Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The problem of caricatures ...

For someone who complains a lot about how our political system reduces everything to two sides, Mark sure has a tendency to do it himself:
One of the many stupid ways in which the War on Terror has been fought is to sneer whenever somebody proposes trying to understand why radical Islamists become radical Islamists. We prefer the Christopher Hitchens approach: just hate them and spit on any attempt to grasp the workings of their minds as intrinsically uninteresting.

The problem with this deeply stupid approach is that, as we discover, the net result is to breed more and more radical Islamists. This is due, in no small part, as all the worlds ills is due, to a faulty spirituality expressed in a faulty theology. The shorthand for this is Manichaeism. The Bush Administration and the various realpolitik types who support it tend to speak of good and evil in Manichaean terms: as opposites which have nothing whatever to do with one another. That explains not only why Bush has such great difficulty articulating when he has ever said or done anything wrong, but also why he is such a dunderhead in speaking about the enemy.

However, the problem isn't just Bush. The horror which greeted Ron Paul when he dared to suggest that some faint grasp of what animates our enemies and his suggestion that we consider the possibility that there might be some actual good they seek was enough to provoke the dolts in the GOP leadership to seek the expulsion of the blasphemer from the company of Decent Folk like Rudy Giuliani.

Ignoring the fact that Mark apparently cannot conceive of the question without turning it into a political one, I would note that there has been a lot of ink spilled on this one from such figures as Bernard Lewis to Mary Habeck to Gilles Kepel to Efraim Karsh as well as by any number of terrorism analysts including Rohan Gunaratna and Michael Scheuer. I doubt that Mark is even remotely familiar with the literature on this subject. Nor do I suspect that he has any desire to learn, as he sees his role here as that of teacher regardless of his own lack of understanding in the area:
The Hitchens approach is to scream at the one who desires God (who is the ultimate good sought by all) that they must not desire him and must instead be content with Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy! The proposal of much of our post-Christian secular culture is much the same. And since the human heart rebels at this the Muslim feels he has little choice between the Bronze Age Fanatic who offers a temptingly simple explanation of the universe or the decadent west whose chief exponents of war really do quite often openly and nakedly say that the good they seek (namely, God himself) is evil and that this should be thrown overboard for some sort of ultimate good compounded of atheism, TV, newspapers, and drinking binges to numb the soul.

... But when it comes to those who are not yet in the ranks of the Bronze Age Fanatics, our civilization of watered down therapeutic self-indulgence and violent sentimentality has failed dreadfully. We ourselves are engaged in the pursuit of various goods by wrong means and are engaged in the project, all day long, of denying the existence of any ultimate goods beyond Democracy Whiskey and Sex so we have no idea how to approach those in other cultures who are attempting to reach those goods by other, more simplistic and radical means. All we have is a hammer, and every problem is treated like a nail. And even the tiniest suggestion that we try thinking differently is greeted with howls of rage. The Middle Ages are dead.

First of all, this is a gross caricature of Hitchens, who seems more than capable of befriending Muslims. Indeed, if he truly held the views that Mark would ascribe to him I don't think he would be writing even half of what he does about the suffering of the Iraqi people and the need to stand up for them. Instead, I think it is important to understand that the reason that Hitchens hates and opposes Christianity so much is because he sees Christians as those most likely to jeopardize the lifestyle that he favors after that of radical Muslims. In this he is a consistent libertine, which is more than might be said for his fellow travelers on the left who seek to identify with those that hate them the most culturally.

I also don't even remotely accept his argument that the United States currently denies the existence of transcendent goods. The pro-war libertarians who coined the phrase that Mark loves to smear all supporters of the war with might, but the last time I checked pro-war libertarianism was far from the reigning political ideology in the United States. If what he said were true, we would have no real way to engage with our Muslim allies in Iraq as well as Afghanistan. Moreover, I think that statistical data will show that the United States military (who actually carries out said policies) is more religious than the general population. To argue that these people are currently engaged in denying the existence of a higher good in society is to adopt a grossly inaccurate caricature of our soldiers at best. Even al-Qaeda grants that most of them are of Judeo-Christian background - it's why they call our presence in places like Iraq or Afghanistan a crusade.

Now expect that Mark meant that he was talking about American society rather than our troops, but with all due respect American society is made up of Americans. To paraphrase one of his favorite quotes, a nation of Hindus may be ruled over by Swedes, but the majority are still Hindus and it is the Hindus rather than the Swedes that are most likely to favor the war. Mark might do well to keep that in mind when penning his next denunciation of the United States. Though the fact that the only authentic pro-war voice he seems to find are the libertarian ones suggest that perhaps he should broaden the scope of his reading.

Update: I just saw this and it's more of the same. For Mark, the only part of Western civilization that counts are the Swedes.


Anonymous said...

