This is one of the least charitable views of the Middle-East, and Islam, that I’ve seen. It casts a cold eye upon the Muslim World, identifying its darkest tendencies as central to Islam itself.
On it, the Middle-East is comprised mostly of a bunch of tribes (some nomadic) which are cobbled together upon a later version of Judeo-Christian metaphysics called Islam, for which the penalty of apostasy is death. There is no State upon this vision (Westphalian or not), really only the Mosque, with the Caliphate being the end game.
As noted elsewhere, Islam does not really create a centralized political authority (like Rome). Additionally, on this view, its spread by conquest (the sword) is highlighted, which its adherents are always seeking to advance:
‘Its moment of religious transcendence was not that of the law or the spirit, but the sight of tribal rivalries uniting under a single green banner. The banner of Islam.’
After the conquest, presumably, Islam goes deep with its transcendental claims, profound metaphysics and daily rituals. It maintains authority by strict control of political, public, and social life, eventually planning for the next conquest to unite yet another tribe. It does this through prayer, service and eventually action as each person is required to submit the will in faith to God. In Islam, this is non-negotiable, and it’s also anathema to many in the post-Enlightenment West, accustomed as we are to separation of Church and State.
On Greenfield’s view, this is why ‘moderate’ Muslims cannot really be found by Western standards, because moderates aren’t really allowed by what he terms a ‘supremacist’ political/religious/moral philosophy that doesn’t create any space for them in the public square.
The analogy Greenfield uses is Gulags are to Communism what Al Qaeda is to Islam.
There are, of course (Greenfield stops at deeper divisions like racial or genetic categories) moderate people getting on with life the Muslim World: Pragmatists, wise men and idiots, politicians and poets, young people flush with the dreams and hopes of youth and old people who don’t particularly care.
Yet, below the surface, lie the old tribal and family loyalties attached to ‘supremacist’ Islam. This drives Muslims onward with or without the imported models of Western Statecraft, colonial boundaries, waves of technology and ideology such as Communism, Capitalism, Humanism, etc that the West has sent their way. Such imports can be grafted onto the root, but the root remains.
This is why the West, according to our author, still insists in seeing the mirage of moderation projected upon the Middle East and Islamic societies through our foreign policy. We’re looking for familiarity which may not be there:
‘The two primary paradigms through which Western political elites see Islam, are that of tyranny on the right, and that of the evils of Western foreign policy on the left. Bush employed the former when he defined the problem as being one of tyranny, rather than Islam. Having defined the problem in terms of a majority of “Good Muslims” oppressed by “Bad Tyrants”, Bush tried to liberate the former from the latter, only to discover that there was a good deal of overlap between the two. Under Obama, we have seen the left implement its own construct of Islam, as popular resistance movements against colonial oppression, who are reacting to the evils of American foreign policy.
How much room is there for diplomacy and effective policy on the back of this analysis? On it, all Muslims are essentially supremacists, moral absolutists and many are tribal, semi-civilized nomads, never really worth trusting because the worst of them is the best of them.
Across any bargaining table would be someone from the Muslim world who sees you as either a potential convert or a body on the battlefield to global Muslim domination (or someone who eventually has to answer to a group of people who do). This isn’t exactly a pragmatic state of mind for folks in the U.S to be in when dealing with what may be an adversary, or even someone for whom there may be some temporary shared interest worth defining.
I suspect this analysis (with its truths) comes from a position of Jewish nationalism, the high tensions in Israel with a hostile Muslim world surrounding it (the Hamas charter refuses the right of Israel to exist), increasing anti-semitism in Europe, and a more left of center American administration seemingly abandoning Israel as we commit to liberal internationalist doctrine. This is what some Israelis are likely thinking.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
Thanks to a reader for the link.
Related On This Site: Samuel Huntington worked against modernization theory, and argued that a chasm between the West and Islam will be a primary source of post Cold-war conflict: Clash of Civilizations: From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work
His student, Francis Fukuyama and once neo-conservative (likely before working with the locals against Russians in Afghanistan and sometime after we invaded Iraq) charted his own course in The End Of History. From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington…he’s now taken that model of Hegelian statecraft home: Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest-’The Two Europes’
So, it wasn’t an Arab Spring, but there has been an erosion of the old rituals and control of the public square….more individualization that has affected the man on the Street, according to an Olivier Roy: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’
Roger Scruton suggests Islam is incompatible with Western Freedom: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism…
Ayan Hirsi Ali has her own agenda, and will use the political right in Europe to frame the debate (and she’s on a personal mission against Islam), but notice non-Muslims are not the ones threatening her with death: Tunku Varadarajan Reviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Nomad’ At The Daily Beast…Repost-Ayan Hirsi Ali At The CSM: ‘Swiss Ban On Minarets Was A Vote For Tolerance And Inclusion’