A Joke from Afghanistan

A Joke From Afghanistan:

I guess the question is, why did he think this joke was a useful way to introduce the subject at hand? There's nothing wrong with telling a joke, if it is to introduce a serious point: sometimes, the shock effect that jokes produce can open the mind to new possibilities, or clear a ground for discussion.

The transcript of the general's remarks is here. What was the point this joke was supposed to introduce?

I am honestly unsure what he meant to convey by it. Yet these remarks include the strongest statement yet from this administration about the Israeli/American alliance.

America’s commitment to Israel will endure. And everyone must know that there is no space—no space—between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable. It is as strong as ever. This President and this Administration understands very well the environment—regionally and internationally—in which Israel and the United States must operate. We understand very well that for peace and stability in the Middle East, Israel must be secure.

The United States will never waiver in defense of Israel’s security. That is why we provide billions of dollars annually in security assistance to Israel, why we have reinvigorated our consultations to ensure Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, and why we undertake joint military exercises, such as the Juniper Cobra ballistic missile defense exercise that involved more than 1,000 United States servicemen and women. We view these efforts as essential elements of our regional security approach, because many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States.

I can also say from long experience that our security relationship with Israel is important for America. Our military benefits from Israeli innovations in technology, from shared intelligence, from exercises that help our readiness and joint training that enhances our capabilities and from lessons learned in Israel’s own battles against terrorism and asymmetric threats.

Over the years, and like so many Americans—like so many of you here tonight—I’ve spent a great deal of time with my Israeli partners, including my friends in the IDF. These partnerships are deep and abiding.
Perhaps the joke is a joke that the general learned from one of his Israeli partners, at some point in these deep and abiding friendships. It's not a joke on the Jews, after all (although I understand the sense being expressed this morning by this Jewish blogger that the joke plays on stereotypes he'd rather leave behind). The joke is on the Taliban, who finds himself entirely at their mercy in spite of his anger.

Obviously there are few Jews selling ties in Afghanistan, because the Taliban would simply kill them and take whatever water they required. This joke is really about how poorly adapted the Taliban mode is to a certain kind of life in which violence has lost its force. We are pleased to call this "the modern world," but the Taliban's world is just as "modern" as ours chronologically. Violence is still the currency there, as it is in much of the modern world.

There real question in front of us is: will the parts of the world where violence is the currency shrink, or grow? When the "modern" world is a few years older, will it be more violent or less? What probability would you assign? Would you go as high as 'even money'?

UPDATE: Beltway confidential responds to Jones' remarks thus:

"Somehow I can't envision a scenario where the White House would make a similar joke about Islam. This is doubly true since Jones has a reputation has prominent Israel critic"

That would be a fair point, except that this is a joke about a Muslim (the Taliban who ends up being the butt of the joke) as much as it's a joke about a Jew. It's not a joke about Islam, but neither is it a joke about Judaism. It trades on stereotypes -- but of the Muslims as angry but impotent as much as of Jews as merchants and manipulators.

The stereotypes are doubtless offensive; but jokes are allowed to be offensive, if there's a serious point they can help us understand. The question is, did Jones have a point? Or was he just telling a joke?

No comments: