Thursday, January 11, 2007

Five Theses on Terror (Why I'm Scared)

1. For most of the twentieth century, if you really wanted to kill a lot of people, you did it with the nation-state. The great evils of the century were perpetrated by governments and their leaders: Mao, Stalin, Hitler. Inversely, the hopes of millions of people lay in nation states. The response to the Holocaust? A state. The answer to colonialism? Nationalism.

I think the shift away from states began around 1970. The Biafran War and the oil crisis showed new frontiers for big business. The Cambodian genocide showed how badly states could fail. The United States didn't get the memo until September, 2001, and it's still not clear how many people have read it.

2. The logic of the surge is the idea that the "Iraqi people" must take over. Fucking idiocy – as if the institutions and actions of so many could be summed up so neatly, as if the nation state was the primary means of identification. The phrase "Iraqi people" makes unity appear where there is none. That the United States is somehow deeply respectful of the sovereignty of the so-called Iraqi people is one of the great lies of the war, and the pipe dreams of those who believe this lie are what continue the carnage. What is happening now is a predictable and logical result of U.S. policy, and the phrase "Iraqi people" little more than a scapegoat to clear the consciences of conservatives.

The United States never had any idea what it was up against, still doesn't, and continues to ask for endorsement of what can charitably be described as malign incompetence and more accurately labeled complicity in genocide. This complicity will fuel the very movements George Bush claims he is intent on destroying.

3. Democracy begets crime. It does so because the majority will inevitably insist on laws that don't make sense, and black markets will be necessary to get things done. When ethnicity is added to this mix, when gangs divide on ethnic lines and define their enemies in ethnic terms, the possibility for horror is great. Violence is then perpetuated both by the criminals and the state, which uses the gangwar (the term is from Maximum City, a very good book about Bombay) as pretext for atrocities.

The idea that democracy will save Iraq is absurd. It's as absurd as the idea that the men who have been utterly clueless for six years have suddenly discovered the answers to everything.

4. The time to recognize mistakes would have been before Israel invaded Lebanon. The move would have been – we screwed up, and we need the help of Europe, Saudi Arabi, and Iran. We give up any claims on Iraq, let other powers take over. This course of action is now impossible.

5. The hope in early 2002 had been that the United States, by creating successful Islamic democracies, could defuse the threats to American cities. The threats are now greater than they ever were. Dealing with them will require people in power who are capable of looking beyond domestic concerns when formulating foreign polity. People who recognize that hagiographies of troops or paeans to the flag are not policy decisions.* The most dangerous of all statist nationalism in the world is that of the United States, not least of which because it leads to such rank stupidity on both the right and the left.

The world has a new geography. Until we can find leaders who recognize that geography, the threats to the United States will get much, much worse.

[*Phrase "are not policy decisions" left out of initial post. Whoops.]


symbnt said...

#5. “The hope in early 2002 had been that the United States, by creating successful Islamic democracies, could defuse the threats to American cities.” I’d edit out the word “hope” and replace it with “rhetoric” given the overwhelming evidence that flypaper, and not “democracy”, was the real plan for Iraq. Funny how that term has fallen out of the war vernacular since, given how we’re stuck in Iraq, I’d say it worked better than its author’s could possibly have hoped for.

august said...

True as a matter of policy, particularly in Iraq. But I recall a number of people saying about Afghanistan that the only way the mission would be successful long-term was if Afghanistan was successful. And we agree that the rhetoric (among neo-cons) speaks to/creates a hope (among voters). No?

symbnt said...

Sure, the neo-con rhetoric included the requisite humanitarian aims for both Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s how they suckered so many liberal hawks into supporting them [I raise my hand]. But there actions and incompetence have laid bare the lie that they give a rat’s ass about fighting the root causes of terrorism. What’s truly disturbing is that there’s really no debate about under what conditions Islamic extremism multiplies, so the utter disregard for fighting that war on terrorism really does call into question the true value neo-cons put on terrorism as a justification for all manner of policies and aims. Put bluntly, I wouldn’t be surprises in the least to learn that some influential think-tanks find their predilections stand a better chance of being adopted in a more dangerous world. It goes without saying that the religious right in this country takes at face value that there are no atheists in foxholes. And if that’s the case, what better world than one this is, in every corner, a foxhole.

august said...

Absolutely. Also: understanding "conditions under which Islamic extremism multiplies" should mean analysis more sophisticated than the "common sense" ideas of the average voter. All over the fray, plenty of people seem to feel that they understand Islamic extremism without actually knowing much about the people involved, the choices they face, etc.

In other words, answering the question requires seeing that there are different kinds of Islam, and a number of different ways that people can be Muslims. Aforementioned think tanks just aren't interested.

Anonymous said...

August---it's not that the think tanks are not uninterested in what you call "the different kinds of Islam", it's just that the ironclad commonalities far outstrip the differences for most practical purposes. Nor do I follow your point about the desuetude of nation-states as a general matter. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler all presided over totalitarian states---hardly a new invention, and the true commonality here---and the first three were specifically inspired by Marxist doctrine. That has precious little to do with the vitality of the American republican model, except perhaps to enhance it by comparison. Meanwhile, Islam represents a potent totalitarianism with different auspices, but similarly militant intolerance.

Anonymous said...

Apologies---that second Not was Not supposed to be there.

august said...

Anonymous --

Bullshit. Largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia. Second largest (by number of Muslims) is India. 10% of China's populaton are Muslims (the vast majority of whom are totallly indistinguishable from other Han Chinese). There are no "ironclad commonalities" between these groups. There is a very, very wide gap too between (for example), Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Hafiz's poetry, Al Jazeera, and texts produced in Chinese Muslim communities concerning the transmission of Islam. If you see "ironclad commonalities," it is because you are choosing to see them, not because your vision reflects any sort of reality.

