Sunday, July 10, 2005

conservatives, liberals, Great Britain, Islam, terrorism, and a moderate's thoughts

[UPDATE: Post given a cumbersome new title that more accurately reflects the contents.]

Am I detecting a strange divide between anglophilic conservatives in the American blogosphere, and non-anglophilic ones?

While not a gung-ho anglophile myself (I love England, but won't adopt British spelling and pronunciation to demonstrate that love), I side with the anglophiles in holding out hope that Great Britain won't pull a Spain and shrink from a strong response to terrorism.

To recap my own middle-of-the-road position about the war on terror:

1. Liberals and others are wrong to label the current global situation a "police action" or in need of police action. This is a war, and not because we say so: the other side says so, and when over 2700 people die in the space of a couple hours, it's offensive to portray such an event as the equivalent of a car bombing that takes out a few shop windows and hurts a few passersby.

2. Liberals and others are wrong to make this into a question of poverty. There is no necessary connection between international terrorism and poverty. If there were, liberals would have to explain why we don't see frenzied Hindus or sub-Saharan Africans slamming jets into American skyscrapers. It would also be incumbent on liberals (and Muslims) to explain why Islamic terrorism is the only form of terrorism to go international on the scale it has. Operations like those that have been pulled off in the US, Spain, and England take time, patience, intellect, and money. None of these operations was the work of the poor and desperate, nor do the perpetrators represent the poor and desperate: quite the contrary, they use their own poor as part of the echo chamber that amplifies their twisted ideology.

3. Conservatives and others are wrong to write off Islam with their mocking "Religion of peace?" mantra. There are around 1.2 to 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, and they are not all knife-wielding head-choppers out to reestablish the Caliphate or the Dar al-Islam. While it's legitimate to ask just how many Muslims skew "moderate" in the Western sense of the word, it's ridiculous to paint over a billion people with the same brush. Calm down.

4. Conservatives and others are wrong to believe that we should prosecute a war in the old way. This is, at heart, a war of the mind and needs to be fought as such. This will occasionally mean the use of military force to the extent that states are sponsoring terrorist acts, but there are other methods for coercing states that don't involve bloodshed. My own belief is that we have to improve our intelligence-gathering in the Middle East, and I'm happy to see that more people are learning Arabic. Deadly strikes will be part of this war, but they will need to be made by quiet, precise teams who go in hard and fade out. Our military philosophy has been shifting in this direction, I think.

But a war of the mind is, ultimately, not won by killing. It's won when the opponent's mind has been somehow changed. Perhaps conservatives are right to say that you can't change the mind of a terrorist bent on a mission; that's not what I'm talking about. No; I'm talking about what we do long before such a mission is even planned. I've advocated counter-propaganda on this blog, as well as interreligious dialogue. We're clever; we can figure something out, and change our plans to adapt to new situations. Fight the mind.

5. Conservatives and liberals both make the mistake of describing each other as irrational. This precludes any useful debate, and the polarization of the politiblogosphere is evidence of things going awry. It might be appropriate to ask ourselves-- while we search for moderate Muslims-- where the moderate, reasoned voices are in our own midst. Calling a liberal "stupid" or "overemotional" accomplishes what, exactly? It certainly does nothing to sway the liberal. Calling Bush "Hitler" accomplishes what, exactly? It certainly does nothing to sway the conservative. Is this name-calling being done so that each side can feel better about itself? Then maybe it's time to grow the fuck up.

6. I think we're right to prosecute a war, but readers of this blog know that I've had my doubts about doing it in Iraq. I had the chance to read conservative Donald Sensing's reasoned arguments for why Iraq is an appropriate battlefield in the war on terror, but I still fail to see how one can pursue a "build democracy" program at the same time one is following a "flypaper strategy." New infrastructure gets built... only to be torn down by more terrorists. How does this make sense?

7. I agree with conservatives that the major print and TV media skew way liberal. It's one reason why I'm interested in milbloggers-- the people in the shit, the people who actually see what's going on and can report the things not reported in the news: friends made, schools built, electricity reestablished, cell leaders killed, and so on.

8. I agree with liberals that there is always a place for dialogue. I've invested years of my life in studying the question of interreligious dialogue, and believe it to be a worthy pursuit. True dialogue requires openness to several things: openness to change in oneself and one's religious tradition, openness to reinterpretation by the other, and openness to the possibility of continued but tolerant disagreement. No one can dictate the goal of dialogue, but let me suggest one: peace.

9. I firmly believe that Islam is going to have to face the fact that its belief system, on the whole, isn't compatible with a 21st-century worldview. The same could be said, on a smaller and less deadly scale, about certain Christian (and Jewish, and Hindu, and Buddhist) beliefs and acts, but now is Islam's time for sincere self-reflection. What I'm saying here applies only generally; of course I make allowances for Muslims who don't fit the profile I'm sketching. But my essential point is that moral equivalence isn't the answer here, any more than it would be in equating, say, Tony Blair to Kim Jong Il. Tony Blair and Kim Jong Il belong to two very different species of politician. They are two very different types of human being. If you refuse to see that one is clearly better than the other, then there's little hope for you.

In other words: Islam can't point the finger at past Christian atrocities and claim moral equivalence between Christianity and itself. Islam needs, desperately, to reform. In my view, it needs a huge dose of secularism, and as others have argued, this can't be imposed from without: Islam has to come to this realization from within.

There are huge obstacles to this, two of the biggest being theological and sociological. The theological obstacle is rooted in the total absence of a "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" ethos. Nothing in Muslim scripture hints at this. Islam, as it is now, brooks no secularism.

The sociological obstacle to a Muslim reformation is that there isn't simply one monolithic Islam, but many Islams that don't move in lockstep. The West still hasn't properly come to grips with this insight: Islam is a varied phenomenon. However, this variety doesn't absolve Muslims of their obligation to examine the need for fundamental change.

10. Liberals and conservatives should take a moment to marvel at the deep cooperation there has been between George Bush and Tony Blair. Politically speaking, these two men come from parties that are normally considered completely at odds. Blair is a lefty; Bush is (at least in terms of social policy) very much a rightie. But the two men's collegiality-- fraternity, even-- is striking. Whatever you might think of Bush and Blair (and to be honest, I don't think much of Bush), note that they have found a way to work together on multiple levels despite their many and deep differences. This capability is a reflection of something profound in Western society and is, ultimately, why those who love freedom will prevail.


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