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    Gimme the Keys, Genocider!

    slaughter_delacroix.jpgQuote: “I consider myself a friend of Turkey, but friends don’t let friends commit crimes against humanity.” Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey

    Figure of Speech: eunoia (yoo-NOY-a), rhetorical selflessness.

    The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution declaring Turkey’s 1915 slaughter of Armenians “genocide.” Istanbul is ready to blow its fez over the bill, while opponents note that Turkey is our only reliable ally in the Middle East.

    Chill, Turkish people! grins Congressman Smith.  We’re just doing a friendly intervention!  Um, 92 years late.

    Smith misuses the powerful tool of eunoia, claiming one merely wants to serve one’s audience or opponent.  Eunoia is all about disinterest — which, despite Figaro’s own computer dictionary, does not mean “apathy” or “unconcern.”  It means “free of special interests.”  (We’re sure that the large number of Armenian-Americans in New Jersey had nothing to do with Smith’s vote.)

    But the real issue isn’t about preventing the Turks from slaughtering more Armenians.  It’s about values politics. Americans have lost the art of arguing deliberatively, with future-oriented discourse about real choices. We’re stuck on past-tense rhetoric of crime & punishment and the tribal rhetoric of Right & Wrong.  And so, instead of dealing with terrorism and Iraq, Congress boldly confronts the late Ottoman Empire.

    And then let’s do something about the Athenian slaughter of the Melians in 416 B.C.  After all, the Greek are our friends, too.

    Snappy Answer:  “With friends like you, who needs America?”

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    Reader Comments (12)

    "Americans have lost the art of arguing deliberatively, with future-oriented discourse about real choices. We’re stuck on past-tense rhetoric of crime & punishment and the tribal rhetoric of Right & Wrong."

    This is so true, and I hope you continue to hammer this point home. Tribal rhetoric leads to tribal behavior and the tyranny of the crowd.

    Two years ago my wife and I took a trip to Crawford to see the anti-Sheehan rally. We pretty much despise Sheehan for what she said and did, but of course she has the right to her speech. Anyway, we had talked with Kfir of the Protest Warriors beforehand and were looking forward to meeting them there, as they were invited by the rally organizers. When they arrived at the anti-Sheehan rally they were MOBBED, surrounded by people screaming at them because they thought the Protest Warrior folks were pro-Sheehan supporters. They carried signs like "Just say NO to war... unless a Democrat is president" and "Saddam only killed his own people, it was none of our business". One wore a Che Guevara shirt that said "War is NOT the answer... Unless you're a socialist guerilla." Excellent sarcasm. Unfortunately, almost nobody there seemed to understand that. (Several people did get it, and others understood it after talking with us and the PW guys, but they reacted first and thought second) Eventually their signs were on the ground and trampled and they were afraid of physical violence. This is exactly the kind of behavior we had seen in video after video of radical left protesters assaulting counter-protesters. And they were in this kind of frenzy because of the rhetoric they were hearing and reading leading up to and during the event.

    After that we decided that pretty much both sides have gone off the deep end. It's rare now to find anyone on either side who is calm and rational, who can discuss an issue without calling the other side racist/xenophobic/warmonger/etc.

    You promote sane, elevated discourse and are truly doing good for the people of this country.
    October 11, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDave
    Thank you, Dave. I wouldn't expect deliberative argument at a demonstration, though. Protests are all about demonstrative rhetoric, pointing out what's right or wrong. Martin Luther King used this kind of rhetoric to point out America's hypocrisy.

    But you're right about our lack of calm, rational political discussion. As far as I can tell, it's actually discouraged in academe.

    October 11, 2007 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    By the way: Figaro is thinking of having a Dumbest Comment Made By a Politician in 2007. Today's figure is a definite nominee, no?
    October 11, 2007 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    I love the line about Turkey "blowing its fez." That was a pun, right?
    October 11, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSara
    Thanks for noticing, Sara! It's a near-pun or rhyme, the PARANOMASIA. We've been seeing that figure a lot, lately.
    October 11, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    This topic has been on my mind and a source of heated conversation between two clients of mine. I am sending them a link to this thoughtful commentary. Thanks, Ian for having this blog on your blog roll so we could discover it.

    Kudos to the quality of your writing.
    October 11, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKare Anderson
    Thanks for the kind words, Kare. You might consider taking a look at my book, "Thank You for Arguing." I wouldn't rank it above Strunk & White, but I'll wager it'll go toe to toe with a few other books on your website's list.

    October 11, 2007 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    But wouldn't a Dumbest Comment of the Year be forensic rhetoric? Better make that a "What he should have said" contest.
    October 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMikeP
    Ooh, you got me there, Mike! I've been thinking of doing "What he should have said" instead of a snappy answer, but Figaro often admires the quote of the day.

    October 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Getting paid $160,000+/year to condemn the dead? Contemptible indeed!

    Thanks for putting this latest waste of Congressional time in rhetorical context.
    October 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJohnR
    It's an interesting topic for human-kind, for peoples all over the world.

    Of course it is generally (though not universally) accepted in the US that memorializing (and learning from ?) the Nazi holocaust is a legitimate activity.

    There are similar issues still alive in the Far East regarding actions by the Japanese committed against their neighbors during and prior to WWII.

    In Turkey I believe it is currently a state crime to discuss these historic events in this type of manner (that is, acknowledging that genocide occurred). Armenians believe that devastating acts have never been acknowledged.

    My last comment is that we have used the plight of the Kurds in the 1980's and the early 1990's to partly justify our recent actions in Iraq but at the time we stood by.

    I'll quote Peter W. Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia -

    "On Aug. 25, 1988 - five days after the Iran-Iraq War ended - Iraq attacked 48 Kurdish villages more than 150 kilometers from Iran. Within days, the U.S. Senate passed legislation, sponsored by Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, to end U.S. financial support for Saddam and to impose trade sanctions.

    To enhance the prospects that Reagan would sign his legislation, Pell sent me to eastern Turkey to interview Kurdish survivors who had fled across the border. As it turned out, the Reagan administration agreed that Iraq had gassed the Kurds, but strongly opposed sanctions, or even cutting off financial assistance. Colin Powell, then the national security adviser, coordinated the Reagan administration's opposition. The Pell bill died at the end of the congressional session in 1988.

    The next year, President George H.W. Bush's administration actually doubled U.S. financial credits for Iraq. A week before Saddam invaded Kuwait, the administration vociferously opposed legislation that would have conditioned U.S. assistance to Iraq on a commitment not to use chemical weapons and to stop the genocide against the Kurds."

    My point here is not to bash anyone but to point out that tribalism is certainly alive and well.

    How can people stop thinking tribally when they keep acting tribal ?
    October 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterHoward
    Of course, that's exactly what the House committee did to condemn Turkey: members behaved tribally by sucking up to Armenian-American voters.

    October 18, 2007 | Registered CommenterFigaro

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