Similarly, yes, China, Russia, and Cambodia were all based on Marxism. Germany, Japan, and Spain were not. You are again choosing to see what you wish to see.

The aspirations of nationalists was that the state would make them strong, and for much of the twentieth century they were right. There was enormous optimism in a lot of places that had once been colonies that the creation of nation-states would enable them to resist control by foreigners (however defined) and to harness the energies of the people. It's not that I think Germans committed genocide because they were a nation-state, it's that anybody looking to be strong thought that the way to achieve greatness was through the nation-state. Sometimes it worked out well, often not so much.

Now if you are looking for wealth and power, you might find yourself better off if you are allied with a transnational movement (Again, good or bad. Amnesty International and Al Quaida are both transnational movments). A multinational conglomerate seems like a better economic choice than owing primary allegiance to a particular country. And those places where nation states were cobbled together (eg. Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Iraq, Afghanistan) are finding that the power of the nation state has all kinds of internal fissures, so that control of the state is not necessarily the best deal. Being a nation state can mean that you are a stable target, slow to react, easy to find.

If the "American republican model" is what is being tried in Iraq, it is failing badly. If it is something else, you will have to enlighten me. But I'd also point out that the United States has in the past been very, very happy to oppose or overthrow republics.

At any rate, at the moment we are engaged in a war that the American people have by now made it very clear they oppose, and that is opposed by the majority of their elected representatives, yet instead of disengaging from the war, it is being intensified. This is happening because one man says it will be so, a man who also denies that he is subject to even the most basic of constitutional checks on his power. That may or may not be Republican, but it is most emphatically not republican.

Keifus said...

1. Well, you did limit it to the twentieth century. Non-state entities, specifically religious powers, have vied with the kings for many of the previous ones, however. The European middle ages can be looked at in some ways as a history of the influence of the Catholic church.

I think in the case of a nation-state, and even a structured non-state (the RCC has a pope), it's an easier matter to ascribe agency, however.

In the twentieth, I don't know if nationalism was a hopeful answer to colonialism. It seems more of a a solution provided by the former occupiers. Sometimes it took, other times, not so much.

2. Yeah.

3. An interesting thesis, possibly right. (I suspect that democracy is effective against the muggings and break-ins and random murders no one wants, however.)

5. The administration, as you note, is dead wrong about the dearth of successful Islamic republics, even in the region. I mean Yemen appears to be a functioning republic, and
the UAE doesn't seem to be too terribly buggerfucked for a monarchy. I imagine they're right miffed about Bush's speech the other night.

Pure hubris to think we could create one by gunpoint.


rundeep said...

Interesting. Afghanistan was absolutely different from Iraq and I still believe was a war of necessity. We should have stayed though, truly secured it, and then gotten the fuck out. But resources were diverted so quickly to Iraq that the entire adventure went off the chains. There were lots of unhappy people at State and CIA over the way the entire thing was handled.

As to Keifus' point about the religious wars of the past: yes and no. Until the late 19th Century the Vatican was a corporeal state with actual state holdings. It was also a religion with influence beyond its borders, but it had a regular army, fortresses and repressed masses. It was only with the decline of the church as a geographic power that it imposed, over great objection, the doctrine of infallibility of the Pope to continue political influence.

Maybe neither here nor there, but I enjoy reading this.

Anonymous said...

August---"There are no ironclad commonalities between these groups", you assert, and I agree, with the exception of course of Islam itself and its unalterable imperatives, my point in the first place. The "transnational" aspect of Al Qaeda and its ilk is quite instructive in this connection, as is the "transnational" violence of Muslim extremists wherever Muslims may be found, along with the virtual transnational absence of condemnation and counteraction from non-extremist co-religionists. A detailed study of the trees is always valuable, and is usually the province of the most sophisticated commentators---but it remains fundamental not to lose sight of the forest.

TenaciousK said...

August: I wonder to what extent the decline of nation-states, and the rise of transnational movements, is the direct and unavoidable result of free flowing information. People have a great deal more latitude in the loyalties they choose now, at least so far as exposure to competitors is concerned – a breadth of exposure that in the past was delivered only through education, I think. Though the public (even the educated public) has always been prone to manipulation, the competition has never been so fierce.

I think people make complicated decisions about what moves will maximize their own liberty. When living in a repressive society, one might certainly make compromises in some areas in order to maximize latitude in others. I’m not sure that the idea of fostering democracy in the Middle East, or other places, is such a bad idea. Imposing democracy seems like a terrible idea, however.

In a way, it strikes me that American Capitalist Democracy has been foist on its own petard; commercial desires to manipulate opinion via persuasion at any cost is at odds with the idealistic notion that the best ideas, when allowed free exchange, will eventually triumph and people will vote accordingly. By abandoning attempts to persuade other countries to adopt representative rule through the use of information only, we are capitulating to coercive means of persuasion (and rather undermining our own argument).

Anyhow, my two cents. Great discussion on a great post.

PS. Anon:
A detailed study of the trees is always valuable, and is usually the province of the most sophisticated commentators---but it remains fundamental not to lose sight of the forest.

Gaaack! The least you could’ve done is throw in a little Confucius, or something.

…with the exception of course of Islam itself and its unalterable imperatives, my point in the first place.

In the same sense there are “ironclad commonalities” between Christian sects? This is the same argument Muslim commentators make when they’re saying the Christians of today are the same as the Crusaders, isn’t it?

