The Blogger at War

James Lileks used to be content with writing about his toddler's toilet training. Then Iraq gave him the chance to become the state's most famous conservative.

Geraldo stumbled around, unable to find the words, and finally launched gracelessly into his new script: "I am a Zionist," he said, "but I want to be a Palestinianist. I have seen so much suffering on the other side. Just the other day I witnessed a man with his newborn baby, swaddled, going home from the hospital, and they had to wait behind a checkpoint--" I watched the father's face carefully; not a flicker of emotion. No doubt he found the comparison obscene--his daughter had beenkilled, blown apart, and the fellow in Geraldo's example had moral equivalence because his arrival home with his child was delayed by a few hours. I fully expected the father to ram the heel of his hand into Geraldo's trachea and drive his hyoid bone clean through the back of the kapok-stuffed gourd Geraldo calls a head. But the father didn't move a muscle.

Geraldo's was indeed a poor analogy. A better one would have seen Geraldo compare the father's anguish to a Palestinian father's anguish after an Israeli helicopter gunship fired missiles into an apartment building and slaughtered his kids. But then that would make the human suffering equal, the sign of a horrible, seemingly timeless tribal conflict. Yet somehow I think that Lileks would take exception to that as well. Of all the Bleats I've read, I've yet to come across a hard critique of Israeli violence (though I suppose one might exist in the boundless back acres of the web).

Lileks has also blasted Ann Coulter and Ted Rall, both of whom deserve that and more, so he and I aren't completely at odds.

By far my favorite outburst appeared this past November 21. That day Lileks decided to explain reality to a Baghdad-based Iraqi blogger named Salam Pax, whose opposition to Saddam and Paul Bremer has angered and confused many a warblogger, Lileks included. After Salam expressed some dissatisfaction with the U.S. occupation, Lileks gave him a thorough Bleating:

Hey, Salam? Fuck you. I know you're the famous giggly blogger who gave us all a riveting view of the inner circle before the war, and thus know more about the situation than I do. Granted. But there's a picture on the front page of my local paper today:third Minnesotan killed in Iraq. He died doing what you never had the stones to do: pick up a rifle and face the Ba'athists. Youowe him.

Of course, Lileks fails to mention the many Western pals and visitors who aided Saddam's regime and made an Iraqi uprising impossible: special envoy Rumsfeld in '83, Reagan/Bush in '87-'88, Baghdad boys Bob Dole and Alan Simpson in early '90, and Halliburton in the late '90s. Nor does he recall that once Saddam was ejected from Kuwait in '91, the Bush administration, after calling for an Iraqi uprising, stepped back and allowed him to massacre those who did have "the stones" to "pick up a rifle and face the Ba'athists." Nor does Lileks cite the decade-long sanctions that strengthened Saddam's kleptocracy and preserved him in power while impoverishing those under his rule.

Even more incredible than all this, though, is Lileks's admission that he knows less about immediate Iraqi realities than Salam, and that in Salam's place, he would have behaved in the same manner that he has just denounced! "I'm not brave enough to start a revolution," Lileks writes. "I wouldn't have grabbed a gun and charged a palace. I would have lived like you. Head down, eyes wary. When the man's too strong, the man's too strong."

Apparently, this reply raised readers' hackles. On November 24, Lileks offered an apology, mostly for using the word "fuck," but also to say that "I wasn't criticizing Pax for being critical. It was his fatuous, smirky tone and insubstantial jibes. He had the tone of a Berlin cabaret MC who'd made Gestapo jokes in private and now was famous for making Eisenhower jokes in public. He sounded like someone amusing himself by dressing down a servant."

It's nice to see that Lileks is put off by "fatuous, smirky" tones and "insubstantial jibes"--at least in other people, especially those who live in an actual war zone. For himself there's a different standard. Perhaps the most charming example of this came last March when Lileks blanched at a New York Times op-ed by Régis Debray, onetime French radical who later worked for François Mitterrand. Debray's piece sent Lileks into an anti-French fit worthy of that other deep thinker, Dennis Miller. Par exemple: "Oh, shove it down your brie pipe, Pierre."

"If we chose France as our scapegoat," Lileks elaborates, "it's because it has behaved like Arnold de Horshac for the last few months, thrusting its hand in the air and shouting Oo! Oo! Pick Me!

"Oh, cram it down the croissant hatch, Chanticleer."

Now, Lileks would never dress down a servant like that, would he? It's impossible in this small space to explore all of Lileks's ruminations, but there is a constant refrain: America must invade and occupy the Arab world to stave off our own destruction. To say this is paranoid is not quite accurate. After all, there are people in the Middle East who would love to see us destroyed. But then, that sentiment is not restricted to the Arab world, nor even to this period in history. People the world over have always chafed against great powers and imperial states, for good reasons and bad.

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