OxBlog

Thursday, September 14, 2006

# Posted 6:35 AM by Patrick Porter  

KNOWING THE ENEMY: Some thoughts on Taylor's fine post below. The question before the house seems to be, Can we and should we define a group of enemies in global and monolithic terms?

Both Taylor and Faeed Zakaria argue that 'treating a fractious group of adversaries as a unified monolith' is both wrong and dangerous.

Wrong, because they aren't necessarily monolithic and unified, and dangerous because rhetoric can become self-fulfilling. By lumping together Sunni supremacists with Pakistani militants with Lebanese Hezbollah jihadists, we perpetuate Osama Bin Laden's own rhetorical game, narrating the world as a clash between Islam and everyone else.

Against this, Victor Davis Hanson echoes Bush. Certain ideas, he argues, do make collaboration and identification between these groups possible: anti-semitism, gender apartheid, homophobia, extreme interpretations of the Koran, ultra-authoritarian views of political (and clerical) authority.

At the risk of being hugely boring, I sit somewhere between these two poles. (I would in fact love to sit between Taylor Owen and Victor Hanson in a discussion, but that's my little fantasy).

On one factual point, Bush's rhetoric (for this is the main issue) has persistently identified the main diversity Zakaria identifeis in the Islamic world: the difference between moderates and radicals. This distinction between Islam and the perverted version of it was identified in Bush's State of the Union address after 9/11:

The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.
The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.
This is a theme that he has used again and again and again.

As far as I can tell, affinities and linkages between different jihadist groups already existed -between the Bin Ladenists and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They predated 9/11 and Bush's rhetoric.

That Bin Laden could switch his headquarters from the Sudan to Afghanistan suggests that Bush didn't create his transcendent appeal in the world of extremist groups.

At the same time, Taylor and Fareed are right that the Islamic world is hugely diverse, that the agendas of some militants are highly localised, and that the relationship between different Islamist groups is competitive as well as cooperative.

The US should not conflate its war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq with the cause of the Moslem cause in the Balkans, a war which has produced mutual atrocity and extremism but in which the Moslem population faced ethnic cleansing. The war on terror should not be equated and conflated with Israel's war with Lebanon. Islamist groups which are unlikely to team up with more ambitious and imperialist groups should not be given psychological encouragement by lazy rhetoric.

A good strategy will be alert to the differences and disparaties in their regional concerns, confessional and sectarian beliefs, their ethnic and cultural makeup.

But it will also recognise the moments of collaboration and commonality between the groups. If this is as much a war over ideas as over raw power, then we should recognise that these ideas provide the glue that bind disparate groups together ideologically, and articulate alternative ideas to defeat them.

Finally, this project, in which rhetoric should describe the enemy without strengthening the enemy, is not on Bush's shoulders alone.

Moslem clerics also have a role to play in articulating these distinctions. While many moderate Moslems have denounced terrorist attacks, the distinction between Islam and the militant and aggressive version of it has not consistently been upheld by clerics in Europe or the Middle East.
Difficult issue though.

UPDATE: A little historical titbit on the analogy with America's early failure to recognise and exploit divisions in the communist world during the Cold War.

First, if America had earlier on denied the existence of a communist monolith and treated the communist world as a fractious series of different players, what does this mean in terms of practical policy? Refusing to fight China in Korea for fear of driving them into the arms of the Soviets? In that case, a more nuanced rhetorical approach to communism might have been bad news for the South Koreans.

Also, its arguable that important chunks of the communist world were truly monolithic and that it was accurate to say so, and prudent to say so in order to 'know the enemy.'

Michael Lind's provocative study of the Vietnam War makes this point in microcosm:

'Ho Chi Minh owed little to Vietnamese tradition, and almost everything to his foreign models, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao...Ho would be the centre of a cult of personality, just as Lenin, Stalin and Mao had been. Lenin had Leningrad, and Stalin had Stalingrad; therefore Saigon, after the communist victory, would become Ho Chi Minh City. Ho's grim tomb in Hanoi would be modeled on Lenin's tomb in Moscow. In death, as in life, Ho Chi Minh would be a minor clone of the major communist tyrants.

Even the smallest details of Ho's government would be borrowed from the Soviet Union or from Mao's imitation of Soviet examples. In the 1950's, Mao would copy Stalin's war on the Soviet peasantry, and Ho, with help from Chinese communist advisers dispatched by Mao, would similarly terrorise the North Vietnamese population into submission to the new totalitarian ruling class. In the decade that followed, the North Vietnamese communist oligarchy would persecute and purge North Vietnamese intellectuals, following the example of Mao's purges of Chinese intellectuals, itself modelled on Stalin's campaigns against dissident thinkers.

The official culture of North Vietnam, and later of united communist Vietnam, would be a crude copy of the official cultures of the Soviet Union, its satrapies in Eastern Europe, and its Chinese offspring and ultimate rival. The Vietnamese communists would model their 'reeducation camps' on communist China's 'laogai' and the Soviet gulag. Well into the 1980s, visitors to communist Vietnam would see portraits of Ho's role model and mentor displayed on office walls: 'X-talin', as the name is transliterated into Vietnamese. Stalin.'

Its doubtful how much of Ho's intense commitment to emulating foreign models was caused by the rhetoric of American presidents.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
It always pains me to actually read the Bard of Fresno, but ...

This terrorism isn't Fascism. Fascism is 'an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.' AQ isn't nationalistic, it's anarchic. AQ isn't authoritarian, it has no particular authority structure. And AQ isn't a system of government.

It isn't even Islamic. The Shriners are Islamic either, they've expropriated the symbols. When you see it as Islamic, AQ wins.

Moving on to Bush.

Bush has always played the 'good cop' to a gullible public. This is in contrast to the 'bad cops,' the VDHs, the O'Reillys, the Malkins/Ingraham/Coulters.

Army Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, the current Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, has been casting this as a religious war: "The enemy is not the terrorists. ... The enemy has come against us in a spiritual realm." "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."

Do you see this as a religious war?
 
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