Embassy attacks and the South

By James P. Pinkerton Published:

By James P. Pinkerton

Call it a Tale of Two Places -- and a Difference.

One part of the tale was told last Tuesday in a Georgia Baptist church. Another part has been told in the Muslim world over the past two weeks.

Yet, perhaps the most important part -- the difference -- tells us how one violent place became peaceful, and how the other violent place became more violent.

In Georgia, for the funeral for Coretta Scott King, the mood was somber but sweet. There was George W. Bush, white Republican, followed by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, black Democrat, both singing from the same hymnal, praising a great life. For Bush, it was a time for his expected eloquence -- and also a time for him to show unexpected forbearance. Why? Because from the same podium, former President Carter and the Rev. Joseph Lowery both ripped into W. Some might say that Carter and Lowery were out of line. But thats free speech; people can say what they want. Even so, nothing was thrown, nobody was arrested, nothing was burned, nobody was hurt.

Now lets contrast Georgia to Syria and other places in the Middle East. Riots in reaction to the Muhammad-mocking cartoons that first appeared in a Danish newspaper have left buildings -- including embassies, sacrosanct under international law -- torched and dozens of people killed or injured.

And by the way, what are the odds that some poor soul involved in the cartoon controversy ends up as the victim of an attack? Less than two years ago Dutchman Theo van Gogh, who had made a movie criticizing Islam, was murdered in broad daylight on an Amsterdam street. The killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, shot van Gogh eight times, then slit his throat, then stabbed a note onto the dead mans chest that included the threat: I surely know that you, O Holland, will be destroyed. Bouyeri, of Moroccan descent, was born and raised in Holland.

As the recent widespread demonstrations show, many such young Muslim men live in Europe, violently hostile to the countries that have sheltered them.

So in Georgia: peace and goodwill, even amid debate. And overseas: strife and death threats against free speech.

But wait a second: It wasnt always like this. Once upon a time, blacks in Georgia were slaves, not honorees.

So what happened? The Civil War happened. Two percent of the U.S. population -- the equivalent of 6 million Americans today -- were killed in the fighting. But slavery was ended, and federal dominion over the states was established.

So a half-century ago, when Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife started their peaceful quest for full civil rights, they were protected from antagonistic local authorities by the long arm of Uncle Sam. And in the 1960s, Justice Department lawyers eliminated legal, Jim Crow racism. The white South resisted the changes, but having been beaten back in 1865, Dixie had to obey. And so with tragedies along the way -- most notably the assassination of King in 1968 -- the South trod the upward path.

So thats the real tale to be told: If theres a will to subdue violence, including institutionalized violence, a way will be found.

Now back to the Muslims. As for Europe, it has a serious internal security problem. So did the United States in 1861. Time for a European Gen. Grant, and, if necessary, Gen. Sherman.

As for the Middle East, thats more problematic. Most countries there are dictatorships, but those dictators rule uneasily, fearful of their Muslim masses. So if the masses want to riot over cartoons, the governments wont stop them; they might even incite violence to shift domestic attention to foreign scapegoats.

Thus the reality, in every place: If the government imposes order and enforces the law fairly, people will find a way to get along. But if the government is part of the problem, it surely wont be part of the solution.

Special to Newsday

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