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Dear Assmunch: Do these Muslim religious fanatics scare you as much as they do me? I mean, somebody in Denmark draws a stupid cartoon and they want to burn the world down and kill all of us infidels? What kind of world would it be if they were running it? You think that day will ever come? What’s the difference between them and the Christian fanatics who were running the world during the Spanish Inquisition and along there? Are they just 500 years behind us on the same murderous repressive course? Any reassurances you can offer in this regard?



Assmunch replies: Good questions. I wish I had some answers, but I don’t know enough history to predict the future or judge the present from it. I maybe know more of it than President Bush does, but still, not very much. I had to unlearn much of the world-history class lore that Coach Johnson, all 600 pounds of him, imparted to us Boomers back in junior high, including the putative gospel of distaff Oriental anatomical horizontal alignment and the descent of Eskimos and wolverines from the Sasquash, so I got a late start. Sen. Mutt Jones used to school me during morning hour in remedial Hendrik Willem van Loon, and that was helpful but, again, insufficient.

I have to say that our own religious fanatics creep me out as bad as those howling up from the sandy wastes. Our fanatics may not be of a mind yet to bonfire our reluctant, but they’re getting there. If they can get just a slightly surer handle on the full coercive power of the state, with the manual plainly and without surcease commanding them to go forth and kill witches, you can bet they’ll soon be going forth to kill witches. Again. It hasn’t been that long. And the temper of the times has changed so much in the last 25 years — in the last five years — that it’s become feasible again. Plausible. It could happen here. Again.

But if it does, braver, wiser people than we are will put a stop to it. Again. It’ll cost them much blood and grief just to get back to where we are now, taking so much for granted, but they’ll pony up. I hope they will. It would be too great a betrayal of the giant and the saint and the yeoman to allow the race to go the way of the termite.

Islam in its turn might do a better job than Rome did of snuffing out the twin spirits of free inquiry and free expression, but it had better bring its lunch. People have shucked every brand of mind-forg’d manacle so far, and they’ll slip the next one. There may be the technology now, or soon, to zap all the want-to out of would-be cartoonists and their irreverent ilk, but however bad it gets, sooner or later somewhere or other some dillweed iconoclast in an idle moment will espy a chunk of charcoal on the grate and think how swell it would look smeared in caricature on yonder blank wall. And then the race will be good to advance another thousand years.

Anyway, I’m not sure that religious zealotry is the villain in this particular raree. I suspect the problem might be one of proximity, or the disappearance of distance, of space. A kind of neo-Daniel Boonery. The world has shrunk so much that we’re all living on top of one another. We get into each other’s face and under each other’s skin. We turn around and bump into each other. We roll over on one another every night. Mongol flatulence on a lonely steppe disrupts a Paree cotillion, and a scrap from a Copenhagen easel is rubbed in ten million Levantine faces before the ink on the son-of-a-bitch dries. In something akin to road rage, the offended take up flambeaux.

Used to, if Pat Robertson or Ann Coulter or smallpox came to town, you could go visit Grandma. You could avoid immediate exposure and you didn’t have to read about their crap in the newspaper subsequently if you didn’t want to. You can’t avoid them now. And they don’t even have to come to town to contaminate your life and your space. The do it by remote, infesting the very air you breathe with jpeg and zip-bundled images of their disagreeable tidings and their contemptible a-hole selves. You can’t get away from them. You can run off to Granny’s but they’ll beat you there, all crammed in together and squawking at the same time inside her TV. One dragging God on a leash and the other Joe McCarthy. And many more where those came from.

There used to be something called elbow room. And a part of that, or similar to it, was something called privacy. Somewhere in a far country, or on your own forty, or inside your own head where you could go and they couldn’t. There’s no elbow room left. Everywhere is occupied, inside and out, and it’s all been googlemapped for instant free distribution worldwide. You have to know how Zhivago felt when the prole squatters moved in. Smoking rubble that yesterday was embassies is just one result.


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