Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Council Winners

This week's Watchers Council winners have been posted.

First place in the council went to A Questionable Assumption by ShrinkWrapped. The assumption in question is that the asymmetrical military capabilities of the West and the Islamists accurately reflect the threat posed by the Islamists to the West.

The common assumption, overtly made by the left and tacitly accepted by the right, is that the Islamists are inherently weaker than the West and therefore, do not pose an existential threat to the West. In other words, neither side of the political divide believes the West can lose this war. This belief animates much of what passes for strategic thinking.

I agree that the perception of our might and their weakness, measured only in tanks and battleships, masks a far more dangerous battlefield for us than many of us yet realize. As a result, Shrinkwrapped says, the conflict now just in its opening stages eventually will have to become a total war.

I believe that, in practice, the assumption that we can meaningfully effect the course of Islamic totalitarianism short of full scale war is unwarranted, and whether our policy is controlled by the left or the right, any actions short of full scale war will only delay the final confrontation. I also do not see any way to square the circle.

Also getting votes was A Hinge of History by Right Wing Nut House, in which Rick lifts his head above the fog of the present wars and tries to see where we're headed in the long run. What he comes back to report is a dark turn.

When in doubt, blame Bush. But truthfully, what is happening below history’s radar has been in motion since before the Berlin Wall fell. Some decisions we’ve made in the last decade and a half have exacerbated our dilemma. Others have simply put off the inevitable. All told, where we are today is the result of many things beyond our control – birthrates, political changes in other countries, an aging population in the west, and a flexing of political and military muscle by an emerging reaction to modernity itself. The world in the 21st century is moving too fast, leaving too many behind. And the rush to catch up is going to get very bloody.

We are not just facing Islamic fundamentalism as a foe. We are also fighting the unrealized expectations of most of the planet’s inhabitants. Those expectations have been raised to stratospheric heights largely as a result of the accomplishments of the west. In some quarters, this has bred resentment, a belief that our success has come at the expense of others who are more worthy, more deserving in the eyes of Allah. In many, these expectations have fueled dreams of freedom and a belief that anything is possible if you are brave, work hard, and have faith in the future.

It's an interesting piece, in many way. In part because it reminds me how the traditionalist conservatives -- with whom I have much sympathy -- have a critique of modern, secularist, technologial Western society shared in many ways by the Islamists -- with whom Rick and I have no sympathy.

Votes also went to Oh How They Hate Occupation by AbbaGav. He at least sees a path out of the dream-turned-nightmare that has been Lebanon in the past couple years. Whether you believe anyone will follow it depends on your degree of catastrophic optimism:

Last year's Cedar Revolution showed that when Lebanon's moderates actually give a damn, they are capable of standing up and by resolute force of sheer numbers driving Syria from their country. To suggest there is nothing that can be done is misleading. But it does require another courageous step by Lebanese people who have shown the world they are capable of it. And this time it could actually buy them an entire country of their own, and real peace.

Stand up to Hizballah now, Lebanon. Sure you are angry at Israel, but now is the time to take the one and only action that can actually create the free and peaceful country you deserve. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Syria and Iran will only be expanding Hizballah's arsenal during this re-armament interval.

Another vote went to The Brady Bunch from right here.

Another vote (if memory serves, it was mine) went to Security Profiling Deserves a More Thoughtful Discussion Than It's Getting by Socratic Rhythm Method, who writes with considerable zing. One of the zingers is here:

We need to be very careful, I think, not to determine how we're going to get air passengers through airports safely according to whether we might inspire criminality. If we "outrage" young Muslims into a discontent and distrust that becomes a murderous jihad or something, that's not our fault. It's theirs. Tell a rape victim she asked for it and you're justly condemned. Don't tell us not to dress all slutty or we'll be sorry.

Outside the council, the winner was Muslim Musings on British Muslims by the always enlightening Ali Eteraz.

Ali makes a firm point about Islamist radicals:

Imagine for one moment that I cast a magical spell, let’s say, using my Harry Potter wand, and the British government’s foreign policy became precisely what 99.9% of Muslims wanted it to be (assuming Muslims could agree — which, I can assure you, they can’t). But let’s say that happened. Would British-born Muslim fanaticism disappear? I assure you most certainly not. For you see, Palestine, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq are just proxies for the fanatic. If all of those places were at peace he would find new reasons for legitimizing his killing. He would target Western “materialism.” He would target Western “hedonism.” He would target Western “secularism.” Just as a fanatic can look to the television and see dead Muslim children around the world to fuel his rancor, he would be able to find on the television any number of other “catalysts” to fuel his behavior. Not only that, but he would find in his Salafi tomes (Qutb written, Saudi paid), those catalysts (like the flesh of the Western woman). No, it is not the foreign policy that is the problem; it the fanatic that is the issue.

I shouldn't have to tell you I agree entirely with that. But I also recognize it's a slippery set of propositions. "If they didn't hate us for A, they'd still hate us for B." Yes, most likely, but you always have to remember you can't really prove that; you just have to intuitively understand it, and Ali is better placed than I am to make the necessary observations.

Left and right talk past each other with demands to get to the "root cause" of Islamist terrorism and its wide following, passive or active, among Muslims worldwide. Everyone who is concerned about this is looking for the root. And both sides follow their natures.

It is the tendency of the left to look to larger structures as the source of individual dysfunctions. And in the modern world, America is unarguably the large structure. It is the tendency of the right to look to the individual's attitude and behavior and personal history to discover the roots of the dysfunction.

Where's the truth? If you take the worst, most twisted anti-American parody of our country, and allow it all to be true, the world is full of victims of U.S. hegemony, from the Salvadorans to the Serbs to the Vietnamese. You still have to explain why these few from one religious culture become murderously, explosively angry about it.

Ali's right; change everything and you'd still have the core, the jihadis, the cold killers. Only a new caliphate and a supine West will satisfy them. But would different policies drain away the larger mass of Muslims who are not so radicalized, but who lend their dollars, or their tacit support, or the gift of their mere silence, to the extremists? Yes. But is that essentially different from installing the extremists in the driver's seat of our history? Nope.

Other votes went to Flat Fatima -- Revolution In News Photography by The People's Cube, a satirical (ironic? sarcastic?) response to the Reuters photo-doctoring scandal. All I can say here is, that's so funny, and so wrong.

Also getting votes were Exclusive Nidra Poller: Don't Apologize at Atlas Shrugs, a powerful piece I commented on elsewhere; Had Enough? at Ace of Spades HQ, and Some Thoughts On Violence, Suicide, and Bad Philosophy at Winds of Change.