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Seismic Shifts in Paris, Wichita, and Elsewhere

Last night’s earthquake was the longest and strongest we’ve felt so far. There were no reports of injuries or property damage or anything that would impress a longtime Los Angeleno, but it rattled our old house with an unprecedented violence for an eternal 30 seconds or so, and as we are still relatively new to this sort of thing it rattled our nerves something awful. Although our prairie town has responded mostly with nervous humor, one can’t help noticing a widespread worry that the next one might prove worse. Alas, earthquakes aren’t the only thing in this unstable world giving us such an unsettling feeling.
The head-chopping, crucifying, gang-raping nut cases calling themselves the Islamic State continue to rule an Indiana-sized caliphate in the heart of the Middle East and have recently downed a Russian airliner over Egypt, launched deadly bomb attacks against formidable Muslim rivals in Beirut and Ankara, killed more than 130 infidels in six coordinated attacks on Paris, and threatened to do worse yet somewhere in America. Our leaders assure us they’re on the job of protecting the homeland, but they also assure us that the Islamic State is in no way Islamic and that they’re a “jayvee team” that has been “contained” and will “eventually” be eliminated, and that there’s no need to worry that a small but deadly number of its operatives might be among the many thousands of refugees seeking asylum from a Middle East and a North Africa that are on fire and being rapidly abandoned by millions of refugees despite our unquestionably successful foreign policy, and that the majority of Americans who harbor doubts about it are racist and xenophobic and religiously bigoted and downright un-American. Such arguments are somehow not reassuring, however, no matter how much petulant and un-presidential sarcasm they come with.
We’ve been reading up on basic seismology lately, just as we started reading up on basic Islam during the Iranian hostage crisis and then delved even further into the subject after the 2001 terror attacks on America, and both studies have reminded us how very unstable the world has always been. So far as we can tell from the seismology stuff, the world is riddled with fault lines where two great tectonic forces are in constant tension against one another, and although a stasis usually prevails there are occasional eruptions that shift the world into new shapes and sometimes do great damage to what had been built on the old shape. Along some of the fault lines one side has such a significant advantage in strength that it can push the other one in ways that do devastating things to the people who happen to be living there, but Tokyo and San Francisco and Los Angeles and some other modern metropolises located in such inconvenient places have largely coped with it through modern science and engineering, while such unfortunate locales as Iran and Haiti have not, and despite our post-earthquake nerves we still hold out hope that the Sears & Roebuck Company’s famously well-built Craftsman homes of the 1920s will survive the relatively mild rumblings we’ve been having here on the south-central plains.
This recent spate of terrorism by the Islamic State and other “on the run” terror organizations, on the other hand, seems indicative of a more significant seismic shift. Even the most peace-loving and clock-building Muslims of the politically correct imagination will acknowledge that the Koran specifically describes a world divided between Dar al-Islam, the “House of Submission” where Muslims are the ruling majority, and Dar al-Harb, the “House of War” where people go about their days according to their own more westernized and individual notions, and even the most politically correction imagination is forced to concede that over the past 1,400 years or so this fault line has occasionally shifted in ways that did great damage to the people who happened to be living there. Our leaders assure us that it’s all a misunderstanding about that awful George W. bush and the still-pesky-after-5,000-years presence of Jews in the Middle East, but Islam had conquered a large of chunk of Christiandom by the time the first crusades were launched, Europe’s white folks were entirely unaware of the North American continent until shortly after the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula from Muslim occupiers, the west’s survival wasn’t assured until hard-won victory at the Gates of Vienna in 1683, America was newly born and blameless when it launched its first war against an Islamic country that had been enslaving its sailors for the plainly stated reason that its religion demanded it, there was that British disaster in Khartoum when the natives went wildly religious, the Ottoman Empire’s role on the wrong side of the First World War, the Arab world’s similarly problematic involvement in a Second World War, all before there was an Israel or a cartoon drawing of The Prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him! — or even a George W. Bush. France’s difficulties with Algiers and everybody’s problem with Pan-National Arabism during the Cold War, or the slaughter at the ’72 Olympics and the bombings at so many long-forgotten nightclubs and cafes and South American Jewish centers, or the countless internecine wars with countless millions of fatalities, that long-forgotten hostage crisis and fare more recently but just as easily forgotten Boston Marathon massacre, none of which seem to have anything to do with Israel or George W. Bush or even the Koch brothers, all suggest that it’s a fault line that persists no matter how genuinely outreaching our foreign policy might be. One side has Baptist churches and gay bars and capitalism and busy-body bureaucracies and man-made constitutions and women driving cars and showing full facial nudity, while the other has very different ideas about such things, and it’s hard to how see they’ll ever comfortably settle up against one another no matter how soothingly blind to the facts of the matter our the leadership of our fissiparous side of the fault line might be.
So far as we can tell from all this seismology stuff the the seismologists still don’t have any reliably predictive understanding of when these fault lines wind up doing significant damage to the people living on them, and we expect it will take another couple of generations of historians to explain why things went so very wrong between Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, so for now we’re left with that unsettling feeling. All our liberal Facebook friends are insisting the the local earthquakes have been been man-made by the lubricating waste-water disposal of the hydraulic fracturing method of petroleum extraction going on down in Oklahoma, which might even be true, although gasoline is currently selling for $1.88 cents at the nearest convenience store and we’d hate to be paying $4 for Iranian supplies and still suffering the occasional house-rattling earthquake, but at least there’s no denying the human agency in the Dar al-Islm versus Dar al-Harb fault line. To explain the sudden rift, we figure it’s a weakness on one side. The west still has the decided advantage in economic and scientific and military terms, but the strength of its belief in Baptist churches and gay bars and capitalism and bureaucracies and man-made constitutions and women driving cars and showing full facial nudity is invitingly weak to a more culturally confident enemy.
As nerve-rattling at the latest earthquake was, and in a state that’s also been tormented by the usual number of autumn tornadoes, we expect the next big event will be along that Dar al-Isam and Dar al-Harb fault line. The chances of mankind screwing that up seem far greater than it’s influence on nature. There’s also the fault line that’s looming on the public debt, too, and the looming realization that the $20 trillion of debt and zero interest rates that have kept America’s economy can’t continue forever, and that the rest of the west’s finances are similarly beset, and how that might affect all those poor refugees, and our nerves are rattled something awful. We hold out hope that our old Craftsman bungalow will preserve, and that the western world of Baptist churches and gay bars and capitalism and bureaucracies and man-made constitutions and women driving around showing full facial nudity will as well, but it’s hard to shake that nagging doubt. We don’t mean to go all Book of Revelation on you, but we can’t shake that unsettling feeling about this unstable world.

— Bud Norman

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