This peculiar inability to concede a cherished point, and countering successful arguments with a little metaphorical homily, seems vaguely familiar.

Anonymous said...

TK---given that Muslim commentators may raise (somewhat ahistorically) analagous points about the ever-tenuously "Christian" West, what bearing does that have on the accuracy of my characterization? On either characterization, for that matter?

TenaciousK said...

…it's not that the think tanks are not uninterested in what you call "the different kinds of Islam", it's just that the ironclad commonalities far outstrip the differences for most practical purposes. -Anon

There is a very, very wide gap too between (for example), Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Hafiz's poetry, Al Jazeera, and texts produced in Chinese Muslim communities concerning the transmission of Islam. If you see "ironclad commonalities," it is because you are choosing to see them, not because your vision reflects any sort of reality. -August

So, August is characterizing Islam as diverse, while you are arguing that so far as current considerations go, it is quite homogenous (“ironclad commonalities”). My point was – if we are to blindly accept there are “ironclad commonalities” within the global Muslim community, without even a fair description of what those commonalities are, how is this substantively different than all modern Christians being characterized as Crusaders? I assumed that your “ironclad commonalities” involved, in part, theological considerations*.

It seems August is providing points of discussion, and you are making a statement as though it is a truism, without subsequent elaboration or support – in much the same manner as those outside our culture may make statements that make us appear homogenous, when we are not. When August counters with elaboration, you respond with a (characteristic?) condescending pat-on-the-head that implies the truthiness of your observation, while failing to support it at all.

A relevant observation, do you think?

*...with the exception of course of Islam itself and its unalterable imperatives, my point in the first place.

august said...

Anon -- those who have rejected and condemned bin Laden include the governments of Jordon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia... and so on. I've given you several examples of both individuals who are not violent and forms of Islam that do not advocate violence. You haven't responded to those examples.

Perhaps if you listed some of the commonalities you see, and gave examples of each from diverse representatives of Islam, it would allow a more productive discussion. More -- if you do not give some indication that you have an understanding of the trees, why should anybody trust your pronouncements about the forest?

Keif -- I was thinking in particular of Nehru, Nkrumah (spelling?), many others who saw independence from empires as the dawn of a new age. They argued that states run by politically enlightened ethnic communities ("nations") would allow great new strides. They argued that the nations were ahistoric -- that they had always existed, and that the nation-state (the endowment of for example the Indian people with control of the state of India) would lead to historic new awakenings. These claims were fictions. They were designed to bring a group of people into existence, not merely to empower peoples who simply existed. As you rightly point out, the constructed nature of national groupings is particularly evident in places where colonial borders really had no relationship with preexisting tribal or community boundaries (eg. Nigeria) -- in the worst cases, the result was genocide rather than unity.

Iraq was one of these cobbled-together entities. There was no "Iraqi people" prior to the creation of an Iraqi state -- the two go hand-in-hand. By destroying the Iraqi state, the U.S. thus also demolished the category of Iraqi people, who split into categories more relevant to their day-to-day lives (Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds). The idea that in this situation the "Iraqi people" will simply stand up is idiotic. Not because they are Muslims --- the same actions in, say, Chile or the Phillipines would probably have similar outcomes. In part because U.S. policymakers seem to have no understanding how fragile and historically-conditioned nation states are, the U.S. has lost the war.

So yes -- the 20th century is what I'm arguing. It was in the twentieth century that the idea arose that every inch of the globe was covered by sovereign nation-states, that every person on the globe was a citizen of one of those states, that this situation was a perfectly natural condition, and that people within states whose loyalities were somehow divided were also suspect.

3. Read Maximum City. I'd be open to the idea that crime results when democracies fail to enact their own policies (i.e. crime results from failure to be democratic rather than an acting out of democracy), but I suspect failure is built into the system.

5. I don't think I said that, but it's a good point.

rundeep -- yes. The vatican in general is a very interesting study in sovereignty, one that nineteenth- and twentitieth century theorists found quite vexing. Continuing in iconoclastic mode -- I think I'm more comfortable with Vatican corruption and politics than I am with recent Vatican doctrine.

That said, there's really no reason the Vatican should care what I think. Pax vobiscum.

TK -- maybe. As Keif and run rightly point out, there have been plenty of transnational networks for a long time. Actually, that's imprecise. There has been a global exchange of information for a long time, and this exchange has enabled people to feel themselves part of a lot of different kinds of communiites (religious, ethnic, ideological). Your idea is logical, but hard to show. I don't think we know enough, in part because our view of the past is so colored by the backward projections of those who are trying to justify some present enterprise. Sorting out the good and bad of nationalist histories is very, very difficult.

All -- thank you for very thoughtful responses. I've had a bit of a full plate today , sorry I've been slow to get to them. I'm certainly up for continuing discussions. TK just for you, maybe I'll dig up an Islamic commentary on Confucius. It's pretty interesting.

TenaciousK said...

August: maybe I’ll try to flesh this out another time - the "market" is far broader, though not necessarily deeper, and I think there are other social and political parallels. It certainly is difficult to tease out the contributions of so many covarying factors.

I found both your post and subsequent conversation quite provocative, though, and I’d love to hear about Islamic commentary on Confucius, whenever you’re inclined to share. Thanks.

august said...

TK -- it's definitely an interesting question, and the market is crucial. As are individual commodities (silver, opium, oil) and changing ideas about what constitutes a commodity. Speed is definitely an issue, and information, and greater linguistic competence and issues of translation. The way ideas about economics shape the way we view the world would be another sphere, as would arts (Bombay, Hong Kong, Hollywood).
Another would be various ways of seeing the world as a single unit -- the UN, world history, international law, etc.

