Seth McFarlane, creator of the controversial “Family Guy” cartoon series — broadcast on Fox — launched a Tweet a couple of days ago that has sparked some low-grade culture war debate.
Here’s what he wrote: “I support the right of the Jedi to build a temple, but does it have to be two blocks from the ruins of the Death Star?”
It’s a joke, and on the face of it a pretty tasteless one. But the kerfuffle is more interesting than it looks on the surface.
McFarlane is playing with the idea here that the Al Quaeda terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were the moral equivalent of the plucky rebels.
Which casts the United States in the role of — you guessed it — the Evil Empire.
Here’s why McFarlane’s gag is interesting and counts as legitimate satire rather than simple blather and scandal-mongering.
One of the most stubborn themes in post-World War 2 American culture — a theme shared by the Right and the Left — is that we are the victims.
We’re the plucky rebels holding out against incredible odds.
Even as the United States emerged as one of the great superpowers, and then as THE great superpower, we clung to the notion that we’re still a ragtag band of colonists trying to make our way in a dangerous world.
This disconnect has become almost comical.
We’re the 800-pound gorilla on the world stage. But in our collective imagination, it’s still all about Valley Forge and the Alamo and Custer’s last stand.
This self-mythology lingers most powerfully in our Hollywood movies, with silver screen heroes from Rambo to Luke Skywalker to Braveheart all standing proxy for our love of being the underdog.
Many of our war films — Blackhawk Down, We Were Soldiers, Saving Private Ryan — focus on small bands of isolated warriors, cut off, lost behind enemy lines, holding out against overwhelming odds.
That same meme is playing out in the debate surrounding the mosque — the dust-up McFarlane was mocking in his Tweet.
Critics of the mosque and community center proposed for lower Manhattan talk as if the facility would represent yet another beachhead of an alien culture invading our shores.
The argument — made fairly unambiguously — is that we’re being infiltrated, subverted, and it’s all part of a secret scheme for Muslim world-domination.
The reality, of course, is exactly 180-degrees the opposite of this fantasy.
In fact, we have hundreds of thousands of American (and mostly Christian) soldiers stationed on the ground or involved in active military operations in a dozen Islamic countries.
Imagine how our hand-wringing over a single mosque must look to the people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Pakistan.
In those countries, our blackhawks and predator drones are a fact of daily life. And they remember our President George Bush describing the war on terror as a “crusade.”
Meanwhile, some right-wing activists fantasize that Barack Obama could be a “Manchurian” style candidate, a closeted Muslim.
But again, the reality is exactly the reverse.
We know for a fact that American intelligence agencies and corporations are deeply involved in the public lives of people across the Islamic world.
With our vast resources and power, we intervene regularly in their politics and their economies.
We prop up dictators and despots that we prefer, while toppling political leaders who are viewed as unfriendly to our interests.
On another front, Americans are rightly furious about the use of IEDs and suicide bombers against our men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the war on terror is called “asymmetrical” for a reason. Our military is the largest, most advanced and lethal fighting force ever created.
Our enemies fight the way they do not because they’re savages, but because they have no other plausible tactics available to them.
America acknowledged as much when we funded, trained and equipped the Mujahideen to fight using exactly the same kind of asymmetric war against the Soviet Union’s “evil empire” in the 1980s.
It’s important to note that with the exception of a handful of terror attacks carried out over the last two decades, this conflict has been conducted on Islamic territory.
And there have been exponentially more civilian casualties in the Muslim world than here at home.
All of this isn’t to say that we’re the Evil Empire. Osama bin Ladin sure the hell ain’t Obi Wan Kenobi. He’s about as Sith as they come.
But we’re not the plucky and innocent rebels either.
Another great Hollywood film, “Tora Tora Tora” portrays Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto during the attack on Pearl Harbor saying, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.”
He was right, of course. And for seventy years the United States has been the Colossus straddling the earth. We are literally more powerful than any nation before us in world history.
It’s time we acknowledge that fact, conducting our debates and affairs accordingly.