It is late August 1939. American columnist Augusta "Gusto" Nash, played by the incomparable Claudette Colbert in the 1940 movie "Arise, My Love," is sitting in a French railway car taking her from Paris (and love interest Ray Milland) to her next assignment: Adolph Hitler's Berlin. Not surprisingly, she is boning up for her new post in the Nazi capital by reading "Mein Kampf." Turning the pages, she looks increasingly disgusted, finally becoming incensed to the point where she slams the book shut and tosses it out the window.
The audience doesn't learn precisely what that final straw was, but given the book's notorious anti-Semitism, racism and militaristic plans for world domination, it's not hard to imagine. Which makes me wonder: What if, in a 21st-century update of the movie, a columnist were filmed en route to Riyadh reading the Koran? Given the book's notorious anti-Semitism (not to mention anti-Christianism), Islamic supremacism and jihadist exhortations for world domination, what if a postmodern-day Western-reared correspondent were depicted becoming agitated to the point of throwing the Koran out the window?
Not very easy to imagine this scenario coming to a multiplex near you. At least not without bomb threats, bombast and boycotts from the world of Islam (not to mention assorted yelps and cries from the stateside sensitivity police).
But it's a setup worth considering — quietly, privately, in that shrinking mental domain still free from speech controls (for now, anyway) — if only as a bit of a culture check on a real-live news story that came out of Iraq this week when a U.S. sniper was discovered to have used a Koran for target practice in the former insurgent stronghold of Radwaniyah.
And what is the point of comparison here between movie fiction and recent fact? Namely, the contrasting reactions to these two manifestations of contempt for anti-liberty ideologies. Americans in 1940 widely shared Gusto Nash's loathing for Hitler's totalitarian message. In 2008, the superiors of the soldier in question, right on up the chain of command to commander-in-chief George W. Bush, only express their respect for, and, in a very frightening way, submission to the Koran despite its totalitarian message — and even at the expense of the soldier's Constitutional rights.
The fact is, assuming this Koran belonged to the soldier, there is nothing illegal about shooting it or throwing it away. Impolitic, perhaps; but snipers — trained rather specifically in this conflict to kill jihadists, who are, above all, inspired by the violent exhortations contained within the Koran — are not diplomats.
But neither are generals. Missing a teachable moment — "Turn the other cheek?" "Nuts!" "The soldier fired on an inanimate object that urges jihad; he didn't self-detonate in a teeming marketplace to advance jihad" — Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond chose to abase himself before the local Sunni tribe. "In a most humble manner, I look into your eyes today and I say 'Please forgive me and my soldiers,'" he said. Then he called his sniper's actions "nothing more than criminal behavior."
The general was dead wrong — unless, that is, he was talking about criminal behavior under Sharia, or Islamic law, which isn't, or certainly shouldn't be, the guiding light of the U.S. military. But, alas, this is what increasingly appears to be the case. For example, in presenting a new Koran to this gathering of local Sunnis who were very likely insurgents not so long ago, another American officer kissed the Islamic book. Last time I looked, kissing Korans wasn't a Yankee custom — unless dhimmitude now counts as one.
Let's play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using "Mein Kampf" for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis? In the words of Ol' Blood and Guts — oh, wait; this is a family newspaper. Let's just put it this way: Not likely. Difference is, of course, the anti-Semitism and imperialistic supremacism contained within "Mein Kampf" were recognized and treated as an existential threat to the rest of the Western world. In the so-called war on terror, however, our primary strategy is directed at masking or ignoring the overall anti-infidelism and imperialistic supremacism contained within the Koran.
And — in spite of the actions of the occasional "criminal" soldier — that's one front where we're certainly winning.
Diana West is a columnist for The Washington Times. She is the author of "The Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization," and has a blog at dianawest.net. She can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.