All these things create economies of scale. It's just difficult to be precise about them. I'd love to see your thoughts

Dawn Coyote said...

It was in the twentieth century that the idea arose that every inch of the globe was covered by sovereign nation-states, that every person on the globe was a citizen of one of those states, that this situation was a perfectly natural condition…

I remember looking at a poster once called, “North America as Seen from Space.” It was a satellite image of the continent, with the political boundaries drawn over the topography: a perfect visual representation of our hubris.

The idea that there’s a Islamic imperative that unites all Moslems is ludicrous. And if we’re talking imperatives, what about the Christian Zionists, and all others who believe in Armageddon? The irony is that more the Iraqis split into factions, fighting the US and each other, the more the propagandists will hold it up as an example of a unified and dangerous Islam.

Anonymous said...

Dawn---why is it "ludicrous" that certain "Islamic imperatives" may unite all Muslims? I'll assume, perhaps prematurely, that it is not self-evidently ludicrous, like a flat-earther's claim, and hence warrants more than a mere assertion from you to the contrary. Nor does your reference to Christian Zionists and millenialists appear to bolster your assertion---quite the opposite, really, whether you were being serious or not. The comparison seems to be intended to bolster an ethical argument that "we shouldn't characterize Muslims that way, even partially; it's not nice; how would YOU (Christians) like it? See?"

Again, this has little to do with the accuracy or inaccuracy of the characterization, of either set of religious adherents. What has already been offered in this thread is a (somewhat) detailed description of different trees in the forest, little different than an effort (laudable, instructive, but nondispositive of the original claim) to depict the variety of lifestyles and backgrounds within any one particular Muslim nation. Yes, the significance of groupthink can be overweighed. Fear of that excess is not, however, grounds to rule out groupthink as an occasionally crucial force.

august said...

Anon --

Look, I'm happy to engage, but you've gotta be more specific about what you think the imperatives are. I asked for examples, which seems fair and hardly evidence of "groupthink." I don't pretend to know everything about Islam, but I do think I've given enough examples that dismissing what I've provided as "trees" without offering a clear alternate interpretation is a bit rich.

I wish there was some common Islamic imperative. It might prevent civil war in Iraq. As it is, Sunnis and Shiites do not seem to be finding common ground in sufficient doses to prevent them from wanting to do each other in.

Finally, I'll note that for all your worries about the trees, the strong tendency in USA and European views of Islam has been to lump together Muslims (indeed, easterners) in a pretty simpleminded fashion. Maybe you are an expert with untapped wealths of insight. Maybe you've just been reading Lewis and are feeling insightful. Whatever it is, if you want me (or any impartial observer) to buy it, you've got to do better than repeating the phrases "ironclad commonalities" and "forest and trees." Absent any specifics, those words are empty fillers. You have to make them mean something to be convincing.

So I'll ask again -- what are the imperatives and what are some examples that illustrate the commonalities of interest among Muslims of diverse national/ethnic/sectarian backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

August---the "ironclad commonalities" and "imperatives" of Islam are at least as well-known to you, TK, et al, as to me---you simply don't appear to view them (Five Pillars, Jihad, Sharia etc.) as salient to the Wages of Colonialism and Nationalism discussion. Said discussion began with you, then others, describing angels on the head of a pin (and their notable differences), all culminating in what read like an ontological proof of America's culpability in current world unrest.

The burden of proof, or at least the burden of production, lies with the thread leader, you, not the nitpicker, me. You can read articles and books on Islam and Muslims just as I can, and I'm sure you have. Suffice it to say for my purposes that modern Muslim qua Muslim violence is ubiquitous and almost universal in every Muslim nation, of whatever background and history, as is the failure of virtually all modern Muslims of whatever background and history, to actively condemn and seek to prevent Islamist violence, to cleanse their own houses, instead of blaming their civilian victims and their nations, Israel and the West.

alexa-blue said...

Hi Anon,

What sort of non-extremist counteraction are you looking for? As for transnational condemnation of violence, well . . .

TenaciousK said...

It’s not really sufficient (or polite) to place all of the burden of proof on the thread initiator. If we are having a discussion about research results, for example, and I mention a potential competing hypothesis that explains the findings, it is not sufficient for me merely to mention it. In order for me to make my case, I also have to present it in a manner that at least conveys plausibility. So while your statements might seem self-evident to you, they are not at all self-evident to me (and I suspect might not stand up to closer examination). The only “groupthink” occurring is a unified dissatisfaction with your cursory attempt to make an argument, and what appears (to me) to be a condescending, yet notably unsupported response to challenge. This makes you neither wrong nor right, but it also leaves you having left unanswered a challenge to the assumptions underlying your argument, which is essentially the same sort of challenge you initially presented August.

I do not have enough familiarity with Islam to make a cohesive argument about the degree to which it represents a unified belief system. I do have enough familiarity with religious belief systems in general, however, to fairly observe the impact scriptural vagaries and disparate interpretations or selection of foci exert on community cohesiveness. So, to be permitted an analogous example, I might mention that the unifying pillar of Christian philosophy underlies modern Christian beliefs, as well as the beliefs of the Crusaders. That neither of these groups is necessarily comparable with Islamic groups is true, but I believe the parallel valid. If you are aware of any complex belief framework that has maintained a great deal of unity over time, and across heterogeneous populations, I’d love to hear about it.

