April 05, 2006

The 'Other' has Impulses too

Self-flagellating Western Occidentocentrists in the Chomskyite mould could usefully reflect on this Efraim Karsh essay, which distributes appropriate initiative and agency to a competitor civilization.

Money quote:

Whether in its militant or its more benign version, this [Islamic] world-conquering agenda continues to meet with condescension and denial on the part of many educated Westerners. To intellectuals, foreign-policy experts, and politicians alike, "empire" and "imperialism" are categories that apply exclusively to the European powers and, more recently, to the United States. In this view of things, Muslims, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, are merely objects--the long-suffering victims of the aggressive encroachments of others. Lacking an internal, autonomous dynamic of its own, their history is rather a function of their unhappy interaction with the West, whose obligation it is to make amends. This perspective dominated the widespread explanation of the 9/11 attacks as only a response to America's (allegedly) arrogant and self-serving foreign policy, particularly with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

A longer version of the Karsh essay (via Powerline).

Posted by Old Nick at April 5, 2006 05:49 AM | TrackBack




I know this is a rather old-fashioned, but it would be good to get some more concrete textual/historical references for the depictions of Islam as expansionist, piratical war machine. This is very important:

"By forbidding fighting and raiding within the community of believers (the umma), Muhammad had deprived the Arabian tribes of a traditional source of livelihood. For a time, the prophet could rely on booty from non-Muslims as a substitute for the lost war spoils, which is why he never went out of his way to convert all of the tribes seeking a place in his Pax Islamica. Yet given his belief in the supremacy of Islam and his relentless commitment to its widest possible dissemination, he could hardly deny conversion to those wishing to undertake it. Once the whole of Arabia had become Muslim, a new source of wealth and an alternative outlet would have to be found for the aggressive energies of the Arabian tribes, and it was, in the Fertile Crescent and the Levant."

However, as this is such a contentious matter, all sources seem to be heavily 'biased' and wilfully infammatory.

[e.g. voiceofdharma.org/books/jihad/ch3.htm
or www.masada2000.org/unmask-printable.html]

Any more 'factual' accounts?

for the crucial 1683 Battle of Vienna:

Posted by: sd at April 5, 2006 11:30 AM



classify under: heavily 'biased' and wilfully infammatory


Posted by: northanger at April 6, 2006 05:05 AM



so the only valid political choice on the table is 'pick your favorite empire?' Is that what you're telling me?

Color me inflamed!

Posted by: traxus4420 at April 7, 2006 08:12 AM



traxus4420 - if it's really such a difficult choice, I guess you're trying to sit it out. Good luck with that.

Posted by: Nick at April 7, 2006 09:59 AM



PS. I don't think the Anglosphere does 'Empire' any more, but that's a terminological controversy and thus somewhat inessential. Technocapitalist Oecumenon vs its enemies seems a plausible rendering of the situation, with the Asian demographic giants well-placed to be the pivotal powers of the former by mid-century.

Posted by: Nick at April 7, 2006 10:03 AM



Nick, this is an issue that has arisen on many occasions, and between us before. I agree with you that Islamofacism is more of a threat to Civilization than most Western (esp. European) governments and media channels acknowledge. The industrialized and developing worlds must face the Islamofacist reality in some shape or form sooner or later.

Perhaps fence-sitting appeals to those who at least unconsciously insist on there being a morally perfect nation to lead the fight against those that would have us dead or part of a global caliphate? But there will never be such a pure and clean nation or leader; we have to do with what we have, and right now, the US is the most able and willing to fight this war.

Traxxus, regardless of how much the USA engenders hatred around the world, we have to accept that American values (‘freedom’) are worldly values. This is not a war between an American ‘empire’ and an Islamic one.

We can ‘fight’ democratically elected governments to deliver their promises, squabble over the conception, delivery and results of policy, and improve our democracy, but there is looming over the horizon a very much larger problem that threatens all liberty, which makes fence-sitters look rather meek. Sitting on the fence is not really occupying a third position, is it?

