Sunday, March 23, 2008

Western liberals and Muslim moderates 

In an essay with plenty of Bush-bashing, Paul Berman is at least direct on the unwillingness of Western liberals to stand up in support of Muslim reformers:

I notice a little gloomily that I may have underestimated the extremist ideologies in still another respect. Five years ago, anyone who took an interest in Middle Eastern affairs would easily have recalled that, over the course of a century, the intellectuals of the region have gone through any number of phases — liberal, Marxist, secularist, pious, traditionalist, nationalist, anti-imperialist and so forth, just like intellectuals everywhere else in the world.

Western intellectuals without any sort of Middle Eastern background would naturally have manifested an ardent solidarity with their Middle Eastern and Muslim counterparts who stand in the liberal vein — the Muslim free spirits of our own time, who argue in favor of human rights, rational thought (as opposed to dogma), tolerance and an open society.

But that was then. In today’s Middle East, the various radical Islamists, basking in their success, paint their liberal rivals and opponents as traitors to Muslim civilization, stooges of crusader or Zionist aggression. And, weirdly enough, all too many intellectuals in the Western countries have lately assented to those preposterous accusations, in a sanitized version suitable for Western consumption.

Even in the Western countries, quite a few Muslim liberals, the outspoken ones, live today under a threat of assassination, not to mention a reality of character assassination. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch legislator and writer, is merely an exceptionally valiant example. But instead of enjoying the unstinting support of their non-Muslim colleagues, the Muslim liberals find themselves routinely berated in the highbrow magazines and the universities as deracinated nonentities, alienated from the Muslim world. Or they find themselves pilloried as stooges of the neoconservative conspiracy — quite as if any writer from a Muslim background who fails to adhere to at least a few anti-imperialist or anti-Zionist tenets of the Islamist doctrine must be incapable of thinking his or her own thoughts.

A dismaying development. One more sign of the power of the extremist ideologies — one more surprising turn of events, on top of all the other dreadful and gut-wrenching surprises.

Much as this needs to be said again and again, Mr. Berman, I think, dodges the point. The Western left, especially of the chattering class variety, generally believes that foreign hostility including but not limited to jihadism is an understandable reaction to one or more Western sins, whether capitalism, materialism, cultural or actual "imperialism," or Zionism, and that it will end only if we stop sinning. This much is obvious to anybody who attends lectures on national security at a major university and who listens to the questions from the professors and students in the audience. Well, if one believes that foreign hostility is purely or even mostly a function of our own immoral policies, "moderate" Muslims are offensive in three ways. First, in arguing that jihadists ought to be held accoutable for their own hostility the moderates impeach the left-wing view of the world, and nobody appreciates that. Second, the moderates lend credibility to the idea that Western sins are not sins at all, which means they are in fact "stooges" of the capitalists, imperialists, and Zionists. Third, they force Western liberals to express a "value judgment" about a non-Western institution -- Islam -- and that is an enormous no-no according to two generations of scholarship, one generation of schooling, and half a generation of corporate compliance training.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 23, 10:10:00 AM:

Any examples of this phenomenon?

I see that Berman offers none - and neither do you. So why should I accept your thesis, rather than the obvious alternative - that y'all just want to hurl a few insults at the "liberals" and do it on the cheap.

Islam is not "an institution". It is a religion adhered to by a dizzying diversity of human beings. Expressing a "value judgement" about Islam when your values are actually being assualted by a tiny minority of Muslims, is the very definition of mindlessness.

The "moderates" in Islam tend not to be interested in advancing some claim that the West is innocent of all sin, as you seem to imagine. They tend to present a realistic assessment of sins and virtues on both sides - an attitude that is far more similar to the attitudes of liberals in the West than the Right - which is notable for its blanket "west is good, islam evil" attitude. That is NOT at all the position of Islamic moderates.  

