August 31, 2007
The war on terror and the fight against the radical Islamists beg more than a few questions.
Firstly, we have yet to clearly define exactly who we are we fighting. We also need to understand what we are fighting. Are we fighting an entire religion or an offshoot of a religion? Are we engaged in a battle with a civilization and a culture? The recent hostage taking of the British sailors by Iran and the kidnapping of the South Korean aid workers by the Taliban in Afghanistan muddles and highlights those ambiguities.
The answer to these and other questions are critical because seeking out the answers are the equivalent ‘keeping our eye on the ball.’ If we do not or cannot answer those questions, we cannot possibly prevail in our efforts.
While not clearly defining the questions or finding the answers to those questions doesn’t necessarily mean spell a military defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else terrorists congregate , the very real lack of clarity does hamper our abilities and capabilities. Not only is the desired end result obscured, our public and political policies in the region remain incoherent and lacking on focus. Those truths mean we have no coherent strategy.
In Iraq, he cost of that lack of clarity is high. It does mean that no matter how events in Iraq unfold, we will not be able to define and come to a consensus as to what ‘winning’ really means. To some, it means the cessation of violence. To others, it means a democratic state. To others, it means eradicating the all terror groups. To still others, it means getting out, no more. There are a thousand variations and combinations of those ideas. All the while, without clarity, terror will remain as a form of political expression in Iraq.
For now, the vast majority of that terror is directed at and perpetrated against civilian populations, not against the liberators of Iraq. To be believe that our withdrawal from Iraq will lessen terror in that country is a pipe dream. To believe that we created terror by way of our liberating Iraq is absurd. Those terrorists in Iraq did not love us prior to 9/11. After we liberated Iraq from Saddam, many Arab and Muslim nations were delighted to facilitate the removal from their nations of less than savory individuals and avowed terrorists into Iraq. Those nations cleaned house and we brought into sunlight those who would harm us.
We were recently asked about the origins of terror and violence as a widely acceptable forms of political or religious expression- ‘How did this come about? How can so many people find meaning in participating in or supporting acts of evil?’
In this day and age, those questions do not identify expressions of varying view points. Those questions define those who would choose to live in a medieval world long gone, versus those who choose to live in the here and now, dealing with reality(as we have noted in a PJM Sanity Squad podcast, “Imagine living an entire life as a psychotic episode?”)
It is clear that even not so fundamentalist Muslims are uncomfortable with secularism. Does that also mean a rejection of modernity? How are secularism and modernity distinguished? On the surface they may be easily separated, but in fact, when examined under real world conditions, the distinctions become blurred. The resistance to secularism is an explicit rejection of secular values, morals and principles. While many reject secular ideas and secular moralities, it is in the way we define our rejection of ideas we do not concur with.
There are no shortages of voices emanating from the Islamic world that denounce the western evil of secularism. America and American Christians, Israel, the Jews and anyone else who has the temerity to denounce radical (and in some cases not so radical) Islamist demands. Recently, we saw efforts by mainstream Muslims in Denmark demand a separate Sharia law system that would apply only to themselves. A similar effort in the Canadian province of Ontario was defeated- mostly because of outrage and non support from the majority of Muslims. In Indonesia, plans are being drawn up that would allow the world’s largest democracy to enforce Sharia Law in place of civil law for non Muslims.
The struggle against modernity is much more subtle and not as easily defined as the struggle against secularism. The opposition to modernity is a struggle against change. That is not the same as a struggle against secular values. Modernity has given us everything from the western notions of politics to functioning economies. Modernity has impacted social and cultural mores, even in Muslim countries and it is modernity that Muslim societies, influenced by dysfunctional religious and political leadership, fear most.
Understanding the distinctions between modernity and secularism are critical.
Modernity is much like the Industrial Revolution, a redefinition of the process and methodologies and no more. Modernity is not predicated on values. Modernity is about redefining and improving the technologies that influence and impact how we live our lives.
Secularism on the other hand, is an ideology. Like capitalism, communism and religion, the rules can be changed as the game is played. Secular values can and do change. Secular values are most often predicated on wants, desires and immediate needs.
Secularism, defined as the influence the Renaissance, the Reformation, and a defined Period of Enlightenment, has influenced the west, western thought and even religious thought. To date, secularist thought has barely touched the Islamic world and ongoing medieval violence is still a part of modern day Islam.The chasm between the modern day Judeo-Christian ethic and Islam is huge. See Town Commons, Islam, History and Defunding the UN, for an excellent overview of these and other ideas.
As globalization becomes more and more of a reality, the questions of secularism and modernity becomes more relevant. Can the Muslim world adopt modernity and reject secularism? The answer is not clear. On the one hand, one has only to look at the history of the Church to recognize there was indeed a strong rejection of secularism. Eventually, the Church ‘righted’ itself and adopted the kind of secular influences that were to elevate even religious thought. On the other hand, much of the Arab and Islamic world are fearful of educating their citizenry. The UN Human Development report places Arab world educational levels at the lowest in the world, save for sub Saharan Africa. These nations, blessed with obscene wealth, will not educate their own people’s. For the leaders of these nations, a thinking citizen is a dangerous citizen. Better to keep them in darkness and hopelessness.
