In the Bronx Zoo, David Villalobos was rescued from a tiger den after leaping inside to, in his own words, "Be one with the tiger."
Being "one with the tiger" is a popular goal in the modern world, and our leaders are forever leaping into tiger dens in the hopes of becoming one with the beast. These leaps of faith end about as well as they did for Villalobos who was mauled by the tiger, but like Villalobos they never seem to draw the proper conclusions about the dangerous nature of tigers.
British, French and German leaders did not hop into tiger enclosures in the London Zoo, the Parc Zoologique de Paris and the Berlin Zoological Garden. Instead they turned these cities into open air safaris where the natives were encouraged to mingle with the tigers. The multicultural safari has not been going well, with the tigers mangling the natives, burning their cars and chewing on their police officers. The European Union zookeepers have been wondering loudly what they can do to fix their oneness integration project, while releasing still more tigers into the streets of London, Paris and Berlin.
The United States did not jump into a tiger den in the Bronx Zoo. That would have been fairly sane compared to its leap into Libya. With the Arab Spring, the tigers were freed and men like Christopher Stevens jumped inside. The bloody marks on the walls of the Benghazi consulate are a grim reminder of what tigers eventually do to the men who move into their dens.
In his Cairo speech, Obama let the Muslim world know that he wanted us to be one with the tiger.
"I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles."
Three hundred million Americans and one billion Muslims would no longer be exclusive; they would overlap, like a plane overlapping with a skyscraper, a bomb overlapping with a consulate and a falling man overlapping with the open mouth of a tiger.
Oneness is a noble goal, but unlike seeking oneness with the universe, when seeking oneness with a tiger it is best to consider the terms on which that oneness will be achieved. While the man's idea of becoming one with the tiger is to give it a big hug, the tiger's idea of becoming one with the man is to devour him. Both are forms of oneness but only of them is survivable for the man.
The Islamist mobs burning embassies, smashing cars and assaulting police officers are the tiger's growl warning us of the terms on which that overlapping oneness will occur. Islamist rulers in Turkey and Egypt are giving interviews telling us that oneness with them will depend on our willingness to accept their values and laws. The question is whether, like Villalobos, we will be as besotted with the tiger as to accept oneness with it on those devouring terms.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, "If you ride a tiger, it is difficult to get off." Riding the tiger is difficult enough, but getting off it is even harder.
The United States leaped on the back of the tiger when it began its dangerous relationship with Saudi Arabia. Europe tumbled on when it allowed itself to be flooded with Muslim immigrants who established Islamist mosques and schools in its cities. Both the United States and Europe have been mauled by the tiger, but still believe that there is nothing to do but to go on riding the beast deeper into the jungle until it becomes convinced of our common overlapping values and stops trying to eat us.
The deeper we go into the darkness, the harder it is to tell whether we are riding the tiger or the tiger is riding us. As newspapers tremble at the thought of a Mohammed cartoon and government officials beg YouTube to take down a Mohammed trailer that offends the tiger, it seems as if the tiger is riding us.
According to police detectives, Villalobos became obsessed with tigers. The West has in its own way become obsessed with the Muslim world. Westerners going off to seek oneness with the mysterious east are not a new phenomenon, but a hundred years ago they did not drag entire countries and civilizations them with into the tiger's maw. Today the new Lawrences of Arabia are no longer playing with Eastern empires; they are trifling with the survival of the West.
When Villalobos jumped into the tiger's den, there were police officers and zookeepers there to rescue him. But as the West leaps into the tiger's den, who will be there to save us?