Please Help New English Review
For our donors from the UK:
New English Review
New English Review Facebook Group
Follow New English Review On Twitter
Recent Publications by New English Review Authors
The Real Nature of Religion
by Rebecca Bynum
As Far As The Eye Can See
by Moshe Dann
Threats of Pain and Ruin
by Theodore Dalrymple
The Oil Cringe of the West: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly Vol. 2
edited by S.B. Kelly
The Impact of Islam
by Emmet Scott
Sir Walter Scott's Crusades and Other Fantasies
by Ibn Warraq
Fighting the Retreat from Arabia and the Gulf: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly. Vol. 1
edited by S.B. Kelly
The Literary Culture of France
by J. E. G. Dixon
Hamlet Made Simple and Other Essays
by David P. Gontar
Farewell Fear
by Theodore Dalrymple
The Eagle and The Bible: Lessons in Liberty from Holy Writ
by Kenneth Hanson
The West Speaks
interviews by Jerry Gordon
Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy
Emmet Scott
Why the West is Best: A Muslim Apostate's Defense of Liberal Democracy
Ibn Warraq
Anything Goes
by Theodore Dalrymple
Karimi Hotel
De Nidra Poller
The Left is Seldom Right
by Norman Berdichevsky
Allah is Dead: Why Islam is Not a Religion
by Rebecca Bynum
Virgins? What Virgins?: And Other Essays
by Ibn Warraq
An Introduction to Danish Culture
by Norman Berdichevsky
The New Vichy Syndrome:
by Theodore Dalrymple
Jihad and Genocide
by Richard L. Rubenstein
Spanish Vignettes: An Offbeat Look Into Spain's Culture, Society & History
by Norman Berdichevsky
















clear
Friday, 29 April 2011
David French On The Meaning Of Mortensen
clear

From Evangelical Portal:

Three Cups of Hogwash

The story Greg Mortensen told in "Three Cups of Tea" was precisely the story we wanted to believe.

By David French, April 25, 2011

Since 9/11, Westerners have tried two approaches to fight terrorism in Pakistan, President Bush's and Greg Mortensen's.

Thus began a column in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof in July 2008. I remember the column distinctly because I was, at that time, fighting terrorism according to the George Bush approach, serving with the Third Armored Cavalry regiment in Diyala Province as part of the signature Bush policy effort of the war, the Surge. A friend forwarded the Kristof article, and I was intrigued.

Who was this Greg Mortensen? What's his approach?

I read on:

Mr. Mortenson, a frumpy, genial man from Montana . . . has spent less than one-ten-thousandth as much as the Bush administration. He builds schools in isolated parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, working closely with Muslim clerics and even praying with them at times.

The only thing that Mr. Mortenson blows up are boulders that fall onto remote roads and block access to his schools.

He builds schools. Good for him. But I knew that his efforts—no matter how admirable (and admirable they certainly are)—were but a tiny drop of hope and decency in the oceans of oppression, violence, and misery that are the jihadist-dominated regions of Southwest Asia. I was glad for his work, but that's an approach to fighting terrorism? An approach to rival our massive, ongoing military efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan?

According to Kristof, Mortensen offered more than "an approach." He offered "the approach," one far superior to anything we were doing in the Surge. Kristof concluded:

So a lone Montanan staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration.

I literally laughed out loud. I gave no further thought to Mortensen, and we just kept doing our job: clearing al Qaeda from our corner of Iraq, having our own "cups of tea" with tribal elders, local police, ordinary villagers—so much tea, in fact, that I get nauseous at the very thought of the word chai.

But tea wasn't enough. Nor were schools or roads or power stations or our other nation-building efforts; they weren't enough until al Qaeda was beaten, until they no longer had the strength to behead villagers who cooperated with our efforts, until they no longer could terrorize mothers by shooting their babies right in front of them, or until they could no longer clear out the schools or power stations or government offices (or anything else we built) and use them as weapons depots and safe houses, or simply vandalize them, leaving their shattered emptiness as a symbol of their power, not ours.

