November 07, 2004
Van Gogh Mailbag
I've been getting lots of mail in reaction to my post about Theo van Gogh's murder. A lot of people think I'm being overly simplistic in equating a murder in Amsterdam to battles in the Sunni Triangle. Others seem to be interpreting my post as some call to arms against Islam generally. It is nothing of the sort. I believe Islam is one of the world's greatest religions and that it merits the utmost respect (I find all the tiresome, repetitive blogospheric chatter denigrating the "ROP" as moronic as the "proud member of the reality based community" crapola). That said, of course, there are far too many radical Islamists who have perverted Islamic tenets and turned them to fanatical, brutish ends. (After 9/11, that's what every Muslim cabbie in NYC couldn't wait to tell me--"these men were not real Muslims"! they would scream emphatically--as the smoke continued to billow from Ground Zero).
Put differently, I don't think a massive Huntingtonian clash of civilizations is nigh. That's not what I meant when I spoke of a "grand ideological battle" in my post on the van Gogh murder. What I meant, really, what that there must be a battle within Islam to purge the most radical Islamists. And we (ie, the non-spectating West) must stand ready to assist the Mubaraks, Allawis, Abdullahs in this fight. Which is why we need to often hold our noses and support people like Crown Prince Abdullah (better than Prince Nayef); or Musharraf (better than more radical elements in the ISI), or Allawi (better than Sadr and such) and so on. And, while supporting such authoritarians (today martial law was declared in Iraq; a not uncoincidental timing post-U.S. election); we must also balance this realpolitik with varied initiatives aimed at producing greater democratization--albeit in calibrated fashion lest religious and/or populist resurgences sprout up that are anathema to the U.S. national interest.
Important in all this, and not discussed often enough, is improving our public diplomacy in the region. We are letting, too often, others describe American intentions to the region. We need to explain what we are up to--more clearly, more loudly, in Arabic, often, and through varied fora. For instance, the European view (more prevalent there, perhaps, than in the Middle East, somewhat ironically) of Dubya as a messianic figure--something of a Christian warrior--must be loudly rebutted. Here is a typical cartoon from today's Le Monde:
The caption reads: "l'armée américaine prête à l'assaut de Fallouja." Bolstering such theses, you have AFP stories like these.
I am distressed by how widespread such stereotypical stories have become in Europe and the Middle East (in Europe, elites use them as a handy way to relativize UBL and Dubya--both religious nutters, to a fashion, the thinking goes). Look, Dubya went into Iraq, not because of evangelical enthusiasm to prostelyize through Mesopotamia and the Levant--but because of a confluence of factors, in my view: 1) post 9/11 WMD fears (60%); 2) unfinished Poppy business and assorted pyschological impulses thereto (20%), 3) Saddam was 'evil', ie the humanitarian argument (10%); and 4) Afghanistan seemed, well, too quick somehow, and the American behemoth, bloodied on 9/11, sought to push along what Richard Haass has called the "geopolitical momentum." (10%) (2)-(4), in my view, are mostly poppy-cock (ie, as valid reasons for the U.S. to have gone in--though 3/4 are quasi-legit on some levels). But, my point here is only that this isn't a religious war--that didn't factor into the decision-making process at all (are we converting Afghans and Iraqis to Christianity or such? Of course not.) Just because Bush shucked Jack Daniels for Jesus doesn't mean he is a religious fanatic hell-bent on bringing back the Crusades. To so argue, as so many in Europe do, is hugely hyperbolic. Consider how often American Presidents, historically, have used religious imagery with frequency in their speech-making. Regardless, we need to better beat back this myth as it is dangerous if it begins to gain too much credence in the Arab world.