By Blogger Elijah, at Sun Mar 23, 10:19:00 AM:

...In an insightful essay exploring the alliance between the left and Islamic jihad, the socialist author Paul Berman suggests in Sayyid Qutb's writings about 'social justice' he was inspired by the 'universal declaration of human rights. Qutb did not incorporate the Marxist view of class conflict into his doctrines. However, a decade later Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini took this step of transforming Shia islam into a revolutionary force.

Khomeini introduced into radical Islamic thought the Marxist concept of a world separated into oppressors and oppressed

The goals of radical jihad are purification and social justice, both of which are to be achieved through the institution of Islamic law, via capitulation or by the sword.

....as long as America and capitalism continue to protect what the leftists, Marxists, and Islam regard as the global order of social injustice, all reforms and social advances within the existing structures of American democracy are illusory.

illusory...and possibly the reason some have so much difficulty in being proud of the United States of America

one might ask who the captors, the strong, the powerful are ...from the religious and judicial perspective of a certain presidential candidate?

or using the terminology of others,
who are the the oppressors, the subjugators ...in an oppressive American society?

3/18/2008 03:20:00 PM  

By Blogger Elijah, at Sun Mar 23, 10:35:00 AM:

"Any examples of this phenomenon?"

Without the skills and the service of hundreds of leftist writers and intellectuals, Islamists would have much greater difficulty spreading propaganda to Western audiences.

How important is the left's servitude to radical Islam?

Jihad vs. McWorld is the name of a March, 1992 essay and a 1996 book published by Benjamin Barber. Barber argues that both tribal warfare "jihad", and what he sees as the "threat" of globalism, equally endanger democracy in the post-cold war world. Now, nearly a decade and a half after Barber's essay appeared in...Atlantic Monthly, it appears that leading anti-globalization activists worldwide have stopped equivocating and decided that globalism is the greater threat.

Dozens of Islamist websites and newspapers feature a harem of western leftists eagerly displaying their rhetorical skills on behalf of Islamists.

Saudi-owned, Lebanese based Dar al-Hayat is an Arabic newspaper of record. In an article, writer Jihad el-Khazen explains

"...we are not lacking in friends. Our friends around the world have better personal and intellectual reputations than the Israeli 'gang of evil'. I would like to introduce the reader to some names, such as Tariq Ali, John Berger, Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Naomi Klein, Harold Pinter, Arundhati Roy, José Saramago, and Howard Zinn."

For readers unfamiliar, these are some the leading intellectual lights of the international left.

Would you like more examples?  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Sun Mar 23, 11:19:00 AM:

Anyone familiar with Berman's writings on this issue - and not just this brief essay that space limitations prevented him from detailing - over the past half decade knows quite well his documentation of the left's apologies for the Islamists.

Start with "Terror and Liberalism" (2003). Et cetera, et cetera.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 23, 01:00:00 PM:

When I have heard some of my most liberal colleagues make the argument associating Western action with violent reprisal, it's less "mea culpa" and more consequentialist. Essentially, the summary is as follows:

We have a world, it is full of people. Some of those people are violent and/or crazy (VAOC). Historically, a good number of these VAOC people tend to be VAOC when X happens, such as X being building bases in the Middle East. This implies that violence is a foreseeable consequence of X, making it something that should be addressed in justifying X.

Most of these same people are totally amenable to the notion that some things are justifiable even in light of these consequences, but want the argument made persuasively. Sure, more than enough of the bleeding heart type exist, but personally I choose to put stupid liberalism and stupid conservatism on the same ground and address neither unless required to.  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Sun Mar 23, 01:22:00 PM:

put stupid liberalism and stupid conservatism on the same ground and address neither unless required to.

To be sure, both sides love to grab an anecdote from the other illustrating the stupidity of it and run around yelling, "Look, this is who they are!! This is what they believe!!"

Limbaugh has made quite a living doing so. Greenwald less so; but he's trying.

The question is when do the anecdotes fit into a larger pattern and are more than just isolated incidents.

I find it difficult to understand, for example, how the same people who argue that to call the Islamists evil is simplistic and lacking nuance and yet are quick to call Bush the personification of evil itself.

And in my experiences, it's more than just a handful of people.  

