That Ain’t No Song

Sigh. Where to begin with Charlie Daniels?

It’s easy to mock country music. I flirted with being a serious fan, loving the sort of alt-country stuff, but hearing Alan Jackson sing proudly about not knowing the difference between Iraq and Iran convinced me I had to either erase the local country station from my presets or risk driving off an overpass while screaming at the radio.

But Daniels’ words about playing “That Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag” in a heavily Arab-American town, that it only refers to those who attacked us on 9/11 and not to “all Arabs” or as he so charmingly puts it “all people who wear turbans,” point out a huge problem with the discourse in this country right now.

We have a whole series of code words for the Sept. 11 terrorst attacks and our response to them, a whole set of words it’s okay to use and which are presumed to mean something. You say 9/11 and it’s assumed what that means. You say “terrorism” and everybody knows you’re not talking about the McVeighs or the Eric Rudolphs of the world, you’re talking about swarthy people who live in other countries and “hate us” for our “freedoms.”

And so talking about the terrorist attacks and our response to them becomes the Scrabble Conversation: We take these blocks and shove them into place in our conversations, instead of really talking. We use verbal shorthand, 10-word soundbites, a picture of the American flag, and we act puzzled when people presume to ask us what we really mean.

I don’t believe for a minute that Daniels and others like him don’t know the meaning of their customary verbal shorthand. There’s a bizarre pride the anti-intellectual set takes in pissing people off with vaguely racist stuff they’d have never said until Osama bin Laden provided them with an “excuse.”

A.