Posted by: dlp at April 7, 2006 03:25 PM



Considering what country I've chosen to live in, that I pay my taxes on time, abide by most laws, occasionally contribute to the economy, and think that terrorists are bad, I hardly see how a refusal to use what humble analytical and rhetorical skills I've accumulated thus far for the purpose of cheerleading counts as 'fence-sitting.'

Partisan rhetoric makes me ill, and if there's one thing I've learned from keeping up with this site it's that leftist rhetoric is just as shrill and irritating -- though with both, like ads and TV, once you've developed a taste for it you stop noticing. Karsh's essay importantly recognizes radical Islam as an actual political entity, but flip a few terms around and you could just as easily be reading someone or other's Critical Introduction to Western Civilization (they're hypocrites! What! they're materialists spouting patriotic and religious dogma to mask their overriding will-to-power! you don't say!).

There are obviously important differences between say, America and al-Qaeda, but that's just it -- they're obvious. Sometimes I think one of the reasons intellectuals in the West tend so strongly to leftism is because picking on the other side is just so damned easy, it hardly takes any effort at all. Militarily the differential is the same -- as Nick (I think) has said, al-Qaeda and co. don't have a shot in hell at 'victory.' They certainly can still fuck things up and it's worthwhile to carefully consider how to handle the situation they present (provided you know what you're talking about). But responding to the slippage into relativism that sometimes results from the left's sympathy for the underdog with fin-de-siecle rants about the 'worldwide caliphate' (a more improbable outcome couldn't be dreamed of) is at best regressive macho posturing and at worst racist. In either case it's completely unconvincing to the unconvinced.

Given my current social position and aptitudes (both far outside the realms of political or military influence), not to mention my poor access to what's actually happening in say Iraq, it seems to me the 'squabbling' over policy dlp so contemptuously refers to is the most productive and responsible political stance to take, as opposed to blatantly (and boringly) pro- ___ and anti- ___ mythologizing, as if this were somehow equal to devising actionable military or political strategy or even adequate justification.

If the only alternative to 'fence-sitting' is being a propagandist or joining the military, then y'all can count me out.

Posted by: traxus4420 at April 7, 2006 10:19 PM



traxus4420 - think we've all drifted a little from the point at issue, which is whether Jihad-related events are best explained purely as reactions to Western actions (as the left or - IMHO profoundly insincere - 'Westernized' taqqiya discourses emanting from Jihadi-sympathisizing Muslims would have it) or as expressions of a essentially autonomous cultural impetus deeply rooted in the history and traditions of Islam itself. While an element of propaganda will no doubt always try to insinuate itself into this type of discussion, its not the most stimulating part (even though I'm hooked on warmongering incitment, I'm also way into diminishing returns territory as far as deriving stim from it).

"al-Qaeda and co. don't have a shot in hell at 'victory.'" - this is obviously immensely 'partisan' on the 'epistemological' front: aligning you with Westernized secular rationality and against Theocratic fervour. Al Qaeda's supporters seem to believe divine intervention will guarantee them victory - I've even read apparently confident predictions that tomahawks will fall from the sky impotently after Allah screws around with the laws of nature (or more accurately, from the Islamic Pov, modifies the divine intellection of which natural laws are mere 'occasions') - credible threat? I share the skepticism, but I wouldn't propose it as neutral. If it's 'common sense' to propose a robust reality indpendent of divine or politico-voluntaristic miracles, it's so only in a fundamentally contested sense.

