Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Liberals, Neoconservatives and Terrorism

Alan over at Maverick Views has a great commentary about Ambivablog's take on left of center blogger Jack Whelan's view on the current age we live in.

(I know, there is a lot of the he-said-that-she-said-that-he-said going on here, but trust me, there is a method in this madness.)

To sum up Whelan's view, the reason we have Islamic fundamentalism is because of the US presence in the Middle East. If we just leave them alone, then the terror will stop.

Alan, sums it better than I can:

This is, as Amba says, a seductive worldview. For one, it puts all the power in our hands and very little in our enemy's hands. It's a worldview where our own actions determine our fate completely. If we want to protect ourselves from terrorism, we need only change our actions towards the societies from which terrorists spring. Our enemy’s actions are merely subsets of our actions. If we change, they'll change.

He also adds that the neoconservative viewpoint of things is basically the mirror opposite:

This is, not surprisingly, just about the opposite of the neo-con worldview which believes that changing ourselves is unnecessary and even pointless. Neo-cons contend that we need to force or at least strongly encourage changes in the societies that breed terrorism.

The problem is, the alternative view, the neo-con view, has been misplayed and mishandled and now seems even more naïve than the standard liberal view. Key neo-cons like Rumsfeld and Cheney have too often minimized the consequences of our own actions while maximizing the villainy of our enemies. To make it worse, this administration chose a very military-centric path towards changing the Middle East. A path that has created a great deal of bloodshed and is still very far from success.

What we have here are two competing ideologies centered around how they view the US: one side, the neocons, view America as the paragon of virtue, the nation that can do no wrong. It can send suspects to nations that torture without worrying about how it will look in the wider world because America is pure and in a just fight against agents of evil. It can use tactics such as waterboarding which, if they aren't torture, dance pretty damn close to the line, because it is America. In this view, America answers to no one and whatever it does, it does for the right reasons.

On the other side is the more liberal view of America that sees the nation as an oppresive bully that seeks to establish a hegemonic empire. This America oppresses people around the world, especially in the Middle East. In their view, the reason 9/11 happened was because of stand towards Israel, or the war in Iraq, or the fact that we have bases in the region. If we just let people in the Middle East or Latin America, just live their lives, then everything will be okay.

My own take is that both views are way off the mark. America has been considered a paragon of virtue because we have held ourselves to high standards not because we are Americans or blessed by God or what have you. What the neocons fail to understand, is that we are in an ideological struggle and we must work to show Muslims worldwide and in the Middle East in particular that America is not the satanic power bin Laden and his ilk say we are. This is not simply a struggle where we can bomb people into submission, but we must work to pursuade. An example is how the US helped Indonesia after the Christmastime tsunami in 2004. The view of America in the world's largest Muslim nation rose several points because of our acts of kindness. If we had more images of Navy helicopters giving good to greif stricken Indonesians instead of those horrid images from Abu Gharib, we would do more to combat Islamic fundamentalism than any "alternative" interrogation techniques.

Liberals, on the other hand, have to start taking the Islamic fundamentalist threat as seriously as they do Christian fundamentalism. Both fundamentalisms seek to roll back the values that we in Western liberals societies hold so dear. Liberals rightly worry about people like James Dobson, who want to put gays back in the closet, but downplay Islamic fundamentalists who frankly want gays executed and aren't too friendly towards women's rights.

Liberals also have to stop thinking that we aren't the cause of everything bad in the world. Yes, America has many sins, I'm not denying that. But it is not as simple that the 9/11 hijackers or Osama or any other extremist is doing bad because we treated them terribly. It was because they bought into a dangerous theology that told them that to be holy and righteous, one must kill innocents whose only crime is their nationality. Liberals have to stop this sort of dualistic think that views America as wholly evil, while viewing others around the world as pure innocents. There is evil in the world and sometimes America is guily of it. But sometimes so are others.

America is neither a saint or a devil. We are a nation that tries to do right but at times makes mistakes and sometimes even big wrongs. We need to develop a worldview that seems America and the world as it is-not as we would like it to be. In this struggle against terror, we need to be clearheaded and not looking with glasses that fit our ideologies.

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