Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Don't Western Elites and Governments Comprehend International Realities?

by Barry Rubin

The question readers most often ask me is an extremely basic, vitally important one.

So how can we explain the world's second biggest problem today. The first is the flourishing of radical, often violent forces, committing aggression, making gains, increasing repression. The second is the refusal of all too much of the Western leadership and intelligentsia to notice that reality, then try to do something about it.

And so why does so much of the political and intellectual establishment in the United States and Europe fail to understand what's going on in the world? How do they not see that radical forces are enemies of their societies, not just misunderstood or mistreated potential friends? What prevents them from championing Western civilization's democratic, humanist, liberty-oriented, and free enterprise with reasonable government regulation system?

In short, why don’t they get it?

There are lots of answers, of course but even after one goes through the list the basic disconnect between reality, perception, and policy remains baffling. To see a society with such advantages and assets act as if it were intent on suicide, or at least with blind disregard for its survival, is a strange phenomenon. To view the stronger obsessed with making concessions, the more moral consumed with guilt, a blind inability to identify enemies who keep proclaiming their nature and intentions is just plain bizarre.

If I had to put it all in one sentence--admittedly a long, complex one--it would be this like this:

American and Western policymakers and intellectuals cannot believe or comprehend that so many would fight for bad causes out of ideological--nationalist, religious, traditionalist--worldviews, turning down material betterment in exchange for years of sacrifice, defeat, and suffering; engaging in a battle that a pragmatic assessment says they cannot win.

Much of the West has lost the ability to understand how a world view can be narrow and fantastical or, on the contrary, quite internally rational but merely designed to deal with a very different set of circumstances and society. You don't get to be the dictator of Venezuela or leader of al-Qaida or a powerful cleric in Iran by behaving and thinking like a Western democratic politician.

They don't understand what Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini tried to explain back in 1979: We didn't make the Iranian revolution to lower the price of watermelons. In other words, material deprivation doesn't motivate the revolution, and the goal is not higher living standards as the main priority. The goal is to manifest the divine will, to take over the world, to create a utopian society which invokes the absolute good against the absolute evil; to gain total victory because one is absolutely in the right.

In this political world, pragmatism is immoral compromise is treason. The situation is NOT one of business as usual.

Of course, one can find this kind of thing in Western history--including within living memory, fascism and Communism--but not today. What one does find today in Western society is insistence on an idea that renders people completely incapable of comprehension: the idea that everyone in the world thinks the same way and wants the same things.

How ironic: "multi-culturalism" denies the fact that some cultures are really very different. And Political Correctness fails to see that some politics see your well-intentioned humanitarianism and democratic values as so incorrect as to be punishable by death.

But if one shuts eyes to all of this, the remaining conclusion is that other people, groups, and countries only behave that way because they have been mistreated by the West. And the new situation—the West is very sorry and wants to make amends--hasn't been explained properly to them. There haven’t been enough apologies and self-criticism made; insufficient confidence built, not enough ingenious new plans laid and made; not enough concessions offered.

Since, too, this is the only right answer in a battle against imperialism, racism, and reactionary forces, it is the right--nay, the duty--for right-thinking journalists and professors, media and universities--to preach the good and censor plus censure the bad. Institutions thus stop doing their job of promoting debate, of questioning their own premises, as adjusting to facts or events, of ringing the alarm bell when the train is off the tracks.

Along with such an approach there is also one other indispensible element: to find a charismatic, sensitive, empathetic, Western leader (no prize for guessing who) capable of reaching out and persuading those who the “less astute” merely see as revolutionaries, terrorists, and dictators that there is no need for all of this strife. Conflicts can be settled amicably but only if we first repent and give, give, give.

Yet even when these efforts fail, as they have repeatedly, the cry goes up: Not enough! Throw in more concessions! Apologize more abjectly! Censor out the unpleasant facts as to the other side’s misdeeds and intransigence. Increase the confidence-building measures. Step up indoctrinating your people into believing that their country and system is the real problem. Down with us! Long live the other!

Is this too harsh an assessment? Well it must be, at least by its brevity and generalizations. But by how much is it excessive, and doesn’t it catch the real spirit of the problem?

Certainly, this isn’t just the result of bad ideas. Dealing with the dictators can bring good profits. It certain avoids confrontations, seems to eliminate the possibility of war, postpones crises, and makes people in the West feel good.

Then there are the punishments for those who point out these contradictions: name-calling, exclusion from powerful institutions and the glittering prizes, simply ignoring or censoring out the arguments.

