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September 14, 2006

The War on Terror/Islam/Brown People

Last night, Steve Clemons hosted an evening with George Soros. Held at The Metropolitan Club -- which initially turned me away for lacking a tie, only letting me in after I'd radically enhanced my elegance with the finest in $4 neckwear sold by the umbrella stand at 17th and I -- the evening was dominated by an argument pitting the dynamic duo of Mort Kondracke and Adrian Wooldridge against Soros on the acceptability of the War on Terror metaphor.

Wooldrige, Kondracke, and the rest of that peculiar breed of conservative who spends they days beating their chests and their nights cowering beneath the bed are, to me, among the most baffling figures in American political life. Their argument last night was that the War on Terror was, if anything, a PC understatement, a way to inoffensively mask the true battle which was against "Radical Islam." Why you'd err in that direction, rather than calling it a War on al Qaeda, escapes me. When someone is killed in a drug crime, the police don't declare war on everyone who seeks to enrich themselves through extralegal means.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the Islamic world is right. In the minds of those behind this campaign, this is indeed a war against Islam. The enemy is religious, his skin is brown, his God is Allah. When Wooldridge and Kondracke complain that liberals don't adequately respect the massive exercise in self-restraint and multiculturalism exhibited in the moniker, they lay bare that they're seeking an entirely different fight. Most liberals I know think we've literally got a war against al Qaeda, its operational affiliates, and its imitators, and are bogged down in a useless fight against Iraq. Elements of the right, it seems, are engaged in a clash of civilizations. A Crusade by any other name...

September 14, 2006 | Permalink

Comments

Bush calls it a crusade, then preaches for tolerance of Islam in a manner than pisses off people on the right, then promotes the General who said of the Muslim enemy in Somalia "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." Meanwhile, the right keeps telling us that this is a fight UNLIKE ANY OTHER, although in fact it's a lot like the cold war or the fight against the Nazis or the American Civil war even though the war in Iraq is nothing like a civil war because it's nothing like the American Civil war. Meanwhile, we will defeat the enemy because they believe in nothing and we must defeat the enemy because they believe in fascism.

Talk about moral and intellectual confusion.

Posted by: david mizner | Sep 14, 2006 12:26:25 PM

I agree that "radical Islam" is too broad a term, but al Qaeda, as you note by expanding it to cover affiliates and imitators, is too narrow. Perhaps you don't intend to include a group like Hezbollah, but if you do, I'm not sure even your expanded version includes them. That is, they may be in common cause to some extent, but they are neither imitators not dependent in a significant way on any affiliation with al Qaeda. I also don't think focussing on al Qaida gets at the most essential problem we face with insurgents in Iraq, even with those who may be affiliated to some degree with al Qaeda. Much of that terrorism appears to be more locally inspired, more like nationalism, or is based on local factionalism.

Though this isn't best described as a war of civilization, there is an element of that. A particular strain of Islam is very much essential to the terrorism we face, and part of their motivation is about our own civilization. They may not hate us because we're good and free, but they do find cause against elements of our culture and goals.

I don't know what to call the problem we face, but on balance I'm as happy with calling it "radical Islam" as "al Qaeda" in terms of accuracy. In terms of offending Muslims, it might be best to avoid the term. So what should the enemy be called?

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 14, 2006 12:36:03 PM

I used to work with Mort, and while I can't say I was buddy, buddy with him - I don't ever remember him being as ... insane? ... as he has been the last few year. Does appearing on Faux have something to do with it?

Posted by: ET | Sep 14, 2006 12:40:35 PM

Why I have to shy away from criticizing any religion and, most especially its most extreme elements, is beyond me. By using the term "radical" aren't they attempting to distinguish between the radical elements and the general population of believers. If the general population objects, that may suggest different problems: natural defensiveness and more widespread sympathy with radical beliefs. I hope it is more of the first than the second...

Posted by: slickdpdx | Sep 14, 2006 12:44:00 PM

slickdpdx has a point.
As a further note, the left never has a problem with criticizing the radical Christians. In fact, they rarely attempt to distinguish between the wackos and the mainstream Christians, painting all with a broad brush.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Sep 14, 2006 1:12:27 PM

From a tactical point of view, I agree with you that at the moment, our enemy is Al Qaeda, but I'm somewhat sympathetic to the Kondracke/Woolridge viewpoint from a framing viewpoint. Basically, it irks me when people say, "see, all this violence and stuff, that's not real Islam (or Christianity, or Hinduism, or any other religion). That's a perversion of the religion."

In short, we define religion as axiomatically good, and then use a sort of "no true Scotsman" argument to exclude the bad stuff from the purview of religion.

