Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The War on Ideology

A necessary if improper and piecemeal distinction is made by Yglesias on the nature of the ideological threat of Jihadism and its comparative analogues to Communism qua Cold War antagonist of western modernity:

I don't know what historical analogies are really worth, but there's something to this. A word of caution. The term "Salafist preachers" covers a lot of ground. You've got basically peaceful Salafis who want to use democracy and/or evangelism to spread their doctrines. You've got violent Salafis who think (not entirely unreasonably) that if you want to eliminate the dictatorial regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, you need to use violence against them. You've got bin Laden and al-Zawahiri who want to attack the "far enemy" -- i.e., us. You've got linkages between Salafi visions and nationalistic conflicts in Palestine, Chechnya, Sinkiang, etc. You've got disputes about takfir and dividing the Islamic community. All sorts of controversies, linkages, disagreements, shades of gray, etc. It's all very complicated. If you were in 1890 and thinking about Communism, what you probably would have been doing was getting Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, democratic socialists, the SR Party, and all sorts of other people mixed up. You wouldn't have known whether Czarist reform initiatives were sincere or tactical feints. You'd get very confused and you would mishandle the situation.

No one who could plausibly be called a "Salafi" in any sense is going to look very sympathetic to an American or any sort of westerner. But there are degrees of objectionableness to these doctrines, degrees of threateningness to our interests and our values, degrees of feasibility to externally combatting an ideological movement, etc., etc., etc. It would serve us well to tread somewhat cautiously in analytical terms before coming to sweeping conclusions.

Via Yglesias is Gregory Djerjian on why the left needs to make this distinction honestly and close ranks in this next great ideological battle:

This struggle will be on par, quite likely, with the Cold War struggle against Communism. So why haven't we gotten (much) more serious about our moribund public diplomacy efforts, for instance? Put differently, why haven't we better understood the ideological component of this struggle? Part of the reason, I suspect, is that we too easily assume that our caricature-like vision of Islam will hold no real appeal to right-thinking souls (unlike, say, what we feared might prove the overly tantalizing egalitarian utopias engendered in Marxist folkore--until such visions were unmasked to the world as more constitutive of an 'equality of poverty' than some bountiful paradise).

Why haven't we, more vigorously, described to the great European, Latin American, and Asian publics what is at stake in this struggle? Why, put differently, does the global war against terrorism too often look like some noxious, militaristic American adventure? For sure, there is great envy at the hyperpuissance so that assorted gaggles of neo-Gaullists, self-righteously pacifist German Greens, knee-jerk 'Yankee Go Home' Latin American leftists are all stock-full of the predictable and tired protestations. But can't we do better, nevertheless? After all, we must be able to persuade our fellow democratic societies of the justness of our cause if we are to win this long struggle. Is it that we have become so different than they in terms of value-sytems; or that we are reacting too irrationally to a gruesome one-off terror attack; or that, instead perhaps, our former allies in the Cold War have become asleep to the massive perils that gather in their and our midst? My money is on this last--but I nevertheless believe we are failing in making a better case as to why the neutral, "spectating" camp must get into the arena. It's true, of course, that countries like France or Brazil were not necessarily in the anti-communist vanguard, of course. There has always been a vague casting about for a "third way,' or a 'non-aligned movement,' or some other contrarian formulation doubtless often meant to dispel the image of too much servility to one or the other superpower.

This isn't about all the old circa 2003 battles about whether to go to war in Iraq. The French and Germans might say that, but for Iraq, they would have stood with us shoulder to shoulder in the war on terror. But this is too convenient and easy a retort. And, regardless, history has moved on. Fateful decisions were made. The Iraq project, which I still think may prove successful, is now at a critical juncture. A defeat there would have devastating ramifications vis-a-vis aiding radical Islamists that are the current enemy of all those who share Enlightenment values.

I concur.

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