Paul Berman At The New Republic: ‘From September 11 to the Arab Spring: Do Ideas Matter?’

Full essay here.

Can the Islamist revival be read through the lens of liberal Europe to benefit?  Berman perhaps sees parallels from his Marxist/Communist days in the recruitment writings of Al Qaeda:

‘Al Qaeda itself seemed to me entirely recognizable. It was one of several splintery offshoots from the main trunk of the Islamist movement, which was the Muslim Brotherhood, and the kinship of offshoot and trunk reminded me of the worldwide communist movement of forty years ago.’

Maybe, maybe not. This could help explain, though, why many well educated young men planned 9/11:

‘It was customary for a while to look on primitive madrassas in remote towns of the peasant universe as the root of the terrorist problem—religious academies where penniless boys with zero prospects for a better life are inducted into a culture of medieval rote-learning. But in regard to Islamism and especially its terrorist branches, the root of the problem seemed to me far more likely to be found on the other end of the educational spectrum: in the medical schools of Egypt or at Punjab University, or in places that might be regarded as still more prestigious—in the professional schools of Hamburg or the London School of Economics, where, after class, the students might amble off to their tea shops or apartments and pore over the same literature that was piling up on my floor’

And Berman, liberal hawk though he is, reminds me why if this is liberalism, I remain skeptical; namely the desire to look out from the materialist doctrines and see Christianity as a competitor for the proles…human freedom there to be plucked from the ether and made into a system, a law, or an institution by those who have seen the light and dream of revolution:

‘The rise of Christianity—to cite a non-trivial example—does not lend itself to any obvious material explanations. The religion got started in a backwater province among people with very little power or wealth, and yet within a mere three hundred years, a blink of an eye in those times, it managed, by force of persuasion, to conquer the Roman Empire and change world history irreversibly’

and he concludes:

‘If you are philosophically a hard-core materialist and you tally up the measurable facts of power and wealth, they add up to nothing. But if you consider that ideas sometimes have an autonomous force of their own, and that liberal ideas are more likely to flourish in an atmosphere of freedom, these two new and feeble elements look like—well, a beginning.’

Well, I’m sure many in the West would like to see some form of Western thought take deeper root in the Muslim world and grow into flowering plants we’d recognize (from Fukuyama’s End Of History, to the Bush doctrine, to the human rights/interventionist Obama and European Libya ‘kinetic military action’,  to simply anything that would keep religiously motivated Islamic extremists from exporting terror to our soil. This would include freedom from tyrannies and autocrats and Islamist moral absolutism. What the Islamic world does and how it sees itself may be another matter.

Addition: I have to give Berman a lot more credit than I did when I wrote this.  The fascistic and Western ideological elements that can be found in AQ and IS literature can be found in Muslim Brotherhood stuff and some Ba’ath party thinking, from what I’m told.  Berman knows whereof he speaks. Fuse this with the Islamic ‘revival’ of sorts going on in the Middle-East, the higher birth rates, many of the autocratic rulers swept away during the ‘Arab Spring.’  Also throw-in the tribal and ethnic, nationalist and historical, tensions that traditionally have unified under the banner of Islam, and it starts to make more sense.  Let’s not forget the problems and tensions stemming from Western contact and influence (military, business, technological) either.

Related On This Site:  Could Berman be on some arc toward neoconservatism that many liberals take, being ‘mugged by reality’…or is it just the dark side of materialism and dreaming of revolution?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’….is Hitchens on that arc?: Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And VirtuePaul Berman On Bloggingheads: The Left Can Criticize Iran

Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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