This is not a privilege we extend to any other institution. We don't say, "Enron wasn't a real corporation. It was a perversion of true corporations," nor do we say "The USSR wasn't a real government, but a perversion of government."

This sucks. We need to be able to say that, like other human institutions, sometimes religions are good, and sometimes they're bad, and sometimes they're in between.

That might not be exactly what Kondracke or Woolridge meant, in the sense that they seem to want the War on Terror to be more all-encompassing and extensive, which would be bad, but I still feel some sympathy for the viewpoint that religion and religious theologies can, per se, be the problem.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Sep 14, 2006 1:18:34 PM

spend a little t ime at RedState as Hunter over at D Kos did after it was announced that we will have our first muslim american house of rep member this year- and you will see what this is about from their comments.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 14, 2006 1:20:26 PM

Hi,

The British war against the IRA was NEVER referred to as 'a war against Radical Christianity', so why call the Neo-Con punch-up with Al-Qaeda 'a war against Radical Islam'?

I think without this 'war' the Neo-Con Government would be exposed as 'useless rubbish' (remember their reaction over New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina?), and so they continue to publicise this 'war' in order to deflect voter attention away from economic problems at home.

Hitler used exactly the same tactics when his Government's policies destroyed the German Economy. Instead of accepting blame and honourably resigning, he blamed Jews and led a vicious anti-Jewish Pogram that resulted in The Holocaust

Posted by: Ahmad | Sep 14, 2006 1:24:05 PM

The British war against the IRA was NEVER referred to as 'a war against Radical Christianity', so why call the Neo-Con punch-up with Al-Qaeda 'a war against Radical Islam'?

How much was some radical kind of Christianity involved in that? The divide was between two very mainstream branches of Christianity, and the actual theology didn't seem to matter on either side. On the other hand, there do seem to be distinct theological motivations at issue with the so-called war on terror.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 14, 2006 1:47:36 PM

Hi,

Just as Hitler waged WWII to save the German Economy from total collapse, so the Neo-Cons [apparently] waged the 'War on Terror' to save the US Economy from collapse.

However, the US Economy appears to have stabilised, and so the Neo-Con Government no longer has any reason to exist and they should simply (and honourably) resign. But being power-greedy bastards, they're simply inventing excuses to hang onto power for as long as possible

Posted by: Ahmad | Sep 14, 2006 1:48:08 PM

Hi,

To Sanpete - your history of the IRA seems slighty limited. The IRA represented the Catholic community that was originally sent by The Vatican ~100 years ago as part of her war against Protestant England.

The IRA came into being as a result of continual abuses by the Protestant community against the Catholics in Northern Ireland. However, whilst the Catholics sympathised with the IRA, they never regarded it as their representatives, thus it was never part of any mainstream Christianity.

I have no idea what 'Radical Islamism' is (and neither does anyone in the Muslim World). It suddenly erupted into existence on 9/11 and has been continually pushed by the Neo-Cons (particularly when a major election is due).

I keep hearing that Ahmadinejad is a 'Radical Islamist', but I would counter that by saying he is simply an Iranian reaction to this 'War on Terror'

Posted by: Ahmad | Sep 14, 2006 2:02:18 PM

Talk about moral and intellectual confusion.

I wouldn't call it confusion, because these are different groups with each of these opinions, more or less. Bush preaches tolerance for Islam because he and his flunkies understand public relations (they understand the importance of it, at least, but unfortunately, they're probably the least-suited group in the world to managing p.r. outside white America). The theocons themselves, Christianists as Sullivan calls them, would wage an honest-to-God-no-pun-intended crusade if our Constitution and traditions weren't in the way, so Muslims are as logical a target as any other non-Christian. A significant fraction of the right, represented best but not exclusively by the more jingoistic bloggers, sees an existential struggle. They might not like their fellow travelers, but honestly believe invasion and occupation and imposition of shari'a law is possible in the near future, if not just nuclear terrorism. (More specifically, being "glassed" by an enemy about whose identity or country of origin we don't have the faintest clue). And finally, there's the leftover Cold Warriors, who would be just as focused on China as the bloggers are on Iran if 9/11 had never happened.

The point is, there may be plenty of overlap between those groups, but it's not at all total. We can already see some splits, thankfully. I think there are only two reasons those splits aren't bigger and didn't start earlier: intelligence, and one thing they can all agree on is hatred of The Left (TM).

Posted by: Cyrus | Sep 14, 2006 2:10:20 PM

I have no idea what 'Radical Islamism' is (and neither does anyone in the Muslim World). It suddenly erupted into existence on 9/11 and has been continually pushed by the Neo-Cons (particularly when a major election is due).

