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Muslim states hate us because their culture is backwards and corrupt,
February 26, 2002 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Muslim states hate us because their culture is backwards and corrupt, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial. The writer, tired of America-bashing, explores the inferiority complex of the Arab world: "Like Third World Marxists of the 1960s, who put blame for their own self-inflicted misery upon corporations, colonialism and racism--anything other than the absence of real markets and a free society--the Islamic intelligentsia recognizes the Muslim world's inferiority vis-à-vis the West, but it then seeks to fault others for its own self-created fiasco. Government spokesmen in the Middle East should ignore the nonsense of the cultural relativists and discredited Marxists and have the courage to say that they are poor because their populations are nearly half illiterate, that their governments are not free, that their economies are not open, and that their fundamentalists impede scientific inquiry, unpopular expression and cultural exchange." via kuro5hin
posted by swift (36 comments total)

 
I imagine this will get flamed but I thought when reading this yesterday that it makes a lot of sense if you remove the hype. My favorite bit "How much easier for nonvoters of the Arab world to vent frustration at the West, as if, in some Machiavellian plot, a democratic America, Israel and Europe have conspired to prevent Muslims from adopting the Western invention of democracy! Democracy is hardly a Western secret to be closely guarded and kept from the mujahideen. Islam is welcome to it, with the blessing and subsidy of the West. Yes, we must promote democracy abroad in the Muslim world; but only they, not we, can ensure its success. "
posted by revbrian at 10:01 AM on February 26, 2002


I started reading this article with much trepidation as most of what comes from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal is right wing blather(how a newspaper that produces such well written, well researched and balanced articles in its other pages could have an editorial staff of reactionary morons is beyond me), but was positively surprised as this article actually seemed to have had some thought put into it.
Until I got to this part:
Values and traditions--not guns, germs and steel--explain why a tiny Greece...crushed a Persia 20 times larger; why Rome, not Carthage, created world government; why Cortés was in Tenochtitlàn, and Montezuma not in Barcelona; ....Even ... in the medieval ages, a Europe divided by religion and fragmented into feudal states could still send thousands of thugs into the Holy Land, while ....Islam had neither the ships nor the skill nor the logistics to wage jihad in Scotland or Brittany.
Actually, it wasn't values and traditions, but bigger weaponry (guns and steel didn't exist during most of the times he cites, so he is technically correct) and duplicity and the belief in your own righteousness and the willingness to excuse those that you colonized from the burdens of democracy
posted by ajayb at 10:46 AM on February 26, 2002


He is right. Practice whatever religion you want, but don't be mad at it others when it impedes your society. You are free to believe and follow whatever crazy theology you want and I am free to call it stupid.

There is a point to be made, however, that America has encouraged dictatorships in the name of "stability" and prevented democracy because the people wouldn't be so willing to cooperate with US interests as the dictator our government supported would.
posted by McBain at 10:46 AM on February 26, 2002


perhaps the overt america bashing is a sign of the frustration within certain fundamentalist regimes, here I tenuously refer to Iran. Here the ruling elite has been coming under pressure from reformers mostly young who do not share the fundamentalist outlook of the older oligarchy. It may be easier to attack (verbally as well as physically)a 'corrupt' western power, and no greater power than the u.s than deal with the rumblings of discontent from within their own borders. Perhaps in doing so they may quell these stirrings, a warning, to show that their fundamentalist vigour is very much intact.
posted by johnnyboy at 10:49 AM on February 26, 2002


Democracy is expensive, everyone knows that. It is impractical on a large scale, requires a lot of brave or at least motivated people to establish in a place used to any other sort of rule (besides anarchy I suppose); ask China. It is not surprising to me that an anti relativist would find it so easy to blame the misfortune of a people on themselves, and on the culture which is passed down through the generations as some sort of timeless, nonevolving cultural identity of being bad.

This is no different from NewAge crap - a man is addicted to alcohol because he wills it, or that regardless of poverty degradation and all empirical evidence, children who are hard off remain hard off because they don't take risks and live life. This is no different from the sorts of opinions which mid level Enron manageant had about the poor being poor because they take no risks (reference to some news article I read...keep in mind this is straight from my head to the keyboard). Just because you don't remember the shit you put a people through, or were more likely put through due to sheer circumstance, doesn't mean that they should be not only blamed but outright labeled as backwards and at fault. What can be blamed is the sort of beliefs we hold to absent ourselves from getting our hands dirty in aid.