By Blogger Elijah, at Sun Mar 23, 01:37:00 PM:

liberals AND muslims is the topic - the association or alliances between the two

"I choose to put stupid liberalism and stupid conservatism on the same ground and address neither unless required to."

"stupid conservatism" and Islamic alliances

Now, precisely what are the associations or how do the two groups work together to achieve shared objectives?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 23, 01:59:00 PM:

Elijah, I will sketch the form of my argument, predominantly without the content, to give you the schema you seem to desire.

TH: (Lots of interesting stuff regarding the relationships between western liberals, Muslim liberals, and the history thereof, quoting Berman.) Quote:"The Western left, especially of the chattering class variety, generally believes that foreign hostility including but not limited to jihadism is an understandable reaction to one or more Western sins, whether capitalism, materialism, cultural or actual "imperialism," or Zionism, and that it will end only if we stop sinning."

Me: Yes, the Blame America First crowd does exist in the world, but that doesn't mean that they are a dominating force, or that it is fair/meaningful to paint the entirety of a political philosophy of that same stripe, particularly when the typifying word ("liberal") is so often abused as it is. In fact, it has been my experience that the BAF crowd in the real world (as opposed to TV) is minimal at best, though I can see where the disagreement might arise because the justification argument I mentioned isn't carried to completion. General philosophical point of such things: stupid conservatives and stupid liberals exist, but strawmanning their positions to the whole is bad, obfuscates actual discussion, and (I think) should be left off the table on both sides in a spirit of fair mindedness and reciprocity.

Is this clearer?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 23, 02:03:00 PM:

I have lived my life in Dearborn, Michigan - ground zero of Islam in the USA for half a century. What more people need to learn is that Islam is not just another religion; it's a political ideology and one antithetical to the Western tradition and to American customs to boot.

While only a small percentage of muslims are violent jihadis - perhaps 5%, that still is a large number when you remember that there are 1.2 billion muslims in the world.

The greater threat is from a larger percentage of "peaceful, moderate" muslims who would never commit violence, often quietly, secretly support and approve of their more radical, violent jihadi "cousins". Furthermore, the relentless push to have Sharia law more and more accepted in Western nations only bodes ill.

"Liberalism is a mental disorder" and no truer words were ever spoken. ("Liberalism" defined as far left, self-hating, guilt-trip, spineless secularists.)  

By Blogger Mike, at Sun Mar 23, 02:36:00 PM:

Anonymous #1:

Your suggestion that Western values are being assaulted by a 'tiny minority' of Muslims is itself an excellent example in support of the thesis that you demand evidence for.

Numerous surveys in the UK and Europe have shown that anything from a significant minority to a small majority of Muslims hold values that most Westerners would consider incompatible with their own. These views range from support for the introduction of sharia in their communities to support for suicide bombings.

And here's a report on a poll which found that less than 80% of US muslims believe suicide bombings are 'never' justified. This of course means that more than 20% believe suicide bombings are sometimes justified, the figure rises among younger muslims:


But of course you don't have to accept Berman's and TH's thesis – any more than we have to accept the thesis, implicit in your comment, that liberals in the West 'tend to present a realistic assessment of sins and virtues on both sides'.

They of course tend to blame the West, and particularly the US and Israel, for the world's ills, while giving a pass to everyone from Castro to Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad.

Berman is an exception, and does in fact take the position that you wrongly ascribe to liberals in general. How ironic then that you should disagree with him on the subject of radical islam.

I would go farther than Berman and TH, and add that the attitude of the hard left (Elijah's list is a good start) goes beyond merely seeking to blame the West for the growth of radical Islam. Following the defeat of communism, and the rejection of socialism by advanced democracies (I don't include, for example, Spain and Italy in that category), radical Islam is the left's last best hope for bringing about the downfall of the free-market democratic system they so despise.

In its most extreme form this thinking holds that, in line with Marxist ideology, once the Islamists have defeated the West they'll no longer be 'oppressed', and so will no longer require the 'opium' of Islam.

