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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

blowback? « Previous | |Next »
March 17, 2004

I've been puzzling over the recent comments on the Madrid bombings by the senior members of the Howard Government. More than a defensive denial mode is operating here.

These comments say that the international terrorists are opposed to us because of our values. They are at war with us because we are a western, Christian and liberal nation. We are a target because we are who we are and not for what we have done.

We can infer from these remarks that Australia's conservatives and neo-conservatives believe in the "war of civilisations".

Their political pressure on Mick Keelty, the federal Commissioner of Police, to change his views on the blowback from the Iraqi war. Keelty said about the Madrid bombings: "If this turns out to be Islamic extremists responsible for this bombing in Spain, it's more likely to be linked to the position that Spain and other allies took on issues such as Iraq."

The Government attack reinforces, and makes explicit the notion that Islam and the West are in conflict. An interpretration of Alexander Downer's remarks, "I think (Mr Keelty) is just expressing ... a view which reflects a lot of the propaganda we're getting from al-Qaeda", is that his view of the world of nations is based on the absolutes of Good and Evil.

What surfaces form the political unconscious of these conservatives is that blowback from our role in Iraq is irrelevant. Why so? Because the war on terror is a war of civilization based on good (West) versus evil (Islam.) Or the benevolent West versus the cruel East. There is no ambiguity here. It is just black and white. Behind that surface lie the moral Absolutes.

The spinners of the national security state then roll into action. They thunder out the old emotional subtext of appeasement. Ignore the seductive siren call of the appeasers they say. The struggle is eternal. Constant vigilance is required. The enemy is everywhere. Those who are not with us are against us. Treason needs to be flushed out.


You can see the Manichean view in Miranda Devine's terrorism vs appeasers piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. She says:

'The alternative is to turn our backs on the world's only superpower, base our foreign policy on the whims of Osama bin Laden and still be on the terrorist hit list, for the simple fact we are a nation of "infidels".....So those who want to follow Spain's path of appeasement should also be ready to follow Ridley's example and convert to Islam.'

The problem with this Manichean view of the world is that it collapses liberal Islam into a fundamenalist Islamist one. There is no recognition of the diversity within Islam. It results in hostile American actions towards towards the Arab media, such as Al Jazeera. It ignores views of a critical Islam, such as Tariq Ramadan, who endorses the principle of rational argument and public contestation and rejects the closed minded literalism of the Islamic fundamentalists.

What is ignored is the possibilities of the Arabs people building a modernist Islam. According to the neo-con's Manichean view of the world, a modernist Islam can only introduced from the outside by an imperial power.

Update 2
Over at the Sydney Morning Herald Alan Ramsay has a good blow by blow account of the politics of Howard muffling the Federal Commissioner of police.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:15 PM | | Comments (8)


The struggle is not eternal, because presumably at some stage the Arab/Islamic world will evolve beyond its current lackluster state that spawns retrograde religous fanaticism.

The West did accomplished this, and thus the crusades, St. Bartholomew's Day Massacres and Hussite Wars are all things of the past. (events in former Yugoslavia, of course, represent a sanguinary exception to this rule, but the Balkans have never truly been a part of the West)

But, events of recent years have born out the truth of Samuel Huntington's thesis in the "Clash of Civilizations." The democratic Western world is confronted by a form of Islamic religious fanaticism that is essentially medieval in its weltanshauung and objectives. We are dealing with what Christopher Hitchens so aptly described as "Islamo-fascism."

The quaint thing is that, in his abortive attempt at satire, Gary hits the truth squarely on its head.

In a statement made well before the Bali bombing, OBL asserted that Australia was an Al Qaeda target because it removed East Timor from what he considered to be "Dahr Al Islam," the realm of Islam. Timor was part of the Islamic world when it was under Indonesian control, and Australia declared war on "al Umma al Islami," the Islamic nation when it liberated the Timorese and gave them independence.

The same holds true for Spain. Islamist rhetoric still waxes grandeloquent about the injury done to Islam by the Reconquista. OBL and his fellow travelers are working, inter alia, to reverse what they view as the crime of 1492 - and I'm not talking about Columbus sailing the ocean blue, but about the demise of the last Muslim outpost in Iberia in March of that year.

Moreover, despite the most vociferous protestations of the Gary and his fellow PC cultural relativists, there is no denying that the democratic West enshrines transcendent principles of individual rights, gender equality, religious liberty and freedom of speech. All of these are regarded by the Islamists as either irrelevant distractions, or absolute abominations.

So yes, this is a conflict between darkness and light. Our enemies are not receptive to conciliation or compromise. Those words don't exist in the lexicon of OBL and his myrmidons who commit such abominations as Madrid, Bali and 9/11.