This sort of belief seems faultless - it does not tell any lies. However, it maliciously obscures the imperceivably complex world of truth. So it is easy to accept. IMHO, it is too easy, and far too popular. It is convenient for the unreligious (or-power-of-the-self convinced) fortunate (for which the WSJ are giving their usual lullaby to) because it allows (-->us) to blame the unfortunate for their misfortune, which we believe is the product of human meddling (since of course the life experience of us masters of the world casts doubt on fate or luck anything to do with these things - if it happened, someone must be at fault). So, However backwards, murderous, ungodly and bad Muslim states may act or even in the most real sense *are*, it is neither productive or in my mind acceptable to cover our eyes, turn our backs and regale our fretting, flushed audience with the story of the Heathens: how they got that way by themselves, how it wasn't our fault and how there is nothing we can do for them until they have the humility to admit it.

I mean, looking at the paragraph above:
poor - there is very little work for the people to do - the profits involved in oil are unlike any other industry, and such that while a few people make a lot of money, they would not be inclined to share or distribute it, even in a democracy. Lots of sand, lots of oil, not much else. Think every family gets a pump?

illiterate - because they are poor (come on it isn't that much of a leap)

fundamentalism - because the poor, probably in want of something better to believe in, believe in all that comes naturally. Fundamentalists are the most innocent product of misfortune. They are soothsayers, and do what is needed to soothe. (Grammer in there probably wrong).

All we say about how we know better is rooted in us being familiar with the better. How does this journalist expect someone, or a nation, in "denial", in poverty and cultural stasis, to "admit" that it is because of these things that they are impoverished, cultural isolated and in denial? Although this is a moot point, as you will note that this article is not FOR the people in question but ABOUT them. It is a suggestion for -->us to believe in the anti relativism, by recontextualizing and simplifying the unfamiliar facts and *long history* of an unfortunate situation as the root cause of that situation, and in so doing blaming the people who have to live with it every day.

Oh - and they don't believe in a Machiavellian plot - Machiavelli is not widely read in opressive states by illiterates. If what we think they suspect is holding them down to be Machiavellian, it is our interperetation (self justification?). Our words for our concerns, their words for theirs. Easier for them to believe in this plot?? Easier for us to believe, more like. Fact is, all the people in question know is that they didn't ask for things to be the way they are.
Much like you, or any other human being in a world of shit.

my $.02. Please don't flame me too hard 8-{
posted by Settle at 11:09 AM on February 26, 2002


What is becoming clearer, as noted in the NY Times article on Muslim private school in Ameica is that those who value Muslim belief, even living in a democracy, seem unwilling or unable to separate out Western cuyltrue from ealrier Muslim culture and would relish a return to the "good old days." The two simply don't blend, and the West separated out Belief from Culture (science, art, etc) over an extended period of time but it is now possible to love your country and still have your religion; whereas too often Muslims, from what I have read, believe that Beief and Religion is above or superior to the State (and its cultrue)...this puts them in a quandry if they are living in Western society.
posted by Postroad at 11:12 AM on February 26, 2002


To play devil's advocate:

"it is a nation's culture--not its geography or size or magnitude of its oil reserves--that determines its wealth or freedom. "

"democracy does not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus but rather is...the formal icing on a pre-existing cake of egalitarianism, economic opportunity, religious tolerance and constant self-criticism.

We are militarily strong, and the Arab world abjectly weak, [only]... because of our culture

He says that our freedom is based on our (democratic) culture. He then says our democratic culture is the result of a number of freedoms. Then he says that our strength derives from our culture, which derives from our freedom. In this sense, democracy seems like an intermediate step between freedom and a strength.

