Wednesday, November 05, 2008

That's President "That One" to you, Senator

Here's some quick thoughts on the Obama victory. I'll put together something meatier and more formal during the next week, when we've learnt a bit more.
In some ways, Obama's a hard one to pin down. Look at his background and he's left-liberal. I heard an radio interview with him the other day, recorded several years ago when he was teaching law at Chicago uni, where he gave a very thoughtful account of how black people had lost out in the original US constitutional settlement two hundred years ago, and assessed how that might be rectified going forward through the courts or through legislation. With his measured consideration of a serious social justice issue, the guy sounded really impressive. If I'd read a transcript of that without knowing who it was, I'd instantly want to hear more from this smart young academic.
At one level, that's Obama. But then as a politician he's clearly prepared to adopt some pretty right-wing positions, maybe because he feels he has to or maybe because his thinking is genuinely moving in that direction. Take foreign policy. His stance on the Palestinians, for example, is just as cruel as any adopted by Bush or Clinton. And he's surrounded by advisers from the Clinton era, during which time US foreign policy was far from enlightened. For the next 4-8 years the US is still going to be an imperial power with its policy-making dominated by elite interests. Obama would have trouble changing that even if he was a committed revolutionary, and he's definitely not one of those.
But then, nor is he of the McCain/Bush "give war a chance" mold. His approach will be less impetuous, less willfully ignorant, and less agressive. Yes its still imperialism, albeit with different tactics. And yes Arundhati Roy was basically right when she said that debating the pros and cons of imperialism is like debating the pros and cons of rape, because the coercion that's intrinisc to imperialism is immoral in its essence, not purely on the basis of outcomes. But a reduction in the amount of wars being fought or threatened is obviously a good thing, whatever the reasons for that happening, because more human beings will get to live.
The Republican party of McCain/Palin/Bush/Cheney was borderline demented on foreign affairs, as Tom Engelhardt expertly documents here. The world's a safer place with them gone, and that's not something that should be overlooked no matter how cautious we are about Obama.

Another positive thing is that the right-wing politics of race-baiting, militarism and extreme Reaganite economics have just been trounced at the polls. That's a big message to the political class. The question is the extent to which they choose to heed it, but its not something they'll be able to ignore.
Has anyone thought to mention that Obama is black?
In all seriousness, this is no small thing. Plainly we won't see racism eradicated overnight. There's been a black Secretary of State for the past eight years, during which time African-Americans gained precious little (and Katrina happened, of course). But Obama's victory is still an important step. Fifty years ago you could pretty much lynch black people with impunity in the southern states. Now a black man is President.
For the next 4-8 years, its going to be harder for those white Americans who harbour softer racial prejudices (always a bigger problem than the hardline racists) to cognitively maintain that mindset, at least so long as they perceive the Obama administration to be basically competant and decent. This will contribute to an erosion of American racism, and thus an expansion the life-chances of many African American people. There are black kids today who are going to have futures that their parents would have been denied. That this is not a trivial thing is well understood by those at the sharp end. Many of the survivors of the 60s civil rights struggle are visibly moved by last nights events and their feelings should not be belittled. Taking this aspect alone, anyone claiming to be of the left who dismisses Obama's election as meaningless is simply exposing themselves as an unthinking fraud.

Another point on prejudice. There was an attempt by sections of the right to draw on the racism that exists in the US against Arabs and Muslims - a bigotry which sees these people not as a large and disparate group of human beings but as a baying, bloodthirsty mob of neo-Nazis. This attempt was made using various devices to remind people of Obama's links to Islam through his father and through his middle name, Hussein - a part of a general strategy of 'othering' Obama which the increasingly odious McCain did precious little to stop.
Sadly for the GOP, there don't seem to be enough racists in America to make that one stick. And again, those that harbour softer prejudices are going to have 4-8 years to get to know, and possibly like, a man whose middle name is Hussein, whose father was a Muslim, and who spent some of his formative years growing up in a Muslim country, Indonesia. Bigotry depends on your ability not to see the people you're prejudiced against as human beings, which is harder to sustain when you get to know someone. And when soft bigotry against the people of the Middle East erodes, imperial aggression against that region becomes far harder to sustain and justify as well. Another non-trivial aspect to consider.

One could argue that McCain ended up betting everything on the 'othering' strategy. Remember that by the final few weeks he needed to win every safe Republican state, every toss-up state and at least one major safe Democrat state to pass the 270 electoral college vote milestone that gets you into the White House. Running short of cash he bet everything on Pennsylvania, probably on the assumption that blue-collar white Democrats would be fairly easy to scare off the black liberal with the funny name and the "questionable associations". McCain campaigned hard with the 'Joe the Plumbers' of Pennsylvania, and in the end Obama thumped him 54-44. McCain was campaigning in the wrong America - the one in his mind. That's another of many big messages sent to the political class last night. Again, the question is the extent to which they choose to heed it, but its not something they'll be able to ignore.
Obviously the power-structures of the United States, which are the real problem, remain firmly in place. As I say, Obama is no radical. Far from it. The endorsements he's received reveal him as very establishment-friendly, as does his stance on many issues. But at the level of the US Presidency, even small differences can make for big outcomes. Both the continuities and the differences, from Bush to Obama, are worthy of our attention.
Change? It'll probably be non-structural and therefore insufficient. But at the same time, it will be far from meaningless. If its turns out to be more than that, it'll be because people didn't go home and go to sleep on November 5th, but kept up the campaigning that began under Bush, as Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel points out in this excellent essay. If the public stays mobilised, changes really do become possible.
More soon.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

Your anti-Chomskyan buddy again.

Regarding imperialism, one would do well to remember that the world includes forces that push all different ways. Russia is certainly an imperial power and, even more than Russia, the former USSR was an imperial power. The former Ottoman Empire was an imperial power. China is an imperial power. So is your country.