It gets used as a rhetorical club a lot more, sure, and the danger it poses is overstated. But beyond that... huh? Didn't you ever notice those petitions circulating in 2000 talking about abuses by the Taliban? Or news articles about them destroying historical treasures like the giant statues of the Buddha?

Posted by: Cyrus | Sep 14, 2006 2:15:27 PM

You know, you've written about this before, but what strikes me as odd is that many of the neoconservative commentators' response to an increasingly unpopular and ineffective anti-terror campaign is to re-brand the name of the struggle.

I -- and many other liberals -- understand that we're in a conflict against very bad people who want to kill us. This is not a marketing campaign. The question isn't how to brand the opponent, but what is the best way to win the conflict.

Posted by: Chris R | Sep 14, 2006 2:18:59 PM

I agree wholeheartedly that the problem here is intellectual confusion. The fight against terrorists wrapping themselves in the flag of Jihad cannot be placed in the hand of authoritarians wrapping themselves in the flag of the US, because they don't understand freedom, tolerance or individual dignity well enough to fight for it.

The struggle against False Jihadists is a fight for civilization that simply cannot be trusted to people who think that Dar Islam is intrinisically less civilized than North Atlantic nation-states because of their Christian heritage.

And the struggle to establish a stable government in Iraq cannot be trusted to people that are stupid enough to leave out the checks and balances to make it plausible that Sunni Arabs could fight to maintain rights through peaceful means. OTOH, I diaried at length on that in dKos and almost nobody came, so maybe that's just me.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Sep 14, 2006 2:21:17 PM

Hi,

To Cyrus - If The Taliban is the major representative of this 'War on Terror' then I state right now that the entire Muslim World has been taken for a massive ride by these Neo-Con bastards.

I have had continual (and reasonably detailed) updates about the Taliban (and the state of Afghanistan) since ~1994CE. Whilst I disliked some of their practices, I am also FULLY aware of the state of Afghanistan at the time. Iraq TODAY is MUCH MORE CIVILISED and sophisticated than Afghanisatan was pre-Taliban (for God's Sake, Iraq has road infrastructures!).

I find it insulting when people rant about the Taliban sitting in their cosy sofas consuming processed junk food. Where the fuck were you (and the 'super' NATO forces)when (during pre-Taliban days) Afghan females would regularly get kidnapped (even from their own homes) and were forcebly turned into sex-slaves? It was a reaction to incidents like this that lead to the creation of The Taliban

Posted by: Ahmad | Sep 14, 2006 2:41:17 PM

To Sanpete - your history of the IRA seems slighty limited. The IRA represented the Catholic community that was originally sent by The Vatican ~100 years ago as part of her war against Protestant England.

You're right that my knowledge is limited to the extent that I'm not aware of a radical theological basis to the IRA campaign. Could you say more what radical theological points were involved, if you happen to know? Obviously the IRA represented Catholics, but my impression has been that religion (and not very radical factions of it) marked the boundaries more than it motivated the actions by some radical theological program.

I have no idea what 'Radical Islamism' is (and neither does anyone in the Muslim World)

As I understand it, it's a strain within Islam that preaches a particular kind of extreme theological purity and distinguishes itself from other very conservative kinds of Islam by its overtly militaristic political program and theologically justified use of terrorism, even suicide, normally thought to be forbidden to Muslims. I don't think the appellation is very apt, but am still looking for a better alternative. What would you suggest?

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 14, 2006 2:42:36 PM

"I wouldn't call it confusion, because these are different groups with each of these opinions, more or less."

Cyrus's point is well-taken--thewaronterra and the war in Iraq are propped up by a shaky coalition of factions with different views on Islam and the world in general--but there's plenty of confusion. I get the sense that some of these people--Rick Santorum, for one--actually think there is ONE ENEMY called RADICAL ISLAM that somehow includes both the Saudi regime and funamentalists oppressed by the Saudi regime, both Iraqi Sunni insurgents and the Iraqi Shia terrorists who kill Sunni insurgents but not the Iraqi government that supports the Shia terrorists, the Iranian government but not the Iraqi government that cozies up to the Iranian government--you get the point. It's important to point out the illogic at the heart of their philosophy.

Posted by: david mizner | Sep 14, 2006 2:56:00 PM

Hi,

To Pete - The Catholic vs Protestant issue dates back to the days (under Henry VIII) when the English King refused to acknowledge the authority of The Vatican, and there's been friction between the two ever since,. As far as I'm aware, this is the extent of their theological differences.

