The mosque, the Jedi and the myth of America’s last stand

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.

39 Comments on “The mosque, the Jedi and the myth of America’s last stand”

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  1. betty says:

    Outstanding. Best piece you’ve ever written here. Now, more Chomsky, less Daily Show.

  2. Brian Mann says:

    Chomsky can get his own darn blog. :)

    –Brian, NCPR

  3. Well said. When Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld announced “Shock & awe” the Death Star immediately flashed into my mind. Likewise when I see troops in their body armor, images of Empire Stormtroopers come to mind. I have long been amazed at the self delusion that allows us to think of ourselves as rebels while engaging in empire. ““Oh wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursel’s as others see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us, And foolish notion” Robert Burns.

  4. zenitwillbetimetosmoke says:

    let the wookie build the mosque…

  5. Brian Mann says:

    Z – That would be funny, if not for the fact that a persistent meme in far-right blogs is comparing Michelle Obama to a wookie.

    Brian, NCPR

  6. Ellen Rocco says:

    Some may remember the brouhaha in Skokie, Illinois a couple of decades ago–a neo-fascist nazi-like group applied for a parade license for a route that would take them through a neighborhood that was predominantly Jewish (and, as it turned out, included survivors of the Holocaust). At the time, the ACLU took the side of the paraders and represented them in court. Many people vilified the ACLU for supporting the neo-fascists. Many others–Jewish and non-Jewish–stood fast for the first amendment. As it turned out, the march was permitted and, as I recall, only a handful of marchers actually participated, while hundreds and hundreds of people opposing the neo-fascists showed up for a counter-demonstration.

    There are mosques located in downtown Manhattan already. The debate about the construction of the new Islamic community center, which will include a worship facility, is a simple free speech and religion issue. This freedom is meaningless if it is only permitted when it’s easy to permit it. The test is allowing people to engage in speech and religious practices that make the mainstream uncomfortable.

    Many say this has become a “political” issue–something being manipulated for political gain, primarily by conservative spokespeople. I believe it is a political issue because it tests two of our core values–freedoms of speech and religious practice. I sure hope we rise to the occasion to protect those values.

  7. zenitwillbetimetosmoke says:

    she does have a slight stooping shoulder posture alot like a wookie, but i think that is a tall person trait, not soley an attribute of wookies.

  8. Pete Klein says:

    I don’t know. I never thought of this country being the victim of anyone except, perhaps, England. First, we had to kick England out. Next, they invaded us during the war of 1812 and we had to kick them out again.
    I don’t know much about Muslims and have no interest in learning anything about them. Same goes for all the other religions, including all the variations of Christianity. I don’t see religions. I see people. I don’t care what they think about theological things and only ask they don’t bother me with their beliefs.
    When someone says they believe this, that or the other thing, what I hear them saying is, “I don’t know.”
    All I ask of anyone is that they leave me alone and don’t try to murder, rape or rob me. That is all anyone should ask of anyone.

  9. zenitwillbetimetosmoke says:

    all i see are things that are being manipulated for political gain.
    this is nothing more than another control issue.
    seth mcfarlane is too wealthy for me to give any credibility to. when you’re that wealthy, any of one’s points of view gets attention.

    here’s one-
    the astrological time frame says that we are in the age of aquarius, the water bearer.
    christ who’s symbol is the fish swims in water. water is the consciousness that christianity lives in.
    aquarius is pouring the water out on the ground.

    i think it’s symbolic of the coming death of religion, hopefully ALL religion which has LONG been manipulated for the control of many by few.

  10. Brian says:

    The siege mentality/martyr complex self-delusion referred to in this piece is the central founding myth that animates the Tea Party movement.

    Clearly, it’s imperial overreach that’s undermining this country’s social and economic health, as it has every other empire in world history (including the Soviets). But the militarists will clearly blame the messenger and bury their head in the sand as things keep going downhill.

  11. John says:

    Very well put, Ellen! Now if we can get another person to agree on this, we’ll be a community of three. I feel such a disconnect with this whole thing! There is so much opportunism manifesting itself and all of these double standards going up like monoliths. We live in an age of euphemisms … “Well, the president is ‘arrogant’; “It’s their legal right to build Park 51, but it’s ‘insensitive’ to do it. What is this crap? All we need do is refer back to World War Two and the Japanese-American Internment Camps! The real test of freedom is never when the going is easy, but when we have to reach beyond our comfort level to keep the reality of freedom alive.

  12. Bret4207 says:

    Victims? Since when are we victims? In whose little fantasy does that exist? The US hasn’t been a victim of anything beyond a few sneaky attacks and our own self indulgent lifestyle. Bosh!