The United States has historically relied (at least overtly, and certainly not uniformly) on persuasion to spread the gospel of Democracy – a tactic that, perhaps unlike August, I can actually support. I’m an idealist that way, and I really do believe that an environment of intellectual freedom and debate will produce the most viable arguments and philosophies. But I do not believe the same philosophies can apply with the same utility to disparate situations, and I think it’s fair to say that there are certain social factors that must be in place in order for Democracy to function as the most desirable system of government (a requisite degree of civil order and community cohesion, for example, and perhaps minimal educational standards, curtailed criminal activities, a relatively low degree of overt graft).

One of the most tragically ironic aspects of the current situation, in my mind, is that by attempting to impose Democracy from without, by use of force, the US has destroyed some of the requisite aspects of Iraqi society that would make Democracy the most desirable form of government for the population. In an environment of such chaos and unpredictability, a Theocracy makes much more sense – social control based on an (comparatively) unquestioned belief system. So while you might identify Islam as being the primary unifying force in this situation, I would argue that this is primarily an artifact based on the same situational factors that make any theocracy seem desirable, compared to alternatives based on far more tenuous and debatable principles.

So, this is my alternative hypothesis: any predictable structure beats chaos and uncertainty, and Islam, just like any other complex belief system, offers an attractive alternative to the absent supportive social structures. What you are seeing as the primacy of “ironclad commonalities” I see as an inevitable coalescence around whatever religious belief structure happened to be handy, given environmental considerations. Once the environment changes, so will the tenacity with which populations cling to their comforting structural elements. Unfortunately, the US has effectively precluded this, for the time being, in Iraq.

It sure would be convenient to blame Muslims for our failure to accomplish the impossible, though, wouldn’t it? In much the same manner, I think, as it's convenient for them to blame Christianity for Western aggression towards countries that happen to be predominately Muslim. Convenience hardly constitutes truth, however.

It's peculiar how the appearance of a few trees might signify the beginning of a forest for some, and a grove for others. In order to assess the truth, it might be wise to practice some cartography before making statements about the vision of those who are attempting to quantify and describe a grouping of trees.

august said...

TK and Anon --
actually I agree with Anon that the burden of proof is on me. What I don't get is why Anon feels that my original argument (that asking the "Iraqi people" to stand up is based on a fiction, that part of the reason this fiction seems plausible is the faith in the nation-state as a natural political form, that our enterprise in Iraq is doomed) is in any way affected by the claim (whether correct or not) that Islam has certain imperatives. Nor do I understand why my claim is from left field. And I think you are misreading my argument about colonialism (I did not say that nation-states were agents of colonialism. I said that in many cases they were reactions against colonialism).

Now the claim that Islam has certain imperatives is your claim, Anon, and therefore the burden of proof lies with you. It's a different discussion from the one I initiated. I've been nitpicking at you for a while, and you hadn't really responded (the idea that I know what is in your head is rather outrageous). But at least you now have three things that seem to unify muslims -- the five pillars, jihad, and sharia (how do you solve a problem like sharia?).

Er, rushed for time at the moment, I'll get to those. Sharia is a good point. It shows a healthy respect for the rule of law. I disagree that the five pillars create concrete imperatives. I'll give examples later. Jihad is demonstrably not a common feature of Islam.

Bigger point: You seem to be generalizing from ideas rather than people. A quick definition: Islam is what Muslims do. It is not what you think Muslims should do.

(Point about sharia made by somebody else in thread started by Degsme in jursiprudence. I'll give credit later)

TenaciousK said...

Er, well, that's really what I meant. Yeah, the initial burden is on you. Counter-proposals, while perhaps not needing to be supported at the same level of analysis, ought to be filled out enough to make more substantive sense than "you're wrong, because you can't see the forest for the trees".

Uhm, hope I haven't been too intrusive in this thread.

Dawn Coyote said...

Okay, Anon: I’ll allow that “’certain Islamic’ imperatives may unite all Muslims," but one might as well say (and I sorta did), “certain Christian imperatives unite all Christians,” or “certain canine imperatives unite all dogs”, though in the case of the dogs, the alleged “imperatives” are at least “united” at the level of instinct, rather than in something as superficial and malleable as a belief system.

It's my opinion (based on some actual observation - imagine!) that Islamic extremism is primarily isolated to the disaffected youth. While they are almost the ideological opposite of our hippies, they’re reacting to something similar in their culture: hypocrisy and corruption in the generation that holds power. The war in Iraq is not a fight against radical Islamists. It’s a fight against Moslems who are defending their home and way of life, from the US, and from each other. The issues are more economic than ideological, but ideology is certainly a comfortable refuge for people who refuse to think.

TenaciousK said...

I’ve a friend who did graduate work at Berkeley shortly after the Watts riots. While investigating the phenomenon, they made a number of interesting discoveries. First, destruction was not at all random – it was directly nearly exclusively at businesses owned by people of oriental descent. Second, people of the lowest social strata didn’t perpetrate the violence. Rather, it was primarily the male sons of blue-collar workers who rioted. The interpretation was that these were the people, in an economic sense, who were being most impacted by economic racism – young men on the cusp (or just over the cusp) of adulthood, for whom circumstances did not readily exist to match the lifestyle of their families-of-origin. Violence was directed towards competitors, encouraged by scarcity of resources.

It’s easy to extrapolate to the situation in Iraq. While Anon is focusing primarily on an issue of cultural content, I’d argue the (primarily economic) process is driving the movement. So by destroying the national infrastructure, we’ve essentially complicated the situation beyond the point of easy or efficient redress.

Not thinking: precisely. In an indefinably large and chaotic problem-space, thinking doesn’t seem to have nearly the benefit as when you are thinking within a problem space that’s been bounded by social convention. Any convention. If US policymakers view Islamic fundamentalism as the primary barrier to “Democratization” of the middle-east, then creating the context in which it is most appealing hardly seems to further the cause.