Much of Islam has assumed the face and costume of militancy and violence, not the face of theology. The gun- and frenzied use of the gun, has become a part of the faith. This of course, is clearly antithetical to Judeo-Christian values, moral and principles (The Church never advocated the butcher and slaughter of all non believers). This distinction extends beyond the religious and extend into the political arena. Democracies do not settle differences with violence- and in large measure, that is why the Islamists reject dealing with us. The Islamists are willing to engage us violently because they believe that secularism abhors conflict even when conflict is necessary to preserve life – and thus, we are theirs for the taking (they may be right. Western inertia is responsible for untold deaths in Rwanda, Sierra Leonne, the Congo and Darfur).
The Arab world and others understand they will not have to face equal or violent consequences for their actions, no matter how heinous. That in itself is one definition of the ‘Clash of Civilizations.’
The opposition to secularism is why there is real opposition to a peace deal with Israel, real democracy within the Palestinian Authority, Iraq or anywhere else in the region. In their minds of the rejectionists, freedom and peace mean that secularists and secularist values have asserted their dominion over Islamism. That notion is intolerable to them, and as many as need be will killed to preserve the illusion that democracy, freedom and peace are evil and in opposition to Islam. They deliberately define democracy and democratic values as a religion in opposition to Islam. That is why their opposition to democracy is so fierce. To believe in democracy is to be apostate and thus, deserving of death. Democratic values hold people accountable- an idea abhorrent to many in a region where accountability in any form is non existent.
Modernity is also suspect is the Muslim world. We can define modernity as the change brought about by self expression, higher education and modern economies that function efficiently and seamlessly.
The rejection of modernity also explains the indifference the Arab world has to education and functioning economies. Failed and dismal Arab world education levels and economies are of little and no concern to Arabs because education and functioning economies represent the reality of a real future. Recognizing and anticipating the future is an integral part of modernity. The future is a reality the Arab world has consciously rejected, by word and deed.
Healthy societies do not naturally reject the future and modernity. Every parent does what they can to address their children’s future and to ensure they the future well prepared. That is how society functions and perpetuates itself. Children are the future and it is incumbent on us to ensure their success. It is also incumbent upon us to do what we can to leave a better world for our children- a concept not at all understood in much of the Arab world, for decades led by dysfunctional political and religious leaders. Facing the future means the Arab world would have to be held accountable for their dysfunctional behavior that has made poverty and failure a part of the Arab world reality of today.
Children want to please their parents. More often than not, they will do whatever is necessary to earn their parents approval. What does it say about a society where a parent applauds a child’s bigotry, hate and violent tendencies? What does it say about a society where that bigotry, hate and violence are taught in schools? What does it say about a society where parents approve of such educational priorities, and then has those priorities reinforced by media and religious instruction? The tragedies of these dysfunctional societies cannot and will not be overcome easily.
Samuel Huntington makes clear the cost of rejecting modernity. Turkey, a candidate for EU member status has the highest has a population of sixty million and has a GNP equal to that of Denmark, with a population of five million- and Turkey is the most successful Muslim nation in the region. Any shift by Turkey towards Islamism (already a reality and bolstered by Arab world, Islamist-centric satellite broadcasts) will result in that country’s economy slow deterioration. The standard of living for Turks will drop as education levels drop and will unlikely recover for decades.
The Arab world is a galaxy away from the ‘Turkish way.’ Certain realities, already widely reported, bear repeating: The entire Arab world translates about 300 books a year into their own language. Greece translates about 1500 books from foreign languages into Greek in the same 12 months.
The degree of the self imposed isolation of the Arab world can be put another way. The total number of books translated into Arabic since the 9th century numbers about 100,000. That is equal to the number of books translated in Spain every year. To be clear, there are far more books translated into the Spanish language every year. In 12 centuries, the Arab world has translated 100,000 books- the same number of books translated in Spain each year.
The rejection of modernity by the Arab Muslim world goes hand in hand with a deliberate attempts to reshape and redefine the conversation when discussing Arab world failures. America, Europe, Christianity and Jews are the cause of their failures. They are ‘misunderstood,’ they will say. If we would only understand and endorse their victimhood, they say, all will be well.
They fervently want to discredit ‘Orientalism’ as as legitimate attempt by westerners to understand the Islamic world. Europeans could not possibly understand Arabs or Islam, they say (on the other hand, only they truly understand Christians and Jews. Those two groups do not understand their own culture and religion. These ideas, or variations thereof, are actually taught in Arab schools).
