Thursday, September 07, 2006
Late medieval Spanish Koran.
Yesterday I briefly watched CSPAN as I ate my lunch. There was a woman from a NGO (Third Way, I think) who was criticizing the Bush administration's approach to diplomacy, or to be more precise, its lack of the same. Someone called in and suggested she was wrong because our adversaries -- whether we're talking about North Korea or Iran -- are "evil" and "you can't talk to them." Before giving an intelligent reply about the importance of diplomacy, she had to profusely agree about how "evil" they were.
I understand that many people who have supported Bush have done so because they feel he demonstrates "moral clarity." To judge from the results of his policies and administration -- everything from Abu Garib to the response to Katrina to the problems of poverty in this country -- I find it hard to agree, but I can imagine that much of this feeling about "moral clarity" comes from his willingness to paint his foreign policy on one big canvass titled "The Battle of Good vs. Evil." This is a very dangerous starting point. One is reason is that it is so absolute it demands desperate measures -- such as wars to do away with evil. War, however, is evil in itself. If it is ever necessary, it must be a "lesser of two evils." There goes complete moral clarity. The propensity of this administration to rush to an armed response in any given situation without thinking of the possible outcomes shows great lack of responsibility. Glibly referring to the deaths of thousands and suffering of millions as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East" (Condi Rice dixit) shows an insensitivity that I find hard to reconcile with any definition of the word "good."
Still, they will not change the storyline. If we back out of Iraq now, we are Neville Camberlain. Why? Evil is evil. "Islamofascism" (an extremely offensive word) is the same as Nazism, which is the same as Communism. This is not a complex world, where different political forces with different interests use the tools given to them with a greater or lesser concern for justice and human life, it is black and white.
One of the greatest casualties of this kind of a worldview is tolerance, especially since the president and his supporters have to classify all those who oppose us in the Middle East under a term that links a religion (Islam) with a western ideology that this country has successfully fought against in the past (fascism). The resulting term "Islamofascism" is about as helpful to understanding problems of the Middle East and terrorism as the adjective "evil." It's a gross simplification that slanders a religion and gives the false impression that we are fighting one enemy with one agenda. Al-Queada = Hezbollah = Iran = Hamas = Syria. North Korea, Bush's greatest WMD containment failure, is conveniently left out of the equation, so that the subtextual message "the Muslim is the enemy" is that much more clear. It's always hard to say whether Bush and the neo-cons use these ideas to strike fear and prejudice into voters' hearts, or whether they actually believe them, but reports that Bush did not know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims immediately before the invasion of Iraq are disturbing.
Juan Cole gives a good analysis of those who Bush sees as our enemies, pointing out the complexities and differences between the groups. We owe to ourselves to understand the Muslim world better: the price of simplification is simply too high. Yes, the attacks on September 11 were evil. That much we know. The rest is not so simple.
Posted by Liam at 3:32 PM