And yet with each new stage, every rejection and act of aggression or intransigence from the enemies of democracy and freedom (it is revealing that merely to use a phrase like that would embarrass much of the West’s intelligentsia) it should be harder to conceal the reality that it is indeed the other side that's the problem.

Only a paradigm shift can suffice which is why specific events--the failure of the 1990s peace process, September 11 being two of the main ones--can shake people out of their cocoon of preconceptions and knee-jerk responses. The mere accumulation of failure, of cognitive dissidence will shake people up and wake people up. The pendulum will swing back.

Perhaps that is what’s happening step by step. Would that it would be happening faster!

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.



campsmore said...


David said...

Excellent article Barry! However, I think you are too kind.

I started studying the Middle East problems about 9 years ago. Before that I only knew what I had heard on the news and what I had read in printed publications. Looking back I virtually knew nothing regarding history and the facts and my opinions then were really pretty baseless.

The problem as I see it are the 'so-called' decision makers, news readers, and a lot of others are basically in the same position. Unless you have an agenda to forward, most sane people would agree that the western world today has huge problems with the followers and promoters of Islam.

These people are just too lazy to bother to educate themselves,they form their opinions and policies based on dreams and wishful thinking!!!

Salubrius said...

David is right. They are too lazy to educate themselves.

If you want to know about terrorism you must study the past. Efraim Karsh, Professor and head of Mediterranean Studies at King's College London in his book Islamic Imperialism, A History, tells us that "The 9/11 attacks have inspired two diametrically opposed interpretations regarding their "root causes". These can be referred to as the "What is past is prologue camp" and the "Blame America first camp", sometimes also referred to as the "chickens coming home to roost" camp by Reverend Jeremiah Wright. By and large the right has accepted the first explanation and the left, the second.

What is past is prologue camp – from Karsh:

1. According to the first school of thought, the attacks were the latest salvo in the millenarian "clash of civilizations" between the worlds of Islam and Christendom, a violent backlash by a deeply frustrated civilization reluctant to come to terms with its long-standing decline. "For many centuries Islam was the greatest civilization on earth--the richest, the most powerful, the most creative in every significant field of human endeavor" wrote a prominent exponent of this view. "And then everything changed, and Muslims, instead of invading and dominating Christendom, were invaded and dominated by Christian powers. The resulting frustration and anger at what seemed to them a reversal of both natural and divine law have been growing for centuries, and have reached a climax in our own time. [I will add, seeded by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jamaat – e – Islamia in Indonesia, commencing in 1928, nurtured by Sayeed Qutb, Maulana Maududi, Sheik Abdullah Azzam and other philosophers of this view, and coming to fruition with the financing from petrodollars starting in 1970. Al-Qaeda is but one of the many offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood around the world.]

“Blame-America-first camp” – “chickens coming home to roost”. Karsh defines this view:

2. Not so, argues a vast cohort of academics, journalists, writers, and retired diplomats. The attacks were a misguided, if not wholly inexplicable, response to America's arrogant and self-serving foreign policy by a fringe extremist group, whose violent interpretation of Islam has little to do with the actual spirit and teachings of the religion. Not only does Islam specifically forbid the massacre of innocent civilians but the evocation as a jihad in the context of 9/11 makes a travesty of this concept, which means first and foremost an inner quest for personal self improvement and not a holy war as is widely believed. "Muslims have never nurtured dreams of world conquest," runs a typical argument in this vein. "They had no designs on Europe, even though Europeans imagined that they did. Once Muslim rule had been established in Spain, it was recognized that the empire could not expand indefinitely.”

There were actually two Islamic Empires, the result of the first two waves of jihad or "holy war". You can find the details in Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and its Effect on Non-Muslims. Bostom tells you how Islam expanded and what happened to non-muslims in conquered areas.

You will find that Islamic jihad is a grisly campaign against non-Muslims to satisfy Mohammed's goal---forcing the "one true faith" on the entire world or to collect tribute from monotheists, "jizya" who would not accept Islam -- and treat them as second class citizens "dhimmis". Islam, as practiced in the 7th through the 19th century was a faith bent upon the conquest and subjugation of non-Muslims. Subjugated monotheists "People of the Book" such as Christians or Jews were given three choices, 1. convert to Islam, or 2. accept second class citizenship and pay a discriminatory tax == and sometimes to accept demeaning obligations, and 3. or else to die. Polytheistic peoples were offered only the last choice

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