    Another thing, does anyone remember Bosina? You know, the Balkans? That little “clean war” where we bombed Christians from 30K feet while defending Muslims? Where is the payback for that? How many of the countries Brian mentions us being in are welcoming Christians? How many Islamic government are paying to build Christian churches? None? Oh, well that explains why we’re the Death Star and Osama is Yoda in this alternate reality.

  13. zenitwillbetimetosmoke says:

    christians were the bullies in the serb conflict, muslims on the receiving end.
    we like to support the underdog, and it’s a commendable trait, maybe impractical at times.
    since we are all children of abraham, i find it difficult to start splitting hairs between the myriad of sects of all religions, and anyone who does is missing the whole “religion” point.
    it further enforces my belief they’re all a load of hooey.

  14. PNElba says:

    A good film you didn’t mention Brian M. was Avatar. I understand there was at least a little uproar about portraying the USA as an invading/occupying/genocidal antagonist.

    Since when are we victims? You’ve got to be kidding. We’re victims of TARP, stimulus spending, “Obamacare”, environmentalists, brown people beheading us, taxes, big government, big money, FDA, FCC, countries that don’t welcome Christians etc. I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t think they were a victim of someone or something.

  15. JDM says:

    Brian says,

    “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.”

    It doesn’t matter what they think.

    They have their culture, and we have ours. If anyone desires their culture, move.

    If they desire our culture, let them seek it out.

  16. mervel says:

    Take a look at the globe take a look at where US soldiers are on the ground where our fleets stationed and patrolling and where our bases are located; is an empire. We should pull out of most of these empire outposts. You know when we have left in the past; nothing bad has ever happened. We left Vietnam, they are better off today, we left a huge base in the Philippians, they are fine, no collapse. The problem is we suck as empire builders. If you go to Vietnam today what remains from the waves of colonialism the last being the US; is the architecture, faith and language of the French, at least they left some good things, all we left were land mines, pow’s and craters.

    We should pull out of Japan, Iraq, Yemen, Germany, Italy, England, Korea, Israel, Afghanistan, Turkey and on and on, we should dismantle this system that does nothing for us except make defense contractors very wealthy and the military more powerful it does not keep us safer. The role of world police is a thankless task on that I totally agree with Pat Buchanan. I am not saying be isolationist, I am saying do what the rest of the developed world is doing. Our defense budget is larger than the rest of the world’s combined defense spending, it is insane.

  17. Sunshine says:

    What is a wookie?

  18. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    A huge part of the problem for the US is that we talk the talk but we don’t walk the walk. We talk big about supporting freedom and democracy but through the CIA and the Oliver Norths of our government we do exactly the opposite. If Osama bin Laden is a Sith we must remember that Ronald Reagan was his Sith Lord.

    We still will not sign a treaty to ban land mines. How many innocents have been killed or maimed by land mines in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    People from around the world generally perceive Americans as good people with an evil foreign policy. Americans, in general, just don’t pay any attention to what we do around the world until warfare breaks out.

  19. JDM says:

    Everyone here who made it a point that this mosque was “ok” because it is going to be on private land, not so.

    Everyone who insists it isn’t on ground zero, not so. The landing gear of the 747 hit this site.

    When will they ever learn?

    Here’s the latest Reuters article:

    Ground Zero Muslim center may get public financing

  20. oa says:

    Way to change the subject, JDM. It’s one of your strengths.

  21. mervel says:

    Knucklehead, I just think as a policy it is far overreaching what we can do and what we should do. The idea that we are responsible for the “world” is really strange and in some ways anti-American at least traditional American thought.

    I think though that in general we have tried to support the right side in most of the things we have been involved in but of course not all, my point is that even if we are on the “right” side we should not be there at all playing the world police role. The fight against communism was real and it was needed, the Soviet Union and state sponsored and enforced communism was a fascist evil thing that did need to be stopped. What is interesting though is how much MORE serious that threat was then the threat we face now from some random extremists in caves, they are not even close to comparable.

    JDM if those government bonds are available to religious not for profits then that is that the Islamic Center should have the same shot as Catholic Charities or the Buddhist meditation center.

  22. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel, I made no statement about what our foreign policy should be, and certainly not that we should be the worlds police. To say “in general we have tried to support the right side in most of the things we have been involved in”
    is much more complicated than it might seem on the surface and the exceptions to that statement are glaring, jarring, and in many cases have been criminal.

    But my point was that whatever our stated foreign policy is or was at any moment in time there always seems to be a secret policy run by the CIA or other black government agencies. Nor am I saying that these secret actions are being run as rogue operations. The CIA is a government agency and it does what it is told to do.

    The problem is that when we tell other countries our policy is A and they find out very quickly that we are secretly doing B –and they do find out —
    then we look like we are liars and hypocrites, or worse.

