Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
They Said It:
The book that made Edward Said famous was Orientalism, published in 1978 when he was forty-three. Said’s objective was to expose the worm at the core of Western civilization, namely, its inability to define itself except over and against an imagined “other.” That “other” was the Oriental, a figure “to be feared . . . or to be controlled.” Ergo, Said claimed that “every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was . . . a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.” Elsewhere in the text he made clear that what was true for Europeans held equally for Americans.
This echoed a theme of 1960s radicalism that was forged in the movements against Jim Crow and against America’s war in Vietnam, namely that the Caucasian race was the scourge of humanity. Rather than shout this accusation from a soapbox, as others had done, Said delivered it in tones that awed readers with erudition. The names of abstruse contemporary theoreticians and obscure bygone academicians rolled off pages strewn with words that sent readers scurrying to their dictionaries. Never mind that some of these words could not be found in dictionaries (“paradeutic”) or that some were misused (“eschatological” where “scatological” was the intended meaning); never mind that some of the citations were pretentious (“the names of Levi-Strauss, Gramsci, and Michel Foucault drop with a dull thud,” commented historian J. H. Plumb, reviewing the book for the New York Times”) – – never mind any of this, the important point that evoked frissons of pleasure and excitement was that here was a “person of color” delivering a withering condemnation of the white man and, so to speak, beating him at his own game of intellectual elegance.
Joshua Muravchik, “Enough Said: The False Scholarship of Edward Said,” World Affairs Journal, March/April 2013.
THE QUESTION OF ISLAM.
As you likely know, last week, Barack Obama visited a mosque in Baltimore to discuss the question of Islam’s place in contemporary America. The speech, which was generally better and more balanced than most of his previous efforts at discussing Islam, had two principal objectives: to reassure Muslims of their rightful place in pluralistic America; and to exhort the very same Muslims to fight the extremism in their midst. In the end, we suspect that the speech will be quickly forgotten and will, like most of Obama’s pronouncements, affect almost nothing in the broader war with Islamic extremism.
Most conservatives reacted to Obama’s speech as you would expect most conservatives to react to an Obama speech. They panned it. They insisted that the President was, as always, long on criticism of his fellow countrymen and short on specific plans to combat Islamic terrorism. Presidential wannabe Marco Rubio, for example, complained that he is “tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president’s done,” and thinks that the “bigger issue is radical Islam.” Others, including those who actually liked the speech, wondered how it is that an avowed non-Muslim with no formal education in Islamic theology purports to tell Muslims what is or is not “real” Islam.
For our part, we’re frustrated. And not just with Obama. It strikes us that both of the competing political visions here miss the point and are thus making it nigh on impossible to address the question of radical Islam in a productive way. Obama, for example, still insists that “Islam means peace” and that Islamic extremism is a NON-ISLAMIC appropriation of an erstwhile peaceful religion. This is, to put it mildly, poppycock. For starters, the world Islam means “submission,” not peace. Moreover, with even a majority of AMERICAN Muslims telling pollsters that they’d prefer to have the choice of Sharia law or American law, the pretense that suicide bombers constitute the entirety of Islam’s problems is either patently ignorant or delusional.
On the other side, critics of the Obama’s Islamism-denial appear to believe that simply carpet-bombing the Islamists forward into the Stone Age will solve all of the West’s problems. Of course, there’s no doubt that eliminating the Islamic State through a massive military campaign would be helpful, but there’s likewise no doubt that such an effort would not eliminate Islamism, Islamic extremism, or the threats that Islamism poses to the West. We can’t say for sure, but we suspect that carpet-bombing ISIS would be of little consolation right now to the ten-year-old boy who was raped at a swimming pool in Vienna, Austria this past December, by an Iraqi “migrant” who told police that he was experiencing a “sexual emergency.”