Where is his proof that democracy is necessary, though, and that you can't just cut out the middleman and have underlying egalitarianism, etc, without formal democracy, and still be strong? The absence of proof for this claim seems like a weakness in his fundamental argument.
posted by Hildago at 12:00 PM on February 26, 2002


I'm sorry but whilst there is a lot of truth written there, the comments in respect to Israel basically invalidated it:

'Clearly, the anger derives not from the tragic tally of the fallen but from Islamic rage that Israelis have defeated Muslims on the battlefield repeatedly, decisively, at will and without modesty.

If Israel were not so successful, free and haughty--if it were beleaguered and tottering on the verge of ruin--perhaps it would be tolerated. But in a sea of totalitarianism and government-induced poverty, a relatively successful economy and a stable culture arising out of scrub and desert clearly irks its less successful neighbors. Envy, as the historian Thucydides reminds us, is a powerful emotion and has caused not a few wars.'


I can't even be bothered to state why I think those comments are ridiculous. This isn't an attempt at balance journalism. The guy cites history, but leaves out anything that is inconvenient to his warped view of the situation. On balance, this article is ignorant at best, propaganda at worst.
posted by RobertLoch at 12:22 PM on February 26, 2002


Hildago, those quotes say that:

1) Culture determines wealth/freedom.

2) Democracy came from a culture of freedom-mindedness.

He's saying that the pre-existing cultural cake in the colonies motivated the pursuit of an independent democratic government that would guarantee freedom.

An externally imposed democratic government is not a freedom light switch; underlying cultural proclivities are required for a democracy to succeed and freedoms to persist.

So a culture that does not value it's freedoms will elect itself out of a democracy.

He's not saying Democracy is required for freedom, but the inverse: that a freedom-loving (or freedom-wanting) culture is necessary for democracy to thrive.
posted by techgnollogic at 12:35 PM on February 26, 2002


Any article that ends with an implied threat to an entire race is a piece of balderdash.
posted by bittennails at 12:36 PM on February 26, 2002


The article is pretty well truthful. Religion may not be the opiate of the masses, but it's definitely easier to have true believers amongst the poor, uneducated, politcally oppressed than the comfortable and schooled.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:43 PM on February 26, 2002


You are free to believe and follow whatever crazy theology you want and I am free to call it stupid.

Well, we in the West are anyway!
posted by HTuttle at 12:47 PM on February 26, 2002


It's worth noting a pattern: those countries with greater religious faith are also those countries with less wealth and less freedom.

In America and much of Europe, faith is irrelevent. There may be lip-service to religion, but it isn't actually practiced as such. And these countries do well.

Look towards countries that are stereotypically "more religious" -- Brazil or Turkey, say. Lots of faith. Guidance and command from the religious leaders means something to the people. They practice what is preached, far more than Americans do. And those countries aren't doing so well.

Then look toward the countries that have taken up fundamentalism, where the word from the religious leaders is law, and severe punishment is the consequence for transgression. Those countries are doing terribly.

Religion is, perhaps, contrary to wealth, health, and freedom...
posted by five fresh fish at 12:59 PM on February 26, 2002


but it's definitely easier to have true believers amongst the poor, uneducated, politcally oppressed than the comfortable and schooled.

Um paris, it's actually the "true believer" who is rich, well educated, lives free and has no political association who scares the hell out of me. We have quite a few in india, I call them fanatics with power=money.
posted by bittennails at 12:59 PM on February 26, 2002


Robert, while I agree that he seems to include historical facts to bolster his argument while excluding those that compromise it, I think there's a bigger picture here in what he's saying. My read is that this has more to do with moving the argument from how can the US bend over backwards in order to get the Muslim world to quit hating us to examining some of the underlying causes behind the hate. The liberal analysis of this has suggested getting out of Saudi Arabia, not supporting Israel, etc., etc. when the problems are more fundamental. The problems are rooted deep in history and choices made or imposed upon the Muslim world. The problems facing the Muslim world are, in a way, very similar to those of communism in that the system of government doesn't work. But instead of recognizing that fact, the left would rather the US continue the illusion that if we just changed, their situation would get better. The illusion that a vibrant economy which can support better education, a higher standard of living, a more free people, can exist under the current political and economic structures which exist in many Muslim countries.

