Tuesday, March 25, 2008

War on Culture

The contrived Wright-Obama controversy mirrors - in domestic microcosm - a much larger and deadlier war in which the west has gotten itself embroiled. It is an intrinsically evil war which cannot be won in conventional terms.

Alastair Crooke in the Guardian;Calls for the west to use force to restore its values in the face of radical Islam reveal a profound detachment from reality.
Once, a man was held to be mad if he strayed from this discourse - even if his utterings were credited with revealing some hidden truth. Today, he is called "naive", or accused of having gone "native". Recently, the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) marshalled former senior military and intelligence experts in order to assert such limits to expression by warning us that "deference" to multiculturalism was undermining the fight against Islamic "extremism" and threatening security.

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, in a recent interview with a German magazine, embellished Rusi's complaints of naivety and "flabby thinking". Radical Islam won't stop, he warned, and
the "virus" would only become more virulent if the US were to withdraw from Iraq.

The charge of naivety is not limited to failing to understand the concealed and duplicitous nature of Hamas and Hizbullah, Iran and Syria; it extends to not grasping the true nature of the wider "enemy" the west is facing. "I don't like the term 'war on terror' because terror is a method, not a political movement; we are in a war against radical Islam," says Kissinger. But who or what is radical Islam? It is those who are not "moderates", he explains. Certainly, a small minority of Muslims believe that only by "burning the system" can a fresh stab at a just society be made. But Kissinger's definition of "moderate" Islam sounds no more than a projection of the Christian narrative after Westphalia, by which Christianity became a private matter of conscience, rather than an organisational principle for society.

If radical Islam, with which these experts tell us we should be at war, encompasses all those who are not enamoured of secular society, and who espouse a vision of their societies grounded in the values of Islam, then these experts are advocating a war with Islam - because Islam is the vision for their future favoured by many Muslims.

Mainstream Islamists are indeed challenging western secular and materialist values, and many do believe that western thinking is flawed - that the desires and appetites of man have been reified into representing man himself. It is time to re-establish values that go beyond "desires and wants", they argue.

Many Islamists also reject the western narrative of history and its projection of inevitable "progress" towards a secular modernity; they reject the western view of power-relationships within societies and between societies; they reject individualism as the litmus of progress in society; and, above all, they reject the west's assumption that its empirical approach lends unassailability and objective rationality to its thinking - and universality to its social models.
People may, or may not, agree, but the point is that this is a dispute about ideas, about the nature of society, and about equity in an emerging global order. If western discourse cannot step beyond the enemy that it has created, these ideas cannot be heard - or addressed. The west's vision for society holds power only so long as people believe it holds power. Do we really think that if force has not succeeded, that only more and greater force can restore belief in the western vision?