Last thought: reducing the complexities to the level of categorization (ironclad commonalities, for example) matches the level of analysis being used by those who are caught in such chaos as to make such reduction seemingly desirable. To me, it represents a form of highbrow collusion that can hardly serve to facilitate development of viable solutions that supersede the seemingly irreconcilable differences in perspective. It's like ignoring the larger economic and social underpinnings of the Watts riots, and focusing instead on differences in "race psychology" (a depressingly popular pastime, here in the good old US), or the ideological clash between Islamic and Christian belief in inner-city America.

PS. August, I'll shut up on this topic any time you suggest it.

Anonymous said...

Dawn---thank you very much for your comment (even though I categorically disagree), because you hit upon what is for me the very crux of Western disagreement about the nature of Muslims (and any other orthodox-religious true believers). When you appose "economic" and "ideological" imperatives, and favor the former's "true" potency at the expense of the (pretextual, semi-rational) latter, you are applying the assumptions of Marxist materialism, which, for me, fundamentally---fatally---misappreciate the nature of human beings.

Let's face it---in this application, financing and poverty are not the biggest obstacle or point of resentment for militantly violent Muslims. OBL has plenty of dough in his own right, and knows where to get more without a great deal of difficulty. The Palestinians could run their own prosperous nation-state, with trade, housing, transit, and water rights on an equal footing with the Israelis, and nothing would change until Jews once again existed in Jerusalem only at Muslim sufferance, as with the United States in the Middle East in general. A modern-day "chicken (IPod? HDTV?) in every pot" would most assuredly have no impact whatsoever on the continuing religious/culture war between Islam and Israel and the West. Those are the ironclad realities. It's less than a hundred years since Balfour, less than sixty since Ben-Gurion's triumph, and less than forty since the final (conventional) military failure of Pan-Islamism under Nasser. Guess what, they haven't forgotten. I'm not going to say that they should have--just that they haven't.

august said...

TK -- forgot to mention that yes I think we disagree on the democracy thing.


That's a pretty crass reading of Dawn and TK. Neither disputes that Islam can be an important motive force, and neither calls it irrational. They dispute the correlary of Islam and violence.

Nasser -- pan Islamic or pan Arab? I'm wondering now if your logic isn't something like "Arabs are a threat to Israel. All Arabs are Muslims. Therefore, Islam is violent."

If the issue (I think we are finally getting to the heart of what you are talking about) is threats to Israel, then I absolutely agree that economics is not the driving imperative. And Islam clearly has something to do with the threats. But Islam is not sufficient to explain the problem.

I think I now also understand why you are so dismissive of non-Arab examples. I still think calling them trees is a bit thick.

Dawn Coyote said...

Well, Anon, I suspect it’s really all Moses’ fault, but I’ve been to Jerusalem, and I’m thinking that if Moses were to return today, it would be the Palestinians whom he’d lead out of exile.

Talking about “violently militant Muslims” is simply offensive. If you want to know who the real “violently militant” ideologues are, look no further: In a comment on this post of IOZ’s, Proconsul says it better than I ever could:

A "rogue state"? Is THAT what the media is mulling over these days? Jesus fuck. I can't believe that anyone in a position of journalistic responsibillity has the fucking gall to claim that the United States of America is a fucking rogue state.

Rogues are charming, rakish, loveable motherfuckers like Han Solo or Robin Hood. Obnoxious but so-far harmless states like Iran and North Korea might belong in that category, but the United States of America does

We were, arguably, a dashing, mercurial "rogue state" back in 2002; but what we are now, and what we've been ever since the commencement of our Middle Eastern adventure in genocide, is a full-blown "
criminal state."

Any other country would have found itself opposed to a global military alliance a long time ago, if it had done what we've done. Even a cruiser-weight power like China might have been forced to back the fuck down.

Rogues. Motherfucker, please. What we are is EVIL. Say it and get used to the sound of it. We'll be apologizing for decades to come.

I’m glad we got that cleared up. Thank god I was here.

TenaciousK said...

Hmm. Anon, I’m having one of those moments where I don’t even really know where to start. The process-oriented psychologists talk about the concept of “dreaming-up”, which is related to what I was trying to describe about level of dialogue. In short and oversimplified form, I guess I can say that we tend to respond to people in either a like, or complimentary manner, based on the nature of their interaction with us. So if someone treats me like an enemy, then I might (unconsciously) be inclined to respond as though I were an enemy, or I might be inclined to respond in a reassuring manner. In either case, however, we are having a conversation about enemies, and this concept will color our interpretation of events.

One of the factors that influences the likelihood I will view people as friends or enemies is my assessment of threat. So when I’m feeling threatened, I’m less inclined to concern myself with abstractions like social justice, ethics, or comparative morality and more inclined to concern myself with my own survival. When people feel threatened, they like to shut their brains off. Call it an enforced limitation of priorities.

All other things being equal, people vary in their inclination to feel threatened on three dimensions (oversimplifying again). The first involves the threshold of my “threat antennae”, the second involves level of gravity, and the third involves the rate at which I will escalate (or put another way, the rate at which I will experience a regression). But none of this matters so much as noting that people vary in the degree to which they’ll assess threat. The outcome, so far as other parties are concerned, is that the person feeling threatened will subsequently view others (most notably, though not exclusively, the “threatener”) as something they feel no kinship with – an object.

