Contrary to popular neo-mythology of the Native American Indian living in a blissful state of nature, in harmony with his fellow man and the environment, the Native American inhabitants of North America prior to the coming of the white man were essentially in a constant state of low level warfare with tribes who competed with them for territory and resources. A system was developed which allowed for a form of stylized warfare that minimized actual death and injury. This system worked as during those periods when the competition was most easily managed but broke down under stress. The system was know as Counting Coup and was a reasonable response to pressures for status for young men in an Honor-Shame culture.
In Counting Coup, the goal was for a young brave to sneak up on an enemy and tap him without being caught. This gained status for the brave and lost status for the victim. Wikipedia describes Counting Coup:
Counting coup was a battle practice of Native Americans of the Great Plains. A nonviolent demonstration of bravery, it consisted of touching an enemy warrior, with the hand or with a coup stick, then running away unharmed. Risk of injury or death was involved, should the other warrior respond violently. The phrase "counting coup" can also refer to the recounting of stories about battle exploits.
The term is of French origin from the verb couper, which means literally to cut, hit or strike. The expression can be seen as referring to "counting strikes".
Coups were recorded by notches in the coup stick, or by feathers in the headdress of a warrior who was rewarded with feathers for an act of bravery.
The entire point of the exercise is to manage the competition for status without it constantly degenerating into physical violence. A corollary to this was that it was in the interests of all parties to avoid open warfare whenever possible. The concept of Counting Coup would break down if one party saw his accretion of status as legitimizing and facilitating violence. In other words, if he confused increased status via Counting Coup with increased capability in warfare, it made miscalculation and violence more, not less, likely.
Which brings me to Ahmadinejad, who wants to visit ground zero.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes from a part of the world that is still stuck in the Honor-Shame dynamic. It is also a part of the world which has a peculiar relationship to reality. Middle East Muslims have an altogether dangerous tendency to treat their fantasies and wishes as if they were reality. This has led to numerous miscalculations where Arab states, convinced they were unbeatable despite historical evidence to the contrary would become involved in wars that they had no chance of winning. Baghdad Bob, of Iraq War fame, was considered ludicrous by American viewers but throughout the Middle East his reports were treated as gospel right up until the time Saddam's statue was pulled down.
The New York Sun, commenting on the absurdity of Ahmadinejad being hosted by Columbia University, has it exactly right:
The Iranian propaganda operatives in Tehran, one can be sure, are gleeful over Mr. Bollinger's blunder. They know that no matter how tough the questions Mr. Bollinger asks Mr. Ahmadinejad — whether they palaver about Israel, ground zero, human rights, or Madisonian principles like free speech — the Iranian is the victor merely by being received on Morningside Heights. They know that Mr. Bollinger will not permit protesters to rush the stage and physically drive a speaker from campus the way the university permitted students to do when Jim Gilchrist of the Minutemen attempted to speak there.
Ahmadinejad gains tremendous status when one of America's leading Universities treats him as if he is a Statesman whose utterances are anything more than the most perverse propaganda. His presence drips contempt but the Solons at Columbia are too blinded by their ideological confusion and ignorance to recognize how they are being played.
At the moment, whether or not Ahmadinejad can gain even greater status by visiting ground zero remains uncertain. His goal is nothing less than to Count Coup on the bodies of almost 3000 Americans who were murdered there. It is difficult to imagine a more contemptuous act. Iran has been the world's greatest supporter of Islamic terror, among the world's most vicious anti-American and anti-Semitic nations, at war with America since 1979, currently killing Americans in Iraq, publicly proclaiming their intent to murder Jews and destroy Israel, and publicly proclaiming their desire to destroy America. Worse, Iran almost certainly facilitated 9/11 if they did not directly support it.
Iran and Ahmadinejad in response to internal threats to their regime are increasing the oppression at home and residing over a failing economy. He correctly sees increased Honor accruing from his treatment as a statesman by the other thuggocracies that make up the majority of the UN and by the useful idiots at Columbia as valuable Coups to support his prestige. Going to ground zero and expressing transparently phony sanctimonious sentimentality (I weep for those who chose to resist submission to Allah and sadly had to die for it) would be his greatest Coup committed in the heart of the Great Satan.
It would be instructive for Ahmadinejad to learn that Americans are not such weak minded and weak willed opponents as to tolerate his Counting Coup on us. It would help him avoid miscalculating during a time of significant tension and uncertainty in his neighborhood.