Moreover, while imperialism is not a good force - and not one I favor - , many on the Left (e.g. Marx) have seen it as a necessary means toward freeing humanity from its self-imposed mental and social tyranny. It certainly did much, for example, to revive learning in many places in the world (e.g. in India).

So, let us not be simple minded. Without the imperial West, there is every reason in the world to believe that, for example, the little bit of improvement from the already certainly cruel treatment of Arab Muslim women would be lost. The same would be the case with outright slavery (which has already returned in Sudan and Eritrea, with the slaves sold not only in such countries but in Gulf State Arab countries). It is the need to get along with the West which acts as a force against these foul practices, at least to some extent.

As for your description of the US, I think what you write is wrong. Racism is certainly a force in the US, one that has fouled my land. But, it is certainly less of a force today than it is in your country, with its extreme prejudices against all non-native peoples. At least my country is working toward solving its problems, rather than, as is occurring in your country (and throughout Europe), hiding behind the mask of tolerance toward the Other, rather than, as we have in the US, governmental neutrality for all.

As for the Middle East, we have problems that do not have easy solutions. The biggest problem in the Middle East is the Muslim religious revival movement (sometimes called Islamism). Nothing will improve so long as that agenda is on the ascendancy. It is not only an anachronism to revive religion as providing the law of the land but, frankly, that religious agenda keeps Muslims in a self-created form of mental slavery That land will continue with its inability to build anything. There will be no way for Sunni and Shi'a to get along. The dispute among Christians, Shi'a, Sunni and Druze in Lebanon will continue to fester, with period episodes of civil war, leading to untold numbers of deaths. The Copts will continue to be terrorized in Egypt. The Baha'i will continue to be terrorized in Iran. Etc., etc.

And, addressing what you misinterpret as Israeli cruelty - i.e. legitimate self-defense - will continue because the Israelis would have to be idiots to settle only to see the Islamist movement continue to gain ground. And, with the rise of the Islamist movement, the Israelis are pretty unlikely to cede land or to remove those who want to settle in the Biblical areas of Ancient Judea and Samaria (i.e. the West Bank). That is not going to occur and no American president is going to change that, because the Israelis are not prepared to commit suicide to make other countries happy.

No doubt you will disagree with all of the above. But consider, even if you were deep down right, the fact is that the Israelis will not likely do what they perceive - whether or not correctly - as suicidal, no matter what diplomatic pressure is applied.

Further, unless the West is prepared either to find an accommodation with the Iranians or to convince the Iranians to change their path, there is likely to be a terrible war. No one will benefit, least of all the Iranians, the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs. Marches in Tehran with the missiles bearing the insignia ("Death to Israel") do not help matters. The fact that the president of Iran holds Holocaust denial conferences and asserts that Israel is a cancer and a stinking corpse to be removed do not bode well. And, the fact that the real power in the country says similar things does not help matters either. Perhaps, someone might tell the Iranian leadership - the Supreme Leader, not just Ahmadinejad -, that they are creating a war that does not have to be.

Instead, you want to employ the typical path of the extreme right, blaming all of Israel's problems on the Israelis, without bothering to imagine that it too reacts to the belligerency of a region in which religion is employed primarily, just now, by Muslims to stir up violence and war.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 7:08:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

anonymous - no need to reintroduce yourself. Your voice has always been recognisable.

Just a few quick responses.

You seem to be under the impression that my criticism of US power is basically just me trying to say that "my country is better than your country". It isn't, and I've given no reason for you to think that it might be. So your offering of British misdeeds as a counterargument to what I've said here doesn't really work, I'm afraid.

Seeing politics in a tribal manner - my tribe versus yours - is a pretty ugly thing, as history has often shown.

I've always been clear that the US merely is the latest in a long line of global empires, and is behaving much as powerful countries tend to do. I've also written critically of racism in Britain, British foreign policy, and British imperialism. Indeed, my PhD research is dedicated to these latter two topics.

On India, its a shame for your own sake that you have that view of its history. Very much your loss.

On the civilisational aspects of imperialism, I guess one challenge would be to explain why the imperial US and the United Kingdom are so friendly with, say, Saudi Arabia, the most backward and reactionary regime on the planet. And why this is far from an isolated example of western backed tyranny. In fact the greatest liberatory advances often come from the ground up, not the top down. Like the anti-apartheid or US civil rights movements.

On the Islam and Middle East in general, and Israel in particular, I think our views are so far apart that fruitful discussion is impossible. Little point then in wasting our time.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 9:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

Regarding India not to mention Islam, I would ask you to read an enlightening work of scholarship, Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism, by Ibn Warraq. It is an astounding piece of scholarship which, frankly, shows Said to be the shoddy scholar - at least as it relates to the orient - that he clearly was. On my point about India, Warraq shows that the contribution of the West to India is rather extraordinary, notwithstanding the nasty legacy - also a fact - of British rule in India. Warraq doe not to whitewash British rule. Here merely attempts to remove the factual errors which support the sort of ideology shown in what you wrote above.

Perhaps Mr. Warraq will not change your mind. My bet, though, is that if you are even half way earnest, you will have to adjust some of your views, most particularly about the impact of the West on the "Orient." They simply do not stand up to close scrutiny.

I would also ask you to read a brilliant book by a person you would no doubt consider an arch-Orientalist, Bernard Lewis. Among his one or two best pieces of scholarship is his book The Muslim Discovery of Islam. He makes a compelling case that the Muslim regions - and, most particularly, the parts ruled by the Ottoman Empire - did more to create their own problems than did Western imperialism, a problem, by the way, he accepts as a problem - which it surely is. Again, if you read the noted book and you are a remotely honest scholar, you will have to admit that he punches humongous holes in the imperialism theory. Which is to say, the matter is infinitely more complex than blaming imperialism, as your ideology seems to do.