Posted by: Nick at April 7, 2006 11:30 PM



hmm, did Karsh drink the kool-aid? the US ended its war with Japan by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima & Nagasaki. endpoint for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. can't help thinking 9/11's endpoint also ends atomically. where else could the "Islamic threat to civilization" rhetoric of Dennis Prager, Efraim Karsh, &tc, lead to? imho, 9/11 is both our Pearl Harbor & our Hiroshima. it's our Pearl Harbor because it made us realize (as Condi Rice has said) we were already at war. our Hiroshima because terrorists succeeded in dropping the "big one". i cannot think of a single thing to "balance" the grief & loss of 9/11 with any corrective measures against Islam — short of dropping a bomb somewhere or transforming the Temple Mount into the Third Temple. why is it too soon to see 9/11 movies after five years? Jung mentioned the "internecine war raging" in the unconscious. imho, we need to deal with our national "shadow enemy" first so we don't confuse it with our real enemies.

yes, terrorism, of any stripe including nuclear is a threat — don't think anyone disagrees. however, this strong rhetoric is too much, too late. we needed Prager, Karsh, et al in 1983 after the first WTC attack. maybe then we could have DEFENDED ourselves better during 9/11. this could be what they mean about marrying the cow after you've had sex with it, or something. we need to review the logic of (constantly) dangling our "winning weapon" before the world the last 60 years. could be the single most threatening act against civilization when considering our shifting policies & possible bubble effects.

we extol Western civilization & its stellar achievements over the "Islamic barbarians". i strongly oppose religious nit-picking — we should show ourselves superior in logic & reason. i love the UK animal show "Barking Mad" fixing problems between owner & pet. usually discovering the problem resides with the so-called civilized humans. Karsh should get out the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty & its list of signatories. he should note US policy changes during the last 20 years & when those shifts occurred. who's nuttier?

Posted by: northanger at April 8, 2006 04:03 AM



Traxxus, didn't mean to belittle significant domestic policy decisions in democratic countries, sure there are plenty of important issues to debate and deal with. Especially so since domestic politics cannot be easily separated from foreign policy. The ability of democratic governments to tackle domestic issues will continue to affect their ability to win popular support to confront Islamism. I just want to emphasize the overriding importance of democratic governments and their electorates to treat this war with more seriousness. Maybe Mecca won’t be nuked, maybe nothing as dramatic will occur, but Islamism needs to be confronted since it is on a mission that threatens all democracies and all non-believers. It may be a slither of a minority of Muslims that form the base of what we call Islamism – politicized Islam, with a goal of establishing a global caliphate – but it is this force that is gathering momentum and that needs to be confronted. The postmodern theorization of Islam (or more broadly the Orient) as the Other denies Islam a character of its own, and is potentially damaging to our understanding of Islamism as a rising force with its own agenda and trajectory. If we accept that everything has shared origins, however far back, we can perhaps learn to appreciate that Western civilization is not the primary register to comprehend Islam or its militant offshoots (as oppressed Other or whatever), however much the West has provoked developments in the history of Islam.

Posted by: dlp at April 8, 2006 08:09 AM



dlp. find it amazing, considering majority rule the fundamental cornerstone of democracy, a minority "slither" can cause so much trouble. why do we need to "comprehend" Islam?

Posted by: northanger at April 8, 2006 10:13 AM



maybe since the coherently cascading overtone poetpietic update of johny appleseed (potentiating the few benefitting the many by immeasurable factors) has to have, evokes and finds in its train/slipstream, the opposing number / the Widdersacher, its thanatopical antidotical archnemesis (few given/taken to harm many)?

Posted by: p at April 8, 2006 12:59 PM



p. geez. i hope special forces decode Islam better than these so-called pundits.

Posted by: northanger at April 8, 2006 04:20 PM



pundits = karsh, prager, &tc

Posted by: northanger at April 8, 2006 04:21 PM



northanger - think the emphasis of these pundits - at least of Prager 'etc' - is to shake the West out of its sentimentalized PC self-deceptions, rather than to 'decode' Islam (that's a task for 'Islamic' apostates, dissidents, modernists, heretics, atheists, Koranic critical scholars, and such)

Posted by: Nick at April 9, 2006 12:10 AM



('We' should get our infidel hands on the Islamic conservatives' death-list, contact everybody on it, sack (if not arrest) all existing Middle East Studies Scholars in Western institutions of higher learning and replace them with aforementioned list - that's the 'ideological war' won almost immediately - shame it's not going to happen)

Posted by: Nick at April 9, 2006 12:16 AM



>>shake the West out of its sentimentalized PC self-deceptions

oh, i get it now. like Huey, the BPP & raising Black Power Consciousness.