At the risk of finding ourselves crosswise of the late, great Jeane Kirkpatrick, it strikes us that the long-term solution to the questions posed by radical Islam can be found, in part, by looking inward rather than outward. That’s not to say that we think that the Islamists are right to be murderously angry with the United States or the West. And it’s not to say that we agree with the post-colonialist Leftists who think that Islamic terrorism is, to borrow a phrase from Obama’s spiritual mentor, simply a case of America’s “chickens coming home to roost.” Indeed, we think that precisely the opposite is the case, which means that the solution is precisely the opposite of what Obama and his supporters believe. And this means that fixing the problem of Islamic terrorism will be especially difficult because it involves fixing not one, but two presently dysfunctional civilizations.
Let us explain.
When discussing Islam, Obama and his colleagues on the Left have a habit of describing a civilization that not only doesn’t exist but hasn’t existed in several hundred years. They like to talk about all of Islam’s great achievements: its contributions to mathematics; its beautiful and impressive architecture; its scientific advancement; its relatively peaceful coexistence with its neighbors; and so on. There is some truth in this, of course, but that truth was rendered irrelevant some three-and-a-half centuries ago.
For most of its first millennium, Islam was ascendant throughout the known world. The Crusades notwithstanding, Islam undertook a wildly successful military, political, and religious evangelization, spreading the faith throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, and even into Europe. During this period, Islam also undertook its greatest cultural achievements, in art, science, and mathematics. This is the Islamic civilization about which Barack Obama reminisces and which he and his fellow Leftists substitute for contemporary Islam. The problem is that all of that ended on September 11 and 12, 1683, with the failure of the second Turkish siege of Vienna. Ascendant Islam became subordinate Islam. The conquerors became the conquered. Christian – which is to say Western – civilization became the new ascendant global force. The Middle East scholar and author Jonathan Schanzer put it this way some 14 years ago:
By the 17th century, however, as the West achieved military superiority. . . By 1769, the Russians handed the Turks their first sound defeat, pointing to a new and difficult road ahead for Islam. Instead of conquering, the Muslims were conquered.
The empire soon unraveled. In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led his expedition into Egypt. In 1830, the French seized Algeria. Nine years later, the British coopted Aden (modern Yemen). In 1881, the French occupied Tunisia, and in 1882 the English tightened their grip on Egypt. In 1911, Russia captured parts of Persia. That same year, Italy announced the annexation of Tripoli, leading to the eventual creation of the modern state of Libya. In 1912, the French extended their influence to Morocco. By the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire had lost the Middle East, as France and England carved up the Muslim empire as spoils of war. The Muslim world could do little more than look on helplessly.
Now, as you can imagine, this reversal of fortune caused a great deal of consternation among Muslim populations and especially Muslim leaders. It provoked feelings of rage, inadequacy, bitterness, and hostility. It also provoked a great deal of introspection.
Countless commentators – ourselves included, unfortunately – have argued that what Islam needs is its own Reformation, that being a process by which corruption and materialism are purged from the religion, as it is rededicated to more godly principles. The good news is that an Islamic Reformation of sorts has, in fact, been underway ever since the Battle of Vienna in 1683, in which the Germans and the Poles drove the Turks out of Austria and Hungary. The bad news is that this Reformation is not exactly turning out the way most of us would have hoped. Indeed, the radical Islam we see today; the violent, Islamic fundamentalism that constitutes an existential threat to the West is part and parcel of this Reformation.
We will spare you a lengthy and tedious history of Islam since 1700, if for no other reason than we are woefully unqualified to write one. For our purposes today it should suffice to note that Islam’s three-century-plus era of decline and introspection has been marked by a handful of milestones, all of which have contributed to the growth of the Islamic culture we encounter today. The timeline that follows will almost certainly differ considerably from others constructed for similar purposes, but we figure you’ll probably get the point anyway.