When I got home in late 2008, I learned that Greg Mortensen was a bigger deal than I had realized. The military made his books mandatory reading. He spoke to tens of thousands, and even the President of the United States donated to his charity. In the midst of a long and bloody war, his story of cultural understanding, patience, tea, and education resonated. Did Greg Mortensen really offer a better way?

Less than two weeks ago, the whole story unraveled. John Krakauer and "60 Minutes" discovered that key elements of Mortensen's compelling life story were fabricated. Worse, they discovered that his charitable efforts were far less extensive than advertised. Many of his schools were empty, some didn't exist, and the overall footprint of his efforts was a fraction of what we believed. He wasn't a total fraud (he has done much good in the lives of the students he served), but he and his charity were not what we thought they were.

In the immediate aftermath of the "60 Minutes" story, the question came: Why? Why did a man who'd done such great good so exaggerate his story and his efforts? Wasn't the truth enough for him?

But that's actually a less interesting question than its reverse. After all, he simply joins a long line of public figures who have exaggerated their accomplishments. Greed and pride are the oldest of sins. The real question is, Why did we believe him? Why was his exaggerated story so eagerly embraced by the public and even by military leaders? Why did people actually believe so quickly and uncritically that he'd made so much progress in a war-torn region characterized more by medieval barbarism than by any kind of recognizable love of learning?

I think the answer is theological. We've lost any real understanding of evil and depravity. Cultural relativism teaches us that conflict is a result not of significant moral differences but of misunderstandings. Postmodern anti-colonialism teaches us that the West is the root of all that ails the world; that virtuous indigenous cultures would flourish without our oppression and militarism. Well-meaning, idealistic (but biblically ignorant) Christians believe that just a little kindness and love will transform hearts and minds on a vast scale. "If only they can see how nice we are, how much we care, then their hearts will melt."

But biblical Christianity teaches us that evil is not only real; it is the default human condition. Since the Fall, we are hard-wired for evil, not for good. Biblical Christianity teaches us that grace is extraordinary, not ordinary, and that even Christians are shot through with sin. Why do we believe that cultures that have not had a significant Christian presence for more than one thousand years (if ever), that have lived and died by the sword for every generation in living memory, and that are locked in the hate-fueled grip of jihadist Islam, will be transformed by schools, tea, and books, all delivered with a smile by well-meaning Americans?

The Taliban and al Qaeda are grotesquely evil. In regions they control, they will immediately kill anyone they perceive as a threat to their military or cultural domination. That is a fact. We can build 10,000 schools, but if the schools are not safe, if the curriculum is not countercultural (and often counter to their own faith), and if the education does not continue well into adulthood, then we are simply chasing after the wind. Nicholas Kristof points out that a school is cheaper than a Tomahawk missile, and this is true. But could anyone build a girls' school in Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan before the Tomahawks?

Why did we believe Greg Mortensen? Because we wanted to believe him. Because we still can't understand the enormity of the evil we face. Because we actually believe that a few cups of tea can bridge a yawning cultural and spiritual gap that has existed for more than a millennium.

The story he wanted to tell is the story we wanted to hear.

 

David French

David French is a lawyer, writer, soldier, and veteran of the Iraq war. He is the director of the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom.

clear
Posted on 04/29/2011 11:38 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Comments
29 Apr 2011
Send an emailjewdog

  Right, The tea approach is great: It's cheap, fairly safe, and makes you feel good - though it does have a diuretic effect, and it accomplishes little or nothing. What's even better is the virtual tea approach a la Mortensen: it just requires some imagination and has no effect beyond enriching Mortensen, a rather likable rogue.

  Then there's the Bush/Obama approach: It's horribly expensive, it can easily get you killed, and it does nothing for the donor country but bleed it dry.

  I'll take the virtual tea, three cups. 





Guns, Germs and Steel in Tanzania
The Thinking Person's Safari
Led by Geoffrey Clarfield
Most Recent Posts at The Iconoclast
Search The Iconoclast
Enter text, Go to search:
clear
The Iconoclast Posts by Author
The Iconoclast Archives
sun mon tue wed thu fri sat
       1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30       
clear

Subscribe