Nor should we be so pessimistic about some inexorably poor fate for Christian-Islamic relations. Read this article for some interesting background. Some key passages:
There is a serious point underlying such anecdotes, for they show that throughout history, Muslims and Christians have traded, studied, negotiated, and loved across the porous frontiers of religious differences. Probe relations between the two civilizations at any period of history, and you find that the neat civilizational blocks imagined by writers such as Bernard Lewis or Samuel Huntington soon dissolve. It is true that just as there have been some strands of Christian thinking that have always been deeply hostile to Islam, so within Islam there have been schools of thought that have always harbored a deep hostility toward Christians, Jews, and other non-Islamic religions and civilizations, notably the Wahhabi and Salafi schools dominant in modern Saudi Arabia. Until this century, however, the Wahhabis were a theological movement of only localized significance and were widely regarded by most Muslims as an alien sect bordering on infidelity—kufr. It is the oil wealth of modern Saudi Arabia that has allowed the Wahhabis to spread their narrow-minded and intolerant brand of Islam, notably by the funding of extremist Wahhabi, Salafi, and Deobandi madrasas across the Islamic world since the mid-1970s, with the disastrous results we see today.
My point in my prior post re: van Gogh, of course, what that if the Sunni Triangle becomes a zone dominated by jihadists influenced by Wahhabists or Salafists, we will have handed a major victory to the radical elements who kill on the streets of Amsterdam or blow up churches in Iraq. And, yeah, that Old Europe needs to step up to bat and put more money on the line to help us out given this reality.
Finally, and particularly if one believes history is destiny--we need to analyze the competing narratives re: Christian-Islamic relations in more detail.
The tortuous and complex relationship of Western Christendom and the world of Islam has provoked a wide variety of responses from historians. Some, such as the great medievalist Sir Steven Runciman, take the view (as he wrote at the end of his magisterial three-volume history of the Crusades) that "our civilization has grown" out of "the long sequence of interaction and fusion between Orient and Occident." Runciman believed that the Crusades should be understood less as an attempt to reconquer the Christian heartlands lost to Islam than as the last of the barbarian invasions. The real heirs of Roman civilization were not the chain-mailed knights of the rural West, but the sophisticated Byzantines of Constantinople and the cultivated Arab caliphate of Damascus, both of whom had preserved the Hellenized urban civilization of the antique Mediterranean long after it was destroyed in Europe.
Others have seen relations between Islam and Christianity as being basically adversarial, a long-drawn-out conflict between the two rival civilizations of East and West. As Gibbon famously observed of the Frankish victory at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD, which halted the Arab advance into Europe:
A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the Rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland: the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or the Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.
Like most things, I reckon, the truth lies somewhere in between. That is, Christian-Islamic relations fall along a spectrum of relative amity and adversity. The challenge today is to get things moving more towards the amicable pole. Bombing Fallujah isn't going to do it, yes, in the short-term. But better securing Anbar Province enough to allow elections to take place there might--taking a slightly longer view. And, of course, so will addressing political and economic liberalization in the broader Middle East, moving towards a two-state solution in the Holy Land, keeping Afghanistan on a path towards democratic self-rule, providing more aid to state-run Pakistani madrassas with 'moderate' curricula, and so on.
Posted by Gregory at November 7, 2004 09:18 PM
Very sensible post, Greg.
I saw "Voices of Iraq" here in NYC (unfortunately showing inonly five cities in the US)
One interesting point was made by a Iraqi Cleric who believes in establishing Democracy in the Middle East. Basically, what he said was that Islam has become a slave to the state and in order for Muslims to be truly free they must free themselves from the state rule of theocracy. It is the state of Islamic rule which is creating radical Islamic Fascism and destroying the religion of Islam.
Very fine film and I encourage all to visit www.voicesofiraq.com to purchase it.
"the European view (more prevalent there, perhaps, than in the Middle East, somewhat ironically) of Dubya as a messianic figure--something of a Christian warrior--must be loudly rebutted"
Not ironic at all, Greg. We saw the moral equivalence tendency during the Cold War as well.
I think you miss the larger point: Christian-bashing is merely another means of carving out a European third way between the US and its global adversary. Christianity is irrelevant to this effort that's been deeply ingrained by a half-century of moral equivalence nonsense. The key for the European intellectual elites is to find a way to paint the US as no less, or even more, alien to European cultural and political values as the anti-US rival.