Shea hates libertarians (except apparently for Ron Paul), and he also hates the war in Iraq, so he can't admit that most libertarians are also against the war, and so is forced to distort radically the nature of American society and politics. He wants all the "Good Guys" who agree with him one one side, and all the "Bad Guys" who are war supporters, on the other. Sounds a bit... Manichean to me.


Donald R. McClarey said...

"However, the problem isn't just Bush. The horror which greeted Ron Paul when he dared to suggest that some faint grasp of what animates our enemies and his suggestion that we consider the possibility that there might be some actual good they seek"

The reason Mark for the horror was because Ron Paul (R. West Bank), believes that it is all the fault of the US and Israel. If the US would retreat to Fortress America and cut the Israelis adrift, all would be well in Paul's view. This shows such a willful ignorance of the actual motivation of the Jihadists, to achieve power in the Islamic world and establish a Muslim utopia, and a policy prescription of appeasement so wrongheaded, that of course all Republicans not afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome were repulsed. It is one thing to attempt to understand one's adversaries, it is another to make excuses for them in a futile attempt to avoid a war the enemy is already fighting against you.

paul zummo said...

The Bush Administration and the various realpolitik types who support it

I've probably beaten this point into the ground, but how massively ignorant and confused is Shea when it comes to political theory? Unless it turns out that Scowcroft et al were the principle achitects of the Iraq War, in which case I take back my objection.

torquemada05 said...


Mark probably doesn't consider (or perhaps more likely given his phenomenal ignorance simply isn't aware) of Paul's libertarian leanings. Certainly it seems true that Paul, who comes to the closest to Mark's caricature of believing that the free market is free of original sin, is getting complete pass on that count.


Ron Paul's Fortress America would prove just as viable as Fortress Europe did to Hitler's Germany (this is not intended as a moral equivalence). Good luck keeping the US as the lone bastion of freedom and democracy with the Islamists, China, and Russia having a contest for who would get to have free run of the planet.


He has repeatedly referred to Ledeen et al. as "realpolitik" types and my guess is that he considers it synonymous with "neocon." Yet another indication that the man doesn't have a clue what he's talking about when it comes to politics.

Bubba said...

...the decadent west whose chief exponents of war really do quite often openly and nakedly say that the good they seek (namely, God himself) is evil and that this should be thrown overboard for some sort of ultimate good compounded of atheism, TV, newspapers, and drinking binges to numb the soul.

They "really do quite often openly and nakedly" say these things?

I bet Shea can't point out a single instance of this.

Victor said...

Well, "a single example"? Sure ... Hitchens. And probably a few others like him, whom Torq categorizes as "pro-war libertarians," e.g. Sullivan when he was pro-war (although the Sullivan of 2003 would be more "anti-Islam," than "anti-God," exactly).

Whether such people are the "chief exponents" of war is rather another matter though.

And for someone who constantly bitches about "US politics reducing everything to two sides," Shea seems remarkably innocent of the fact that it is universally the case that different people will support the same policies for different reasons, and sometimes even mutually incompatible ones.

Like, WW2 itself, with the victorious anti-Nazi coalition being communism and liberalism. Or for a more-recent example, consider the current Senate immigration bill, which is backed by a coalition of the multiculti left and the business-class right, against the labor left and the "ethnos" right.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Mark is being grotesque in his contradiction. On the one hand, he calls upon Americans to try to understand that the Islamists seek something good (albeit through evil means). Yet he condemns any defense of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as "consequentialist" when Truman and the U.S. military also sought something good: the end to a war that had cost thousands of American lives and millions of lives worldwide.

On the one hand, he asks us to understand and attempt to appreciate the motives of the Islamists, who will kill and kill again for the Greater Glory of Allah. On the other, he has no concern for the motives of the Truman Administration and the U.S. military, which saved thousands of American and Japanese lives that otherwise would have been lost in an invasion of Japan.

On the one hand, he vociferously criticizes the means used to end WWII in the Pacific, without assigning any moral responsibility to the Japanese militarists for the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. OTOH, he mutes his criticism of jihadist tactics on the basis that jihadists seek some "good" as they define it.

Mark has fallen victim to the disease that afflicts a lot of Catholic intellectuals and poseurs: the idea that, since Islam is a monothesitic religion related to Judaism and Christianity, it must have some fundamental moral value. That is why he lavishes such praise upon Pakistan's Muslim government for making abortion illegal (to brainwashed Catholics like Mark, abortion is the *only* issue worth considering). I certainly hold no brief for abortion on demand. But what good is a religion that opposes abortion yet demands as its highest expression of fidelity that its adherents kill or enslave the innocent who refuse to convert?

Read the article by Catholic historian Alain Besancon in the May 2004 edition of Commentary magazine entitled, "What Kind of Religion is Islam?" In it, Besancon says that many traditionalist Catholics, frustrated with modernity and secularism (as Mark certainly is), cultivate tremendous respect for Islam simply because it encourages reverence for the divine (albeit a satanic corruption of it, IMO).