Regarding the IRA, as I said earlier, this was a reactionary group reacting to Catholic abuses by The Protestants of Northern Ireland. Is that a theological basis for their existence? That depends on your understanding of 'Theology'

As for your comment -
it's a strain within Islam that preaches a particular kind of extreme theological purity and distinguishes itself from other very conservative kinds of Islam by its overtly militaristic political program and theologically justified use of terrorism, even suicide, normally thought to be forbidden to Muslims

Are you inventing this bullshit, or have you been reading the latest Neo-Con blurb? Groups that emphasize 'Theological Purity' tend to be Sufis, who hide in caves and indulge in devotional songs. Groups that justify terrorism tend to be...Terrorists!

As for your Terrorrists:

1. Palestinians are merely fed up that their [legitimate] grievances are being ignored
2. Iraqis are fed up with US occupation
3. The Taliban are VERY pissed off that the very (incrediby corrupt) Warlords they overthrew have been reinstated by the Neo-Cons


Posted by: Ahmad | Sep 14, 2006 3:11:49 PM

Ahmad says: "I have no idea what 'Radical Islamism' is (and neither does anyone in the Muslim World). It suddenly erupted into existence on 9/11 and has been continually pushed by the Neo-Cons (particularly when a major election is due)."

Really?

You suggest the term terrorist, but Ezra would probably object that its merely code for 'brown people.' Don't ask me why or how, he's the one that made the charge. Maybe he won't since you're not a neo-con.

Additionally, the ideology is oppressive and odious, not just its most violent adherents. So terrorists doesn't sufficiently identify the subject.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Sep 14, 2006 4:23:26 PM

Ahmad, please say more about why my characterization of "radical Islam" is incorrect. It's clear from what I said why Sufis wouldn't fit. The "purity" involved is of a controversial kind, of course, but it involves holding other Muslims to a standard that those others may not recognize themselves. These "radical Muslims" see themselves as truer to Islam than their fellows. You aren't aware of the connection between such strains in Islam and terrorism? This is a phenomenon I've heard Islamic scholars explain more than once.

None of what I said excludes other factors such as those you mention.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 14, 2006 4:33:32 PM

Hi,

What is is 'pure', oppressive and odious version of Islam that you keep wittering on about? Please educate me, because I'd like to know what their beliefs are, and how they justify acts of terrorism. I'd also like to know these 'Islamic Scholars' who insist that such 'versions' of Islam exist.

Please make specific statements about 'Radical Islam' and its adherents. I STRONGLY suspect these 'Islamic Scholars' you refer to are simply mischief making politicians who are trying to push forward their own agenda by bismirching the 'opposition'


Posted by: Ahmad | Sep 14, 2006 5:29:51 PM

Sanpete said, "I don't know what to call the problem we face, but on balance I'm as happy with calling it "radical Islam" as "al Qaeda" in terms of accuracy. In terms of offending Muslims, it might be best to avoid the term. So what should the enemy be called?."

This preoccupation with finding an accurate desciption is counterproductive. Using terms like "radical islam" only alienates people we need as our allies and helps people like Bin Laden who want us to wage a war on Islam. Plus many radical or fundamentalist Muslims shouldn't be tarred as our enemies. Names with Islam in the title are both too specific and too vague.

Al Qaeda is a fine description. It's useful. PR is more important than accuracy. So what if some nasty people are left out? There's no nifty name that would both accurately describe the enemy and help the battle against said ememy. On 9-15-2001, Congress passed a bill giving Bush the authority to use necessary and appropriate force against the people responsible for 9-11; at some point, without passing a law, Bush broadened the conflict into a world war against an amorphous enemy now purported to include both Saddam Hussein and the Iranian theocratic elements that fought a brutal war against Saddam Hussein. This is absurd. Had the country limited the actual and rhetorical battle to Al Qaeda, it would have been much more effective.

Posted by: david mizner | Sep 14, 2006 5:32:29 PM

Hi,

Let me explain my opposition to the term 'Radical Islam'

I believe the Muslim World needs female scholars
I believe the Muslim World needs a greater cultural mix within each society
I believe Muslims should assimilate [through marriage etc] with Non-Muslims in Non-Muslim Lands
I believe that every act a Muslim undertakes should be verifiable by Quran, Sunnah and Madhabs (Schools of Law)

All these plus many more of MY beliefs make me a 'Radical Islamic Fundamentalist'

Therefore I am 'An Enemy of the [Neo-Con] State', a terrorist and a mass-murderer

Posted by: Ahmad | Sep 14, 2006 5:52:55 PM

Ahmad: I see your point. Only being terrorist makes you a terrorist. I can disagree with principles people cherish, without calling them a terrorist. I agree that Islamic Fundamentalist should not be used as or understood as just another word for "terrorist." Its more inclusive than that. And, of course, there are many terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere who are not Islamic Fundamentalists.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Sep 14, 2006 6:32:17 PM

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