Thus during the Cold War the spin was, for the founder and early editors of Le Monde, that US capitalism was as savagely brutal as Stalinism. For Galbriath and other softer left-libs, the line was that the US and the SU's economic models were converging in a bureaucratic, top-heavy "new industiral state."
The essential equation, though, was the same: moral equivalence between the US and its rival, and moral superiority of the Euro-left to both.
Frankly, anyone who thinks the US is the moral equivalent of the neck-sawers who bomb children and assassinate doctors and professors by the hundreds isn't worth our time. As Orwell said, only an intellectual could be so stupid as to believe that.
Let's keep our eyes on the ball. The tide of popular opinion will turn in favor. The Russian people have learned. The Dutch populace is rapidly learning. The French, Germans and Spanish will learn in due course as well.
While GWB is doing his very best to avoid the clash of civilizations one needs to remember, as well:
1) Not all Germans were NAZIs.
2) Not all Southerners were slaveholders.
3) Not all Russians were Communists
Can you really say that should have precluded their defeat? Or, even violent resitstance to them?
I'm missing something in the discussion in the American blogosphere. Not that I have a comprehensive analysis about the situation, but I want to share with you a dimension of the whole Theo van Gogh-thing which many non-Dutch seem to ignore.
The fact is that we have about 650.000 (out of sixteen million) muslims within our borders, and that number is still growing. That complicates the whole GWOT thing a little. Since his morning we know that we not only have islamist nazi's to fight, but also their caucasian counterparts. They blew up the entrance of a islamic school this morning and threw molotov cocktails at mosques. These xenofobic acts may in turn create a backlash when non-islamist muslims decide to react. What have we then? A full-scale race war. Plus a war against islamic fascists. Tensions between natives and immigrants have (of course) existed in Holland for a long time, but until now it's kept under control (maybe a little too much - see the whole Pim Fortuyn-saga two years ago).
In the US it's easy: it's Americans against the crazies. But I am simultanously spitting anger against the crazies (who ritually slaughtered one of my heroes) and pissing my pants for what 'my' side may do next. That's really really difficult.
Update on the two-front war: arsonists struck a church in my hometown tonight. Put out fairly quick, no casulties.
Meanwhile the politicians debate the appriotriateness of the word 'war', as in 'war against islamist terrorism'.
Hagelslag: I invite you and your more clear-headed countrymen to move to a nation that truly understands tolerance and pluralism, where hardworking strivers of many different faiths and races get along, not least because the state leaves them alone.
Our economy is growing, and every social indicator has improved dramatically during the last few decades, from crime to race relations to environmental quality, school performance, traffic safety, cost of living etc.
As to specific places in the US, I recommend any of the high growth, beautiful boom areas such as Colorado, North Carolina, the Texas Hill Country, Arizona, New Hampshire. We await you with open arms.
Oh, and ditto for Europe's hardworking, respectful, tolerant muslim populations. Mennonite or shi'ite, chaldean or hasid, mormon or sikh or catholic, strivers are welcome here.
Not to your main point, but I was under the impression you supported the war in Iraq. If 40% of the reasons for the war are more or less poppycock and the only valid reason is proven to have been founded on a false empirical assumption, then I infer you believe that we shouldn't have invaded Iraq. So you do oppose the war in conception as well as execution and my impression was mistaken?
Any attempt to posit the existence of reasonable Muslims aghast at the hijacking of their noble religion at the hands of a few murderous fanatics inevitably runs against what one learned commentator has called "re-al-fucking-ity." As in, there doesn't seem to be all that many?
Or perhaps I'm missing the huge uproar in the Muslim world over the massive sale of DVDs with videos of infidel beheadings? Or perhaps the upsurge in Dutch muslim activism condemning the murder of Van Gogh and disassociating themselves from the act?
