There’s a letter in today’s Economist about the murder of the US Ambassador to Libya by fundamentalist extremists that encapsulates the rich blend of bigotry, ignorance, non sequitur, crude generalization, snobbery, and sheer, gobsmacking stupidity in which the thought processes of fashionable over-educated opinion stew. It also gives me an opportunity to try out my new word highlighting plugin, to guide your eyes to the peaks of this particular molehill of idiocy:

SIR – The full-blown invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq ignored the Muslim mindset, which sees military defeat as a religious affront. Hence the reaction is uncompromising, and in those countries the West certainly has not won. Sensibilities are tinder dry, waiting to be exploited by any perceived insult by insignificant Westerners. Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks suggest she understands this, as, I suspect, does Barack Obama.

The West avoided outright war with communist states for 40 years because they understood, more or less, each other’s mindset. Let us hope that electoral politics, based on the naiveties of the ill-informed Western masses, does not override the need for this understanding, and for patience, in the present situation.

Antony Black
Emeritus professor in the history of political thought
University of Dundee

I’m sure The Economist published this letter, not because its letters editor was impressed by Black’s pretentious self-description, but because its content is entirely self-fisking, the puffed-up epistolary equivalent of MP Andrew Mitchell’s words to a policeman yesterday evening: lumping millions of different people from different countries and cultures together in great homogeneous rhetorical blocs, connecting distinct and distant events like a griped-up infant thrashing crayon lines across paper, reducing the emotions of multitudes to cliché, and, as always, seeing their behaviour as nothing more than a response to “ours”—it doesn’t even mention the already-known, coolly planned, and conspicuously political nature of the attack, the apologetic response of the Libyan government and of many other non-“tinder dry” Libyans, or the local rivalries known to be involved.

It was probably read out loud in the Economist offices to laughter audible storeys below in St James’s Street. I’m also sure that it’s because I am a member of the naive, ill-informed Western masses, that I also think it’s risible tosh.

Meanwhile, in the real world, actual individual Libyans show their lack of patience and understanding of the extremist thugs in their midst by storming their headquarters. Oh, the naivety!

BENGHAZI, Libya – Tens of thousands of Libyans marched to the gates of one of the country’s strongest armed Islamic extremist groups Friday, demanding it disband, as the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans sparked a public backlash against militias that run rampant in the country and defy the country’s new, post-Moammar Gadhafi leadership.

For many Libyans, last week’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi was the last straw with one of the biggest problems Libya has faced since Gadhafi’s ouster and death around a year ago – the multiple mini-armies that with their arsenals of machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades are stronger than the regular armed forces and police.

The militias, a legacy of the rag-tag popular forces that fought Gadhafi’s regime, tout themselves as protectors of Libya’s revolution, providing security where police cannot. But many say they act like gangs, detaining and intimidating rivals and carrying out killings. Militias made up of Islamic radicals are notorious for attacks on Muslims who don’t abide by their hardline ideology. Officials and witnesses say fighters from one Islamic militia, Ansar al-Shariah, led the Sept. 11 attack on the Benghazi consulate.