March 13, 2004
Where we Stand
Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.\"\;
It's time, I think, for a realistic assessment of the Terror Wars:
At this time, perhaps 10% of the world's Muslim community - slightly higher in Europe and somewhat higher in the US, but less in Africa, Asia and the SW Pacific - support the idea of liberalizing the whole Arab/Muslim world, treating Islam as a religion rather than an all-encompassing religio-political ideology, and modernizing the Arab/Muslim societies. Significantly higher numbers of Muslims believe, as one recent poll of British Muslims put it, "living as a Palestinian could have driven her to become a suicide bomber".
In actual fact, it is probably the case at this point that opinion of the US is worse than it was before 9/11, and the pro-jihad opinion is more entrenched. However, this is widely misinterpreted. Certainly, President Bush's and Prime Minister Blair's critics (well, let's just get it over with and say the critics of the idea that free countries should be able to defend themselves, and to promote the idea of freedom for others) have used this change in opinion to cast the attempts of the US and its allies (should I say coalition partners, to distinguish them from, say, France?) to end the threat of resurgent Islamism as a failure at best and a tragedy at worst. But is that a valid interpretation?
Anti-Americanism is hardly new in Europe. Even at the height of the Cold War, France was barely above 50/50 in support of the US. The postmodernism and transnational progressivism movements have weakened support of the West within the West itself - weakened the idea that the Enlightenment values of individual freedom and self-determination are even laudable values to hold. And it's not exactly as if the US is a new target in the Arab/Muslim world (we were called the Great Satan long before the advent of President Bush). But these feelings were by and large intellectual exercises, until 9/11 showed the world the definitive way to express them.
What has been going on since 9/11, with opinion increasingly hardening against the US and its allies, is merely a definition process. Those who believe that individual rights and freedoms are an anathema - whether Islamists or Leftists - have seen definitively that the US and its allies will stand against them in defense of freedom. The hope on the Left and among the Islamists was originally that the US could be deterred from Afghanistan, then that the US could be deterred from attacking Iraq. When the latter failed, it was incontrovertibly shown that the US intended to reform the Muslim world.
This would be a loss for the Islamists, as they depend on a radicalized and oppressed population; freedom for Muslims would lose them thier recruits. It would also be a loss for the Left, as they depend upon the idea that capitalism - or at least the individual freedoms that make capitalism workable - makes things worse (at least for them, since they want to control others, and free people are not tolerant of being controlled); freedom for Muslims followed by the Arab/Muslim world modernizing and becoming more liberal and more successful would show that capitalism and freedom work, and the Left would lose its recruits.
And so we find (and it's not a new observation) that those who believe in personal freedom have two distinct enemies: the Islamists, who believe in imposition of totalitarianism by force; and the Left, who believe in the ascendence of totalitarianism by "the logic of history" or by bureaucratic procedures or by moral persuasion.
Let me make clear that while both of these forces are enemies to freedom, they are not equivalent. It appears that there is an alliance of convenience between the two groups. Witness, for example, the Leftists' condemnation of Israel's killing of the founder of Hamas, and condoning Hamas' bombings of buses full of schoolchildren; or the way that the Islamists are temporarily backing off of Spain since they got what they wanted there - for the moment. But such an alliance of convenience does not mean that the two groups are easily conflated: the Islamists use violence as their tool, while the Leftists use rhetoric.
The road ahead is long - probably decades long. We are at the very beginning of the process. There have been essentially two important changes since 9/11: the US has forced organizations and countries to choose sides, and we have begun the process of combatting Islamism by bringing a degree of freedom to two Arab/Muslim countries - most importantly to Iraq, an important and centrally-placed Arab nation. We have also begun to engage the Left, with a bevy of more freedom-minded folks actively arguing for the benefits of Liberty, though this is still far from general.
At this point, I see several paths we have to take in order to preserve the notion of individual Liberty:
- We must continue to engage Islamism by liberalizing Arab and Muslim countries. This means that Iraq must not be the last such action. Iran in particular will likely have to be invaded, unless its own people succeed in removing the Islamists from power. This means, too, that we must allow the Islamists to win elections if they can do it fairly. But we must not allow them to be immune from the consequences of their actions. An Islamist government in Iraq, for example, which tried to impose Shari'a should be told in no uncertain terms that such is not allowed, and should be removed if they proceed in any case to do so. Democracy does not mean one man, one vote, one time; and individual Liberty does not include the liberty to take away the rights of others.
- We must encourage and reward reform movements within Islam and the Arab nations.
- We must be prepared for the fight against Islamism to get much dirtier. It may become necessary to kill the imams and other religious figures who spread Islamism. As the examples of Mullah Omar, Sheik Yassin and the Ayatollah Khomenei show, the Islamists make no distinction between religion and secular governance, and we must not allow our traditional deference to religious leaders to blind us to the fact that these people are frequently secular (in the sense of providing political and other non-religious direction) as well as religious leaders.
- We must engage the Left by removing its shelters from reality (particularly in university liberal arts faculties), reducing its means of indoctrination (particularly with media competition and removing schools from government control or requiring particular things (history, economics, logic, etc) to be taught to a particular standard), by putting them on the defensive (pull up most of the silly environmental regulations (leaving the useful ones in place), and do the same with a host of other Leftist pet projects, and then let them spend their time on that rather than the war), and most importantly by engaging in the debate in public. We need to reduce the size of government by the simple measure of actually following the Constitution in all its particulars, and amending it where what it says does not match what we want our government to be like. This is difficult; it should be. It should not be possible to effectively amend the Constitution by ignoring its plain language.
- There are a lot of websites and authors, and more and more there are counter-demonstrations. We need also to be organizing demonstrations of patriotism, and in support of freedom generally, especially when not connected with particular politicians. We need to be sponsoring art (particularly movies and big-network TV shows, which get the most widespread dissemination) that presents a pro-Western, tolerant, capitalist, secular and logical viewpoint as admirable. (Fine examples of this include James Burke's 1978 series Connections, about how technologies come about and the impact they have on society; or Cyberchase, which teaches logic.)
I don't necessarily hold any of these as more important than the others. But they are all going to be necessary in the decades ahead, unless we are prepared to engage in or be the victims of genocide.