Most leftists, however, subscribe to a less extreme version of the concept, viewing fascist Islamic states, along with Russia and China, as some kind of counterweight to undesirable American and Western hegemony.

This sort of thinking has to be resisted, which is why the work of writers such as Berman, Nonie Darwish, Walid Phaeres and Martin Amis is so important.  

By Blogger Elijah, at Sun Mar 23, 03:03:00 PM:

"Is this clearer?"

If you are trying to support the position that not all leftists support Islamists or share similar ideologies, sure.

If you are trying to offer that there are not clear associations and shared objectives between a great number of leftists/ socialists/ collectivists/ Marxists and Islamists, then you are being intellectually dishonest.

another example?

The Nasrallah Interview

From an interview conducted shortly before the ceasefire by reporters from the Turkish Labor Party daily, Evrensel.

Q. What is the current state of your relations with the Socialist movement?

Hasan Nasrallah: The socialist movement, which has been away from international struggle for a considerable time, at last has begun to offer moral support for us once again. The most concrete example of this has been Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. What most of the Muslim states could not do has been done by Chavez, by the withdrawal of Venezuela's ambassador to Israel. He furthermore communicated to us his support for our resistance. This has been an immense source of moral strength for us.

We can observe a similar reaction within the Turkish Revolutionary Movement. We had socialist brothers from Turkey who went to Palestine in 1960s to fight against Israel. And one of them still remains in my memory and my heart; Deniz Gezmis..!

[Deniz Gezmis, 1947-1972, was a Turkish revolutionary in the Marxist-Leninist tradition. He led major student actions in the late 1960s, went to a Fatah training camp in Lebanon in late 1969, returned to Turkey where his group seized four US army privates in Ankara. After their release of the soldiers, Gezmis was captured, tried for attempting to overthrow the Turkish state and, with two of his comrades, was hanged in the central prison in Ankara on May 6, 1972. Editors.]

Q. What is the importance of Denizs for you?

Hasan Nasrallah: We now want new Denizs. Our ranks are always open to new Denizs against the oppressors. Deniz will always live in the hearts of the peoples of Palestine and Lebanon. No-one should doubt this. Unfortunately, there is no longer a common fight and fraternity against the common enemy left over by the Denizs. What we would have liked is for our socialist brothers in Lebanon to fight against imperialism and Zionism shoulder to shoulder. This fight is not only our fight. It is the common fight of all those oppressed across the world. Don't forget that if the peoples of Palestine and Lebanon lose this war, this will mean the defeat of all the oppressed people of the world. In our fight against imperialism, the revolutionaries should also undertake a responsibility and should become, in the hearts of our people of Palestine and Lebanon, Denizs once again.

Q. It is possible to see the posters of Che, Chavez and Ahmadinejad side by side in the streets of Beirut. Are these the signs of a new polarization?

Hasan Nasrallah: We salute the leaders and the peoples of Latin America. They have resisted the American bandits heroically and have been a source of moral strength for us. They are guiding the way for the oppressed peoples. Go and wonder around our streets..! You will witness how our people have embraced Chavez and Ernesto Che Guevara. Nearly in every house, you will come across posters of Che or Chavez.

What we are saying to our socialist friends who want fight together with us for fraternity and freedom is: Do not come at all if you are going to say "Religion is an opiate". We do not agree with this analysis. Here is the biggest proof of this in our streets with the pictures of Chavez, Che, Sadr and Khamenei together. These leaders are saluting our people in unison. So long as we respect your beliefs, and you respect ours, there is no imperialist power we cannot defeat!

Q. Returning to threats in the region, western governments are intensifying their pressure on Damascus and Tehran, for which they are proposing a "change of regime." Some sources are of the view that the attack on Lebanon will be directed on Syria. According to your point of view, is a regional war possible?

Hasan Nasrallah: The centers of imperialist power want to make collaborators of our region as a whole. They expect us to kneel before them. Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are opposing this. The provocation concerning the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the efforts to secure the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon and -- going even further -- their wish to attack callously on to Tehran and Damascus are all due to this reason.

