The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

History Slaps

In an op-ed in the WSJ Opinion Journal Mark Bowden, the author of Black Hawk Down comments on the wonderfully idealistic, but ultimately futile American notion that all the world’s people want “freedom” and that if given the chance, they will discard centuries old hatreds and form a cohesive democracy.
We Americans consistently underestimate the deep hatreds that divide people. Our political system is designed to wrestle peacefully with the divisions of race, class, ethnicity, religion and competing ideological or geographical interests, and has generally worked as intended--the Civil War being the one glaring exception. Generations have struggled to live up to ideals of tolerance and diversity. When we look out at the world, we tend to see millions longing to get past the blood feuds, to be, in short, more like us. George Bush and the neocon intellectuals who led us into Iraq are just the latest in a long line of evangelical Americanists. No matter how many times history slaps us in the face, the dream persists.

And for all of the lamentation associated with our war in Iraq, trying to give the Iraqi people a chance at freedom is, indeed, a noble goal. But like others before them, the Iraqis slap us in the face, something we should bear in mind as we deal with over a dozen of other regions that are now being roiled by Islamofascist thugs.

In virtually every case, tribal hatreds serve the purposes of islamists and work against our best efforts. Bowden continues his commentary:
Nine years ago, in the epilogue to "Black Hawk Down," I quoted an unnamed State Department official (he was Michael Sheehan, ambassador for counter-terrorism) as follows: "The idea used to be that terrible countries were terrible because good, decent, innocent people were being oppressed by evil, thuggish leaders. Somalia changed that. Here you have a country where just about everybody is caught up in the fighting. You stop an old lady on the street and ask her if she wants peace, and she will say, 'Yes, of course, I pray for it daily.' All the things you would expect her to say. Then ask her if she would be willing for her clan to share power with another to have that peace, and she'll say, 'With those murderers and thieves? I'd die first.' People in these countries . . . don't want peace. They want victory. They want power. Men, women, old, and young. Somalia was the experience that taught us that people in these places bear much of the responsibility for things being the way they are. The hatred and killing continues because they want it to. Or because they don't want peace enough to stop it."

The statement is too harsh, as Mr. Sheehan himself agrees (he was at that point a veteran of Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia). Any effort to characterize millions with the expression "these people" is unfair and wrong. But there is a principle here struggling to emerge: Before a state can exist where there are deep-rooted, competing interests, there must be some broadly accepted concept of a nation strong enough to at least compete with parochial interests. There must be some generally accepted idea of a nation.

In most of the regions of the world that have spawned significant Islamofascist elements, the only “broadly accepted concept” is Islam. It can and does co-exist with “the blood feuds” that make any attempt at an fostering an ideology that competes with radical Islam a futile exercise. Only Islam can offer an alternative to Islamofascism, and to date, it has remained silent. Makes you wonder.