Thursday, April 17, 2003

I have decided to make a strategic decision and stop dignifying the anti-war naysayers with comment....after this last one. I will use the words of established big "L" Liberals to do my talking for me. To read these words, I point you to Andrew Sullivan, who wrote this excellent column on those on the Left who supported the war against Saddam. I was most struck by his summary of a book called "Terror and Liberalism" written by Paul Berman, a leftist intellectual:

"Berman's most important contribution is to uncover the real roots of today's political ideologies in the Middle East, from Saddam's corrupted form of national socialism to the Islamist revolutionaries waging war against the West and their own autocracies. He notices less a class of civilizations, than yet another instance of Western nihilism and totalitarianism popping up in cultures that had never known it before. There is nothing in Arab culture or history that should lead political or religious leaders to embrace totalitarian terror, as in Saddam's Iraq, or fundamentalist suicide bombing and mass murder, as among al Qaeda, the Taliban or Islamo-fascist Iran. This fusion of totalitarian politics and the methods of terror were imports from the West, Berman shows, from the nihilists of the late nineteenth century, and the fascists and Stalinists of the twentieth. Who is Saddam, after all, but another Mussolini or Hitler, reborn in Islamic guise? Look at the personality cult, the secret police, the mass murders, the purges, the vast and inhuman wars, the scapegoating of the Jews, the vicious genocide against the Kurds (whose only crime was not to be Arabs). This kind of regime was invented not in Mesopotamia but in Europe. Likewise, the roots of Islamism - in the early years of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood - are also directly linked to the fascist movements in twentieth century Europe. A man like bin Laden is a classic Western figure, educated in the West, with a vast fortune built on Western oil trade, and methods that have far more to do with Stalin than with Islamic tradition.

What Berman is essentially arguing is that the notion that Arab or Muslim societies and cultures are somehow indigenously incapable of liberal democracy, that they should be consigned indefinitely to rule by fascist tyrants is a form of racist condescension that has no place in civilized discourse, let alone on the left. Iraq is no less capable of becoming an open free society than Germany or Japan in 1945, or even post-Soviet Russia in the 1980s. And what did the defeat of each of those tyrannies have in common? British resilience and American military might. The scenario we are seeing unfold today, in other words, is a starkly familiar one. And who on the left now objects to the liberation of Germany, Japan, Eastern Europe and Russia from the totalitarian darkness that covered each for so long?

When Berman looks at the 1980s and 1990s, when Arab fascism grew in power, took over whole cultures, killed millions in wars, and threatened many more with terrorist violence, he wonders what went wrong in the West. why did we not see the danger? Why did we look away? Was it because exhausted from defeating Soviet totalitarianism, beguiled by the notino that history had ended, we couldn't bring ourselves to face a new and perhaps even more dangerous threat?

For Europeans, that question still reverberates. For Americans, 9/11 answered the question. 'What have we needed for these terrorists to prosper?' Berman asks. 'We have needed immense failures of political courage and imagination within the Muslim world. We have needed an almost wilful lack of curiosity about those failures by people in other parts of the world - the lack of curiosity that allowed us to suppose that totalitarianism had been defeated, even when totalitarianism was reaching a new zenith ... We have needed a political left that, in its anti-imperailist fervors, has lost the ability to stand up to fascism - and has sometimes gone a little further down the slippery slope. We have needed a cynical application of 'realist' or Nixonian doctrines over the decades - the doctrines that governed the Gulf War of 1991, the doctrines that even now lead to friendly ties with the most reactionary of feudal systems. We have needed an inability to cling to our own liberal and democratic principles, an inabilty even to articulate those principles.'

I quote at length to show the passion and power of those words. One of Tony Blair's greatest achievements, which the British left has still not appreciated, has been to find the courage to articulate those liberal principles again. One of those principles is that the Islamist movement in the Arab and Muslim world is a real threat to the free West, to our freedoms, our way of life, even our survival. It is also a real threat to the security, freedom and happiness of all Muslims and Arabs. Good liberals, as they did in the 1930s, should not shy away from confronting this new fascism. In fact, given their political legacy, they should feel doubly responsible for confronting it. Liberalism cannot co-exist with terror or totalitarianism. One must vanquish the other. And when you look at what we are learning about Saddam's Iraq - its horrifying brutality, its deep alliance with terrorism, its genocidal core, its fanatical anti-Semitism, its contempt for human freedom and human life - you see what, at the deepest level, this war has been about.

We can only hope that this anti-Islamist liberalism will grow and prosper in Britain and America and even, perhaps, in continental Europe. We need it now more than ever. In the war on terror, Iraq is but a first stop, but a critical one. If we can rebuild Iraqi society on liberal grounds, create a fairer, more democratic culture, rescue Islam from its abusers, and show that the liberal West is prepared to sacrifice and invest to make Iraq a new model for that part of the world, then we will have made a critical start toward a new world. That isn't a task tailor-made for conservatives, although they have a critical role. It also requires an idealism and an optimism that is more naturally at home on the liberal left. Will most Western liberals see this as Berman has and move away from their reactionary anti-Americanism toward the true liberal faith? We cannot know. We cannot tell. But we can surely hope."

Finally, this column by Jeffrey Scott Shapiro provides a nice epilogue to it all.

'Nuff said.

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