of their biology, this is their ideology and believe me when I say to you, it doesn't matter if the Saudis love their children too.