by Barry Rubin
"I always disagree…when people end by saying that we can only combat Communism, Fascism or what not if we develop an equal fanaticism. It appears to me that one defeats the fanatic precisely by not being a fanatic oneself, but on the contrary by using one's intelligence. In the same way, a man can kill a tiger because he is not like a tiger & uses his brain to invent the rifle, which no tiger could ever do." --George Orwell, March 3, 1949.
Orwell wasn't just throwing out that last image from his imagination. One of his most famous short stories was about shooting an elephant. He didn't do it for fun but for two other reasons. First, the elephant was menacing the townspeople.
Second, as a policeman in
Orwell's point, reminds us that what's most scary about the current scene is that Western leaders are not being smarter than the revolutionaries, the terrorists, the dictatorial regimes, the huddled propagandists yearning to keep others from breathing free.
In fact, the basis of their strategy was to seize hegemony over "intelligence," so that all the wrong attitudes and policies are defined as intelligent, attracting all people who wanted to be considered smart and intellectual. Or, as Woody Allen put it in "Annie Hall":
"One thing about intellectuals, they prove that you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what's going on."
Thus, what Orwell foresaw is the opposite of what's happening now. Today, the West's "best and brightest" are sure good about avoiding fanaticism in fighting the contemporary battle. But for them that becomes an end in itself.
Here's an example.
Tolerance is good; hatred is bad. Precisely because so many Muslims have been involved in terrorism based on the Islamist interpretation of Muslim religious-political doctrine, Americans might hate Muslims, mistakenly confusing ordinary law-abiding Muslims with revolutionary Islamists who use Islam as the main source of their ideology. Therefore, editors and journalists decide that they must censor the news in order to protect Americans from becoming right-wing bigots forming mobs to burn down the local mosques, and to protect Muslims in
Avoiding fanaticism on one's own side is, of course, a good idea. But it should not be accomplished by, in effect, making one's own side extremely stupid in refusing to recognize the danger or even the identity of the adversary.
It is also not intelligent to fall into the other side's traps and echo its arguments, or to be so ruthless in criticism of one's own far superior societies' real or imagined shortcomings while subverting many of the foundations of Western democracy and civilization, such as community, self-confidence, and patriotism.
Of course, this is overstated. There are many exceptions as well as signs of change. Yet the truth is bad enough. The revolutionaries and terrorists are both smarter and more fanatical, that's a chilling combination.
Since we are talking about tigers, it's worthwhile recalling the other two relevant tiger analogies regarding politics, the paper tiger and riding the tiger.
Paper tiger: The view of a seemingly powerful state as in reality quite weak, originally applied by Communist China to the
Actually, such American attempts to win over the extremists made things worse. In private life, kind words or a turned cheek may avert conflict, but this was not a valid principle for U.S. Middle East policy. The
In a sense, many Western intellectuals have embraced the "paper tiger" idea. Not that, of course, they would explicitly or consciously advocate such a thing but it is the consequence of their world view. According to the revised definition,
Or to put it a different way, the
Actually, while a long list of mistakes can be assembled, the history of
If, as is daily happening as a result of U.S. policies and statements, the worst elements in the world do conclude that the United States is a paper tiger then war and violence, oppression and repression, the triumph of real bullies is all the more likely.
Riding the tiger: This image fits what the radical side is doing and also is particularly apt for Arab nationalist regimes. Manipulating dangerous demagogic concepts like nationalism and Islamism, antisemitism and hatred of the West, discounting of the institutions needed for real social-economic development (freedom of speech, a reasonably regulated free enterprise system, the use of logic and the scientific method, etc.) unleashes forces that might devour even the dictators. This pattern of behavior will certainly guarantee the failure of the polities and societies that toy with such forces of irrationality and violence.
Here's a tiny example. Recently, two medical conferences were held in
This situation led one Israeli blogger to remark that those responsible for these obstacles, "Hate Jews even more than they hate cancer." Precisely. And if you don't understand that, forget about comprehending
It reminds me of an Egyptian government official's response many years ago to a
By the way, this has been a persistent theme in Palestinian politics that has worked well in recent years. Better suffering than cooperation and compromise. Indeed, it has been a terrific strategy because the resulting suffering then gets blamed on
If I want to end this article on an optimistic note, perhaps it's possible to suggest that the "intelligence" involved in achieving victory in the long-term comes not so much from individuals but from the innate nature of a superior structure of thought, better and more open social organization, a rationally based science and technology, a freer economic and political system, a framework which more fully uses the talents of women, and general human rights and liberty.
Thus, those who are smart in strategy aren't going to move their societies forward to confront the challenges tht will really determine who will win this conflict: providing a better life and higher living standards. Of course, in history things do, though not always, work out that way.
Given the intelligence deficit at present, one better hope so.
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.