And to address Settle's well reasoned remarks, I take a different spin on what was said. Instead of looking at it as an alcoholic willing it, but that the solution to the problem is not to bury your head in the sand and reason that if you simply overlook the alcoholism that eventually it will go away by itself. I believe this is what people like AA call being an enabaler. That is the view of the left. If the US would simply stop being a world power, or quit doing this or that, that the Muslim world will wake up one day and say "Gee, now that the US doesn't interfere or meddle in our business, the world is a grand place." I have said before that I think the Muslim world needs some tough love but perhaps it would be better framed as an intervention. We're concerned that you're on this self-destructive course and we think you need to get some help.

Also in terms of some of your comments about the inability to know democracy, let's not forget that the ruling elite in many of these countries are educated at some of the US' finest schools. Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc., etc. are filled with the sons and daughters of the power elite of the Muslim world. They know democracy, they simply don't wish to introduce the concept to the common man who is more easily controlled by being kept uneducated and in your labor. As one Muslim wrote in a scathing reaction to the events of Sept. 11, common Arabs living in Israel enjoy more freedom than they do in any other Muslim country. Israel affords them more respect and opportunity than they have in their own country. That is the problem. And until we're ready to admit that the current political situation in the Muslim world is headed for a very ugly crash, the situation is not likely to improve.
posted by billman at 1:00 PM on February 26, 2002


The primary difference between religions of the western world and religions of the middle east that I have observed is this: on this side of the Atlantic there is at least an attempt at religious tolerance. Over in the Middle East many believe their way is the only way and not only do they not listen, they refuse to risk being proven wrong - to the point of incarcerating two relatively inconspicuous little girls from Texas because they happened to worship a similar god who has a different name.

Muslims listen to Muhammed. Christians listen to Jesus. Dismissing human interpretation, I see little to no difference between the gods these prophets represent. Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, or Dios. It's the same guy. Entire nations are fighting over two guys who are probably up in heaven right now playing golf together. If it weren't for all the bloodshed, it'd be quite laughable.

I would agree with Egyptian Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz to a point. America's bombing of the Taliban was "just as despicable" as the September 11 attacks, but I do not agree it was "a crime." It was self-defense - to prevent future attacks on our soil. Calling the American response a crime is like saying an armed thief can come into your home, take your stuff and even vandalise or destroy your property, but that you have no legal means of defending yourself or insuring the bastard can't do the same to you and those you love in the future.

Violence is never right, but because some on this planet insist that it is, there are times when it's necessary. Had we not retaliated, it would have been open season on America from that day forward.

Now, hatemongerers and those who believe violence is acceptable behavior now know that if you bring your hate to our soil, it will be brought back upon you ten fold. Still, the effort was fruitless on our part, because the people of Afghanistan had already reduced their once great society to rubble in the course of the wars they've been waging before our involvement was forced. They've fought with the russians. They fight amongst themselves.

Y'know, if wild lions and hyenas in Africa worked together to take down prey, they'd really live high on the hog out there. However, they are sworn enemies and bitter rivals of nature. It would be nice if us human beings could be a little less ignorant than wild beasts.

I agree that details of this linked opinion are a bit out there, but the basic tenet of the piece is acceptable: we are not only fighting terrorism. We are fighting societal ignorance. It's not that 'they' hate 'us.' They hate their distorted perception of what they think we are. And some of us may be doing the same thing to them.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:01 PM on February 26, 2002


ZachsMind, while I don't disagree with you, I do disagree with the analogy:
It was self-defense - to prevent future attacks on our soil. Calling the American response a crime is like saying an armed thief can come into your home, take your stuff and even vandalise or destroy your property, but that you have no legal means of defending yourself or insuring the bastard can't do the same to you and those you love in the future.
In your analogy, if I were robbed, I would then be justified in stalking the robber for 2 weeks and then shooting him. That would be considered a vigilante and would be liable for prosecution, no matter how justified you felt you were.
posted by ajayb at 1:23 PM on February 26, 2002


The editorial would be better if it related somehow to reality rather than how the WSJ would like to think things are:

Like Third World Marxists of the 1960s, who put blame for their own self-inflicted misery upon corporations, colonialism and racism...

We don't know how any of the Third World would have developed without colonialism, the core tenant of which was grabbing raw materials from a country and forcing them to buy your manufactured goods, while at the same time denying the people of the colony participation in government. I can't imagine a better recipe for retarding economic and political development; of course many of them ended up choosing Marxism and socialism.

