Wednesday, August 03, 2005

American Express: History's Tourists


No One Understands Me!

Pat Lang has a new and very interesting blog called, suggestively, 'Sic Semper Tyranus' . You may have seen Col. Lang appearing as a military analyst/expert on television during the initial phase of the Iraq war (usually looking slightly fish-out-of-water: he is an actual expert, after all); or you may remember his now famous reported job interview with..well, we'll use an acronym - TSFGOTFOTE:

Col. Pat Lang, a Middle East expert who served under five presidents, Republican and Democratic, in key posts in military intelligence, recalls being considered for a job at the Pentagon. During the job interview, Feith scanned Lang's impressive resume. "I see you speak Arabic," Feith said. When Lang nodded, Feith said, "Too bad," and dismissed him.

As if operating under the criteria of an adamant but vague internet dating profile, the neocons were looking for people who just 'get it'. Get what? Why,'it', of course! See, if you 'get it' you just 'get it'. Lang doesn't 'get it': being the tiresome sort, he prefers to know what 'it' is, and the ramifications thereof. Too bad.

Faction and "Ta'ifa"

In a recent post, Lang expresses skepticism about the chances for the success of Federalism in Iraq:

Islamic history reflects the patterns of traditional Islamic social structures and even religious discourse.  In all these fields the emphasis is on unity, cohesiveness and consensus.  Almost nowhere is there any real value placed on the kind of devolution of power or diversity of opinion, or authority implicit in the Western idea of federalism.

"Ta'ifa" (faction) is a word in Arabic that has few positive connotations.  It is generally associated with divisiveness, selfish self-interest and the weakness that struggles over the division of power are thought to produce.

When forced to explain themselves (the nerve!), neocons might say in response to the above that it's 'racist' to suggest that Arabs aren't capable of democracy, etc. But as is so often true, they would be attacking a strawman (agreed upon for Administrative Purposes, no doubt). Lang is not saying here (or anywhere else I've seen) that Arabs or Muslims are incapable of governing themselves. He's suggesting that there are cultural differences in the Muslim and Arab worlds which aren't naturally and instantly amenable to our exact version of democracy. While the Muslim world was, for some centuries, much more tolerant of religious diversity than was the Christian one in Europe, this was not really political pluralism as we understand it. Our founding fathers were worried about 'factions' too, but, having inherited a tradition of 'adversarialism' from England, saw the solution in the diffusion of power among many factions rather than in limiting the number of them: letting them all 'fight it out', thereby limiting any one faction's power (Madison: "Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires.." Federalist 10.).


But what if you live in a part of the world (which would be most of the world) which has no tradition of 'adversarialism'? What are the odds of forcing a cultural/political change like this onto disparate peoples in a partially imaginary - and fully traumatized - 'country' in a year or two? And let's be honest: when under stress - like NOW - even our own reverence for pluralism seems to be all too easily forgotten. Political pluralism is a wonderful and brilliant idea, but not always so easy for any humans to sustain faultlessly, including us. Do as we say, not as we do? Who's being 'racist' here?

It's Hard Bein' a Genius

Why can't these darned Muslims see that they ought to just accept, all at once, en masse - and at the point of a gun (and at the cost of getting their 'hair mussed' ) - Corporate 'Libertarianism' , radical individualism, explicit institutionalized usury, and American-style federal political pluralism (and throw in Secularism, by the way)? What the heck is wrong with 'em? I guess they just don't 'get it' either.

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