Sir, you are too rational. When those Muslim cabbies in New York told you "muslims" could not have been responsible for 9/11, what they meant was that it was the Mossad wot done it.
Dear Puzzled -
When a brutal regime is trying feverishly to acquire WMD, when it is actively engaging in hostilities with the US, when it calls openly for the destruction of the US, when it has used WMD in the past in a naked war of aggression and a campaign of murderous genocide against the Kurdish people, when the leader refused to cooperate in good faith with an inspection regime headed by a Swede that was prepared to give him every benefit of the doubt if he but tried to conform....
...the American people are going to take it out. Every time. The fact that the worst fears about the regime and the conclusion of every reputable intelligence service in the world were incorrect that actual stockpiles of WMD existed merely indicates the difficulty of getting reliable intelligence in a Fascist dictatorship. It does nothing about the central argument.
See you in Iran!
The percentages on Dubyas decision making process are good but miss one point. I truly think his decision making process was affected by not seeing the "down sides" or trials and
tribulations. He only saw the "good" end result. No Saddam and a Democracy. The execution is almost as important as the end game. Iran is going to be the real benefactor from this. No Saddam, free Shia and the US tied up while they develop nuclear technology. Chalabi really worked the system for Iran.
When a brutal regime is trying feverishly to acquire WMD,
NOT SO, THE EVIDENCE IS THAT THE WMD PROGRAM WAS LARGELY IN ABEYANCE, THE NUCLEAR PROGRAM ENTIRELY SO
when it is actively engaging in hostilities with the US,
I HADN'T NOTICED--WHERE WERE THE HOSTILITIES?
when it calls openly for the destruction of the US,
PERHAPS SO, I HAVEN'T CHECKED, BUT EVIDENTLY IF SAID, IT WAS EMPTY RHETORIC
when it has used WMD in the past in a naked war of aggression
WELL, YES, BUT AT THE TIME RUMSFELD AND OTHER AMERICAN OFFICIALS WINKED AT THE USE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS FOR FEAR OF AN IRANIAN VICTORY
and a campaign of murderous genocide against the Kurdish people,
HOW DID THIS IMPINGE ON AMERICAN SECURITY INTERESTS? IS ANY SUCH BEHAVIOR ON THE PART OF ANY RULER ANYWHERE AN OCCASION FOR SENDING IN THE MARINES?
when the leader refused to cooperate in good faith with an inspection regime headed by a Swede that was prepared to give him every benefit of the doubt if he but tried to conform....
THE SWEDE SAYS HE WAS ABLE TO VISIT THE SITES HE CHOSE, AND FOUND NOTHING. NOW WE KNOW THERE WAS NOTHING TO BE FOUND.
THE DANGER IS FROM ISLAMIST TERRORIST OPERATIONS. SINCE A CHIEF EFFECT OF THE IRAQ INVASION WAS TO RECRUIT MORE TERRORISTS, AND ANOTHER TO MAKE AVAILABLE MORE WEAPONS TO THEM, I'M PUZZLED WHAT GOOD KICKING ASS IN IRAQ HAS DONE THE U.S. BUT IT HAS SERVED ALSO TO MAKE INVADING IRAN LESS POLITICALLY AND MILITARILY FEASIBLE, A FORTUNATE ALBEIT UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE OF OUR ENDEAVORS IN IRAQ.
Lex, your invitation to « clear-headed » Europeans is generous, but we have our own agenda here thank you. We will not move out but stay and fight in a non violent fashion against the coming Eurabia, whatever the cost. As for your wonderful tolerant society, hah, keep on dreaming.
Glad to see that there's something of a backbone left in Old Europe.
As to tolerance, I would wager that you have far less experience of my country than I have of Europe. I would invite you to visit a range of American locales in which schoolchildren proudly embrace the faiths of their fathers without the state or their neighbors telling them that public displays of religiosity are benighted or unpatriotic. These locales include Brooklyn NY, Dearborn MI, mennonite communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania, mormon regions in Arizona, sikh and hindi communities in Fremont CA, and plenty of others.
