Thursday 28 August 2014

Middle East notes

Ed Husain is a Muslim academic who speaks out. ISIS and salafism, he says, is sponsored by Saudi extremists. The king is a modernizer, but has not been able to control Salafism.
Saudi Arabia created the monster that is Salafi terrorism. It cannot now outsource the slaying of this beast to the UN. (Last week it donated 400 million  to the UN to fund a counterterrorism agency.) “Saudi-exported Extremism,” Intl Herald Tribune, Monday, 25 Aug 2014, p. 7.

Thomas L. Friedman (“Order vs disorder, part 3”, IHT, 25 Aug 2014, p. 7) makes implicit use of what Lonergan calls ‘common meaning’ as constitutive of community. Friedman proposes that the world today can be divided into three kinds of spaces:
1.     Sustainable order, based on consensual politics, shared values, etc. [see common meaning]
2.     Imposed order: top-down leadership, or propped up by oil money, without real shared meaning.
3.     Regions of disorder.
Obviously, Salafism and ISIS are rushing in to fill the vacuums in the regions of disorder.
But the connected problem is that even those areas with sustainable order are weak in their consensus: the EU; China maverick; the US unable to agree on fundamentals; [Russia eating bits of Ukraine after having swallowed up Crimea].

Ross Douthat (“ISIS in the 21st century,” IHT, Aug 25, 2014, p. 7) takes a more philosophical view of Salafism and the ISIS, saying that they do not have the backbones to really last, and that they will peter out eventually, as did Nazism, Fascism, and Communism.
However, he is helpful when he provides one explanation for so many youth, including European youth, joining the ISIS. He points out that the challengers of the West, including ISIS, exploit persistent features of human nature – “not only the lust for violence and the will to power, but also a yearning for a transcendent cause that liberal societies can have trouble satisfying.” [Recall an Avvenire article from the early 1990s: when everything is so liberal, the only way for youth to define themselves is by transgressing the few remaining boundaries – at that time, the phenomenon of neo-Nazism, skinheads, etc.]
He quotes The Week’s Michael Brendan Dougherty, who argues, discussing Europeans who have joined ISIS: liberalism’s ‘all-too-human order’ which privileges the sober, industrious and slightly bring – is simply not for everyone.
Douthat comments: “The ideals of democracy and human rights are ascendant in our age, but their advance still depends on agency, strategy, and self-sacrifice”.

Roger Cohen (“The making of a disaster”, IHT, 27 Aug 2014, p. 7) supports Douthat. He quotes Ghaffar Hussain, the managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, a British research group that seeks to tackle religious extremism: ‘One minute you are trying to pay your bills, the next you’re running around Syria with a machine gun.’ Also, says Hussain, many British Muslims are confused about their identity. ISIS provides them with a simplistic narrative of good vs evil, give them camaraderie and certainty, makes them feel part of a grand struggle.

“ISIS grew through American weakness – the setting of objectives and red lines in Syria that proved vacuous. But the deepest American and Western defeat has been ideological. As Hussain said, ‘If you don’t have a concerted strategy to undermine their narrative, their values, their worldview, you are not going to succeed. Everyone in society has to take on the challenge.’

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