The first of “declining Islam’s” milestones came in 1744, when the rogue fundamentalist preacher and radical reformer Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab reached a mutual aid pact with Muhammad ibn Saud, ruler of Diriyah near Riyadh. With the help of Wahhab’s followers, Saud established the first modern Saudi kingdom. And with the help of Saud, Wahhab’s austere and backward-looking reforms became the official Islamic faith of the Arabian Peninsula. In an article published by World Affairs last spring, Carol and Jansheed Choksy detailed the rise of Saudi Wahhabism as follows:
Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh, became the center of Wahhabism; from there missionaries were dispatched to convert other Muslims in Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and Syria to the new sect. Jihad, or holy war, was initiated against Muslims in Arabia who refused to adopt the old Salafi ways as re-prescribed by Wahhab and upheld by King Saud, who was presented as Allah’s chosen monarch to whom all Muslims had to pledge baya, or absolute allegiance, so as not to face annihilation as foes of god.
Madrassas and preachers funded by the House of Saud instilled Wahhabism across the Arabian Peninsula after Saud’s troops gained control of much of the region and established the first Saudi kingdom. Between 1744 and 1818, Wahhabi preachers and fighters embedded their tenets and institutions into Arabian society so deeply that even the return of moderate Sunni ideas to the region when the Ottoman Empire demolished Saudi power did not eradicate extremism. Wahhabism survived and provided the ideological basis for the Saudi return to power as the Emirate of Nejd between 1824 and 1891, with the capital city at Riyadh, and as the third Saudi kingdom starting in 1932.
When he began conquering Arabia, Abdulaziz ibn Saud (ruled 1932–53) deployed Wahhabism as a religio-political means of uniting the Peninsula’s restive tribes. Submission to Allah’s absolute will, as interpreted by Wahhabi doctrine and upheld by the House of Saud became a rallying cry. Wahhabism served Saud’s descendants in the ruling family as a bulwark against Arab Nationalist rivals like Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, who were turning to the Soviets during the 1960s and 1970s. Faced with that rise of secularism and fueled by oil money, King Faisal ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud (ruled 1964–75) decided the propaganda of Wahhabism, which proclaims the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the sole rightful defender of Islam, would become the long-term strategy for the monarchy’s survival.
The second of the milestones in the evolution of declining Islam took place in 1928, which marks the official founding of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Throughout the 18th century, Muslim scholars and theorists tried to come to grips with their civilization’s reversal of fortunes. And while many embraced the rise of the West and its concomitant material modernization, the more influential among them rejected the West and began to the see the rising West as the principal antagonist to and cause of declining Islam. Like Wahhab, these scholars and theorists looked to the past, to a “purer” form of Islam to restore their civilizational strength and confidence.
The Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, became the Islamic world’s most radical and outspoken opponent of the West and of English secular rule in particular. He advocated not just a return to ancient Islamic values, but a violent revolution against those Western values and anyone who supported them. For his trouble, al-Banna was executed in 1949, and his organization was outlawed. Unfortunately, the power vacuum created by al-Banna’s death did not remain for long. It was filled by Sayyid Qutb, the spiritual progenitor of the radical Sunni Islamists who would go on to form al Qaeda and, in turn, the Islamic State. Five years ago, we wrote that Qutb was “to Islamism, what Joachim of Fiore was to medieval Millenarianism or what Marx was to Socialism, i.e. the founding ‘prophet.’” The author Paul Berman described Qutb’s influence over Islam and Islamism as follows:
In the early 1950’s, everyone in Egypt was veering in radical directions. Gamal Abdel Nasser and a group of nationalist army officers overthrew the old king in 1952 and launched a nationalist revolution on Pan-Arabist grounds. And, as the Pan-Arabists went about promoting their revolution, Sayyid Qutb went about promoting his own, somewhat different revolution. His idea was ‘‘Islamist.’’ He wanted to turn Islam into a political movement to create a new society, to be based on ancient Koranic principles. Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood, became the editor of its journal and established himself right away as Islamism’s principal theoretician in the Arab world. . . .
Qutb wrote bitterly about European imperialism, which he regarded as nothing more than a continuation of the medieval Crusades against Islam. He denounced American foreign policy. He complained about America’s decision in the time of Harry Truman to support the Zionists, a strange decision that he attributed, in part, to America’s loss of moral values . . .
