18 November 2001

Lessons from Dogs

In 1990 I wrote in Obscenity and Peace that

We are now living in the "post-Communist" era, whose shape is only beginning to be delineated. Regional or "tribal" conflict rather than peace seems to be at hand, as proliferant nations attempt to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

A decade later, things are worse than I had anticipated. Our technologies are becoming so powerful that a clever band of psychopaths can inflict mass destruction without warning on any society they please, in order to gain some advantage or notoriety for their tribal conflict. And our media are so pervasive that they can find an audience sufficient to hijack an entire religion as they murder in the name of their idolatrous misrepresentation of God.

On September 11, 2001, a band of terrorists who fancied themselves to be Muslims hijacked four passenger airliners and deliberately crashed two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and one into the Pentagon. The terrorists crashed the fourth plane into the ground rather than let the passengers (who by this time had discovered their intent) overpower them. In all, some 7000 non-combatant people of all nations and creeds were brutally murdered. It was a brave act, in that the perpetrators lost their lives doing it. It was a cowardly act, in that they struck soft, unresisting targets by surprise. But mostly it was obscene, evil, and blasphemous.

The responses available to us as the injured nation-state are limited. We are attempting to make our society more difficult to attack, and, we are attempting to eliminate this particular threat — organized global terrorism. But we are also attempting to make peace with the population from whom this particular band of terrorists, the al-Quaeda network, extracted support and safe haven. In other words, we are empowering the powerless, enfranchising the disenfranchised, and destroying (because they cannot be deterred) the wilfully destructive. Our ultimate effectiveness will depend upon whether we can help establish a genuinely Islamic, genuinely democratic, and genuinely pluralistic government to replace the Taliban in Afganistan.

We are implacably against those who are implacably against us, yet we are generous toward those who are willing to reason with us. It is simple, but not simple enough for a distressingly large number of Americans, some of whom are in positions of political power. For instance, the Chancellor of New York City public schools, Harold Levy, has decreed (in violation of the US Constitution) that each NYC school must set aside a room for Muslim children to pray in during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ("Schools OK Ramadan Prayers," New York Post; Nov 15, 2001).

Let's replay the action: (1) Terrorists kill 7000 people in New York in the name of their brand of Islam. (2) New York Schools set aside places for Islamic students to pray. Might I add: (3) Hardline Islamic terrorist sympathizers declare a major victory has been won against America, the bastion of secularizers and Crusaders.

Anyone who is capable of training a dog knows what Mr. Levy has done wrong. Never give your dog a treat when it bites you. The dog will take that as a reward, and bite you again. You must assert dominance over your dog by doing whatever is necessary to force it to the ground and onto its back. The dog will understand that biting you results only in reinforcement of its inferior status to you, and will give up trying to challenge you by biting. If asserting higher status than your dog goes against your ideal of your relationship to your pet, then you shouldn't own a dog. Your lack of common sense, fortitude and responsibility will teach almost any dog you own to become viscious.

Since I believe we humans are all like little blind Chihuahuas, making noise in God's general direction, the parallel is obvious. When terrorists attack, don't abrogate your own laws in favor of the religion they play as a team sport. You make war on the terrorists, and you make sure all people of all religions have the same rights, protections, and priveleges in this pluralistic society. Period.

But there is another thing we can learn from dog ownership in terms of making peace with those who are willing to be reasonable. I remember walking my dog, Samwise, along a street near my home, when he suddenly stopped and left his third poop. I had taken a bag for his usual one poop, and a spare for a possible second, but was unprepared for this third, which was, to be frank, a real steamer. There was nothing for it but to head for home to get resupplied. At that moment, a car swerved up to the sidewalk, and the driver began to berate me for not cleaning up after my dog. The driver was getting angrier and angrier, and so was I. Then I thought to myself, "How would I react to this if I were actually a Christian?"

I smiled at the driver, and asked, "Would you like me to go home, get a plastic bag, and pick this up?"

The driver was flabbergasted. He could only smile back and say, "Well, yes, I would." Grace had struck. The conflict was over.

"That's what I'll do." When I got back with the bag, the driver was gone.

The driver, even though he was venting his anger with irresponsible dog owners at me, was nevertheless a reasonable human being, trying to deal with me concerning values we both shared. He was not a terrorist fed up with dog poop who would kill anyone who walks a dog.

The driver you talk to. The terrorist you confine or kill. If you can't tell the difference, don't vote or run for public office. You'll just teach terrorists to become more viscious.

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