2002: Silent dog, barking dog

Posted: Dec 24, 2002 12:00 AM
Should we drop the "U" from USA and make the free press of this country imitate the repressed press of SA, Saudi Arabia? That's what the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) sometimes seems to be suggesting. On Sunday, CAIR "expressed outrage" at a Doug Marlette syndicated editorial cartoon that portrayed a man in Arab garb driving a truck carrying a nuclear bomb, with a "What Would Mohammad Drive?" caption. Message to CAIR: Our press has been showing bias against Christians for years. Many of us have learned to point it out but hold the outrage and concentrate on putting out alternative magazines or talk radio shows -- which happily we can do, because we have a free press. Furthermore, irritating editorial cartoons are part of our long journalistic tradition. So CAIR, don't get mad, get even -- by commissioning your own cartoons. Here's my summary cartoon for 2002: a dog not barking. This country, despite ourselves, was largely blessed by a return to normality. A pair of snipers, one with the last name "Muhammad," terrorized the Washington, D.C., area, but they were apparently responding to their own inner demons rather than proceeding under direction from an axis of evil abroad. Deadly terrorism continued in other countries, but the big news in the United States was no news. Many questions remain. Did the liberation of Afghanistan, along with some tightened security at home, disrupt plots that would otherwise have come to fruition? Are Saddam-associated terrorists lying low so as not to give the United States more political ammunition for attacking Iraq? Are we merely in the eye of the storm, with even greater devastation coming? God knows; we do not. The good news of no news came despite ourselves. Our airport screenings of little old ladies have become an international joke. Many of us still refuse to thank God from whom all blessings flow. But official discouragement of belief was declining as the end of the year approached. George W. Bush on Dec. 12 signed an executive order to back up his pledge that "faith-based programs should not be forced to change their character or compromise their mission." That was 2002, a year that began with a whimper, proceeded with the absence of a big bang and for many Americans was coming to an optimistic conclusion. North Americans, that is -- because in South America an irascible old dog, class conflict, was barking. Argentina suffered riots last week, after another year of economic crisis that left nearly a quarter of its work force unemployed. Brazil elected to its presidency Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who ran on a platform that stressed class conflict rather than reconciliation. The greatest tumult came in oil-rich Venezuela, where supporters and opponents of its Marxist would-be dictator, President Hugo Chavez, fought for control. Does history sadly repeat itself? In Chile three decades ago, Salvador Allende moved aggressively to take over industries and steal from the rich property that in some cases their ancestors had probably stolen from the poor. Two wrongs led to disaster: Chile fell into gridlock and the military took over, with Allende on Sept. 11, 1973, committing suicide rather than accepting exile. Thousands of other Chileans died as well, and the ensuing military dictatorship lasted 15 years. Sadly, Chavez is showing once again what happens when politicians, instead of pushing for programs that benefit both rich and poor and honestly reconcile different classes, emphasize the sword of class conflict. That's when the dogs of war bark loudly. Yes, we can all get along, but by telling the truth and then looking for reconciling paths, not by crying peace, peace when there is no peace. That's a hard way to go, but it's the right way when dealing with class differences in South America or religious differences here. Islam is in part a religion of peace and in part a religion of war, and it's important -- by means of thoughtful articles but also sassy editorial cartoons -- to help Americans be aware of both aspects.