Day By Day

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

More Academic Imbecility -- "Dialogue" with the terrorists

Jonathan Glover, who teaches "Human Values and Contemporary Global Ethics" [I'm not kidding] at King's College, writing in the Guardian, urges "dialogue" as the solution to the confrontation with Islamist radicals.
Dialogue is the only way to end this cycle of violence
The west and Islam must acknowledge the truths in both their stories
Political violence is often a resentful backlash to a group's sense of being insulted or humiliated. The rhetoric of 1990s nationalism in the former Yugoslavia was filled with remembered defeats and humiliations by rival groups. The anger that blazes through Mein Kampf was a backlash against the humiliations of the 1918 defeat and subsequent peace. Al-Qaida rhetoric before 9/11 has the same tone: "The people of Islam have suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustices ... Muslims' blood has become the cheapest in the eyes of the world." 9/11 was fuelled by this resentment, as the horrifying pictures of cheering Palestinians showed.

As the assassination at Sarajevo and the response to it triggered the 20th-century world wars, so 9/11 and the response to it could ruin our century. So much depends on whether we can break out of the cycle of violence. This requires a serious dialogue between the overlapping worlds of the west and Islam before irreversible mutual hatred sets in. We need such dialogue internationally, between western and Islamic leaders. We also need it in this country, between those who are not Islamic and those who are.

"Dialogue" may sound vacuous, but that is misleading. In our own country we need not just any old talk, but some quite deep and sustained discussion of particular issues. It could be one of the great projects of mutual education of our time. Two topics would be central. One would be the different systems of belief on each side. The other would be our different narratives of recent history.

What would dialogue about beliefs be like? It would be a very un-technical form of philosophy. Different systems of belief, especially over religion, are often thought impossible to discuss. But the history of philosophy has been a sustained investigation into the difference between good and bad reasons for holding beliefs.
The other topic of the dialogue should be narratives of recent history. [here he is referring to the Israel/Palestine conflict].

Tackling the deep psychology of conflict involves persuading groups to listen to each other's stories and to look for the possibility of a narrative that does justice to the truths in both. Sometimes this happens after conflicts, with truth and reconciliation commissions. The urgent need is for it to happen before further conflict between the Islamic and "western" views in Britain.

What is needed is not a one-sided dialogue in which "we" undermine "their" fanaticism. There are indeed questions to ask about settling political issues by murder or about settling moral issues by appeals to the supposed authority of texts claimed to be the word of God.

But there are also questions about "our" morality. We allowed Falluja to be destroyed like Guernica. And there are questions about the supposed moral difference between bombs in the underground and cluster-bombing civilians in an illegal war. In genuine dialogue both sides have positions at risk. Paradoxically, this can start a virtuous circle. One side admitting intellectual vulnerability may make the other side less defensive too.

Read the whole thing here.

Oh my, oh my! Where to begin?

1) OK..., first, this is not a war between "The West" and Islam. The enemies are not Muslims or Islam, but a particularly vicious death cult of Islamist radicals with a specific political and cultural program -- to topple existing regimes throughout the Islamic world [composed of other Muslims] and to impose on other Muslims an extreme form of religious law. To do so they have first to eliminate Western political and cultural influence throughout the Islamic world. Once established, the restored caliphate, they expect, will be the base from which they can launch the Islamicization of the world -- but that is a long-term goal; the immediate one is the conquest of the Islamic world.

So the current conflict is not primarily between the West and Islam -- it is first and foremost within Islam.

2) Second, the conflation of a multitude of conflicts, from WWI, through Hitler, to today and explaining them as responses to feelings of inadequacy, is an absurd and gross simplification of history, unworthy of further comment.People on the Left constantly complain about "essentialism." This is a particularly egregious example of such.

3) Third, "philosophical discussions" might be appropriate to a sheltered academic forum, but they have absolutely NO beneficial relevance to events in the real world. From Plato in Syracuse to the present history is replete with examples of the failure of philosophical principles to survive confrontation with reality. And the Twentieth Century poses plenty of examples of the horror that can result when persons wielding power place it in the service of philosophical ideals.

4) Fourth, structured dialogue as in a therapy session which aims at constructing a "narrative" that all sides can accept might be an amusing exercise in cloud cuculand, but in the real world where people have to live and die it is ridiculous. Narratives don't drive history -- they are constructed and deployed in the service of interests. They gain or lose plausibility depending on the success or failure of contestants to serve those interests. In this sense the dialogue the professor suggests is already is taking place. When Bin Laden struck at New York his narrative gained saliency through the Muslim world at the expense of other narratives espoused by other Muslims and when the US took down the Taliban or cleaned out Fallujah or Iraqis held free elections, or the people of Lebanon stood up to Syria, his narrative was diminished and others moved to the fore. When Al Qaeda began indisctiminate bombing of Muslims it's narrative was further diminshed. Besides, a review of his utterances reveals that Bin Laden's narrative keeps changing as circumstances dictate.

5) The professor assumes that if we would only admit our failings and recognize the strengths of our opponents' moral positions, then the terrorists would feel less threatened and would be willing to negotiate an end to the struggle. This is absurd. Whatever moral failings, real or imagined, we in the West may have are constantly on discussion in forums throughout the world. Nobody is trying to stifle Professor Glover's critique, absurd as it might be, while in the Madrassas of the Muslim world, dialogue such as the Professor suggests is systematically suppressed.

6) Finally, underlying the whole article is an assumption of moral equivalency on the part of all actors. This is absurd. Radical Islamists in recent years have purposefully attacked and systematically killed Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and lots of other Muslims. They have systematically oppressed women. They operate an international drug trade. They participate in an extensive slave trade. Al Qaeda openly admits that "we love death!". They are a death cult that repudiates everything that we hold dear and good in this world. They are engaged, not in a conflict of civilizations as the Professor assumes. This is an all-out war on civilization. With such as these dialogue is impossible.

Academics...., faugh!


Zafer Senocak, writing in Die Welt, recalls his personal struggle as a teenager to reconcile Islamic and Western values. He emphasizes the unreality of calls for "dialogue" and the perils of diversity thought.

Orient and Occident, Islam and Christianity, tradition and modernity meet at best in museums or anachronistic events. What shapes people today, what makes them behave as they do, how they behave is a mish-mash, an amalgamation of the huge collection of exploded fragments of cultural entities which are not clearly geographically locatable. The Taliban are not only situated in the mountains of Afghanistan, but also in the minds of people living in London, New York and the rest.

People today are suffering from a state of exhaustion provoked by diversity. This makes the call to unity dangerously attractive and a rigid modernity which demands differentiation and individualisation, ineffective. Half-heartedly formulated cosmopolitan ideals are no more likely to tackle the male rituals of religious fanatics than the newly strengthened nationalist voices.
Read the whole thing here.

No comments: