I don’t like sentences that start with “You have to understand,” “You must remember” or variations on that theme.
I realize such fashionable phrases have become trite, and as such, may be meaningless in such cases.
But someone started these expressions and I don’t like their implication.
Clarence Page said in Saturday’s paper that Middle Eastern Muslims must understand our tradition of allowing the freedom of expression of even the most disgusting and repugnant messages.
That statement raises some questions for me: Why “must” they understand? Is it their moral responsibility to understand? If so, who decides what is and what is not the moral responsibility of other people? What happens if they fail to do what they “must” do? Will they be imprisoned, fined, or executed if they fail to do what we decide they “must.” If understanding is something they “must” do, is there something we “must” understand as well or are Muslims more responsible for understanding us than we are responsible for understanding them? Is it possible they do understand our tradition of tolerating hateful messages but regard our tolerance as evil submission to Satan?
My friend Hajj suggests oppressed peoples understand their oppressors a lot more than their oppressors understand them. There’s considerable truth in that. It suggests that saying the “you” in the “you must remember or “you have to understand” is a way of asserting dominance over the other person.
If memory serves, then Vice President Dick Cheney scoffed at the idea of understanding the Iraqi people. He interpreted understanding them as a sign of weakness. Why should we try to “understand” the Iraqis when we can so easily obliterate them? Understanding one’s enemy is a necessity only for those conquered and subjugated, and understanding is irrelevant for the conquerors and the subjugators.
The role of conqueror tends to instill a sense of entitlement. As conquerors, we tend to feel entitled to double standards. When we start wars of conquest, we feel entitled to label the innocent people we kill, not as human beings, but as “collateral damage.” While we tolerate our own killing for conquest, we become enraged when those on the other side kill our innocent people to express their outrage. We feel entitled to call our innocent dead as human rights victims and their innocent dead as “collateral damage.”
Sorry, that is not something I believe I “have to understand.”