Yes, we must promote democracy abroad in the Muslim world; but only they, not we, can ensure its success.

Kind of funny given that US foreign policy in the post-colonial world centred around protecting economic and geopolitical interests with promoting democracy as a secondary objective. Remember that the US overthrew a democratically elected government in Chile thirty years ago, and supported dozens of totalitarian strong men over the years.

Values and traditions--not guns, germs and steel--explain... why Rome, not Carthage, created world government...

What Roman values is he talking about? The core fact about Rome was that it was ruled for hundreds of years by various forms of class-based oligarchy and that the economy depended on slavery. At its height 40% of the population were slaves, and technological development was retarded because slavery was so prevalent.

...in the medieval ages, a Europe divided by religion and fragmented into feudal states could still send thousands of thugs into the Holy Land, while ....Islam had neither the ships nor the skill nor the logistics to wage jihad in Scotland or Brittany.

Actually Islam did get to the gates of Vienna and controlled much of Spain for awhile. The Crusades were for the most part only temporarily successful, with Europeans unable to keep any part of the Holy Land for very long. It wasn't until the Ottoman Empire was broken up after WWI that Islam really lost influence on the world stage.

We are militarily strong, and the Arab world abjectly weak, [only]... because of our culture...

Europe was militarily stronger than most of Asia, Africa, and Latin America before it was overtly democratic. The height of colonial dominance in many cases coincides with monarchies and societies that we would consider only somewhat open and democratic.

If Israel were not so successful, free and haughty--if it were beleaguered and tottering on the verge of ruin--perhaps it would be tolerated. But in a sea of totalitarianism and government-induced poverty, a relatively successful economy and a stable culture arising out of scrub and desert clearly irks its less successful neighbors. Envy, as the historian Thucydides reminds us, is a powerful emotion and has caused not a few wars....

A ton of US aid helps, too.

Writes five fresh fish: It's worth noting a pattern: those countries with greater religious faith are also those countries with less wealth and less freedom.

The West has become increasingly less religious, except for the USA, in the past 50 years; the level of religious practice in the US is actually a lot higher than other countries in the West.

Settle, one of the problems in Egypt is that there are a lot more educated people than there are good jobs for them.

billman writes: The liberal analysis of this has suggested getting out of Saudi Arabia, not supporting Israel, etc., etc. when the problems are more fundamental. ... But instead of recognizing that fact, the left would rather the US continue the illusion that if we just changed, their situation would get better.

I'm on the left and I don't think getting out of Saudi would help too much at this point; it's too late, because what is really being reacted to is Western economic and cultural domination. There is a difference between someone hating the US and someone hating the US so much that they drive a plane into the World Trade Center. The Cold War did not see NATO and the Warsaw Pact engaged in overt terrorism against each other. And there are a lot of places poorer than Saudi that aren't fostering terrorism.

Supposed root causes should be address anyway, but saying that that will solve the problem at this point is naive. Islamism isn't Communism, it's more akin to fascism: a brutal, mysoginist, racist, anti-democratic and anti-intellectual idealology that has to be destroyed or rendered harmless.
posted by tranquileye at 1:46 PM on February 26, 2002


Supposed root causes should be address anyway, but saying that that will solve the problem at this point is naive. Islamism isn't Communism, it's more akin to fascism: a brutal, misogynist, racist, anti-democratic and anti-intellectual ideology that has to be destroyed or rendered harmless.
posted by tranquileye at 1:47 PM on February 26, 2002


Hold on there, ajayb: first, in response to your earlier comment, my vague understanding of the Persian-Greek wars has the small but highly trained armies of the Peloponnesus stopping the massive conscripted Persian army by superior valor and strategy at e.g. Marathon and then at Thermopylae and Salamis.

And after the Greeks finally ended the Persians' imperial ambitions they consolidated their power in the Aegean rather than trying to conquer and colonise the Mediterranean.

