The Monster In The Mirror
The war on terror and the fight against the radical Islamists beg more than a few questions.
Firstly, we need to define who are we fighting. We also need to understand what it is we are fighting. We need to confront another question that needs an answer: Are we fighting a religion, a 'civilization,' a culture or something else?
The answer to these and other questions are important because if we do not or cannot answer those questions, we cannot possibly prevail in our efforts. While that doesn't necessarily mean we will lose militarily, it does mean that that we will not be able to define what 'winning' really means. That is already happening in Iraq. There is nowhere near 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 terror groups. To still others, it means getting out, no more. There are a thousand variations and combinations of those ideas.
In a recent email exchange with Fausta, we were asked about the origins of widely accepted terror as an acceptable form 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 are not simply an expression 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 recent 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. 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 have 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 legal system that would apply only to themselves. 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 so easily defined, because it is a struggle against change. 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 is critical.
Modernity is much like the Industrial Revolution- a redefinition of the process and methodologies and no more. 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. For example, some Muslims like to equate the violence found in much of the Islamic world to the violence of the Old and New Testaments. That would nice if the analogy were applicable. Religious violence of biblical proportions hasn't been a part of the Judeo-Christian ethic for 1000 years, because secularism has influenced the west, western thought and religious thought.To date, secularist thought has barely touched the Islamic world and ongoing medieval violence is still a part of modern day Islam.
(We have noted that the origins of modern secularism are religious:
...the first real secularists were the Jews and Christians. They were to question everything. They were to debate the meaning of man and life. Within each religion were debates, wars, intellectual truces and eventual compromises.
The chasm between the modern day Judeo-Christian ethic and Islam as interpreted by the radicals and fundamentalists is huge)
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 religious thought. At they same time, they made clear they would reject the secular influences they saw as destructive.
Democracies do not settle differences with violence- and in large measure, that is why the Islamists reject dealing with us. The 'secular' way of free nations in dealing with conflict is antithetical to the values of radical Islam, an ideology that is predicated on the use of force to enforce compliance.
Radical 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 has long rejected the butcher and slaughter of all non believers and the inquisition has long been repudiated).
The Islamists are willing to engage us violently because they believe that secularism abhors conflict- and thus, we are theirs for the taking. They understand they will not have to face equal or violent consequences of their actions. That in itself is one definition of the 'Clash of Civilizations.'
That is why they oppose a peace deal with Israel, real democracy within the Palestinian Authority, Iraq or anywhere else in the region. In their minds, democracy, freedom and peace means that secularists have asserted their dominion over Islamism. That notion is intolerable- and as many as need be will die preserving the illusion that democracy, freedom and peace are evil and in opposition to Islam. They deliberately define democracy 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.
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. Ayatollah Khomeini resisted modernity, as do the Wahabbi Saudis, ostensibly for religious reasons. They reject modernity because modernity, like secularism, favors democracy. That said, Saudi religious ideologies are roundly rejected by countries like Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and even Syria.
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. How this dysfunction operates needs to be understood.
In fact, the Arab world has made clear their intent and desire to return to the past, and not have to face the future. 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. 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 Arab world translates about 300 books a year. 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 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 Muslim world deliberately attempts to reshape and redefine the conversation, blaming America and Europe for their failures. In fact, much of the attempt is deliberately misplaced. There is an attempt to discredit 'Orientalism' as as legitimate attempt by westerners to understand the Islamic world. In fact, the Europeans went to study and learn about the Islamic world. The Islamic world could not be bothered to do the same, to learn and come to understand the western world.
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.
When the Arab and Islamic world look to point the finger and assign the blame for their failures, they immediately point to 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.
In the need to create a 'monster,' to rally a rationale for isolationism. America is the 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. 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. If the Arab and much of the Islamic world is to 'catch up' with the west, modernity will have to be a part of that society and culture.
Christianity learned from it's failures. The wars and hardships of a culture and society forged reforms (another word for deeper and a more meaningful understanding) and a bond with modernity. The radical Islamists have yet to learn those lessons.
In the interim, we will remain 'at war.' We will remain at war for decades. When the 'mission' will be 'accomplished,' will be determined by generations that will follow.
The sooner we understand what and whom we are fighting, the sooner we will emerge victorious over our adversaries.Portions of this post have been previously published.