Killing Iraq With Kindness: Imposing “universal values” by force just doesn’t work. (IAN BURUMA, 3/17/04, NY Times)
Once again a nation with a universalist mission to liberate the world is creating dangerous enemies (and once again Jews are being blamed). This is not necessarily because the Islamic world hates democracy, but because the use of armed force — combined with the hypocrisy of going after one dictator while coddling others, the arrogant zealotry of some American ideologues and the failures of a ham-handed occupation — are giving America’s democratic mission a bad name.
One problem with American troops’ liberating the Middle East is that it confirms the opinions of both Muslims and Westerners who see the Iraq war as part of a religious war, a “clash of civilizations” in the phrase of the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington. On the face of it, this would seem an unlikely proposition. Saddam Hussein did not rule over an Islamic state. Far from it; he killed large numbers of Muslims. Whatever his values are, it would be an insult to claim they represent Arab civilization. And although Tony Blair (also a fan of the phrase “universal values”) and George W. Bush are Christians, religion does not appear to have played a major part in their war aims.
Yet to many Arab Muslims inside and outside Iraq, this does indeed look like a war unleashed by “Zionists and Crusaders” to keep the Muslims down, or worse, impose a foreign civilization on an Arab nation. This is certainly the way Islamist extemists see it. But then, they always were believers in Mr. Huntington’s thesis.
Islamists, however, do not represent Muslim or Arab civilization — any more than the Christian Coalition, let alone “Zionists,” represents the West. Iraq is a perfect example of how ethnic, religious and cultural fault lines run inside national borders. The future of Iraq is not being forged out of a battle between West and East, or between Muslims and Christians, but between Shiites and Sunnis, Kurds and Arabs, Baathists and democrats. The main fault line crossing most Muslim societies isn’t even between secularists and religionists, but between Muslims with different ideas about the proper role of religion.
Islamists of the kind represented by Al Qaeda are religious revolutionaries. But it is perfectly possible for a practicing Muslim to be against United States intervention, free-market capitalism, sexual freedom and the importing of Hollywood movies without being a theocratic revolutionary. Such a person may be a moderate reformer who believes, as did many Europeans until just a few decades ago, that democratic politics is best organized along religious lines.
The real question for the Western universalists, then, is whether the cause of moderate Muslims is helped by the revolutionary war that has been set off by the American and British armies. For that is what the war in Iraq is: not a clash of civilizations, but a revolution unleashed through outside force.
That does state the case well. This is in fact a religious crusade on the part of the United States because the universalist values it is promoting, unlike the rationalist ones of Napoleon and the French, derive from Judeo-Christianity. That seems to be why the secularists of the American Left and Europe so passionately oppose Iraq’s liberation.
Unfortunately for folks like Mr. Buruma, the answer to his question is the precise opposite of what he thinks it is. Obviously Iraqis (especially Kurds and Shi’ites) are better off today than they were a year ago, and state this themselves. But, in addition, the Sau’dis are starting to tamp down Wahabbism themselves; Syrians have begun protesting their Ba’athist regime for the first time; Colonel Qaddaffi has radically realigned his nation towards the West; Sudan is taking tentative steps towards peace; Hizbullah is moving towards politics rather than terror; King Mohammed VI is democratizing Morocco rather rapidly; Irans clerics were forced to so damage their own republic, in order to stop true liberal reform, that they’ve lost all legitimacy; smaller Gulf States like the UAE are really trailblazing; etc.; etc.; etc.
Indeed, any honest assessment of the President’s revolutionary project in the Islamic world would have to conclude that it could hardly be going better. The issue for folks like Mr. Buruma then–what we might call, as Michael Walzer has, the Decent Left–is whether they are forced to oppose a successful policy of democratic liberalization just because they oppose its religious sources and leader.
Our Union’s Jewish State (David Klinghoffer, 3/17/04, The Forward)
If anyone else has pointed out what a Jewish piece of oratory the recent State of the Union address was, I’m not aware of it. The ethos, the whole moral outlook, was Jewish, and this observation raises a question: How did America come to be the most Judaic country on earth, a country where one could plausibly say such a thing about the principal yearly address given by an American president? […]
An amazingly observant and prescient writer, [the sainted Reform rabbi Leo Baeck (1873-1956)] understood Judaism’s daughter religion as being in a constant state of war with her own Jewish soul. In certain periods of Christian history, he explained, the Judaic heritage — what he called “classical” religion — was dominant: an emphasis on ethics, on commandments. In other periods, this Jewish side of Christianity was submerged under a “romantic” tendency that revered not ethical action but emotional experience, that gauzy, swooning sensation of feeling and glorying in being personally “saved.”
This essentially aesthetic, passive version of religion loves sacred music and wafting incense, but can look with indifference on injustice and tyranny. By contrast, the Jewish “classical” counter-tendency thinks less about the self and more about the wrongs done by human beings and directs a focused passion to setting things right on earth. This leads to a messianic longing for a final redemption of all people, as well as to a certain missionary instinct to share your ethical vision with others. […]
Back to the State of the Union. One is struck by the heartfelt piety, entirely compatible with the Hebrew Bible, accompanied by the moral impulse and the will to defeat systematized injustice: in Baeck’s terms, by the ethical and the messianic.
The president advocates “confidence and faith” because “The momentum of freedom in our world is unmistakable — and it is not carried forward by our power alone. We can trust in that greater power who guides the unfolding of the years. And in all that is to come, we can know that His purposes are just and true.” […]
Nothing like this is to be found in Europe — where sexual decadence is smiled upon, where it was thought that leaving Iraqis to suffer under their horrendous dictator was the most reasonable course of action. Lofty or comical, it’s something for which we Jews should not forget to thank our Maker. Which reminds me: Thank you, God, for making me an American.