19 February, 2009

Irony not their strong suit

It really just goes over these peoples' heads, doesn't it?

[Santorum] said he believes that Muslims are America’s enemy because they read their religion literally and apply it to real life, instead of in historical context.

That's right, that's former US Senator Rick Santorum speaking to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This from a man who wanted to mandate the teaching of intelligent design, considers homosexual relationships to be the legal equivalent of rape, and thinks that the importance of enforcing the tenets of his religion through statutory law overrules the privacy clauses of the US Constitution.

But wait, there's more!

The lecture continued when Santorum pointed out what he thought were the main differences between Christians and Muslims. Santorum said Christians, who believe in Jesus Christ, never governed or conquered anyone, but Mohammed was a warrior and killed people.

“A democracy could not exist because Mohammed already made the perfect law,” Santorum said. “The Quran is perfect just the way it is, that’s why it is only written in Islamic.”

I feel that with crazy people there is a fine line between needing to respond to what they are saying and only giving them more legitimacy by treating their ridiculousness as worthy of response. But given that Santorum was a US Senator barely two years ago, and one who was considering running in the Republican presidential primary, its worth an earnest reply. Beyond the obvious idiocies like thinking that "Islamic" is a language or that Christians have "never governed or conquered anyone", this is a really, really dangerous way of thinking. Indonesia, Turkey, India, Pakistan - these are among the highest-population Muslim nations in the world, they are all our allies, and they are all moderate, secular democracies. (They are surely imperfect democracies, but not any more so than equivalent Christian countries such as, say, Brazil or Mexico.) One of the fundamental flaws of unilateral Bushism is in not understanding that successfully fighting terrorism requires an unprecedented amount of international cooperation, because these enemies transcend state boundaries and their operations fall under many different jurisdictions. Cooperation with our traditional European allies is great, but what we really need is for these huge Islamic democracies to see us as their allies against a common threat of nihilistic fundamentalism - so that we can coordinate legal, intelligence and military operations, yes, but also so that their citizens continue to reject theocratic political forces like the Taliban or the Muslim Brotherhood that would, in gaining power, underwrite the project of international terrorism.

Our goal should be to make our pool of enemies smaller, not larger. Santorum and those who think like him would apparently be delighted to see that pool expand from the roughly thousands of true-believer adherents of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates plus the opportunistic elements of autocratic governments or regional security services that utilize them for tactical power politics to the currently 1.5 billion people that consider themselves Muslims. This deserves little but contempt. And relief that, for now, this philosophy has been run out of the highest levels of our government.


Cassady said...

The philosophy may have been run out of the government, but I feel those attitudes require more than passive contempt--and I'm glad you made a strong comment to that end.

Santorum's brand of thought is nearly identical to the nihilistic fundamentalism of the "true-believer" Al-Qaeda you mentioned, an deserves to be treated exactly as we would treat them. I think it's a fallacy to think that we can overcome fundamentalist Christian Bushites in different ways from which we may successfully handle Islamo-facist terrorists. Their ideology is equally strong, repressive, and naturally revisionist (vis a vis his Jesus/Mohammed comparison)--and they are equally blind to the fact that by pushing their agenda politically they are ignoring the basic rights of the vast majority of their neighbors. I find that more evident in our country, where they are literally trying to legislate what you and I are supposed to believe, but I think there's an obvious relationship to the current deal in the Swat Valley.

Our crazies may not have resorted to actual terrorism, but I think they ought to be dealt with similarly--direct political action and cooperation with groups of various ideologies to isolate them and allow them to die out slowly from better education.

Elliot said...

"Our crazies may not have resorted to actual terrorism"

...That's quite a magnanimous admission :)

And I'm not sure what I think about Swat. Maybe I'll write a post about it...but in general I think the hard truth is that to get to anything like stability in pak/afghanistan we will need to make compromises like that.

spencer said...

It seems to me that al-Qaeda and Santorum are about as far from nihilism as you can get.

Elliot said...

I think I'm cribbing this from Eagleton (and probably others...) but I think the irony of extreme fundamentalism is that its absolutism becomes nihilistic in its reaction to the messiness and imperfection of the world it is trying to change so radically. Extremist ideologies often link purity with destruction - because the more radical your vision, the more the only path to redemption is to wipe the slate clean, which, in practice at least, becomes nihilism.

And I should make it clear that I don't think Santorum is that extreme and wasn't arguing that he and is ilk are.

Cassady said...

I do think Santorum is pretty out there. There are far more radical examples of Christian extremists out there, but I group him in all the same. I was stealing your language--and I can't recall where I first heard the 'nihilistic fundamentalist' phrase.

Part of my original point was that there tends to be a double standard in most American's thinking about our crazies and Islamic crazies. Because there are people (Islamic fundamentalists) who are easily categorized as "the other," and scapegoated, it's easier not to admit that there are similar, and in some cases identical aspects of one's own society.

