April 1, 2010

On Jihad, Terrorism, Democratization, and the Strong Horse

Hatched by Dafydd

I've been reading the wonderful Lee Smith book the Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations; I just came across the following passage on pages 55-56:

The United States is hated [in the Arab Moslem world] not because of what it does, or because of what it is. The United States is hated for what it is not, not Arab and not Muslim. America plays the part of the utterly alien force that puts the Arabs at existential risk unless they cohere as one. The United States is the most powerful embodiment of the non-Arab other, and as any tribe is galvanaized by the present threat of its rivals, anti-Americanism is the easiest method available to consolidate the Arabs and create consensus. Fear of the outsider clarifies Arabism, and war against him unifies the whole -- or in Nasser's formulation, "No voice louder than the cry of battle."


This is not something that's generally accepted in American press and policy circles, where the governing assumption is that the regimes are single-handedly responsible for inciting their people against America. The general thesis goes something like this: To deflect attention away from their corruption and incompetence and lay the blame elsewhere, Arab rulers use mosques, media and educational systems to brainwash an otherwise-moderate Arab citizenry that would naturally be predisposed to like the United States were it not for the incitement of their rulers. This narrative is so widely accepted that the Bush administration based its democratization strategy upon it: If Washington could circumvent the regimes and speak directly with the Arabs themselves, then it could make plain that America was not their enemy. This was a delusion. Nasser and his Arab nationalist followers have connected with the Arab masses, while the United States has failed, because Arab nationalism is a variation on a theme with which they were already familiar and comfortable -- resistance to the West, or opposition to another tribe. [Blue emphasis added.]

I don't know whether Smith is saying that one of the arguments often made in support of democratization -- that it would lead to less anti-Americanism in the Middle East -- is delusional; or if he believes there is no other possible argument in support of democratization, so the policy itself is delusional. But if the latter, I strongly disagree.

I support democratization, but not for the facile reason that it would somehow make Arabs and other third-worlders begin to like America. I've never made that argument and I don't believe it. Rather, I support democratization for reasons very ably defended by Thomas P.M. Barnett in his seminal work the Pentagon's New Map. (Barnett himself is a Democrat, I believe, and I don't think he supported the Bush administration's democratization policy; but he clearly supports shifting pre-modern nations towards modernity.)

To perhaps oversimplify, I believe that rule by tyranny, terror, and violent oppression of the masses leads to a "great divorce" (to misappropriate a term) between government and people. That divorce leads to a larger disconnect from society, especially by young males. And that social disconnect leads directly to violence, terrorism, and jihad.

When young males feel "apartness" from their society, it's very easy to dehumanize its members... which is required before someone can bring himself to slaughter children, women, and innocent men. Contempt and dehumanization lie behind every mass slaughter in human history, from the mass execution of prisoners, to Stalinism, Naziism, Pol Potism, and of course the 9/11 massacre: If one's victims are not even human beings, but soulless animals, demons, or zombies instead, then it's easy to assuage one's conscience at doing something against which sane people naturally recoil.

Remove the wellspring of alienation that nurtures such dehumanization, and you necessarily reduce the level of violence, terrorism, and jihad.

Paradoxically, the terrorism ends up being directed not just against the repressive regimes themselves but also against their enemies, America and Israel. This is where Smith has it exactly right, it seems to me: Because we -- America, Israel, and the West -- are the perennial outsiders, we will always be the targets. But if there was simply less terrorist violence, there would necessarily be less terrorist violence directed against us.

And if there was less of a disconnect between state and subject, there would be less terrorist violence.

And if the state was less repressive and more responsive, there would be less of a disconnect; the great divorce would be partially healed... and that is the whole point of democratization: to wrench Arab nations and Iran, among others, from what Barnett calls the "Non-Integrating Gap" into the "Functioning Core," from "unstable leadership and absence from international trade" (I quote from the Wikipedia entry for the Pentagon's New Map) to "economic interdependence." Or as I would put it, from antiquity to modernity.

That is why I support democratization, even while rejecting the argument Smith cites; the two are not intertwined but only mistaken for each other.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 1, 2010, at the time of 2:35 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Da Coyote

It is always a pleasure reading your blog, which contains analysis far, far above what is being presented by the MSM. More power to you and keep "gittin' 'er done".

The above hissed in response by: Da Coyote [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 1, 2010 4:09 PM

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