Ideologies are handy tools we use to turn out brains off. People tend to employ them when they feel threatened. Some people who feel threatened all the time use an ideological framework to turn off their brains – the term for a person like that is “ideologue.” Osama Bin Laden is an ideologue. Donald Rumsfeld is an ideologue. That their ideologies are different is hardly the point – they both employ a set of ideas in a manner that allows them to treat other people as less important than ideas. This is why some people view ideologues as dangerous to humanity, and equate them on the morality scale to people with frontal lobe impairment.

When one’s country has been reduced to rubble, it is understandable to feel threatened. In those moments, turning one’s brain off and mindlessly ingesting an ideology can be an attractive alternative to trying to understand the ethics of the various perspectives. In those moments, it might be an attractive alternative to take even a complex, and perhaps even internally self-contradictory belief framework and reduce it to the level of concrete ideology. Whether this is Islam, Christianity or Fiscal Conservatism begins to matter less and less as the ideological framework is employed to justify inhuman treatment of fellow human beings.

You are making a threat assessment and making an argument from an ideological perspective. By doing so, you are participating in the same process you criticize, on the same level of analysis. By doing so, I believe you are gravely misappreciating the nature of human beings. By doing so, you are allowing yourself to be “dreamed up” by people who have a vested interest in subordinating your value to a set of ideological ideals – people like Osama Bin Laden. By doing so, you are participating in a discussion about friends and enemies, and thus excluding yourself from a broader discussion with far more productivity potential.

Invoking concepts such as “ironclad commonalities” as a means of dreaming up a couple billion Muslims who are threatening your survival is not a reality-connected or particularly helpful act when faced with a problem of such grave complexity, and such wide and potentially devastating consequences following ill-considered acts. It evokes the dimension of friends and enemies, when what we could be focusing on is mutual self-interest.

That is the forest, and this dimension is your tree.

August: in more optimal conditions, freely exchanged ideas are pitted against each other in a pseudo-Darwinian manner, I think. I have nothing against promulgating a set of ideas (Democracy, Mormonism, Conservatism, Scientology etc.), so long as others are allowed the benefit of a fair competition – this encourages social evolution. It’s not so much I’m a raving Democracy fan as a believer in this process, and Democracy seems to foster it (even given limitations) more than the usual competitors.

On one thing we may agree, however; when living in a chaotic and dangerous environment, Democracy makes much less sense than a predictable, familiar theocracy.

august said...

Dawn -- thank god you were here.

TK -- Agree in principle. The problem is that U.S. efforts to promote Democracy are perpetrated by the U.S. If you personally promote democracy, I'm all for it. If the U.S. government promotes democracy, I worry that it is "promoting democracy," if you get my drift.

Anonymous said...

Dawn---again I must thank you for articulating my point better than I ever could. You open with a facetious reference to Moses, again (apparently--you tell me) revealing your materialist assumption that doctrinaire religious conviction is pretextual, a man-made survival or coping mechanism, and hence ephemeral once Conditions of Material Equality exist, and meanwhile bad taste for people of sophistication to encourage. But the reality is that there are hosts of kooky cut-ups who do believe, and will always believe, in Moses, Abraham, Ishamael, Isaac, Jesus, and Muhammad, and continue to direct their priorities, their very lives, based on what those fellows supposedly did, and why, and upon what's happened since. Those hosts include Muslims.

Your statement that it is "simply offensive" to "talk about" "violently militant Muslims" is either a bit sanctimonious, or simply delusional. Are there actually not any such murderers of civilians in current existence who kill explicitly in the name of Islam? Hasn't this violence been rather prevalent internationally over the last thirty years or so(again dating roughly from the most recent demise of conventional-military Muslim aspirations concerning Israel and the West)?. Have you seen a similar international record of late from zealots of other faiths? Zealots of any stripe (go ahead and reference the Hutus!)? At least Christian leaders categorically denounced Eric Rudolph, and there weren't, as I recall, many spontaneous street celebrations in American cities after Oklahoma City.

Finally from you, the reflexive, but telling, shibboleth about America Being Bad Herself, Maybe The Worst---as if, true or not, that had one jot to do with whether or not the characterization of Muslim qua Muslim violence is well-taken. Two wrongs make a right? Or is it that American/Western depredations somehow authorize, or at least mitigate, serial modern-day (yeah, but what about the Crusades!) Muslim mass-murders of civilians? I sincerely hope that 9/11, 7/7, and all the others are not, to use an unsophisticated metaphor, the Wages of Western Sin, the sins being capitalism and (Western) nationalism. Full circle back to August's thread opener.

august said...


I'll let Dawn address your claims about her, but you are just making shit up about me. I never said anything about capitalism (if I had, it would be that it doesn't particularly support nation states. That's only anti-capitalist if you have some innate love of nation-states, which I don't).

Nor have I expressed any particular problem with Western nationalism. If citizens of England, France, Germany, Canada and the U.S. want to love themselves, fine with me.

What I said was that if you wanted to wage a lot of terrifying power in the twentieth century, you probably wanted to be the leader of a state. Nowadays, Osama bin Laden, ethnic strife in Rwanda, and gangwar in India show that you can really be a very powerful force for evil without a state.

I did not, in short, say that nationalism was evil. I said that the methods employed by evil people have changed.

My main point was that the neo-cons seemed to have an odd faith in the nation state. If you take a "people" (however defined) and give them democracy (again, so the neo-cons), then they will by themselves create a viable political form. Hence the slogan, "as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

In fact, creating a viable democracy in Iraq or Aghanistan has turned out to be a much more difficult task. International cooperation might have made that task easier, but now seems to be impossible.

One can think that capitalism and democracy are on the whole good and still be cynical about their consequences in particular situations. That is my position. And given the morons we've had in charge of these ventures, it seems self-evident that they will continue to fail.