As for Swat, I'm not sure myself. I heard a great discussion with an Indonesian analyst about why peace deals of the current type never work out--but I can't say I disagree with even temporary measures to promote stability.

spencer said...

While Eagleton has a point that both nihilism and absolutism often cause the same destructive actions, I still don't think you can equate them on a conceptual level.

Elliot said...

Eagleton's point and my purpose in using that phrase goes well beyond claiming that they are both destructive - lots of things are destructive - to claiming that as radicalism increases, the mindsets of fundamentalism and nihilism often converge, or that, more precisely, the former takes on characteristics of the latter. But I don't think you even have to accept that argument to make the phrase work. If you want to be pedantic about it, using "nihilistic" as an adjective for a particular kind of fundamentalism is quite removed from a claim of conceptual equivalency. It is, rather, a purposely oxymoronic phrase that is useful in highlighting the fact that two things that are indeed conceptually diametrically opposed and incredibly hostile to one another in fact share very similar attributes. And that they do so for an interesting reason: because as worldviews that believe they have obtained a unified, exclusive truth about the world become more absolutist, the more offensive the world as it actually is becomes to them, the more their philosophy dips into total world-denial and fantasies about the destruction of the world. I believe that is enough to deserve the name nihilistic even if there are types of nihilism that are quite different - ie non-ideological, atheistic and passive.

But all that aside, that particular phrase is rather incidental to the point of the post, and I will willingly sacrifice it. Let us come to a consensual vocabulary: strike "nihilistic" and add "extremist", "Islamic", "theocratic" or leave the space empty. I do, however, have some standards, and I pre-emptively veto "Islamo-fascist".

And Cassady - what is Al-Qaeda being scapegoated for? They actually do want to engage in the mass murder of Americans in order to advance their insane eschatological vision. I think the truth is more along the lines that regular Muslims - although they surely disagree with us politically - are being scapegoated for or lumped in with the actions of the real "crazies" like Al-Qaeda. And inasmuch as that's a government policy (like Santorum wants it to be) it is making it harder for us to isolate and defeat those like Al-Qaeda.

Cassady said...

Elliot, maybe I wasn't being clear enough in my language, but that 'lumping' is exactly the effect I'm talking about--manifested in racial profiling of criminals, 'random' security checks at airports, and less overt demonstrations of anti-Muslim behavior out of everyday people. When I think of fear-mongering, I think of the general distrust of Arabic peoples many Americans probably harbor that certainly hasn't been stopped by our previous administration.

My larger point is that in our dealings with these people--the normal Muslim population and the fundamentalists alike--we can't resort to a passive contempt for them, but have to take the active steps we can toward educating and supporting the people they would otherwise try to convince of the evils of America--like you said, to make their pool of recruits ever smaller.

I'm all of a sudden really interested to find where a lot of the phrases we hear and use really come from--"Islamo-fascit" is one I've heard numerous times, along with the nihilism debate. Do you think they are largely resurgences of old prejudices, against ideologies like Nazi fascism or Stalinism, and don't necessarily reflect the actual state of the world?

Cassady said...

Well, again I feel I was a little vague. My last comment seemed to suggest that the average citizen of Islamic states are very much like Agents in The Matrix--they can appear anywhere at any time necessary to recruit fanatics to start bombing American facilities.

Not my intention or belief, I assure you.

I think there needs to be a strong sense of support and cooperation backed up by our policies with Muslim nations AND a proactive approach to dealing with Al Qaeda that involves more than contempt and refusal to recognize much about them.

Further, I think the same applies to Christian fundamentalists and war/fear mongers in general. We need to be able to educate people, and respond respectfully but with authority when a group with some skewed worldview tries to exert themselves. I see this happening in some sort of "This is the way things actually are" broadcast or something, though that's maybe immature in concept.

Elliot said...

No, dog, I catch what you're throwin about the scapegoating, and we're in agreement. I think the issue is that people with agendas other than simply destroying Al-Qaeda types (Hitchens' anti-theism, Santorum's Christianism, neoconservatism's interventionism) have gone from reality (ie that there are some pretty fucked up Islamic ideologies out there that you won't be able to negotiate with) to fantasy (that therefore there is something about Islam that makes it per se more more maniacal than other religions and furthermore that all Muslims are a priori compromised or at least suspect) in accordance with those agendas.

I think you see "Islamo-fascism" used most often by those who want to insinuate that the nature of Islamic terrorism is equivalent to the threat of expansionary fascism, and thus our response must be the same all out, total war response that we (eventually) confronted Hitler and Mussolini with. Which is bullshit. Our response should be two pronged: one, engagement with Islamic civil societies and governments to put a wedge between them and terrorist groups and draw them into the international community (an effort which is complicated by and must be carefully balanced with our military efforts) and two, pinpoint military and intelligence operations to kill or capture members of terrorist groups.