How long does it take a people to get over humiliation?
How will we know when they have done so?
What will it take for proud and humiliated Arabs to feel once more simply proud? And how will we know when the people who lost the US civil war are finally over it?
The 9/11 hijackers were not poor and dispossessed, but young men of good families and relatively good prospects. That is, unless you count the decline of the Arab world as evidence of their being dispossessed of their ancestors pride in leading the world in science, arts, government. It was their humiliation, not their poverty, that fueled their violence.
The religious right in the US is similarly led by men of good families and good prospects who come from a humiliated people. So how far has their humiliation fueled the violence recently instigated by their leader? (As moderate Republican Kevin Phillips says in American Dynasty, To understand George W. Bush, it is crucial to understand how the president of the United States could simultaneously be leader of the nations Christian Right.)
How we will know that the Arabs are simply proud again
First, the Arabs. Do they have to create close to full employment, high tech industries, functioning democracies, world-class universities, Nobel science Prizes, a workable Islamic feminism and a modernist Quranic criticism before they can feel simply proud again? Do they also have to create modern armies that can defend their territory against all comers? Can they create sufficiently modern armies without the above-mentioned science, democracy, civil rights, education?
The Japanese, humiliated in 1945, have achieved most equivalents of the above except the last, and are only now starting down the military path again, with the sending of troops to Iraq. Does anyone think the Arabs could move as fast as the Japanese since 1945? They are starting from further back. It will take them longer.
But however daunting and slow, does anyone doubt that is the true path to take the path of learning, rethinking, forming robust economies and increasingly democratic institutions, refashioning modern models and traditional beliefs to complement each other? Its hard work. But its also a path an Arab minority have followed for generations.
The other path: dreaming of supernatural solutions, of revival and revenge instead of rethinking. Whatever towers fall, whatever brief victories are achieved, that path will only lead in the end to more humiliations.
The humiliated return to strength
Now to the white US southerners. Catastrophically defeated in 1865 by a more industrial, democratic, wealthy opponent, they were further humiliated by Reconstruction (186577). Then they got their land back and re-imposed humiliations (both systematic and wild) on their former slaves.
It was hard building modern thought and education. Instead, some conservative thinkers dug themselves deep into new fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. Their creationism became a laughing stock in scientific circles worldwide. They invented the idea of the Rapture, a miraculous come-uppance for godless liberals: left behind in a hell on earth while the believers get their just reward in heaven. This fantasy exit from worldly humiliation was invented over a century ago (with only a little help from the Bible), but the Left Behind novels promoting the Rapture are the literary phenomenon of today. More Americans today believe in creationism (48%) than in evolution (28%). 45% take the Bible literally (in England its 7%, less in Germany).
None of it seemed like the rethinking that was necessary.
But then a miracle actually did happen. The young engineer in Buffalo, NY, who invented air conditioning in 1902 (supposedly) could scarcely have guessed that the long run of northern US presidents would give way to southerners as a result. But modern industry and even education have boomed in the once torpid South since air conditioning became widespread.
The religious right came out of its other-worldly focus shortly afterwards. The ridiculed and kneeling giant took one eye from heaven and rose to its feet. Within a few decades it had taken control of all branches of government. Now the true believers, so long humiliated by the military and economic might of the liberal northeastern establishment, ridiculed by the intelligentsia, their faith derided, their flag banished, their very humanity denied (descendants of monkeys!) control the greatest military power the world has ever seen.
They are in a rapture all their own.
When strength issues in generosity
Many US southerners will hate what I just wrote. There is still great prickliness and resentment at liberal bias in presenting the South as nothing but racism and fundamentalism. Rightly so southerners have good reasons to be proud. There are just as many decent people in the South as anywhere else. The story is more complex.
And yet, what accounts for the distinct quality of this Republican administration? The boldness, even recklessness, with which Bush has spent lives and money, rewarded the rich and corporations, suggested going to Mars and changing the constitution to discriminate against one small group of dissenters: where did that hubris come from? Not just from neo-conservative ideologues and oil barons. It comes from the way Bush was transformed from northeastern prince to southern born again sinner, delivered from addiction by God. He tapped into the resurgent born again resentment against intellectuals (Jesus is his favorite political philosopher), unmanly wimps, social gospellers, lefties and tyrants. He is led by God.
Iraqis may yet be grateful for this boldness, while wishing it had been done with more realistic planning.
How will we know when the South is over its long resentment? When its leaders start showing generosity, and a different kind of confidence.
Confidence to be genuinely compassionate to the poor, the veterans, the excluded. Confidence to embrace science and modern biblical scholarship to reject no rational way of knowing. When the formerly humiliated act with magnanimity to include all at their table, we will know. Dont southerners know by bitter experience that when the military victor acts arrogantly, insensitively, it encourages resentment and unrealistic dreams among the humiliated?