Lastly, regarding the Middle East, I would ask that you read Islam in the Modern World and Other Studies, by the late Elie Kedourie. He offers a close history of how the British have so completely misread the intentions and preferences of Arabs and their leaders, most particularly during the 1930's and 1940's. It is sobering reading, in which your country's leaders and policy experts confused rhetoric with personal interest, thus exacerbating the dispute in historic Palestine and effectively endorsing the most reactionary forces, which, in turn, helped to blow up the dispute between Jews and Arabs. I think your entire way of thinking is the same, effectively supporting extreme religious reactionary views under a disguise of left wing rhetoric.

Again, a thorough investigation of the books I recommend would almost certainly give you some pause for further thought. And note: I am not a believer in empire. I am not a right winger. However, as I see it, you are on the very extreme right, but without even realizing the agenda you are asserting. I find that very troubling.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 9:38:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

thanks, most enlightening.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger hi0u91e9 said...


i knew my warmth towards obama wouldn't last long

Names in the frame for the next administration

Paul Volcker, Larry Summers, Colin Powell and Robert Gates


antiChomskyan--you are odious

Thursday, November 06, 2008 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now now hi0u91e9, let's not resort to name-calling. Anti-Chomskyan is entitled to his/her views, much as we may disagree with them.

Interesting article Dave. It's a very unusual election in the US (or indeed in the UK) where you see a winner who - regardless of his/her political outlook - has the power to inspire simply because of who they are. It seems hard to argue with the notion that America will be better perceived in many other countries because it chose a black man with a Muslim middle name as President. I shall welcome the POTUS once more being a rational, educated agnostic (Obama's father became an atheist and I believe his son only "believes" in the way all US politicians have to win elections) and I shall party hard, like the man himself used to, when Dubya moves out in January. That said, his congratulation speech to Obama was quite moving, I thought, and he's right, it will be a "stirring" sight to see the Obamas take residence. It will be a timely reminder to all those outside the US who said that America could never choose a black man as President that YES IT COULD. And regardless of race, it's wonderful to see a President to emerge, like Clinton, from a humble start to take the country's highest office.

A caveat: The same could be said of a certain Margaret Thatcher. Let us not forget that she was the delight of many feminists when she won in 79 purely because of who she was, in her case becaues of her gender.

Many feminists felt let down by her in the end. I wonder how people of colo(u)r in the US will feel about President Obama in a couple of years? My feeling is many will still be absolutely delighted that a black man is their leader. My prediction is that his election will create a warming feelgood factor that could endure for some time. I hope so.

Biz Mueller

Thursday, November 06, 2008 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger hi0u91e9 said...

@Biz Mueller

it was meant fairly light-heartedly. anti-Chomskyan wants to be provocative so i think he would be secretly quite flattered by my remark :)

Thursday, November 06, 2008 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

ah, Reverend Mueller. Good to hear from you, sir.

I think both Bush and McCain, or their speechwriters, know what's expected of them at times like this. The true indicator of their graciousness was how they behaved when it mattered. McCain ran a truly repugnant campaign, straight out of the GWB campaign manual. That's what gives you the measure of these men.

btw, when Bush said to Obama "now go enjoy yourself", do you suspect he meant for that to be understood as "go f**k yourself"?

In a weird way, I could actually respect that more (or disrespect it less).

I definitely agree that it was good to see a majority of US voters rise above the ugly smear and scare tactics, put aside any prejudice, and vote on the basis of what they see as their rational self interest and the interests of their society. As I said in the post, Obama was campaigning in the real America while McCain was campaigning in the America of his imagination.

Interesting that the side accused of unAmericanism/anti-Americanism is the side with the highest regard for the American public, while the side that claims patriotism/pro-Americanism is the side that holds the public in thinly veiled contempt. Its a classic divide between the worldview of right and liberal/left.

You're point about Thatcher is a good one. This is why I stressed the importance of the symbollism of Obama's victory while holding back from saying that his specific policies would definitely help African-Americans (we'll have to see about that).

Thatcher didn't make a point of addressing gender inequality. She seemes to have seen such things as an irrelevance. But the sight of a woman in the role of Prime Minister probably eroded a bit of the sexism that existed in the minds of some.

My concern about the feelgood factor, which I freely admit to experiencing myself these past 2 days, is that it obscures what has been revealed or brought into sharp focus for so many people by the Bush administration. The crimes and disasters of the last 8 years were the result not just of the administration in place at the time but of the nature of US power, the system that produced the Bush Presidency. Bush woke a lot of people up to the reality of US power. What's important now is that people don't get the idea that these realities have gone away.

Obama's White House will need to be watched with clear, not dewey eyes. And campaigned hard against if necessary. The optimist in me wants to think that the guy remains a genuine progressive whose uglier policies and appointments have been pragmatic game-playing in the interests of bigger victories ahead. But if we want to avoid a moment like the end of Animal Farm we have to make sure that the pressures from the power structure are not the only ones Obama has to face. If he really does have serious progressive goals in mind then he'll need organised, mobilised public support to push that through in the teeth of establishment opposition. My hope is that he had precisely this in mind when he encouraged people to keep working for "change" after the election. But my point about the need for people not to go back to sleep would be true whether my optimistic sense of the man is misplaced or not.

Thursday, November 06, 2008 1:31:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

Samuel - I agree that those would be dismaying appointments. For someone who advocates change Obama surrounds himself with a lot of establishment people; people who played a big part in causing the problems he says he wants to deal with. Again, my point about the importance of continued public action applies. Obama isn't the solution but an opportunity.

Thursday, November 06, 2008 1:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are correct. I intend to provoke thought. That is certainly correct. I did enjoy your comment.

I think that provocative discussion is a good teaching technique - i.e. by debating theories and the facts that support the theories. What I see here, though, is that certain people are allergic to ideas and even sometimes facts, believing that asserting imperialism makes something true.