Islam’s apparent weakness was mere appearance. Islam’s true champions seemed to be few, but numbers meant nothing. The few had to gather themselves together into what Qutb in ‘‘Milestones’’ called a vanguard – a term that he must have borrowed from Lenin, though Qutb had in mind a tiny group animated by the spirit of Muhammad and his Companions from the dawn of Islam. This vanguard of true Muslims was going to undertake the renovation of Islam and of civilization all over the world. The vanguard was going to turn against the false Muslims and ‘‘hypocrites’’ and do as Muhammad had done, which was to found a new state, based on the Koran. And from there, the vanguard was going to resurrect the caliphate and take Islam to all the world, just as Muhammad had done.
Qutb’s vanguard was going to reinstate shariah, the Muslim code, as the legal code for all of society.
The third milestone (and that’s a fitting term here, no?) we will call, for convenience sake, 1973. Throughout the 1960s, the Muslim world, like much of the rest of the world, was in turmoil. Arab pan-nationalism had promised to unite and strengthen the Muslim people, but was failing. In 1969, Muammar Gaddafi seized power in Libya and promised a more fundamentally “Islamic” opposition to the Western and colonial powers. Two years earlier, the entire Arab world had, once again, been stung by a bitter defeat at the hands of what they considered the ultimate non-Muslim interlopers, the state of Israel. By the end of the decade, the Muslim world was especially angry, especially dispirited, and especially anxious to take revenge of some sort against the West. And in 1973, the oil embargo provided the opportunity. Not only did the embargo show the West that the Arabs still had power, it also filled the coffers of those who produced oil, most notably in this case, the Wahhabi/Salafist Saudis.
Because of a quirk of geography and history, the Saudis were able to spread their especially noxious interpretation of Islamic “reform” far and wide. (A CIA friend of ours said it would be as if the Christian snake handlers in rural Virginia suddenly discovered the world’s largest oil supplies on their properties.) Poor young men from throughout the region flooded into Saudi Arabia to work in the oil fields. And when they went home, they took the Wahhabi indoctrination with them. More to the point, the Saudis took the vast wealth they accumulated from oil and put it to work producing Wahhabi propaganda that went out to the entire world. Again, Carol and Jasheed Choksy provide the details:
As later described in testimony before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, and listed on the late King Fahd’s website, Saudi Arabia spent $4 billion per year on mosques, madrassas, preachers, students, and textbooks to spread the Wahhabi creed over the next decades. Thousands of Muslim centers sprang up along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and then in Afghanistan itself — training not scholars but jihadis equipped with Wahhabi ideology and American weapons. The madrassas in Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan produced al-Qaeda and the Taliban. . . .
Wahhabism in turn emerged as the “indispensable ideology”— as noted in the record of the US Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security — not just for the Saudi state but also for groups such as al-Qaeda, which took up the mission to enforce a purified form of Islam upon the world. According to the Saudi monarchy’s official websites, Wahhabi charities and royal trusts, including that of another Saudi ruler, the late King Fahd, spent millions of dollars recruiting students to more than 1,500 mosques, 210 Muslim centers, 202 Islamic colleges, and 2,000 madrassas and on staffing those institutions with nearly 4,000 preachers and missionaries in non-Muslim nations in central, southern, and southeast Asia, as well as in Africa, Europe, and North America. Adherents to Wahhabism used Saudi control of four-fifths of all Islamic publishing houses around the world to spread their fighting words into faraway places.
Indeed, 80 percent of the 1,200 mosques operating in the US were constructed after 2001, more often than not with Saudi financing. As a result, Wahhabi influence over Islamic institutions in the US was considerable by 2003, according to testimony before the US Senate. Hundreds of publications, published by the Saudi government and its affiliates, and filled with intolerance toward Christians, Jews, and other Americans, had been disseminated across the country by 2006, according to a report by Freedom House, a Washington-based NGO. That report concluded that “the Saudi government propaganda examined reflects a totalitarian ideology of hatred that can incite to violence.” By 2013, 75 percent of North American Islamic centers relied on Wahhabi preachers who promote anti-Western ideas in person and online through their sermons and through the Saudi-produced literature.
