Unbeliever, Respect The Veil


Bombs in the desert — that’s the world we’ve made.

Like everything else in this Almanac, “Unbeliever, Respect The Veil” is a character song. The narrator is a professor of religious studies — and freelance monotheist, to use Karen Armstrong’s neat term — at a university in metropolitan Detroit. He has come to see fundamentalists as profoundly irreligious people, and he’s also lost his patience with secular critics who dismiss the faithful outright. Every time he hears a denunciation of Islam by a man (and it’s always a man) on the news who has neither read the Quran nor studied Muslim philosophy, he loses a little more hair.

So, yeah, maybe he’s a bit more like me than some of the prior characters. His protest is not exactly mine. This isn’t the way I’d put it. But I’m happy to sing his lament.

The Detroit page was originally slated for late May. Events in Syria, and in Washington, prompted me to move it up. Depending on who you read, the Shayrat airbase struck by American Tomahawk missiles was either a provisional military success or an empty symbolic gesture. The one thing that isn’t in dispute: the twenty or so civilians killed in the raid — including at least four children — are still very much dead. Their stories weren’t widely told, and that’s because they were weighed in the click balance and found wanting, and the editors decided to run more United Airlines brawl footage instead. I’d wager the dead placed some value on their scalps, though. I’d bet their reaction to Tomahawk missiles in their living rooms was less than enthusiastic. That my tax money was used to kill those people — in my name, and in the name of American interest — makes me want to become insolvent. I don’t fancy being an accomplice to murder.

The Shayrat attack was the latest refrain of an ugly American anthem that we’ve been singing for twenty-five years at least. Every administration in my memory has authorized airstrikes in the Middle East. Some of the more harebrained supporters of the current President believed that the nasty “America First” rhetoric he used while campaigning meant that he’d govern as a non-interventionist. I don’t want to make excuses for these people, but I’ll say this: they couldn’t have been from Jersey. If you grew up anywhere near Atlantic City, you recognized, thirty years ago at least, that the lowlife who is now President is one of the most bellicose guys around. If you gave him a bomb — which is what we’ve done, many times over — he was never going to refrain from dropping it on somebody. That’s not who he is.

But this isn’t about this particular President, who is extending a policy (perhaps more sadistically, given his disposition) that has been around, with lethal consequences for folks in the way of the eagle, for decades. Even the justifications used for the bombing — chemical weapons, crossing red lines, a dictator who is worse than Hitler, etc. — all felt like 2002 warmed over. That intelligence turned out to be a sham, and the ensuing intervention dispensed pain all over the world. We can’t possibly be getting ready to do it again, can we? Say it isn’t so.

Note: today’s drawing was done by Kyle McRuer. This is the first time anybody other than Ula Bloom has contributed a cartoon. There’ll be more from Ula soon, but next week’s trip to Cambridge will also be illustrated by Kyle. Gosh, I am appreciative of all the artists who’ve contributed to this project. I hope they’ll post me some nice pictures when I’m in Guantanamo.