In fact, the anti-imperial theory is a proposition that has some merit. It just does not explain enough of about the world to be considered a remotely satisfactory interpretation of events.

In my view, the reason that the theory's advocates shut down (e.g. call views vile, without discussing them) as soon as facts that dispute a pet theory are brought forward is that such people do not care whether a theory is true. Instead, it is a smokescreen for a political agenda.

Thursday, November 06, 2008 4:28:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

There appears to be a little confusion here, so lets clarify.

There's no "anti-imperial theory" any more than there's an "anti-rape theory" or an "anti-murder theory".

Rather, there's an acknowledgement that it is intrinsically wrong for the government of country x to coerce the people of country y, through violence or intimidation, so as to enrich or empower the government and elites of country x.

Not, perhaps, something that should require spelling out.

So the statement, that anti-imperial theory ... does not explain enough of about the world to be considered a remotely satisfactory interpretation of events is a straw man erected not to address the issues but to evade them. Instead of dealing with the actual points made about the costs of imperialism, we are told that there are some other things that imperialism isn't responsible for, as though this is somehow relevant.

Consider a Russian commissar in the 1980s responsing to condemnation of Moscow's invasion of Afghanistan, and the bloodshed wrought by the Red Army, by saying "the anti-Soviet theory doesn't explain everything". Or one of Hirohito's minions responding to condemnations of the Rape of Nanking by saying that it was part of an attempt to "blame everything on Japan".

The last paragraph is not to explain the point, since explanation is not required, but to illustrate the moral depths in which imperialism's apologias reside.

Friday, November 07, 2008 8:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

Well, there is a group which thinks that the moving force that makes the world bad is imperialism - and, most particularly, American imperialism. Many - but, of course, not all - such people believe, for example, that helping the people in Darfur is unimportant because it might aid US imperialism. [See this article, by Professor Gary Leupp, a full professor of history at a major American university. ] The good professor seems to be what I would call an anti-imperialist.

He thinks, by the way, that imperialism is something quite different from what you think it is. He sees imperialism as systemic thing, not governmental intimidation of other countries for self benefit - although such can be a symptom. Addressing my point that imperialism is a policy, he has written: "No, I reply, it's a system with an internal logic." So, frankly, if a full professor of history sees things differently than you, I think I am on good grounds as well.

In any event, the issue is whether this system with an internal logic or, on my telling, imperial policy explains the dominance of the West over, for example, the Arab regions or whether, instead, such is only a very partial answer that overlooks the most important events and their causes.

Hence, people who write for publications such as The Nation tend to view events in, for example, the Arab regions from the prism of what the US does, with the Arabs not being their own actors. I think it is important to know what the US does. But, that is only one factor to consider. One needs to consider both actions and reactions by, for example, people in the Arab regions as well as actions and reactions by Western governments. Hence, on my view, the anti-imperial theory overlooks more than half of the story, merely positing that the Arab regions, for example, are reacting to what the West does.

Saturday, November 08, 2008 5:58:00 AM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

Imperialism grows out of socio-political and economic conditions and leads to certain policies (e.g. territorial conquest) being adopted by imperial states. No contradiction there. Just different aspects of the same story.

Similarly with your second point. There's no contradiction between acknowledging the effect of Western policies in other parts of the world and also noting the various ways in which the peoples of those parts of the world choose to adapt to those effects within the context of their own history and culture.

So take suicide terrorism. As this study by Robert Pape showed, suicide terrorism comes as a response to imperialism/subjugation, perceived or otherwise. It has been deployed by groups who have augmented their anti-imperialism with different religious/ideological rhetoric, which has to do with the socio-historic conditions in which their struggle occurs.

The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka adopted Marxism/Leninism since, at the time their struggle began, this was one of the more popular ideologies for Third World liberation movements. Fatah also adopted a socialist/secular nationalist ideology for similar reasons, as did (and do) various armed groups in Latin America.

After the Iranian revolution, Islam gained credibility and prominence as a source of ideology that some people in the Middle East then chose to take from their history and use to articulate their opposition to foreign domination. In addition to adopting Islam as a tool of articulation, some adopted terrorism as a physical tactic. Though the post-Shah Iranian regime was Shia, the baton was picked up by the Sunni Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, alQaeda (who hate Tehran) and the Taleban, as well as by the Shia Hezbollah and the Iraqi Sadrists.

A proper analysis of terrorism, like Pape's, will pick up on both the root causes and the various means and ideologies that each terrorist group chooses to articulate their beliefs.

Speaking more generally about political Islam, the suggestion that to acknowledge the effect of Western imperialism on the emergence of political Islam is to deny agency to the Islamists is really quite bizarre. Its plain that political Islam (be it peaceful or violent) is an example of people affirming their own agency against the impositions of external forces by drawing upon (correctly or otherwise) their own particular history and culture to assert their independence.

Indeed the "agency" argument is another straw man, erected to avoid holding the West responsible for what its responsible for. What's ironic is this. The accusation that "by blaming the West you're denying the Arabs agency" is often made by the same people who support or make apologias for Western denial of the Arab people's right to self determination. Hence supporters of imperialism can imagine themselves as liberators and bringers of freedom. Wonderful, isn't it? Such arguments are interesting at that level at least.

Not that I'm accusing you of this necessarily. Just that its something you should watch out for when coming across such arguments, before you're tempted to repeat them.

Saturday, November 08, 2008 8:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

You write: "So take suicide terrorism. As this study by Robert Pape showed, suicide terrorism comes as a response to imperialism/subjugation, perceived or otherwise. It has been deployed by groups who have augmented their anti-imperialism with different religious/ideological rhetoric, which has to do with the socio-historic conditions in which their struggle occurs."

I think Pape's evidence does not show what you claim. Moreover, I think his research is methodologically flawed, however interesting it may be.