Syria, with Iran and Hezbollah will certainly resist this. We are going to resist for our motherland and freedom. We are going to resist in order not kneel before them. The imperialists of the west are seeking to make a second Kosovo out of Lebanon and our region. They are seeking to create a clash in between sects. But we have spoiled this trick. In our streets, the whole of Lebanon, with its Christian, Sunnis and Shias, are flying the flags of Hezbollah. Again, "the unipolar world" has already been left behind in history. There is us, there is Iran, there is Syria, there is Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. There are the resisting peoples of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan! As long as there is imperialism and occupations, these people will continue resisting. They can forget about peace. If they want peace, they should now respect the freedom of peoples and should eliminate the collaborators. God willing, the victory will be ours.

Now, can you provide the readers with an example of a similar "conservatist" and Islamic alliance against the oppressors... the captors, the strong, or the powerful?

By the way, you never answered who you thought the captors were from a specific race-based religious value system from a few weeks ago.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 23, 04:15:00 PM:

I will further eviscerate my previous statements in hopes of cutting what might have been unclear.

Four second version of previous argument: we're railing against a position of stupid liberalism. We shouldn't crucify stupid liberalism or stupid conservatism, or anything else stupid, because it's stupid. There are enough examples that you can choose yours, I can choose mine, and we can both totally miss the point of legitimate discourse by not engaging eachother's strong points, instead addressing the stupid characterizations only held by some. I mention stupid conservatism to say that any ideology has its idiots, so let's ignore this nonunique detriment.

Elaboration: As a thought experiment, throw out any prominent advocate of smart liberalism, and all the prominent advocates of stupid conservatism. Strawmanning arguments doesn't persuade the body politic and only convinces those who already agree with you because it doesn't address the strong arguments. This thread has an appearance of "those silly liberals," and I claim such an activity is unwise and unfulfilling.

As for a few weeks ago, my participation has been consistently sporadic (since I found TH in the summer) due to RL obligations, my knowledge of confirmation bias, and sporadic disinterest. Answering your question off the top of my head, a general rule would be "any scenario where a power discrepancy is exploited," such as Darfur, China, the poorer districts of the inner city, and some places in the (still sometimes racist, actually,) American South. Really, watch these in their entirety:

and make arguments that Obama is secretly the antichrist bent on installing a racist theocracy bent on subjugating the white man. What could anyone possibly say to dissuade you of such an opinion, given the nature of confirmation bias?


@ Anonymous at 2:03: redefining terms in abusive ways tends to lead to uninformative and uninteresting commentary. I could similarly say "Conservatism is criminal, and by conservatism I mean killing all those lazy minorites," and this would perform the same function as the last line of your post: not speaking to the issue, being transparently glib, and compelling parties to walk away from a discussion rather than engaging eachother on polite terms.  

By Blogger Elijah, at Sun Mar 23, 04:36:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger Elijah, at Sun Mar 23, 04:39:00 PM:

you present a perspective and then cannot answer direct questions that relate to your view

direct quotes from an individual or their mentors is not synonymous with confirmation bias; scholarship extends beyond a google or wikipedia search

finally it is odd that tory writes

"Obama is secretly the antichrist bent on installing a racist theocracy bent on subjugating the white man"

i hope this is not the

change we can believe in  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 23, 04:48:00 PM:

Sometimes policy is more than just a soundbyte, and issues are more complicated than a maxim. The problem, then is that single direct quotes outside of a larger context can distort and mischaracterize, (for example your quote of me) which is why I recommend listening to those hour long policy speeches yourself instead of consuming predigested regurgitated conclusions from others. Again on your quote of me, I will be more careful with the (sarcasm)(/sarcasm) tags in the future, and I did provide a direct answers to your reference from weeks ago. Your conservatist point isn't relevant to what I was talking about because the maxim form of my position is this: there are lots of stupid people and things, and pointing out how stupid they are is stupid.