I was going to rebut your outrageous abuse of Zach's analogy in the post just above, but it's just too stupid.
posted by nicwolff at 1:49 PM on February 26, 2002


ajayb: No, I believe the correct analogy (if we're correcting analogies ), is that if someone broke into your house and the police hunted him down and ended up killing several innocent people when he refused to surrender and engaged in gunfire with the police.

Unrelated to your post . . . and possibly even to this thread but . . . the LA Times ran an article this weekend on the Afghani's who acted as spys agains the Taliban and assisted US forces. Many of the people who have spoken out against the US because of the civilian casualties should read the article because it does describe at least one incident (and the story was mostly about one particular spy and his uncle so one could assume similar mistakes were made by others) that was the result of the Afghani spy's giving wrong coordinates to the US bombers. They even mention how utterly amazed the Afghani spys were in how accurate the bombers were. They were hesitant at first believing that the US might harm civilians in their bombings but after witnessing the accuracy of the weapons, they no longer had any reservations about the US' promise to only hit Taliban targets.

posted by billman at 2:00 PM on February 26, 2002


nicwolff,
as I don't understand why my extension of Zachsmind's analogy is stupid, please feel free to rebutt. thanks
posted by ajayb at 2:03 PM on February 26, 2002


tranquileye: Islamism isn't Communism, it's more akin to fascism: a brutal, misogynist, racist, anti-democratic and anti-intellectual ideology that has to be destroyed or rendered harmless

Except maybe for the racism bit (communism is a system of equal opportunity oppression), you pretty much described communism. National socialism (nazism, fascism) and international socialism (communism) are really not that different.
posted by dagny at 2:17 PM on February 26, 2002


Techgnollogic -- "He's not saying Democracy is required for freedom, but the inverse: that a freedom-loving (or freedom-wanting) culture is necessary for democracy to thrive."

Yeah, I got that from the article too, but my problem is that if he is saying that it is simply true that the same thing that gives us democracy also gives us strength, he shouldn't imply that there is a correllation between democracy itself and strength without proving that connection.

The "Ra Ra Democracy!" element is certainly a subtext that I got from reading the article. I dunno about you. And that's all well and good, but its fundamentally unrelated to his thesis. I'm not saying he's wrong, only that his argument could be more complete. He assumes a lot, and uses that as ammunition for some pretty sweeping generalizations and nasty ultimatums.
posted by Hildago at 2:22 PM on February 26, 2002


Quote: "The West has become increasingly less religious, except for the USA, in the past 50 years; the level of religious practice in the US is actually a lot higher than other countries in the West."

The level of religious practice in the US is not particularly high. Church-going may be on the up, but it's a loooong stretch between going to church and living a moral life.

Please show statistics indicating that Americans are more compassionate, more caring, more patient, and more charitable toward their fellow man in day-to-day life, than they were a hundred years ago.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:49 PM on February 26, 2002


Settle: poor - there is very little work for the people to do - the profits involved in oil are unlike any other industry, and such that while a few people make a lot of money, they would not be inclined to share or distribute it, even in a democracy.

Huh? True, the oil work doesn't go around, but the wealth does. Saudi Arabians, Bruneians, etc receive huge handouts from the government (= the ruling family, = the oil owners). This sharing-of-wealth-via-guaranteed-income is part of the problem: see, e.g., Thomas Friedman's 2/20/02 piece in the NYT, "the Saudi economy can no longer afford the welfare net that once guaranteed every Saudi a government job. ... Saudi Arabia will be able to thrive only if it can reform its schools to build young people who can innovate and create wealth from their minds -- not just from their wells."

illiterate - because they are poor

No. They're literate and love to read; the problem is that the only book they read is the Koran. Again, from Friedman, "That means revamping the overcrowded Saudi universities, which right now churn out endless graduates in Islamic studies or liberal arts, but too few with the technical skills a modern economy demands." Or in poorer countries look at the infamous madrassas, whose sole curriculum is to memorize the Koran in Arabic, even for students who don't speak a word of Arabic! Those students especially read until they ache: the problem is that they choose to read only one book.

How does this journalist expect someone, or a nation, in "denial", in poverty and cultural stasis, to "admit" that it is because of these things that they are impoverished, cultural isolated and in denial?