Take Fatah, which, according to you "Fatah also adopted a socialist/secular nationalist ideology..." Not so. Fatah's origins were within the Muslim Brotherhood. Arafat, you may recall, was a member. "Fatah" was adopted as a name because the word has religious significance, referring to entering and colonizing a land as a result of Jihad. There were internal disputes in the Brotherhood regarding methodology and, presumably, the need to cast as wide a net as possible to advance the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood, of course, was a direct consequence - according to its founders - to Attaturk's decision to eliminate the institution of the caliphate, hence breaking the mythological line of leaders beginning with the Muslim Prophet.

I note this because the issue which concerned Fatah's founders was not really limited to a nationalist cause surrounding Israel. Their cause was to reinstate an imperial realm, with Israel standing on only part of that realm.

Subsequently, the focus and ideology of Fatah became more secular. Later, though, it reverted to being more religious in outlook, most especially after the onset of the Oslo agreement back in the 1990's.

Islam's credibility and prominence was never at issue in Muslim lands. So, your mythology regarding the impact of Iran is wrong.

Recall, Mr. Wearing, that until the beginning of the 20th Century, Muslim lands were under at least the theoretical control of Muslim leaders. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, there was still a substantial military force, one able to pack quite a bunch, as the British learned the hard way during WWI. In any event, the inhabitants of these lands did not simply become secular in mindset when the Ottoman Empire and the Qajar Dynasty fell. Many elites, particularly those educated in the West, did become secular. But, secular rule has proved very difficult because the people were still mostly devout, believing the religion is not only an important thing in life but, in fact, the central thing in life.

So, what we have seen recently is not so much a reaction to the West, but instead a revival movement directed primarily within, designed to restore Islam to its rightful place - i.e. as the dominating force in society - as seen by many devout Muslims.

And, the reason that Muslim lands were conquered - and note, not all were -, was that the scientific way of thinking did not take hold in Muslim lands so that they were not able to continue their imperial ways. And note: until the latter half of the 17th Century, Muslim empires were expanding, with the Ottoman Empire expanding into Europe and Europeans reacting to the invasions. Recall that the Ottoman Empire controlled much of Southern Europe and up to part of Poland.

So, the "its a reaction to us" theory does not explain much of what is going on.

Saturday, November 08, 2008 5:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

I did not fully set forth my objection to Professor Pape's argument, which is directed at understanding the suicide terrorism phenomena.

He thinks, according to his writings, that the religion aspect is not central and that nationalism is. The problem here, though, is that he does not have an adequate explanation the distinguishes nationalist from trans-nationalist movements. And, frankly, one cannot begin to examine the Middle East without examining that issue, both its history - which is undeniable - and its practical impact on the region.

In the case of the Arab Israeli dispute, it is absolutely critical to examine this point closely. I might recommend a book to you by an Israeli scholar - a man of the left and, evidently, colleague of leftist Neve Gordon. The book is Army of Shadows, by Hillel Cohen. That book is about Arabs who collaborated with Jews from the 1920's up through the 1948 war. Cohen, who speaks of the nationalist movement - i.e. the movement led by followers of Amin al-Husseini - shows rather clearly and reluctantly concludes that the problem for the Palestine Arabs was their inability to unify around the goal of having a nation in Palestine. Even the national leadership - i.e. al-Husseini and his clique - were not wholly dedicated to establishing a state of Palestine versus a pan-Arab state and even versus a pan-Islamic state. And, even those combined views did not sufficiently large segment of public opinion, given the widespread support, as it turned out, for reaching a live and let live arrangement between Zionism and Arab interests. I should add that the latter group, while it was not anywhere near a majority, was the view of a very substantial portion of political leaders - especially among elites - among Arabs. Most of these leaders, perhaps you know, were eventually slaughtered by terror gangs organized by al-Husseini.

The national/transnational issue remains to this day, with groups such as Hamas opposing the notion of a Palestinian state. See their covenant which supports a pan-Islamic state, with Palestine as Waqf (i.e. religiously controlled land trust). It was, in fact, the religious groups which resorted to terror and, contrary to what Pape seems to think, in order to preclude any settlement of the dispute on nationalist terms. Which is to say, their interest was not to use terror to liberate Palestine but, instead, to prevent such result.

Fatah, of course, also resorted to the techniques used by Hamas. Their goals may, for a while, have been limited but they were not necessarily what Pape claims.

Saturday, November 08, 2008 7:18:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

the reason that Muslim lands were conquered...was that the scientific way of thinking did not take hold in Muslim lands so that they were not able to continue their imperial ways.

With respect, there's something rather lazy about language like this. You may be better off taking a deep breath before making these sorts of statements. Actually there's a wider point to make here about the worldview you've been offering and how you've presented it.

Lets take the statement above. To say that the West overcame and overtook previous powers, like the Ottoman empire, in part due to being more technologically advanced is of course an entirely factual statement. But to say that "the scientific way of thinking did not take hold in Muslim lands" however, is something else entirely. I hope you can see that. You need to think a bit harder about what you're saying here, and whether this is really what you want to be understood to be saying.

Perhaps you meant to express yourself better. But if you seriously think this statement is factually true then that's going to cause you even bigger problems. Like your statement about British efforts to "revive learning" in India, it exposes you to ridicule the moment you express these views to someone who knows anything of the actual history.

Worse, when coupled with your repeated portrayals of the Arab and Middle Eastern world as a hovel of religious backwardness, it builds a picture of yours as a rather sinister, uninformed and - frankly - racist view of the world. Portraying the Eastern world this way may have been acceptable in the late 19th century West, but this is 2008, and only the hard-right say these sort of things nowadays.

I don't know you personally but I dare say you're a decent enough individual. However, there are many people who will take a far less generous view when they see you dismissing whole cultures with sweeping and ill-informed statements like these. I'm afraid to say that many will just think you a bigot, and I'm sure you don't want that.