The final milestone in our countdown is 1979, a year that dramatically changed the Muslim world, from the Arabian Peninsula to Persia to Central Asia. Naturally, the two biggest Islam-related events of 1979 were the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of the world’s first official Islamic Republic constituted the start of Islam’s tangible and unapologetic physical war against the West and against the United States in particular. The taking of American hostages was followed, in due time, by the exportation of radical Shiite Islam from Iran to Lebanon and eventually to the Palestinian territories. The Saudi strategy of using radical Salafism to cement its position as the sole guarantor of Islamic power in a Western-dominated world was directly countered by the Khomeinist Shiite strategy, which not only promoted war against the West, but actually conducted a real, physical assault on Western assets and individuals. On October 23, 1983, the Shiite war against the United States took a bloody turn, when Iranian-funded Hezbollah radicals drove a truck bomb into the American Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 people.
Across the Persian Gulf from Iran, in the Sunni stronghold of Saudi Arabia, another revolution of sorts began in late November of the year, when Juhayman al-Otaybi and his followers attacked and took control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Like the Ayatollah Khomeini, Otaybi believed that the hour had arrived for the return of the Mahdi. He expected that his insurgency would provide the spark necessary to reveal his brother-in-law as the “redeemer of Islam.” Otaybi and his followers seized the mosque and held it for nearly two weeks before being forced out by the Saudi armed forces.
As it turns out, the siege itself was far less important than the aftermath. In response, the Saudis concluded that they had to defuse the radicalism in their midst and that they could do so most effectively by coopting the militants, by taking a far harder and far more extremist turn in their embrace of Islam. Meanwhile, the rest of the Islamic world began to question the reliability of the Saudi guarantee as “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” even as it indulged in anti-Western/American/“Zionist” conspiracy-mongering. In the end, the Shiite challenge to the Saudi claim as protector of Islam found corroboration in the siege of the Grand Mosque, while the struggle to dominate the new Islamic radicalism took on new urgency in Riyadh.
Riyadh’s efforts to this end, of course, found an immediate outlet later that month, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The legendary Arab Mujahideen who flooded into Afghanistan to aid the fight against the Soviets were, for the most part, a military nonentity during the invasion and occupation. Nevertheless, the organization developed by the “Afghan Arabs” eventually became al Qaeda. More to the point, we suppose, the Saudis agreed to fund the Mujahideen, matching American contributions to the anti-Soviet war dollar for dollar. And while the American money dried up after the Soviets were vanquished, the Saudi money did not, which is to say that the Wahhabi evangelization effort in Central Asia continued long after the official invasion was repelled.
Taken in sum, all of these milestones – which represent the development of Islam over the last three centuries – leave us with a vision of Islam that is radically different from that endorsed and propagated by Barack Obama and most of the rest of the Western ruling class. Islam does indeed have a rather glorious and self-assured history. But it’s just that: history. Contemporary Islam is far different and far more complicated.
We have no doubt, as we have said before in these pages, that the majority of the world’s Muslims are peaceful and thoroughly uninterested in causing anyone anywhere any kind of problem. At the same time, however, they are practitioners of a religion that has undergone a rather radical Reformation over the last couple of decades. And that Reformation makes the conflict between Western and Islamic civilizations all the more acute, regardless of the majority’s desire for peace and harmony with their neighbors.
Consider, for example, a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), published last week. According to the report, roughly half of the women and girls in Indonesia – long considered one of the most “moderate” Islamic countries – have undergone genital mutilation, or genital “cutting.” Think about that: 60 MILLION women and girls have been cut for no other reason than the radicalized version of their religion demands it. Needless to say, this practice – which poses no threat to world peace or to Western lives – nevertheless places the Islamic world in direct conflict with the Western world and with the Western values people like Barack Obama are supposed to advocate.
And here, we think, is where the fight against radicalized Islam gets tricky.