Turkey did it. The ex-bastion of Islamic power examined itself and decided it needed to become more like the West. Today they're fairly wealthy ($6,800 GDP per capita), strong (NATO member since 1952), and democratic (real elections, 5 political parties). Why can't the others do the same?
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 3:54 PM on February 26, 2002


HC, in truth there are vast numbers of graduates educated in various technical disciplines in Egypt and Saudi -- to the extent that Engineer is a title with commensurate respect to Doctor. (Case in point: Mohammed Atta -- not to mention bin Laden himself.) But the trouble is that almost all the technical jobs are with the government, or the keiretsu-like SA construction firms. They may need to examine more closely how they can build a legal structure that will support more entrepreneurism.

tranquil, dagny: Islamism certainly isn't communism. There have been Marxists in Arab and Islamic lands for over half a century, and several of the previous movements have been some mélange of elements of Islamic society, Marxism, nationalism, fascism, and theocracy: see Nasserism, Baathism for prior examples. It's hard to pin down one dominating feature of Islamism beyond shari'a law, there being so many native variations, but the Taliban clearly created a kind of theocratic fascism. It wasn't hostile to capitalism, per se, but like most fascist regimes it put great emphasis on business that served the goals of the regime, in this case purportedly Islam. The regime in Afghanistan under Soviet domination began with Daoud, who although a cousin of the King opened the government to Marxists trained at the Russian-influenced Kabul University, and as such was comparatively liberal -- women's rights and that sort of thing -- but its ideals of socialism were openly hostile to Islamic traditional life. Reportedly one of the reasons for the initial uprising that led to the Soviet occupation was a law promoting female literacy. Fascism may have had its roots in a kind of socialism, but it's closer to a co-opting of the corporate sector to public ownership of the means of production. My main point here being that Marxism has set sail in this part of the world, run up against the rock of Islam, and foundered. The rise of Islamism can be tracked as an arc in opposition to the failure of Marxism.

Islamism is certainly distinguished from communism in its receptivity to the long Arab and Islamic mercantile tradition, yet since it still tends to require a hierarchical form of government with a dollop of nationalism, fascism is probably the most familiar and appropriate Western term. Thus I like Hitchens's term Islamofascism, because it requires the institution of theocratic law throughout the state, and total devotion to that system of law.
posted by dhartung at 6:17 PM on February 26, 2002


Guys, it's a little hypocritical for us westerners to now say "democracy is it" when we have spent the last 200+ years (France, uk, spain), or 100+ years (US) denying democracy to those in our sphere of influence (uk: you name it; US: Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc., etc.,). We have installed dictators in Iraq, Iran, Saudi, Brazil, Chile, name your African country, ....
We have killed people to shore up markets and make money! Thats what our system does! Lets at least be honest about it. Then we might see why our system our policies, our countries are despised by the poor and religious in the developing world.
Please argue on specifics, and not ideologies, against this.

(no name calling)

- John
posted by dash_slot- at 6:57 PM on February 26, 2002


dash_slot, not sure what you're describing is democracy rather a tendency to promote our own self-interests. It occured under communisim/socialism, facism, and even monarchies. Democracy is great but if the choice is between a hostile communist government or a friendly (to the US) facist government, at least in the past, the US has opted to follow it's own self-interests and lend aid to the facists. Or even in the instances of a democratic government with hostile intent/relations or a facist government with friendly ties, the US, again, has historically adopted policies favoring the facists. Not because the US supports facism or socalism or monarchies, but because it is/was thought to be in the best interest of the US. If there was a friendly democracy and an hostile facist, one would think that minus any other major outside influences the US would embrace the friendly democracy. The point of all the above blabber being that the decision was not democracy vs. non-democracies it was a decision of ally vs. foe which has nothing to do with democracy, but is in fact, one might argue, a part of democracy.
posted by billman at 8:36 PM on February 26, 2002


Please argue on specifics, and not ideologies, against this.