My invitation was extended to strivers, not resenters, and I'd guess from your sneering response that you fit into the second category. I wish you luck in your struggle. Just don't ask us yanks to bail you out yet again when Europe indulges its proclivity for extremism and suicidal civil wars.
No Lex, we do not ask you for anything. We have enough problems here in Europe caused by your benign foreign policies. We did not need the American dictator and her formidable war machine establishing a Muslim Country in the heart of Europe as was the case with Bosnia, neither is welcomed your interference with the drive to push Turkey into our club, introducing 70 million so called secular Muslims, secular only by force may I add, into our democratic lands. As for bailing us out, if that ever happens then it will only be for American profit, wrapped up in sweet silk paper.
Yes we have plenty of American experience; half my family is American and those living over the pond are living in a multicultural nightmare, something we are trying to avoid here.
"Multicultural nightmare" - that's amusing. Where might that be? Silicon Valley? Manhattan? LA? Dearborn? Brooklyn? Lancaster County? Houston? The real nightmare is the broken, dysfunctional non-pluralism of Europe's failed half-experiment with immigration.
Your other comments, brimming with more of the resentment I spoke to earlier, are even more detached from reality.
We did not need the American dictator and her formidable war machine establishing a Muslim Country in the heart of Europe as was the case with Bosnia"
Bosnia, the heart of Europe. Right. And the usual nonsense about the US "establishing" regimes in Europe. Whether it's Greece or Spain or Italy or hte Balkans, European civil wars are your own problem, of your own making. You start them, and then require us to contain the fire or clean up your mess. This time around, you're on your own. When Holland slides into civil war, my hope is that rational, hardworking strivers of any faith will leave for the land of opportunity as my ancestors and so many millions of European religious minorities have done before them.
"neither is welcomed your interference with the drive to push Turkey into our club, introducing 70 million so called secular Muslims, secular only by force may I add, into our democratic lands"
Oh, so Turkey's not democratic? Since when? It's at least as democratic as that neighboring EU banana republic known as Greece, and its politicians are less corrupt than those in Italy and France.
Perhaps one day you'll realize that helping secular and democratic muslims like the Turks are the West's best long-term strategy for dealing with the cancer of Islamism. But you'll have to get over your hatred of America first. Hatred blinds one.
As a proud Dutchman, I shamefully agree with Lex. I might just take you're offer by the way. The counter now stands at 11 islamic buildings (including a elementary school wich burned to the ground last night) and 3 churches.
This afternoon the shit has decided to hit the fan good. Two suspected terrorists were holed up in a house in The Hague, and right at the time the police (more the marines, actually) went in, muslim youth and right-wing extremist skinheads decided it was a good time for an attempt to smash in each others skulls. That luckily didn't happen, thanks to omnipresent riot-police. But no guanrantees they'll be around the next time, or the next, or the next...
I'm so sorry; your comments are juvenile. You hold a minute understanding of the actual situation in Europe, it’s quite sweet your naivety. I will explain it to you one last time as I am no American Basher and I respect the Belgraviadispatch too much. Turkish are first and foremost Muslims. They are living under a secular regime, secular only by force. Given the liberties of our Western democracies they will eventually revert and adhere to their natural tendencies. You have to ask yourself to what extent are Muslim immigrants in Western countries willing to set aside Islamic strictures on criticizing and abandoning Islam. I think not. The facts are there, it’s only the weak willed and liberal minded amongst us that deny the truth of what Islam truly stands for.
