AmericanSage

Monday, April 24, 2006

Liberalizing The Middle East

Axl Rose once warned us that "you can't trust freedom when it's not in your hands/when everybody's fighting for the Promised Land." So true, Axl, so true.

The recent election of hardliners in Palestine and Iran show that democracy in the hands of people who don't know how to use it is as dangerous as enriched uranium. Democracy for democracy's sake isn't enough, and as we've seen, it isn't even helpful. The nations and fiefdoms of the Middle East must liberalize (in the classical sense) before they can democratize in any meaningful way. Until then, fundamentalists and their sympathizers will continue to legitimize the rule of fanatical sociopaths with bullet and ballot.

How, though, to liberalize the Middle East? One of the popular political truisms of Western history is that following the religious wars of the Middle Ages (notably the 30 Years War), Europeans grew weary of killing each other over religious differences (the conflict in Ulster should not be glossed over here, but the 30 Years War remains the last major multinational religious war in European history). Following the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, political philosophers and social critics began outlining in earnest the philosophies that would come to define The Enlightenment including freedom of conscious, individual sovereignty, the separation of church and state and the limited powers of the modern nationstate. Here, as in all classical treatments, the word liberal is used in contrast to the policies and constructs of Europe's ancien regime, a political arrangement more akin to the Taliban than the Kingdom of Christ.

As helpful as the liberalizing ethos of the 17th century was in removing religion from the list of things Westerners were willing to kill each other for, the Enlightenment was no cure-all and had its own horrendous excesses. The wholesale secularization of public life as advocated by the most radical philosophes was as wrong headed as was the cozy arrangement between church and state it sought to undermine, and the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution underscores this point in bloody detail. Even in America, where liberalization and godly civics were never considered essentially incompatible (and indeed, went hand in hand), genocide and slavery mark so much of our experience.

While it's tempting to hope for an Enlightenment event in the Middle East, the en mass liberalization of the world's Muslim extremists will not mean a safer world, at least not at first. Middle Eastern democracy will only be worth celebrating when tempered Middle Eastern liberalism is achieved. If the history of the West is any indicator, this will only happen when Sunni and Shi'ite tire of killing each other and indigenous Arab and Persian voices find uniquely Muslim ways of articulating the moral weight of religious freedom and asserting the existence of truly universal rights. Whether or not the faith of the Koran lends itself well to such an enterprise is another matter.

As a faith group, the Islamic world is, chronologically speaking, some 400 years younger than Christendom and the civilizations tied in one way or another to the Christian faith. Does that mean we'll have to wait another forty years for a Muslim Westphalia? That liberal nation-states will form sometime in the 2100's, that slavery in Sudan will end some hundred years later and that women will get to vote (and maybe even drive!) in Saudi Arabia a hundred years after that? What will Islamic postmodernism look like? CIA, if you're reading this, you might want to consider speeding up those annotated Arabic translations of Locke. Let's keep Nietzsche our little secret for now.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Rightlogic said...

Democracy in the wrong hands is as deadly a tool as any; just another tyranny different only in form. Thank you for proposing an important question that so many treat with kid gloves, having fallen victim to the "P.C. Taboo" list. This subject ought to be discussed openly and at length in light of our Mid-East policy.

There are more differences than similarities in comparing the historical development of Mid-Eastern vs. Western European civilization. I believe the question you saved for another discussion is quite relevant for this one:

"Whether or not the faith of the Koran lends itself well to such an enterprise is another matter."

The development of Natural Law in Western Europe eventually led to the universal understanding in the West of how that Law applied to the individual and ultimately to government. Westphalia only occurred because Natural Law had become woven into society's fabric, and was therefore commonly understood by all parties. Many of society's customs and expectations had become based upon it.

Shari'a Law stands in stark contrast to Natural Law and the tenants of the Koran and other Islamic writings from which it is derived are what much of every day Islamic life, thought, and society have become interwoven with. It is the prism through which Islamic society sees the world, and in the most secular of Islamic cultures, it is a different world than we see.

Shari'a Law is a filter which looks upon individual rights, the value of freedom and human life, and the meaning of peace, as something different than we do. Its assumptions, parameters and priorities are different than Natural Law. Islam is a peaceful society only to those who strictly adhere to Shari'a law and societal norms. You have the right to obey it, leave or die.

Despite what politically correct multi-culturalists tell us, this form of repressive and violent Islam is not the anomaly of a few. They tell us it is a "peaceful" religion practiced by the majority of Muslims around the world as exemplified by those that work among us here, who just want to live their lives "and raise their children like all of us". That premise blatantly flies in the face of empirical evidence, if looked at on a worldwide scale.

Click in different locations on the world map here: http://chromatism.net/bloodyborders/ob1403.htm

Spend some time studying the charts at the bottom of this site: http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/index.html#Attacks

It is U.S. Muslims which are the anomaly; not from a natural development of their Islamic culture, but rather because of the outside influence of Natural Law exerted on them from living among those who adhere to it. We have assimilated them to one degree or another.

Western European nations are currently finding that assimilation more difficult. In many nations today, the clash between Western Culture and Shari'a Law is causing major cultural, civil, and criminal problems on a national scale.

Whether or not the Islamic culture will "come around" to accepting the premise of Natural Law in 400 years or anytime sooner is not something I am trying to answer or argue against. (Personally, I don't think they have that long to decide). I only point out that there are fundamental differences in our philosophical and cultural development, which should be heavily weighed in judging the intentions of our enemies and loyalty of our allies. In developing our foreign policy, we ignore this at our peril.

There is no universal rule I've ever heard of that guarantees all civilizations will eventually come to the same conclusions and share a common world view.

Some cultures are on a completely different road.

10:43 PM  

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