Remember that many people with a family background from the East will know their own history very well. Plus many Westerners have taken a great (and sympathetic) interest in the cultures of India and the Middle East and know the history intimately. If you want to engage in debate with such people you'll need to be able to make your arguments in a more credible fashion. Lazy generalisations, essentialision of complex cultures, statements that blithely fly in the face of the factual record are bound, obviously, to undermine any more serious statements that you make, at least for people who know the factual record.

Of course, where you then get into real trouble is when you express a sympathetic view of the idea of a Western military applying "disproportionate power [causing] immense damage and destruction" to civilian areas in the Middle East. People are bound to link your low view of the Arab world with your sympathy for indiscriminate violence against Arab civilians. Then we really are in dark territory. Somewhere I'm sure you don't want to be.

Its a judgement for you to make of course, but my own advice would be to take just a little more care.

Anyway, to pick up on a couple of other things.

You say "I think Pape's evidence does not show what you claim."

This is very strange indeed, but that's up to you of course. The link to the article is there, so others can judge for themselves.

Islam's credibility and prominence was never at issue in Muslim lands. So, your mythology regarding the impact of Iran is wrong.

I did not say that Islam didn't have any credibility with Muslims. What I said was that post-79 Islam gained credibility in a specific new political role, i.e.: "as a source of ideology .. use[d] to articulate ...opposition to foreign domination". That would be the well known phenomenon of political Islam, personified by those parties/groups I mentioned earlier.

After all, I'm sure you don't intend to argue against history itself, and the fact that in the 20th century pre79, secular-socialist nationalism was the most prominent ideology of Arab/Middle Eastern independence.

To do so you would have to ignore Nasser, Fatah, and the Syrian and Iraqi Ba'ath parties. Going back earlier, you would have to ignore Attaturk. But oversimplified and essentialist pictures of the Arab world always do require us to ignore history.

Hence the thinness of your case with Fatah. One does not have to argue that Fatah is hermetically sealed from any and all Muslims and aspects of Islamic culture to acknowledge the fact that its essential character is secular.

Saturday, November 08, 2008 7:21:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

ok, I've just seen your latest post, obviously written while I was writing mine. A quick response

Pape is looking at suicide terrorism, so your example is outside his data set. Obviously to refute his findings you need to offer an alternative interpretation of the data he used, not find another piece of data and interpret that instead.

Whether Palestinians wanted/want a Palestinian state as opposed to an Arab state is not the issue. What is wanted is self-determination. What is rejected is domination by external forces. The practical form that self-determination takes (a Palestinian state, pan-Arabism, or something else) is secondary.

Saturday, November 08, 2008 7:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

Addressing your first of two consecutive comments, consider that I am actually very familiar with the history of the various Muslim lands - with a Ph.D's worth of knowledge in the field. Otherwise, I would not offer my points.

1. The issue of scientific learning met substantial resistance and simply did not find a substantial audience during Ottoman times - and most especially until the 18th Century - and the authorities did nothing much to change that situation - a situation preferred by the elites, religious authorities and, to the extent that the views of average people can be discerned, of the masses. That is a fact that is shown by the lack of discoveries and even research efforts and by the modicum of interest shown in studying science and by internal records founded in the Ottoman government's collection of documents. I suggest you read Professor Lewis' book above mentioned, as he shows that the point I made is certainly the case.

Consider that the printing press was banned for Muslims in Ottoman lands until the 18th Century and in Arab lands until the 19th Century. Imagine a scientific mindset without that basic ingredient.

As for expressing myself, I chose the words I intended when I wrote that Muslim lands did not show much interest in the scientific method during Ottoman times. That is a fact that is beyond any serious question.

And, frankly, that lack of interest retarded progress in Muslim lands far more than did European armies.

I have not argued that Muslim lands are hovels of religious backwardness. I have not argued that because I think that Islam is, by and large, an enlightened religion. It was, until Christianity was pushed out of the public square, a substantial advance over Christianity in many, albeit not all, ways.

What I, instead, argued is that Muslim lands have shown different interests than have European Christian lands. And, I would argue that the different interests shown have resulted in retarded scientific and social development. Why that is the case is a matter I have not addressed although I do think that political accident has much to do with it.

2. I did not, by the way, express sympathy for disproportionate force. You misread what I wrote. What I said is that disproportionate force is the norm of the world so that singling out the Israelis when, in fact, their reactions are comparatively mild is a bigoted interpretation of events.

Consider, India and Pakistan have killed hundreds of thousands of people over the Kashmir dispute. India's reaction to the attack in December 2002 was to threaten nuclear war and, in fact, India was really prepared to fire its nuclear weapons into Pakistan until the US intervened. Suffice it to say, Israel is not threatening Lebanon with nuclear annihilation due to its failure to rein in Hezbollah.

3. You write: What I said was that post-79 Islam gained credibility in a specific new political role, i.e.: "as a source of ideology .. use[d] to articulate ...opposition to foreign domination". That would be the well known phenomenon of political Islam, personified by those parties/groups I mentioned earlier.

Well, five minutes worth of reading of first hand sources of classical Islamic theology and law would remind you that classical Islamic theology and law define Islam so as to encompass the political - in fact, classical Islamic law and theology do not distinguish the political from the religious - as in they are one and the same thing -. To be more precise, Islam is a "din" which translates, roughly, as "way of life." Which is to say, the classical Islamic conception of religion is just very different from what your comment suggests you understand religion to be.

The word "din" is also a word known to Jews, referring to the law as a way of life. And, it is in that sense that classical Islam defines itself as a din, meaning that classical Islamic theology perceives Islam as regulating all aspects of life, from procreation to commerce to politics to social relations. And, the means for regulating all of this is law and politics.