The fact that declining Islam turned against the West is hardly surprising. That’s what declining civilizations do; they direct their energy and their rage at the civilization replacing it, the civilization that put it in the position of decline. What is surprising – or at least unique and telling – is the fact that Islam has been aided in its quest to blame the West for its troubles by large and powerful factions within the West itself. Indeed, without the West’s aid in turning standard, run-of-the-mill cultural antipathy into full-blown civilizational hatred, the largely undeniable Clash of Civilizations the world is experiencing today might never have materialized.
It is no mere coincidence, we think, that the decline of Islam corresponds rather nicely with the rise of the self-loathing West. Throughout the 19th century, as Islam was slowly but surely building its dislike for and opposition to the West, the “great thinkers” of the West were aiding their cause. In the 20th century both trends accelerated, again in near conformity. As Islam’s rage at the West grew and as its beliefs about the West became less and less rational, so did the beliefs of Western thinkers. The Marxists morphed into the Leninists, who saw “imperialism” as the “highest form of capitalism,” and thus the greatest of all evils. The post-modernists morphed into the “critical theorists,” who interpreted the world exclusively from the perspective of its “oppressed peoples.” Western intellectual thought in general morphed into Western self-loathing. In a 2008 article for the New Criterion, the celebrated conservative author David Pryce-Jones detailed the Left’s self-loathing as follows:
Intellectuals in Europe went much further, pleading guilty to all the accusations leveled against them by Third World nationalists. They and their predecessors had always been constant and enthusiastic critics of empire, and now were thrilled to have their diatribes against their own countries thrown back at them, as it were by clever students and disciples. Violence committed by the ruled against the rulers won their applause. This attitude of opposition starts with the delight so widely expressed in Britain over the loss of the American colonies — even the conservative-minded Edmund Burke supported the colonists. Innumerable nineteenth-and twentieth-century writers treated whatever reflected badly on the imperial power as a running scandal – – the Indian mutiny, the Governor Eyre episode in Jamaica, Denshawi in Egypt, Amritsar, the Arab revolts in Mesopotamia and Palestine, partition in India, and so on. Following Marxism-Leninism, leftists everywhere took it for granted that imperialism was the ultimate by-product of capitalism, to be extirpated accordingly in the glorious and imminent world revolution. Bernard Shaw and the Fabians, Sir Roger Casement, J. A. Hobson, Bloomsbury and the New Statesman, Arnold Toynbee, and other opinion-makers all over Europe acquired reputations as they savaged not just the British but the Belgians in the Congo, the Dutch in Indonesia, the French in the Maghreb or Indochina. Jean-Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon recommended the murdering of Frenchmen as a measure that Arabs owed themselves if they were to be free.
The outcome of this long-drawn anti-imperial campaigning has worked its way into today’s truism — taught in classrooms everywhere — that Europeans were exclusively vicious oppressors while those they ruled are exclusively virtuous victims. This incarnation of the myth of the Noble Savage overlooks, or carefully ignores, that imperialism brought far-flung peoples into contact with European languages, law, and culture, a necessary prerequisite if East and West were to meet on equal terms . . .
Along these same lines, coincidences don’t stop there. The year before the Muslim world went completely bonkers and began the actual, physical war against the West, one of the West’s leading “scholars” on the subject gave the radicals the proverbial green light, publishing his cri de coeur against Western “orientalism.” Pryce-Jones continued:
Edward Said was an outstanding example of an intellectual who condemned the West root and branch while taking every advantage of the privileges and rewards it has to offer. In its dishonesty and exercise of double standards, his was truly a cautionary tale of our times. Born in Jerusalem in 1935, he laid claims to be a Palestinian, dispossessed by Zionist Jews, and therefore an archetypal Third World victim. In sober fact, he was the son of an American father, a member of a prosperous Christian family with extensive business interests in Egypt. Undoubtedly an intelligent and civilized man with one side of his personality, he became a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University. Yet with his other side, he wrote speeches for Yasser Arafat in the 1970s, and was far and away the most vociferous advocate for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Although he knew the history of persecution that lay behind Zionism, he could not accept Israel as anything but an injustice that had to be put right in bloodshed. On the pretext of victimhood, but from the safety of New York, he urged others to kill and be killed. When Arafat professed (falsely as it turned out) to be willing to make peace with Israel, Said broke with him, insisting on armed struggle. At the end of his life, this professor of a subject within the humanities was photographed throwing a stone from Lebanese soil against the boundary with Israel.