"The quaint thing is that, in his abortive attempt at satire, Gary hits the truth squarely on its head."

I was thinking exactly the same thing.

So you guys are saying that there is no such thing as a liberal Islam?

Not at all, Gary. There certainly are elements of Islamic moderation out there. Sufism is one example of this. But, the problem is that at the present time radicalism is ascendent, while moderation is only tentatively beginning to surface on a broad scale, encouraged by the fall of the Ba'athist regiime in Iraq.

For years the Saudis have been playing a double game, purchasing quiescence at home by allowing the funding of Wahabbi extremism overseas. As a result, the overwhelming majority of mosques in the Western world are controlled by hardline Wahabbists with access to Saudi money. Extremists are promoted whie moderates are marginalized.

And, the same holds true in Oz. Case in point, the recent extremist rantings of Australia's senior Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Hilali, glorifying suicide bombings, applauding 9/11 and encouraging young Muslim men to embrace martyrdom.

Just a few days ago, the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee (AMPAC) sponsored the visit to Melbourne and Sydney of one Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who converted to Islam in the wake of her capture by the Taliban in Afghanistan some years ago. Speaking late last year in Belfast, Ridley went on record as saying that there are no such thing as innocent Israelis because even Israeli children will grow up to serve in, or support the Israeli Army. Thus, to Ms. Ridley, Israeli babes in swaddling are legitimate targets for Palestinian violence.

And, presumably the AMPAC, the leading Muslim organisation in Australia, finds nothing objectionable about Ms. Ridley's remarks, because they saw fit to co-sponsor her visit. And the situation is similar over at the Australian Arabic Council, whose website defends Hizbollah and Hamas, and strongly hints that Israel has no right to exist. These are hardly the sentiments of moderation.

This exemplifies the problematic current state of affairs, in which radicalism runs wild, while the voices of moderation in the Islamic are marginalized and shunted to the sidelines.

And lefties such as yourself, Gary, do nothing to ameliorate this serious issue by attacking those who draw attention to it, rather than having the moral fibre to criticize the ascendant voices of radicalism in the Muslim community and, countervailingly, support the moderates.

I think that this leftist tendency to turn a blind eye to this evil stems from a desire not to alienate an important part of their anti-Iraq war constituency. So, who cares if a few blatantly anti-Semitic placards equating the Star of David with the Swastika feature in our anti-war rallies?

The right hand talks in terms of the clash of good and evil in terms of absolutes.

The left hand talks in terms of historical tendencies of the etremists being promoted whilst the moderates are marginalized.

Is that not a contradiction?

No Gary, no contradiction at all. Wahabbist Islam is largely evil. Western democracy, despite its many imperfections, is largely good. These two ideas are in conflict because the former is dedicated is dedicated to the destruction of the latter. Radical Islam will brook no compromise with what they regard as a sexually corrupt and permissive West. To them, accomodation with the Judeo-Christian world is impossible because any such modus vivendi would threaten to contaminate Islamic society with the seductive licensiousness of the progressive West. So, yes, with extremist Islam we are engaged in a conflict of absolutes and la guerre a l'outrance.

All the more reason, it seems to me, to promote those elements of moderation that exist in the Islamic world. We should fight the extremists from without, militarily, diplomatically, financially, but also from within, by promoting moderate Islam as an alternative to the extremism of the Wahabbis.

So, no... there's no contradiction at all.

Gary, to illustrate my point I am posting a piece that ran in the WSJ yesterday. It is written by a moderate Arab Muslim who is decrying the threat posed by his radical coreligionists to Western democracy


March 17, 2004

GOTTINGEN, Germany -- Is March 11 for Europe what September 11 was for the U.S.? I doubt it. In many ways, March 11 seemed to have been much more successful for al Qaeda. After September 11, the U.S. waged two wars to curb al Qaeda, while after March 11, the terrorists managed to change the Spanish government and secure its pullout from Iraq.

There are some positive signs. European governments are discussing the new threat, interior ministers are holding emergency meetings and there is talk of tightening security measures. But will it really happen? Again, I have my doubts that Europe will be able to overcome its inertia. What are the underlying reasons for this inability to properly confront this new totalitarian threat in the form of jihadi Islam? It is to be found in Europe's state of mind.

A year before September 11, I listened to a panel discussion on terrorism at the World Economic Forum in Davos. I drew attention to the fact that most Islamist terrorist movements have their logistics as well as their support systems in Western Europe. Pretending to be politically persecuted, these Islamists are often granted asylum and receive all the generous economic benefits West European welfare states are so famous for. I questioned whether it was wise to welcome terrorists with so much tolerance that they don't even need to live in hiding.