I’m sure that you realise how biased our media is. France hasn’t even fully reported the events now happening in The Hague, I can only assume it is not to inflame the Muslim community that resides here. Jewish people living here cannot walk around in a free manner for fear of vicious attacks, our young daughters cannot be trusted out after dark for fear of rape, if a girl is dressed as a westerner then she is fair game. Our cities are surrounded by suburbs filled to overflowing with young resentful Arabs, even the police do not dare to enter. This is the here and now. What will it be like when the balance has been changed with 70 million more of them at our door? This is no nightmare scenario I present to you; an end of the world is nigh script. Every time one of your foreign policies is put in practice, more of this third world rubbish comes to our shores posing as political refugees, we have had enough of it and the people of Holland are finally standing up to this menace. Instead of interfering with Europe, why aren’t you securing your own Southern borders from all the Mexican immigrants that pour over? I know for fact that the American people are also fed up with this. Why are you giving billions to Israel to secure a wall between Jews and Palestines’ when your own borders are threatened?
Take a peek at this British Islamic website and tell me what you think of their vision. This is the doctrine they fill British Muslim heads with. http://www.1924.org/index.php?id=1394_0_1_0_C
Our vision is to cultivate a Muslim community that lives by Islam in thought and deed, adhering to the Shari’ah rules and nurturing a strong identity as Muslims. Our vision is this community stands as a model and an example to the wider society, making the basis of this relationship the carrying of the Islamic da’wa. Furthermore, our community needs to be aware of her destiny as an integral part of the global ummah, taking up the call for the return of the Khilafah and the unification of this ummah internationally.
We must work intelligently in the west, by not compromising Islam, but rather presenting a convincing argument in the west against western imperialism and interference in the Muslim world. Raising the call for the Muslims to own their political destiny and in turn building a support base in the west for the return of the Khilafah state.
If our community puts our resources together then we can change attitudes, inspire the society and contribute to the return of Islam internationally.
As I said before, Europe is in grave danger and we will not give up to Islam. But don’t worry, when they eventually get over the pond to you and impose Sharia law on the American People don’t ask us to bail you out.
Hagelslag you are another Apologist with your head in the sand.
No way Trinquet. I just don't want to live in either a shareejah-ruled fascist society or a violently enforced white-supremacist monoculture. Do you?
Hagelslag, I advocate a peaceful separation. Immigration can only be supported in small numbers, as Democracy can only work with an educated population. I do not like nor condone the Fascist approach to problems but one way or another this has got to stop. Europe is overrun with Islam and they choose not to integrate. The Islamic Tawhid Brigades have threatened the Dutch government with « paying a heavy price » if the attacks on mosques do not stop. Are you going to bend down to their wishes out of fear?
That's demagoguery. I don't give a shit what the Islamic Tawhid Brigades think or say. I've always been against attacking buildings -- any building.
As for your "one way or another", what way? The only way I see is to physically transfer a millions of people in cargo vessels to the south of the mediterranean. That'll never happen, and if it happens it means such a full moral bankruptcy we’d better kill ourselves instead.
Iraq a quagmire? I don't think so... Nor is it as the Frenchies put it a Christian Crusade against poor benighted Muslims previously minding their own business...
Ivory Coast? Now that's a quagmire... all whites to be killed and the French won't be evacuating all of their own citizens before the army departs...
Trinquet, your rant gives new meaning to the concept of bad faith. This remark gives you away:
"Every time one of your foreign policies is put in practice, more of this third world rubbish comes to our shores posing as political refugees, we have had enough of it and the people of Holland are finally standing up to this menace."
The ultimate (not the proximate, certainly) cause of
Europe's muslim immigration mess is the legacy of French imperialism in the maghreb. Complex, sure; not greatly relevant to today's situation or to a solution of the problem, perhaps. But far more relevant than "US foreign policy." To blame us for your own screwups in Algeria and elsewhere is a textbook example of what the psychologists call projection. Fix your own house, and stop blaming us for your problems-- then, and only then, will you have some hope of gaining my sympathies.
Ni Le Pen ni Osama.
Excellent post. Aside from some disagreement with your 'reasons for Iraq' (which, while I definitely appreciate the obvious honesty in your assessment, contains inaccuracies eg. 'post 9/11' WMD concerns - Woodward, Clarke and others have made explicitly clear Bush wanted Iraq way before 9/11, and on 9/12 asked if 'we could get Iraq on this somehow') I agree with everything else. This is a must read post.
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