The contradictory aspects of the man came together in Orientalism, a book Said published in 1978. The thesis was that every Westerner who had ever studied or written about the Middle East had done so in bad faith. From ancient Greece through the medieval era to the present, the work of historians, grammarians, linguists, and even epigraphists had been “a rationalization of colonial rule.” There was no colonial rule in the lifetimes of the majority of these scholars, so they must have been “projecting” what was to come. For Said, these highly eclectic individuals were all engaged in a long-drawn conspiracy, international but invisible, to establish the supremacy of the West by depicting an East not only inferior but static and incapable of change. At bottom, here was the vulgar Marxist concept that knowledge serves only the interest of the ruling class. Said had also latched on to Michel Foucault, with his proposition — modishly avant-garde at the time — that there is no such thing as truth, but only “narratives” whose inventor is putting across his point of view. This reduces facts to whatever anyone wishes to make of them.
Obviously, Edward Said didn’t cause the world to go mad or cause the rise of radical Islam. Nevertheless, he is, as Pryce-Jones says, “an outstanding example” of Western intellectualism in the late twentieth century. And as such, he is also an outstanding example of the problems that Western leaders face in responding to Islam’s anti-Western turn.
It is worth noting in this context that one of the great, mostly ignored scandals of the Obama presidency is the Los Angeles Times’ calculated suppression of a video that may or may not be damaging to the President’s reputation. In 2003, then-state-senator Barack Obama attended a farewell party for Rashid Khalidi a former PLO adviser and mouthpiece for Yasser Arafat, who was leaving the University of Chicago for Columbia University, where he became the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies. Obama gave a speech at the party, purportedly praising his friend Khalidi. The Times, which has the video of said speech, has steadfastly refused to release it.
Now, for our purposes today, the video, the speech, and all the rest are largely irrelevant. What matters is the fact that Barack Obama, the President of the United States, is and has been friends with precisely the type of intellectual who has made a career of rationalizing and thus excusing Islam’s contemporary hatred of the West. Of course, even if he weren’t personally chummy with the likes of Khalidi, Obama is, as we have long argued, a product of the leftist intellectual milieu that is radically anti-Western. And in this, he is himself an “outstanding example” of the Western ruling class and its biases.
Let us be perfectly blunt: radical Islam will not be defeated by bombs alone. It will not be defeated by “moderate” Muslims taking a stand against their more radical co-religionists. It will not be defeated by multiculti Westerners making Muslims feel welcome and secure in the West. Indeed, it will not be defeated at all – unless and until the West acknowledges its own role in perpetuating declining Islam’s outward-looking, conspiracy-generating, self-reflection-avoiding ethos.
Over the course of his public life, Barack Obama has been the subject of a great deal of criticism from within the black community, largely because of his uncharacteristic tough talk for his fellow African Americans. Obama has made a number of enemies – including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who, recall, wanted to “cut his nuts off” – because he has spoken bluntly, telling black men to get their lives in order, to quit blaming others for their problems, to be fathers to their children, and to take responsibility for themselves. Would that Obama would share that advice with Islamic world as well.
The hard truth here is that the dominant form off Islam – now and for the last 200 years – is one that blames the West for its problems and seeks retribution of sorts for perceived slights. Again, most Muslims don’t care one whit about this nonsense or harbor any grudges against Westerners. But they are, nonetheless, inculcated in the theology of victimhood both by their spiritual leaders AND by Western cultural, political, and intellectual leaders.
Now the West can’t do much to change this. Certainly, it won’t be changed by carpet bombing. The West can, however, stop encouraging and facilitating this victimhood, which is destroying Islam and causing great problems for the rest of the world. That won’t be easy, unfortunately. “Tough Love” never is. But as many parents have discovered, at some point it is the only alternative they have.
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