Are "nationalism" and a fervent quest for "dignity" motivating the revolts across the Arab world? New York Times columnist David Brooks thinks so, suggesting that current turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East disproves the late Samuel Huntington's thesis of a "Clash of Civilizations."
In his seminal 1993 article, Huntington argued that Muslims generally and Arabs specifically are motivated by religion rather than nationalism, that they do -- and we should -- view their relationship with the West as much more than competition; it is a conflict (whether or not bullets are flying at any given time) that persistently joins the Islamic world, including our superficial allies, against the U.S. and the West.
Brooks, however, clicks his intellectual heels together hoping to be magically transported to the land of "can't we all just get along," arguing that "underneath cultural differences there are these universal aspirations for dignity, for political systems that listen to, respond to and respect the will of the people" and that the various revolts are evidence of "a universal hunger for liberty."
It's the same solipsistic "let's give them a rhetorical hug" approach that President Obama has used with such great effect to get the Muslim world, especially the Iranian regime, to love and respect us. Or not. And it's an approach that Huntington implicitly warned could be dangerous or fatal to Western civilization.
Brooks reaches his conclusion based simply on the existence of revolts against multi-decade dictators and other autocrats across the Arab world. But there's nothing about being angry at living on $2 a day while your president amasses billions, nothing about objecting to being dominated by a lunatic of a tribe other than yours (and with truly embarrassing fashion sense) that implies a preferred outcome of liberal democracy rather than some slightly, superficially, and often temporarily less bad autocracy or, more likely, theocracy.
Did Mr. Brooks note the irony that he predicted a victory for "universal political values" on the same day that the Washington Post's headline story is "Obama administration prepares for possibility of new post-revolt Islamist regimes." That article begins: "The Obama administration is preparing for the prospect that Islamist governments will take hold in North Africa and the Middle East, acknowledging that the popular revolutions there will bring a more religious cast to the region's politics."
Predicting that the governments resulting from these revolts are at least as likely to be religious as secular, and at least as likely to be anti-American or at least skeptical of America as to be our allies, strikes me as the odds-on bet. Certainly Huntington would make that bet. But somehow David Brooks misses repeated lessons of history in an unstoppable quest to see the world as he wishes it were rather than as it is.
In 2006, an election was allowed in the Palestinian territories and the result was a victory by Hamas, perhaps the most anti-American, anti-Israeli, violence-prone and tyrannical political party in the Arab World. The Iranian Revolution, while overtly Islamic from the start, nevertheless shows that Muslims are perfectly willing to replace one tyranny with another. Even Turkey, long a model of "moderate" Islam and in the grip of a secular military, is drifting more toward Islamic government, away from its historic relatively cooperative relationship with the U.S. and Israel, and perhaps even toward Iran.
Furthermore, other than in Libya, the most active revolts are in nations whose governments are perceived as supportive of and supported by the U.S. Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, and Egypt all fit this mold. This is not to say that the various revolts are motivated by hatred of the Great and Little Satans or the democracy and freedom they represent; indeed there is a notable absence of American flag burnings and anti-American chants. But one can't draw the opposite conclusion, as David Brooks has, that the uprisings represent a universal desire for the hallmarks of free, liberal, and successful societies.
In Iran, the one nation where one could imagine a successful and relatively free Muslim society, in part -- as Huntington might suggest -- because they're not Arabs, a nascent freedom (and freedom from Islamofascism) movement was crushed in 2009 as President Obama stood silent. This was perhaps the most important foreign policy mistake by any president since Jimmy Carter allowed those same Islamofascists to hold fifty-two American hostages for 444 days -- and both errors taught the ayatollahs the same lesson: that the liberal elite (like Brooks) and the Democratic establishment they influence (like Carter and Obama) are willfully blind to Huntington's lesson and are thus surrendering the West in the Clash of Civilizations.
Islamic clerics are moving into the political process in Egypt and Yemen leaving little chance that the resulting governments, even if nominally democracies, will be focused on supporting and defending "universal aspirations for dignity" or creating "political systems that listen to, respond to and respect the will of the people." Perhaps Brooks hasn't noticed that the "moderate" protesters and rebels in both Libya and Egypt expressed their hatred for Gaddafi and Mubarak, respectively, by portraying them with a Star of David on their foreheads. This is hardly evidence that Huntington was wrong.
Islam is incompatible with each "universal aspiration" Brooks predicts triumphant. Most citizens of the nations in question support Islam more than they care about democracy or freedom. In short, as long as they're not being made poor while their leaders are being made rich, they'll more than happily go along with Sharia or at least Sharia-lite, more than happily continue to hate Israel, and more than happily suck up to the U.S. in English-language media in order to keep receiving tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in "aid" while savaging us in Arabic (with their true beliefs) for their own domestic consumption.
As Samuel Huntington warned nearly two decades ago, "Non-Western civilizations have attempted to become modern without becoming Western. To date, only Japan has fully succeeded in this quest. Non-Western civilizations will continue to attempt to acquire the wealth, technology, machines and weapons (including nuclear weapons) that are part of being modern." Huntington's prescription, which unlike Brooks' view stands the tests of history and common sense, is that "this will require the West to maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its interests in relation to these civilizations."
David Brooks' misty-eyed view of the import of Arab turmoil is an intellectual cornerstone of President Obama's persistent weakening of those very economic and military powers, whether through his spending the country into bankruptcy or his making U.S. policy decisions subservient to the wishes of the leftists and tyrants who effectively control the United Nations. It is a cornerstone made of weak and fragile rock upon which Brooks and Obama nevertheless propose to support the future success -- indeed the very existence -- of Western civilization.
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