In fact, the Europeans went to study and learn about the Islamic world (to this day, the world’s greatest scholars on the Arab world are found in the west. In the 19th and early part of the 20th century, Europeans learned the various versions of Arabic, Turkish and Farsi. Muslims did not study English, French or German. While Istanbul was chock full of Europeans engaging in trade, there were no equally motivated Turks in Europe. European embassies were crowded together in Istanbul. There were no Turkish embassies anywhere in Europe for decades. The Arab-Islamic world could not be bothered to learn about their own culture and society. Nor could they be bothered to come to and understand the western world.
For centuries, he Arab and Islamic world assign the blame for their failures on the English, the French, the Americans and of course, the Jews. They are satisfied with that. They never look in the mirror or look to what they can do now, to fix the problem. Many are happy to see guns and bombs directed at the west. That they believe, is a form of justice- and it eliminated the reality of tremendous Islamic failures. Focus on guns and bombs take the focus away from Arab failures.
These thinking that leads to these kinds of absurd notions are repeated- and justified- by many on the left. Gagdad Bob has a superb post, The Violent And Dirty Minds Of The Compassionate Left, in which describes the kind of thinking that fertilizes absurdity and detachment from reality:
Political correctness — the cognitive Swiss Army knife of the left — is an example of a collective attack on linking. It also deceives the person who engages in it, because PC is always able to operate freely under the pretext of “compassion,” when it is actually quite aggressive and even violent. The leftist cannot be consciously aware of this violence, because one of the purposes of political correctness is to allow the leftist to behave violently while denying it — and even tell themselves that they merely have “compassion,” or “inclusiveness,” or “tolerance,” or some other benign motivation. This is the interior Lie that precedes and facilitates the exterior lie. Obviously, no politically correct leftist is able to tolerate the simple truth, which is that I am a violent liar using pseudo-thinking to attack others and impede their ability to arrive at truth…
However, the person on the business end of political correctness is well aware of the primitive and bullying violence, which is one of the reasons he is not a leftist. A sane person recognizes that Truth is without question the highest societal value, higher than love, higher than compassion, and certainly higher than democracy, i.e., the collective will — which will simply devolve to the will to power in the absence of truth.
Truth is a “public” event that is replicable in others, whereas a lie is a private event that must be imposed upon others…
In creating the lie, the ‘monster,’ to justify a rationale for isolating a nation from modernity, America is the single, best obvious choice. To any thinking person, that of course is absurd. America can no more impose modernity on any society than can Japan, Korea or the Chinese. When all is said and done, the market place of free economies and the market place of the free exchange of thoughts and ideas will determine the face of the future. There is nothing the Arab world can do about that. If they and the rest of the Islamic world is to ‘catch up’ with the west, modernity will have to be a part of that society and culture. Like the left, all the Arab world can do is to delay the inevitable. It is part of the human condition that we wish to exercise our free will and we wish to be free to make choices for ourselves.
In Influence, Knowledge And Truth, we noted the differences between Idea and Identity:
There are those people who believe that that influence is brought about by creation- that is, to have enduring influence comes about as the result of creating a physical manifestation or expression of their ideas or beliefs, be that in art or politics are any other field of endeavor.
These people wrongly believe that to create [in the physical plane] is to have influence, whereas in reality, it is influence that creates.
Making an object or having an idea that is separate and distinct from myself, separates me from that object or idea. I am not a part of that object. If on the other hand, by way of ideas and insight, I influence the world around me, then I have truly created something meaningful.
For example, if you influence your child in way that results in that child growing up to be a productive, decent and caring citizen, you have wielded real influence.
Your influence will live on, spanning time and generations.
Islamist ideologies are predicated on Identity. Only by espousing and embracing the ideologies du jour, as presented by the radical ideologues or by the totalitarian, dysfunctional and failed leaders in the region, can a Muslim be ‘credible.’
In the quest that would liberate peoples from oppression and deliver them into freedom, it bears remembering that democracy does bestow upon us the meaning of life. Democracy does not give us a higher cause for sacrificing ones life.
What democracy does give us is the freedom to choose. We are free to seek and choose for ourselves the passions and beliefs that inspire us to real and truthful meaning in our lives.
When we make those choices, we are also seeking out an identity for ourselves, our place within the greater idea of democracy and freedom. In a democracy, that identity is no longer forced upon us or is automatic. We are exercising the gift of free will in how we will identify ourselves, even within a particular religious identity.
Sometimes, exercising choice is difficult. That is why whole populations remain in less than savory environments. Their unhappiness is more acceptable to them than is making choices and taking responsibility for those choices. Democracy does not guarantee happiness, only the environment where that affords each individual with the opportunity to exercise the choices that offer that potential.
There are those who would ask, ‘Who are we to tell anyone how to live their lives?’
The question is nonsensical. Asking someone to live in freedom is not telling them ‘how to live their lives.’ Asking someone to live in freedom is giving them oxygen to breathe.