And now I shall do everyone a favor and stop trying to hold up reasonable alternatives to a given narrative. Enjoy your echo chamber.  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Sun Mar 23, 04:50:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger Elijah, at Sun Mar 23, 05:17:00 PM:

I and others do enjoy this echo chamber

one wonders if echo chamber is defined as any forum that presents a viewpoint which differs from your on

words have meaning...



liberation theology

always a pleasure visiting the " echo chamber"  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 23, 08:49:00 PM:

It's a small world. Globalization AND technology make it smaller. The internet, satellite TV, etc. brings Karachi to London and London to Karachi.

So ultimately, one value system will dominate the planet. Either the Wests or Islam's. Liberals hate the value system of the West, not the least of which is the ability of the average man to live his own life free from control of his "betters." Something Liberals hate and so institute the sort of social controls gone wild that echoes Islam's rigid social control.

Both Islam and Liberals want to control every aspect of a person's life, right down to how many squares of toilet paper they use or how many times they pray.

Islam of course to use just one example has polygamy as the basis of family life. That's totally incompatible with the West, but a thing Liberals defend constantly.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Sun Mar 23, 09:29:00 PM:

"...polygamy...That's totally incompatible with the West..."

You're right. Having one wife and several mistresses is better--and cheaper.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Mon Mar 24, 12:26:00 PM:

The problem with polygamy is simple : whose intrests do you put first in a relation ?

-> the woman's
-> the man's
-> the group's

The answer the west has unequivocally chosen for thousands of years is the group's. The primary intrest in a relation is how that relation contributes to the whole. The contribution we're talking about obviously, is children. This is the only long-term purpose of a relation (all others are short-term at best).

Obviously the answer that polygamy gives is "the man's" and polygyny's answer is "the woman's". That's why they're wrong.

Once a child (or children) is/are born, the primary intrest chosen by "the west" is the child's. The child benefits from having 2 stable parents, a male father and a female mother, both caring for him in slightly different ways.

A kid (male or female) starts out 100% dependant on his mother, first in, and later outside of the woom, and the purpose of education is, first and foremost, to break that dependancy, using violence, slowly, and in a smooth motion, without forcing any sudden changes through.

Contrast this with the purpose of child education in islam, which is to replace the mother by the "representative of allah" (the kaliph, sheikh, mullah, whatever ...). In other words, the purpose of islamic education is to create utterly dependant idiots on a central character. That's why "killing the leaders" is such a good strategy with muslims. In muslim societies, a new leader doesn't stand up, they start fighting amongst themselves. Want to stop muslims, want them to start killing eachother ? Kill, or even simply incapacitate, the leader.

Back to Christians. The father introduces violence into a "perfect" relationship, starting with psychological violence : he vies for attention of the mother, forces a distance between the child and the mother, obviously wins the contest from the child, and takes the child out into the world, where the child is more and more alone as it grows up, and realizes the problems of dependancy. He is ridiculed for his dependancy "little crybaby", "mama's boy", ... This will result in the child investigating how it can use the world to care for himself and others.

In other words : the result of a "tough love" approach to child-rearing will overwhelmingly be a believing-but-independant "let's get it done" republican.

The result of the smothering approach will be the "oh please meanies leave me alone or I will blow myself up between your children", suicidal socialists. The only memories they have were of them being safe, and utterly controlled, with nobody taking that away from them.

Now here's the problem. A truly short-sighted idiot will judge the "safe" education to be more "liberal", while obviously forcing the child to make and face choices is the liberal one, that will later allow the child to make the choice of freedom.

Free societies become free due to this "tough love" approach to child-rearing. Due to their dads explaining every last little detail of the world to them, while taking them away from the safety of the home/mother. The dad who demands that his kids distance themselves more and more from himself and his wife/their mother. Who shows them how to survive outside of the safe haven, venturing further and further.

How do you create utterly dependant children : first allow them to control the mother like they did the day they were born for several years, even five or six or even twelve years, and then utterly break the connection, in a time space the child cannot possibly deal with (ie, days or months at most), and present them during that time with a new authority figure. 90% or so will simply follow.  

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