Monday, March 28, 2011
Saving 1 Billion People from Themselves
The West is almost as in love with improving the world, as the Muslim world is with conquering it. These two contradictory impulses, the missionary and the warrior, intersect in the Clash of Civilizations. The Muslim world has two approaches to the West, underhanded deceit and outright terror. The former are considered moderates and the latter extremists. The West has two approaches to the Muslim world, regime change and love bombing. With regime change we bomb their cities to save them from their rulers and with love bombing we shamelessly flatter and appease them in our own cities. Westerners worry a great deal over who runs the Muslim world. Muslims do not care very much who runs Western countries. They prefer weak liberal leaders to strong ones, but they do not overall think there is a difference between them. Even the emplacement of a Hussein in the White House has not improved America's ratings in the Muslim world. That is because Muslims are religiously and culturally antagonistic to the West. Whether John McCain or Barack Hussein Obama are in the White House-- America is still a non-Muslim country. It is and will the subjective of xenophobia no matter how much it flatters the Muslim world.
Westerners focus their animus on Muslim leaders, on a Saddam, a Gaddafi or an Arafat-- not recognizing that the hostility toward us comes not from the leaders, but from the people. We can remove all the leaders of the Muslim world and replace them with muppets, and it won't noticeably change the underlying sentiments on the Arab street. And very soon the muppets will also start chanting, "Death to America" because it's the popular thing to do.
Take the Neo-conservative's favorite Egyptian democracy activist Sandmonkey who has rediscovered that the best way to campaign is by accusing the other guy of being a Yankee-Zionist stooge. That's politics as usual in a country where everyone accuses everyone else of being a pawn of the Great and Little Satans. By linking the Muslim Brotherhood to Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia to Israel, he can accuse the Brotherhood of being stooges of Israel. Senseless but it's the default position. It's easier to campaign on who hates America and Israel more, than who has a workable reform program.
This is a snapshot of why regime change, whether by armed force or supporting democratic revolutions, won't save the Muslim world. You can't save people from themselves. Not without drastically changing who they are at the same time. But we can save ourselves from them.
The Muslim world is not backward by their standards, it is backward by our standards. It refuses to make the 250 year leap that the West did, but that is because it does not like the trade-offs that come with it. And that is its choice to make. Individualism, freedom and tolerance are not acceptable values in the Muslim world. And totalitarianism, theocracy and repression are not acceptable values in ours. The Muslim world has no obligation to accede to our cultural standards or tolerate us, but we accordingly have no obligation to accede to theirs or to tolerate them.
There is always a gap between civilizations, but rarely has the moral gap yawned so starkly as it does now. We are as eager to bring the Muslim world into the light, as they are to drag us into the darkness. And the momentum is on their side. We don't have the answers that we think we do. Democracy is not the solution. Neither is embracing Muslim culture with open arms. They don't have the answers either, but they have something better. Unrestrained violence and the desperation of a failed culture struggling against the tidal pull of that failure. Like a drowning man, if we try to save them, then they will pull us down with them.
We are not so wise and so perfect that we can claim to know how to save 1 billion people from themselves. Right now we are experiencing a good deal of trouble saving us from ourselves. We cannot be expected to shoulder the burden of reforming the Muslim world as well. Whatever spiritual or cultural redemption waits for them, must come from themselves. It will not come through a change of government or lavish praise. Only through a growing moral awareness that they need not subjugate others to feel pride and honor in themselves and their culture. There is no telling when or if such an awareness will come. There are animal rights campaigns in China and anti-rape campaigns in Africa-- but no progress on human rights in the Muslim world. It is likely that China will be vegetarian before non-Muslims are treated as equals in the Muslim world.
It has been made manifestly clear that Muslim violence against us, both individual and collective, will not cease any time soon. That further such violence is informed by the scriptures of their faith and a basic xenophobia toward people who are different from them. And that while some Muslim countries and individuals claim to harbor no violent intentions toward us-- such claims often prove false under the pressure of domestic unrest or growing religiosity.
If the Muslim world has raised up a wall of sand against freedom, tolerance and the recognition of our common humanity-- then it is best for their sake and ours that they remain on their side of that wall of sand. If they refuse to coexist with us, either locally or globally, then that is their choice. They may have their paradise of hefty-bagged women, towering mosques and cowering infidels-- so long as their bigotry and oppression remains on their side of the wall of sand. When they breach that wall, then we have the right to treat them as they would treat us, not according to our laws, but according to theirs-- as they do to us, so shall be done to them. It is not a pretty doctrine, but it is a just one. And it is an overwhelmingly fair code that men should live by the laws they make for others. There can be no hypocrisy or misunderstanding in such a code. And it teaches more finely than any other the consequences of evil.
But as we write and read, talk goes on of how to save 1 billion Muslims from themselves. Removing their tyrannies, some cry. But what will they replace them with? More tyrannies. Governments reflect their peoples, not perfectly, but as broken mirrors. No tyrant who does not reflect what his subjects prize in this world can long endure upon his throne. If 1 billion Muslims wanted to be free, they would be. The tyrants are expressions of their condition, not repressions of their moral will. The Muslim world does not differ on whether there should be tyranny, but on what manner of tyranny it should be.
Of course no generalization applies to every person in a country or a culture. But they do apply to groups that self-identify that way, proclaiming that the Koran is our Constitution, where popular will represses women and spews hate at religious minorities. How does one protect them from the damage that they do to their own character? And how does one save people from their own hate?
The most fundamental error of the West toward the Muslim world is that of condescension. Western governments may see Muslims as minorities, but they see themselves as majorities. And throughout the world they are majorities. Muslims in America, Europe, Israel, Canada or Australia do not see themselves as minorities, but as natural majorities who have the right to impose their will and their way of life. Unlike refugees who come from cultures where they are minorities, Muslims come expecting to have things done their way. And when the West accedes, that only affirms the Muslim sense of privilege.
The West condescends to Muslims, and Muslims condescend to the West. Both reassure the other that everything is fine. But the West's condescension is based on wishful co-existence, that of the Muslim world on progressive conquest. If diplomacy is the art of saying, 'Nice Doggie' while looking for a stick, then the West isn't looking for the stick, and the Muslim is. Therein lies the problem.
The West's missionary impulse toward the Muslim world is not only misplaced, it is positively dangerous. How can the West convince the Muslim world to believe as it does, when it no longer knows what it believes? The Muslim world lacks such weaknesses. It cannot be crippled by moral quandaries, ideological contradictions, philosophical crises or doubts about the future. Its members do not recognize contradiction, rather they embrace it, until those contradictions explode in violence. Western codes are black and white, Muslim codes combine all shades into one. When the Muslim world is confused or in doubt, it resolves these feelings with violence. The West does not resolve them at all. While the West broods, the Muslim world slits throats. The problems of the Clash of Civilization cannot be postponed much longer. They are our problem. We cannot save 1 billion people from themselves, but we can save ourselves from them.