I would question this in the sense that the dictators/whomever we have supported were supported due to the perception that they were the puppet of a larger non-democratic state (remember, the USSR and Cuba consider/ed themselves democratic). Whether assasinations, Shah installations, etc. were the best path to take is open to discussion, but it was not necessarily subverting democracy.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:57 PM on February 26, 2002


ajayb,

I also thought your restating of the analogy of ZachsMind's post was poor, for two main reasons:

1) In your analogy the first action, being robbed, is followed by a response of much greater magnitude, stalking and shooting the robber. ZachsMind's analogy was related to the WTC massacre and the US's action in Afghanistan. So, to correct that part of your analogy I might say "A mass murderer came to my house, murdered my entire family and several other families on my block".

2) To say the US's response is vigilante justice is twisting the reality. I think the second part of your analogy would be better stated as "So, being a well equipped and trained policeman duly recognized by nearly all the other policemen in my area, I gained their permission to hunt down and kill the mass murderer. We all knew a few innocent bystanders would probably be accidentally killed. Some of the other police helped me directly, others allowed me to base my search from their precincts".

My recast of your analogy still doesn't reflect all the nuances of global politics, etc. so I don't think it is possible to make a simple analogy of the situation without biasing it one way or the other. However, I though yours was way off base.
posted by ArkIlloid at 10:48 PM on February 26, 2002


"That would be considered a vigilante and would be liable for prosecution, no matter how justified you felt you were."

When the U.N. needs to have a police action, who do they call? We Americans have kinda let ourselves get painted into a corner. We are the primary force of the free world and other countries turn to us for military action. So it's dangerous not only that we put out all the fires on the planet that other countries ask us to put out, but also that we selfishly put out fires that we personally want to put out.

But when we have trouble with another country like Afghanistan or Iraq, who are we supposed to call? Sweden?
posted by ZachsMind at 11:11 PM on February 26, 2002


one contextual item that seems to be left out of the piece is that fundamentalism in many parts of the Middle East has a historical context that differentiates it from fundamentalism in general. Islam has been used since the fall of the Ottoman empire as a political foil to the secular and presumably colonial powers that have been active in the region. given the disparity of cultures within the arab world, it became easier to create a collective identity around 'Islam" than "arab." in opposing things that appeared to be representative of an urbanized Western elite, many states rejected things that were indicative of modernization, and therein lies the real problem.
posted by lizs at 12:27 AM on February 27, 2002


I would question this in the sense that the dictators/whomever we have supported were supported due to the perception that they were the puppet of a larger non-democratic state (remember, the USSR and Cuba consider/ed themselves democratic). Whether assasinations, Shah installations, etc. were the best path to take is open to discussion, but it was not necessarily subverting democracy.

*cough* Ferdinand Marcos. *cough*
posted by lia at 2:05 AM on February 28, 2002


I guess it all boils down to Whether there are leaders of the religion who are willing to rule that you be killed because you study the religion and disagree on it's core text's meaning. I'm unaware of that going down in Judeo-Christian circles. Well, at least for a thousand years or so...
posted by ParisParamus at 7:40 PM on March 1, 2002


ParisParamus: Islam (at least for Sunnis, who comprise the majority of Muslims) is not a pyramidal hierarchy, so to speak of "leaders of the religion" may be a little misleading to those who may think of popes and bishops and Baptist Conferences. There are respected figures, but no one with any institutionalized authority outside of Iran. No one can authoritatively speak for all Muslims everywhere.

Also: the Inquisition was still quite powerful in the 16th century. The Thirty Years' War ended in 1638. Northern Ireland is still beset with sectarian violence between, broadly speaking, identity groups organized around Catholic-Protestant religious differences. So no, it's been less than a thousand years since intolerance of "heresy" has reared its ugly head in the Western world.

IMHO, Christianity and Islam are basically the same. There's a single, all-powerful god who created the universe, and an arc of cosmic history at the end of which a great war will destroy the world, after which all the souls of the dead will rise and be judged for entrance into eternal bliss or damnation, so you better be good for goodness' sake, etc. All the current sins of the Islamic world were committed in Christendom as well right up to the 18th century. Any praise or blame for the changes in Western culture regarding the place of religion in politics and society, the toleration of differences of opinion, even the nature of truth, properly belongs to the Enlightenment, which has always seemed to me a nonreligious, even antireligious movement, and not Christianity, which is only tolerable to most Westerners to the extent to which it's been corrupted and moderated by liberal ideas.
posted by skoosh at 2:44 AM on March 2, 2002


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