Now, consider, classical Islamic theology and law hold that only Muslim rule is potentially legitimate or just. Christian, Jewish or secular rule is, by definition, inherently unjust and something, for that reason, to be fought. So, naturally, where Muslim lands adopt non-Muslim notions of governance, that leads to those of a religious bent who are familiar with the classical tradition - and mark the words just preceding so that it is clear that I do not mean all Muslims but, rather, those who consider religion first and foremost in their conception of right and wrong - to object vehemently and violently. So, naturally, observing a successful revolt which restores Islamic rule under Islamic law had consequence for the Muslim regions. Such fed interest, for sure, in the Islamic revival movement.

Note, however, what the Islamic revival movement seeks. It is not, as you would have it, throwing out strangers. It is, rather, restoring Islamic rule and law, so that it is possible to live in accordance with what is just.

By contrast, your analysis makes this all sound secular and modern when, in fact, we are dealing with forces seeking to install an anachronistic form of governance.

4. You argue that secular socialist ideology was the predominant ideology at one point. If, of course, you include Baathism, you would have to say that fascism was also among the dominant ideologies, perhaps the most dominant ideology. I have not disputed that.

What I argue is that secularist ideologies such as those imported from Europe - i.e. those noted above - were the views of a small elite group. The vast majority held very different views, which is part of why the secular views have failed so miserably everywhere. If nothing else, the invasion of Iraq shows that rather clearly. Once the veneer of a secular fascist/Baathist government was removed, the voice of the people, which was overwhelmingly religious, came to the front. Such, after all, represents the views of the average person, who sees religion as the focus of life.

Again addressing Fatah, it also has the veneer of a secular group. But, as I noted, its history began as part of the Muslim Brotherhood. That is a fact just as much as Arafat was part of the Muslim Brotherhood. You would portray it as if such facts were unimportant.

Attaturk, in my view, is one of the truly great men of all of history. He was, wrapped into one man, George Washington, Stalin and Jefferson. His accomplishments, apart from his unfortunate involvement in massacring Armenians, is nothing short of revolutionary and progressive.

5. No. I do not ignore Attaturk. I noted that the Muslim Brotherhood was a direct reaction to him. As was Fatah, since it was an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

You would have Fatah as secular, when it has official clerics who use their pulpits to poison efforts of reconciliation. Such men do the bidding of the Fatah party. And, such men say the very same things as do the Hamas clerics. So, I find it difficult to view Fatah as a wholly secular force. I think it has a secular veneer but it also has deep religious roots, just as the word "Fatah" suggests.

And note: Fatah is not a term of minor significance. It is a word associated with Islam's great military victories. The literal translation is as a religious "opening" and it is always understood as the counterpart to Jihad - which is how classical Islam understands its Jihad wars, as means of opening up new lands to the ways of Islam.

Sunday, November 09, 2008 4:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

First, I have read Pape in detail. The problem with his research is that it assumes that those it studies have nationalist ends. Which is to say, he defines those he studies as having nationalistic ends when, in fact, that is not the case in all instances. That is not, for example, the case, as the Hamas example shows.

On his data, such people want a nation. On other data directed to studying the groups ideology, they do not seek a national state. They want Islamic governance and to spread that governance throughout the world.

Further, the issue for Arabs was not, before Israel's founding, self-determination for Arabs in Palestine. Such was offered by Jews (and by the British) back in the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's. It was rejected by supposed Palestinian Arab nationalists, who wanted, far more than a nation, a land without Jews and not even independence. Moreover, the nationalists among Palestine Arabs generally allied themselves with the Nazis and a great many adopted propaganda from the Nazis - which combined Nazi ideology with Islamic anti-Jewish themes - and the leader of the Palestine Arabs actually was a Nazi (i.e. he considered himself to be a Nazi) and a cheerleader for massacring Jews, not just those interested in founding a homeland in Palestine but everywhere, as the records maintained by the German government clearly show. In this regard, you might consult the painstaking research by Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin C├╝ppers. Al-Husseini bragged that he would sleep well at night knowing that five million Jews had already died.

He was not alone in wanting Jews dead without regard to whether they were a threat to Arabs in Palestine. Such, not so uncoincidentally, was also the view of the Muslim Brotherhood, another group which adopted, early on, Nazi themes, blaming Jews for destroying the Caliphate, thus justifying the massacre of Jews throughout the world. On their propaganda, Attaturk was either a Jews or allied with Jews hence, Jews had acted to destroy Islam, thus justifying their destruction. You will note that similar themes appear in the Hamas Covenant, where killing Jews off - and not just in Palestine - is designated as a political program, one that is said by the Hamas Covenant to be an aim of Islam. And, that Covenant also adopts the Protocols of the Elders of Zion theology that Jews are behind all wars since the time of the French Revolution.

In the case of Islamic anti-Jews themes used by Hamas, the Hamas Covenant has actually transposed a Hadith regarding the arrival of the Mahdi leading the annihilation of Jews into an immediate political program for Muslims to kill Jews everywhere. So far as I know, such transposition was the work of actual German Nazis associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, who sought to make the Nazi genocidal program against Jews also into an Islamic imperative.

Sunday, November 09, 2008 5:25:00 AM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

I am actually very familiar with the history of the various Muslim lands - with a Ph.D's worth of knowledge in the field.

I guess we'll have to take your word for that, anonymous poster. If true, it sheds an even worse light on your willingness to make sweeping, derogatory and innacurate generalisations about whole cultures, since you could not even plead ignorance.

Otherwise, I would not offer my points.

You've seemed more than willing to offer your views on other subjects, e.g. economics. Perhaps you have a PhD in that as well. Although this would render even more bizarre your claim that the US has not adopted neoliberalism over the past 3 decades (the equivalent of saying that Sweden does not use the Nordic model).

Well, whatever. Lets review some of your statements here.