The Europeans on the panel reacted with indignation, accusing me of ignoring Europe's role in the world as a champion of human rights and its tradition of protecting the legal rights of asylum seekers.

Well, I am myself a Muslim-Arab, not a European, but I know what human rights are, being a founding member of the Arab Organization of Human Rights. And I have paid a high price for this commitment; my home country Syria has blacklisted me for my efforts to bring some freedom to the Arab world.

The response I received in Davos is symptomatic of a larger problem: Europe is going through an identity crisis and seems to have lost the willingness to fight for its democratic values. What's worse, it doesn't even seem to realize that those values are under attack. A democracy that tolerates threats such as those posed by Islamist terrorists that struck in Madrid is committing suicide. As much as dialogue with Islam is necessary and desirable, there can be no dialogue with Islamism. Why does Europe fail to see this threat to its security and way of life?

Much can be attributed to ignorance. In my personal encounters with European politicians and those who profess to be experts on Islam, I have often noticed how little these people know about political Islam. Failure to differentiate between Islam as a world religion and political Islam as an anti-democratic, totalitarian ideology makes any intelligent discussion about the Islamist threat impossible. It is most disturbing to see how writers who try to warn about the totalitarian character of Islamism are defamed as racists. This wrong-headed political correctness prevents any honest discussion about the subject. Even I, myself a Muslim and a descendant of Islamic nobility from Damascus, have been called an Islamophobe.

The Islamists are masters of manipulation and know how to use European feelings of guilt for past colonial sins and the public's rejection of anything that could be interpreted as racism to deflect attention from their activities. Islamists thrive thanks to Europe's tolerance of the intolerable.

Europeans need to understand that Islamism -- developed in the second half of the last century -- is a political interpretation of Islam and stands in contrast to spiritual Islam as a religion. Islamists seek the establishment of an Islamic order on two levels:

First, within the world of Islam itself, Islamists want to topple the existing secular nation-states to establish what they call "the Islamic state," governed by their political interpretation of Islamic law, the sharia. The reader of the Quran will find the term sharia only once. In sure 45, verse 18 the holy book calls on Muslims to be virtuous. According to Islamism, however, sharia means something different. For Islamists, it is a divine code that fuses state and society into a totalitarian system run by an Islamist dictatorship. Therefore, the proponents of political Islam are clearly enemies of the "open society" -- to borrow Sir Karl Popper's concept.

Second, globally, they challenge the existing international system of states, the "Westphalian synthesis" as reflected in the charter of the United Nations. In their view, the present international system of nation-states must be replaced by a Pax Islamica, an Islamic empire spanning the entire world.

At present, there are 17 million Muslims living in Europe and this Islamic diaspora is expected to double and even triple in the coming decades. Will these Muslims become European citizens with a European identity? Not if we allow the present situation to continue.

There are powerful Islamist cells within the Muslim community controlling mosques, religious foundations and associations. These Islamists want to use the diaspora to topple the governments back at home and it is for this reason that they are not interested to see Muslim immigrants being integrated as European citizens.

At the same time, despite paying lip-service to integration, Europe shows very little interest in acting to promote it. Part of the problem is that there seems to be no consensus of what it means to be a European. I was told by some Europeans that there is no such thing as a common identity binding all parts of the old continent to one civilization.

That's why, back in 1998, I published a book titled "Europe Without Identity?" in which I addressed the Islamic-European relations in view of rising immigration. In that book I coined the term European "Leitkultur" (guiding culture), referring to the set of common European values, such as democracy and civil society, as guiding principles Muslim immigrants must subscribe to if they want to participate in our society. This would form the basis of what I call Euro-Islam. But politicians who used my concept were silenced and accused of Islamophobia, both by Islamists and the European left.

After the war in Iraq I was surprised to read that one of Germany's leading philosophers, Jurgen Habermas, called for the protection of Europe's identity. Mr. Habermas belonged to the same group of people who would have said earlier that there was no such thing as a European identity. So did he finally wake up to the Islamist threat? Far from it. This German philosopher wasn't afraid of Islamic totalitarianism. Instead, it turned out that Mr. Habermas was worried about the U.S. threatening Europe's identity, further proving that Europe's so-called elite seems to be completely lost in the wilderness.

It is my hope that, after last week's massacre in Spain, at least some opinion leaders in Europe will understand that the envisioned Islamization of Europe is a real threat. Europe's democracies must protect themselves against this new totalitarianism and stop acting against their own interests.

Mr. Tibi is professor of international relations at the University of Gottingen and of Islamology at the Swiss University of St. Gallen. His many books on Islam have been translated into 16 languages.

The above was posted by me, obviously