    If you want to discuss foreign policy, remember that most of our foreign policy since WWII was based on the idea that we were fighting a Cold War. War is bad for formulating good policy. Good foreign policy is like good child rearing or good dog training being consistent is of primary importance.

  23. Brian Mann says:

    Sunshine –

    We ask that everyone commenting on the In Box display some civility and decorum. So please — no more insults to wookies.


    Brian, NCPR

  24. Sunshine says:

    Truly Brian, that was no insult…just information seeking. I really don’t know what a wookie is…guess I’ll google it.

  25. oa says:

    Google Ewok, too. Then, run!

  26. Kent says:

    Mosque at Ground Zero

    The American Bigot Haters Committee would like to take this opportunity to condemn those who would oppose a mosque at Ground Zero. We understand that no mosque has been proposed at Ground Zero, just a Moslem center a few blocks away. None-the -less there are many people protesting a mosque at Ground Zero. Those are the people we’d like to identify and persecute as a group. They seem like bigots to us and a good target for our efforts.
    Since no mosque has been built or has even proposed to be built at Ground Zero it occurs to us that we may not be dealing with the brightest bulbs in the box and because this country was originally populated and founded on religious tolerance we feel that we could stick our necks out here and not get our heads cut off.
    So, we’d like to march into the fray with our banner held high enough to get ourselves some of that un-deserved attention that we see being lavished upon those loose cannons and misguided missiles. Hooray for us!
    Meanwhile those stupid protesters have stirred things up to the point where we must allow a mosque at Ground Zero so that we don’t look as dumb as they are.

    Mission Statement; The American Bigot Haters Committee is a non-existent lack of organization who’s purpose is to identify bigots for persecution as a group. We hate bigots of all types without discrimination.
    Our motto; “The one thing we can’t stand is intolerance.”

  27. zenitwillbetimetosmoke says:

    wookie=loveable side kick=star wars

  28. mervel says:

    I agree Knucklehead about consistency and I was not saying that you were proposing to be the worlds police but talking about the reality of what we have become. But frankly I would rather the CIA run secret relatively low cost operations than spending trillions and trillions building nuclear subs we don’t need, building fighter aircraft we don’t need or stationing our forces all over the globe in bases that we don’t need. I think you pointed out earlier and correctly that this puts us in the position of world occupier and that is effectively what we have become.

    I just look at the few large bases that we have closed and nations we have left and what the impacts have been, and they have from what I can see all been positive for the US. Vietnam, Subic Bay, Clark Airforce Base, Lebanon, Panama and so forth.

  29. Joe Mahay says:

    Thanks Brian and most of the commentators. Nice to see a sane and rational discussion a little above the ordinary. With all of the political rhetoric, it is sometimes hard to see the obvious. Thanks to Brian for reminding us.

  30. Joe Mahay says:

    Thanks Brian and most of the commentators. Nice to see a sane and rational discussion a little above the ordinary. With all of the political rhetoric, it is sometimes hard to see the obvious.

  31. Bret4207 says:

    I’m still waiting for that list of Islamic countries welcoming other religions, especially Christians and Jews and using gov’t funding to build houses of worship for those religions.

  32. PNElba says:

    Indonesia; Turkey; Dubai; United Arab Emirates; Jordan; Qatar; Iran; Iraq; Malaysia; Afghanistan
    The only funding I’ve heard of yet for the “ground zero Mosque” is one of the owners of FOX News.

  33. oa says:

    When are you going to thank PNElba?

  34. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Let me add to PNElba’s list, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Libya, and Morocco. There are probably more; Tunisia, Pakistan?

    In fairness I would remove Afghanistan from that list. Also, I don’t know if any country helps fund religious institutions in their own country. I would guess that Vatican City does and Saudi Arabia does.

    Of course I don’t believe Bret really wants answers; he just likes playing Calvin Ball.

  35. PNElba says:

    I read an article that claims there are 58 countries that have muslim majorities that also allow Christian churches. They didn’t list the countries so I didn’t include the article.

  36. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The US does not directly fund religious institutions but it does grant tax exempt status. The difference?

    It is interesting that Paterson has proposed the state give some sort of aid in moving this project. Would that be legal?

  37. PNElba says:

    No one seems to have any problems with 60 million dollars of public funds offered to rebuild the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in lower Manhattan.

  38. Donna Smith-Raymond says:

    Beautiful, Brian. That’s all I need to say.

  39. Thanks Brian and most of the commentators. Nice to see a sane and rational discussion a little above the ordinary. With all of the political rhetoric, it is sometimes hard to see the obvious. Thanks to Brian for reminding us.

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