As I noted earlier, if you had said that the West overcame and overtook previous powers, like the Ottoman empire, in part due to being more technologically advanced, that would of course have been an entirely factual statement. But you said something quite different.

You said "the scientific way of thinking did not take hold in Muslim lands".

Really? All of them? West Africa? Persia? Indonesia? And when? The 700s? The 1700s? The whole time? You want to say that "scientific thinking did not take hold" amongst all these millions of people across all those hundreds of years?

This is the problem with sweeping generalisations. Its why scholars tend to avoid them, not that I needed to tell you that, of course.

It appears not to concern you, but coming this close to saying that the people of the Orient are ill disposed to scientific thinking is dictionary definition bigotry, as well as implying a stunning ignorance of the factual record.

If you can live with that then ok. If not, I would simply repeat my advice to choose your words with greater care, since this is not something anyone can overcome simply by saying they have a PhD.

I did not, by the way, express sympathy for disproportionate force.

We'll have to agree to disagree on this. Others can judge for themselves.

On political Islam, its strange that you're now arguing that religion and politics overlapped in the Middle East historically. What's the relevance of this? No one says they didn't. The point was to note the fact that political opposition to Western invovelemt in the region has been expressed through different ideological mediums over the years. Secular creeds were more prominent pre79, then political Islam began to grow in relative force. Nothing to argue about there.

But if you want to boil as much down to Islam as possible, and shove your interpretation of Fatah, for example, through that crude mold, then I guess you can if you like.

re your point 5, you clearly didn't read what I said there's no need for a response.

On Pape, despite your PhD, I find his analysis the more persuasive. Others can judge for themselves.

And on your pet topic of the Palestinians as the reincarnation of the Nazis, I'm afraid I'll have to leave you to have that argument on your own. Sorry.

Sunday, November 09, 2008 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

I said in general. Your views, note, are also rather sweeping, as is a necessity when writing a comment on a website, rather than writing a book. So, stop the BS. You are as guilty of generalizing as I am.

Now - since you think it is me who is guilty of being essentialist -, show me where the scientific way of thinking took hold, pre-20th Century, for a substantial part of the population in the Ottoman Empire, which was the region I mentioned. I would love to learn from your substantial knowledge. Show me the great innovations during the period after the scientific revolution began. Show me the schools of science in the Ottoman Empire. Show me the engineering schools that employed the new methods of science discovered in Europe. Show me how this could occur without the printing press. You can't show me that because it did not occur.

On the rest of what you have written, it is you who are refusing dialogue. That there is a substantial Nazi connection between the Palestinian nationalist movement and the Nazis is rather well established. The Grand Mufti, who was the acknowledged leader of Palestinian Arabs was an avowed Nazi. Many Palestinian Arabs were. Many other Arabs were as well. That you prefer to ignore these facts is another matter. It suggest a person who willingly wears blinders. That is your choice but it is a dishonest one - not towards me but towards yourself.

Sunday, November 09, 2008 7:47:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

show me where the scientific way of thinking took hold, pre-20th Century, for a substantial part of the population in the Ottoman Empire, which was the region I mentioned.

No, in your post of 5:05 above, you did not specify the Ottoman Empire only. You referred to "Muslim lands" conquered by the West. This catagory includes West and North Africa, India and Indonesia, amongst other places. As of course you know. From your PhD studies. On "the history of various Muslim lands".

I don't mean to be difficult, but when you're not able to defend a statement, you don't get to go back over it, change it, and argue the new statement instead. It doesn't work like that.

Anyway, here's a good accessible account by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of how the "scientfic way of thinking took hold", to use your phrase, under the Ottomans. Amazing but true that an empire spanning several hundred years and the lives of several millions of people - from Algeria to the Caspian, from Vienna to Somalia - did, indeed, have science. Who'd have thought it?

On Palestinians/Nazis, I fear that conversation would be conducted at a similar level to the above, so I'll have to decline I'm afraid.

Sunday, November 09, 2008 9:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

I would invite anyone here to read the article you mention about Ottoman science which, according to the article, consisted largely of translations of earlier "science" - i.e. philosophy - and translations of European science. There was, as shown by that article, very little in the way of science.

Stop BSing, Mr. Wearing. Anyone who reads the article in its entirety will see I am correct. It, in fact, supports my thesis.

As for Palestinian Arabs, the facts are not disputable that the leader of the Palestine Arabs was, according to his own account, a Nazi.

Sunday, November 09, 2008 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

Anyone who reads the article in its entirety will see I am correct. It, in fact, supports my thesis

Yes, ok anonymous poster. If you say so.

Monday, November 10, 2008 6:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

If, by science, you meant only knowledge, then your point would have been well taken. I would never say that interest in knowledge about the world was absent from the Ottoman Empire. I referred to the scientific method, which certainly did not take hold in the Ottoman Empire, as the article you attached shows clearly.

Monday, November 10, 2008 2:30:00 PM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

To be honest, I'm rapidly losing interest in this bizarre conversation. Best if we leave it there.

Monday, November 10, 2008 2:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wearing,

As you would prefer, but consider that there is a big difference between acquiring knowledge and acquiring it by the scientific method. Your article focuses on all acquisition of knowledge. An important reason, however, why the Muslim regions fell behind is that there was insufficient interest in the scientific method. Your article confirms my specific point.

Monday, November 10, 2008 3:06:00 PM  
Anonymous JamieSW said...

i feel ill.

Friday, November 14, 2008 5:09:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

I'm an American who discovered your blog by chance some time ago. Enjoy your reflections on the U.S. election, and am waiting to hear your post-election, post euphoric observations of what President-Elect Obama has been up to--please don't get put off by anonymous ranters. I'd like to read what you're thinking from your side of the Atlantic.

David S.--Minnesota, USA

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 2:04:00 AM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

Thanks, David. Very busy at the moment but I do intend to post something on Obama soon

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 11:15:00 AM  

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