Friday, November 23, 2007

Time for the U.S. to get comfortable with ideology

Opinion: Time for the U.S. to get comfortable with ideology
Well, one reason is we're not really comfortable with ideology, either ours or anybody else's. Insofar as we have an ideology it's a belief in the virtues of "multiculturalism," "tolerance," "celebrate diversity" – a bumper-sticker ideology that is, in effect, an anti-ideology which explicitly rejects the very idea of drawing distinctions between your beliefs and anybody else's.

Less sentimental chaps may (at least privately) regard the above as bunk, and prefer to place their faith in economics and technology. In Britain in the 1960s, the political class declared that the country "needed" mass immigration. When the less-enlightened lower orders in northern England fretted that they would lose their towns to the "Pakis", they were dismissed as paranoid racists. The experts were right in a narrow, economic sense: The immigrants became mill workers and bus drivers. But the paranoid racists were right, too: The mills closed anyway, and mosques sprouted in their place; and Oldham and Dewesbury adopted the arranged cousin-marriage traditions of Mirpur in Pakistan; and Yorkshire can now boast among its native sons the July 7th London Tube bombers. The experts thought economics trumped all; the knuckle-dragging masses had a more basic unease, convinced that it's culture that's determinative.
It's the culture, not the technology.

Very few members of the transnational jet set want to hear this. They're convinced that economic and technological factors shape the world all but exclusively, and that the sexy buzz words – "globalization", "networking" – cure all ills. You may recall the famous Golden Arches thesis promulgated by The New York Times' Thomas Friedman – that countries with McDonald's franchises don't go to war with each other. Tell it to the Serbs. When the Iron Curtain fell, Yugoslavia was, economically, the best-positioned of the recovering Communist states. But, given the choice between expanding the already booming vacation resorts of the Dalmatian coast for their eager Anglo-German tourist clientele or reducing Croatia and Bosnia and Kosovo to rubble over ethno-linguistic differences no outsider can even discern ("Serbo-Croat"?), Yugoslavia opted for the latter.

As I wrote in my book, the most successful example of globalization is not Starbucks or McDonald's but Wahhabism, an obscure backwater variant of Islam practiced by a few Bedouin deadbeats that Saudi oil wealth has now exported to every corner of the Earth – to Waziristan, Indonesia, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Toronto, Portland, Dearborn and Falls Church. You can live on the other side of the planet and, when Starbucks opens up in town, you might acquire a taste for a decaf latte, but that's it. Otherwise, life goes on. By contrast, when the Saudi-funded preachers hung out their shingles on every Main Street in the West, they radicalized a significant chunk of young European Muslims. They transformed not just their beverage habits, but the way they look at the societies in which they live.
When President Bush declared a "war on terror," cynics understood that he had no particular interest in the IRA or the Tamil Tigers, but that he was constrained from identifying the real enemy in any meaningful sense: In the fall of 2001, a war on Islamic this or Islamic that would have caused too many problems with Gen. Musharraf and the House of Saud and other chaps he wanted to keep on side. But it's one reason, for example, why the Democrats, as soon as it suited them, had no difficulty detaching the Iraq front from the broader war.
Perhaps we need more investment in jobs. Or maybe guns are too easily available in Gaza. Or, if guns aren't, self-detonating school kids certainly are. This is the ultimate asymmetric warfare: we're trying to beat back ideology with complacent Western assumptions. Not a good bet.

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