A question: as noted, I disagree with your appraisal of Islam. But surely by your own logic Islamic democracies will fail, and so the present enterprises in Iraq and Afghanistan are doomed? Or do you feel otherwise?

Last post.

Dawn Coyote said...

Anon: You’re right on facetious, and right on materialist assumptions. I do believe that structure follows function, and that religion is a pretext which serves goals of social cohesion, property acquisition – survival. As for “ephemeral once Conditions of Material Equality exist” – we could be so lucky. No.

Backing away from that for a moment, I’d say that what you’re doing in this discussion is digging your heels in on your rigid stance, and I’m leaning toward frothing at the mouth (it’s why I avoid political discussion – inarticulate rage is déclassé). I don’t disagree with some of your premises regarding Islam’s more aggressive proponents, just with the way you’re presenting their “imperatives” as traits that generalize to a large, diverse group – in fact, to the entire population of Muslims. Such uniformity is highly improbable, and by your upon it, you come across as both bigoted and loony. I don’t know if you’re bigoted or loony, but keep insisting on it, and I’ll make up my mind.

As an example: You asked, “Are there actually not any such murderers of civilians in current existence who kill explicitly in the name of Islam?” Of course there are examples, but how do you get from “any such murderers” to a whole population? Sweet suffering Jesus– it’s precisely this sort of reasoning upon which the Final Solution was founded. That’s why I find it deplorable, why I reject further discussion on the topic. If you want to talk about violence in the name of Islam – fine – but attempt to do it without implicating millions of people on the basis of their cultural/religious affiliation. Though you seem sorta smart, at the moment you sound like a slightly more sophisticated justoffal or denny. At least they’re idiots. What’s your excuse?

Anonymous said...

August---the measured language and tenor of your last comment is a far cry from that of your thread opener. I'll assume it's what you meant all along.

Dawn---the very analysis and methodology you so piously deplore in near-idiots like myself, you blithely countenance, or ignore, in Muslims. As Esme Squalor says, it must be the "in" thing to do.

Dawn Coyote said...

Anon: "All Muslims are bigots, therefore my bigotry is justified."

Welcome to the world of Archie Bunker logic.

PS I ignore and/or countenance many, many things, but when bigotry lands on my doorstep, I do try to hose it off.

Dawn Coyote said...

addendum: you know, I talked to a lot of Muslims in the months following 9/11, because I was travelling in the Middle East. People in Morocco - Arabs and Berbers - had a balanced, mostly friendly view of the US, while those I talked to in Turkey and Egypt expressed dismay at US foreign policy. It was the residents of Syria and Jordan who expressed strong antipathy toward Israel, and stronger antipathy toward America (Little Satan/Big Satan), but such antipathy is clearly fostered by their governments as a red herring - to focus responsibility for suffering or perceived suffering on something other than themselves. Who does that remind you of?

(A response along the lines of, "They hate our freedoms" would be perfect.)

Anonymous said...

Dawn---you had me at "They hate". Maybe with good reason, fine, but that's a separate question---we're dealing first with your avoidance, not your apologetics. They hate Israel and the West in enormous numbers, and say so. And certainly not "all" hate, as your own powerful hat-in-hand anecdotes would indicate. Unfortunately, the vast majority of non-hating Muslims, home and abroad, seem remarkably complaisant in the face of the serial atrocities committed by those that do (let me guess, on your travels you apologized to them for 9/11). Indeed, based on the first reactions of Western Muslim leaders to 9/11, 7/7, the Van Gogh murder, the D.C./Virginia snipers, the attack on Jewish women in Seattle, etc., ad nauseum, the primary significance of those events is that the spectre of anti-Muslim sentiment might be raised. The show "24" is racist, I read, because it portays some Muslims (gasp!) as terrorists on American soil, instead of those ubiquitous and well-organized, if fictive, scapegoats, the neo-Nazis. The Muslim spokesperson said he feared violence in America as a result of the show, doubtless knowing whereof he spoke, but specifically fear of anti-Muslim violence, which, as every schoolchild knows, is a far greater threat than the elephant in the living room we're not supposed to mention. Even use of the designation "they" to indicate an openly self-identifying group is to be dreaded if the application is not politically-correct. If this is not pretextual, ideological thinking, I can't say what is.

Which brings us to Archie Bunker. "Bigotry" and "discrimination" require an invalid or unsupported linkage between the subject, object, and real-world context in order to be meaningful or actionable, in order to be more than an observation or statement of preference. In this Archie often met the bigotry bill, usually because he started and finished with what he wanted to believe instead of incorporating what indisputable evidence was actually available for examination before forming his beliefs. With your reflexive formula that opprobrium equals bigotry (except for unfavored groups), you yourself are thus more like an anti-Archie than a non-Archie, which is a big difference indeed: the latter rejects the construct, while the former is a reflection, an equally-blindered, and equally self-satisfied, opposite.

Dawn Coyote said...

Sweetie, what's troubling you? How did you get locked into this whole us/them thing, anyway? I suggest you have a good think on it. I'd be happy to talk to again sometime about my experiences in the Middle East. In the mean time, good luck.

Anonymous said...

Dawn---I can't say for certain what's "troubling" me, or how I became "locked into" an "us/them thing", but I suspect it has something to do with the high number of recent-past, present, and planned mass murders of Israeli and Western noncombatants in the name of Allah. Upon reflection, it may be easiest after all to rationalize such attacks as the random, unconnected, spontaneous acts of independent contractors, for which the West largely bears the blame anyway. In the meantime, good luck to you as well.