Posted by: northanger at April 9, 2006 01:55 AM




Posted by: Nick at April 9, 2006 02:43 AM



nick. Karsh & company want "to shake the West out of its sentimentalized PC self-deceptions". ok they want to raise consciousness, maybe.

Posted by: northanger at April 9, 2006 06:01 AM



traxus - 'partisan' seems to be one of your favorite words and I don't see how you can get so touchy about accusations of 'fence-sitting' after using it so frequently.

What does 'partisan' mean to you? The term has distinctly different meanings when used in the political or military sense, but as you seem to use it when claiming some supposedly morally
superior, neutral high ground I presume your use is political.

"Sometimes I think one of the reasons intellectuals in the West tend so strongly to leftism is because picking on the other side is just so damned easy, it hardly takes any effort at all."

This is utter nonsense. If you buy into the left you get a full set of a priori truths which remove the necessity of thinking - e.g. you can take 'Empire' to be something bad in itself (like Capitalism & war), rather than a machinic process or system which can be taken any which way, by whatever powers are caught up in it. Your anti-imperial hissy fit is typical of the lazy thought-shortcut which comes with the leftoid meme package.

Empires appear for different reasons, and they differ widely in the form they take. Of course there are examples of greedy (and genocidal) imperial expansionism, but one of the other triggers for imperial escalation is the 'If we don't do it, they will' mechanism. It is one of the unresolvable, tragic dilemmas which characterizes the design space we inhabit (e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma). Leftoid critique puts all its eggs in the oppression of the Other basket and tends to ignore the competitive dynamic which (tragically) makes Empire inevitable (barring humanoids suddenly becoming totally amiable, trusting and trustworthy). When looking at the US and Spanish 'conquest' of the American continent, the European scramble for Africa in the 19th century, and Russian expansionism in the 19th and 20th century, it is pretty pointless to condemn the process, no matter how revolting it might be to more altruistic humans. It is much more complicated than the repression of the so-called Other - there was competition between potential imperial powers, alliances with and internal wars within 'indigenous' peoples, and different spheres of influence (military, economic, cultural) which were contested. Empires also differed widely in terms of the brutality of their conquest and maintenance, the amount of autonomy they allowed and degree of centralization they imposed.

Posted by: sd at April 9, 2006 09:03 AM



oh. so software viruses can be good things then?

Posted by: northanger at April 9, 2006 09:20 AM



For fuck's sake.

Posted by: sd at April 9, 2006 11:02 AM



What's at stake here are several issues, one being the importance of treating Islam (esp. in its militant/radical development) as something that has a life of its own, rather than treating it as the mere result of Western oppression. This is because it is both wrong and dangerous to assume Islam as Other, particularly in a leftoid-dominant mediascape and at a time when Western (esp European) governments seem to be uncertain as to how to confront Islam.

The other issue is the importance of debunking all so-called theory of the Other, whether it be related to race, gender, sexuality, capitalism, etc. The world does not function in terms of a priori 'Selves' and 'Others'; the more important and challenging task is to track the flows and forces that produce both apparent imperial formations and oppressed peoples.

Posted by: tachi at April 10, 2006 02:10 AM



sd, tachi - yes, yes and yes

Posted by: Nick at April 10, 2006 08:16 AM



This excellent post and comments thread very much on topic:
(via Instapundit)
Sentimentalized negativism is going to get a lot more people unnecessarily killed.

Posted by: Nick at April 10, 2006 08:47 AM



Joe Katzman at Winds of Change on the Karsh essay (don't miss the comments):

Posted by: Nick at April 10, 2006 10:38 AM



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