Friday, January 16, 2015

Western values and the world

The shootings at Charlie Hebdo and at the kosher market in Paris, it seems to me, are not really helping France and the west as a whole to focus on the problem we face.  We are suffering from an excess of over-confidence, a failure to understand the place of western civilization in world history, past, present, and future.  Indeed, the whole West is suffering from the Hegelian disease they I have blogged about several times here.   Too many of us insist on believing that our values are so transparently correct that the world has a duty to obey them.  This is however a misreading both of the past and of the present.  A large and increasing part of the world does not share those values--and we have no means of imposing them upon them.

Let us look at two particular problems:  the killings in Paris, and the rampages in the interior of Nigeria by Boko Haram, now reported to have killed thousands of people.  Regarding the situation in Paris, we can say that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Muslims around the world now believe in theocracy and reject western notions of tolerance.  Such people are now actively holding power in parts of Syria and Iraq, and are contesting for power in many other places within the Muslim world, including nuclear-armed Pakistan.  Indeed there is no real evidence that the Saudi government, one of our leading allies in the Muslim world, shares our values, but they do keep order within their own territory.  And they have inspired some thousands of Muslims in the west--French, Belgian, Britain, and even American.  A few thousand of these people have gone to Syria and Iraq and Yemen to fight, and some have returned to their home countries  They are a serious security threat.  I honestly believe that some consideration should be given to laws decreeing that citizens of these nations, including our own, who go abroad to participate in Jihad forfeit their citizenship and their right to return.  But with or without such laws, we probably have to accept the loss of some dozens of lives in the west every year from Islamic terrorism.  Britain lost 47, 36 and 14 people to IRA terrorism in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, respectively. It takes very few committed terrorists to kill some people, particularly if they do not care about their own fate.  We have tried the alternative of imposing our values on Muslim nations with armed force, and it does not work.  Air power has halted the ISIS advance in Iraq, but it has not won back any territory.   I am afraid that more attacks in the west will provoke calls for more drastic action, which will only make things worse.

In the case of Charlie Hebdo,  militant Islam came across another late twentieth-century belief: the idea that offending traditional values is, in and of itself, a good thing.  Do not misunderstand me: I believe in the right to free speech as much as anyone.  Rights, however, do not exist to be abused, or to incite hatred.  The cartoonists had the right to do what they did, but that does not make it noble or wise.   It is no accident that some of them were veterans of the struggles of 1968 in Paris: that was the moment at which the mockery of the older generation's values became not merely a right, but a sacred duty.   We would not suffer if we gave up that particular legacy.

As for Boko Haram, it is, I feel sure, the first of a series of political crises in Africa.  The reason is simple: it is now more than half a century since most of the African nations won their independence.  That means that their initial post-colonial arrangements are dying off, along with the people who remember them, and that their future is up for grabs.  Already some elements of the western media are complaining that we are paying less attention to several thousand deaths in Nigeria than to a relative handful in Paris.  But Paris belongs to our civilizatin in a way that Nigeria does not, and in any case, what can we possibly do?  Dispatching western troops to restore order is called imperialism.  The West tried this 150 years ago or more, but gave it up in the 1960s.  The African populations are now much, much larger than they were then, and the task of imposing order is way beyond any coalition of western nations.  The Africans are in charge of their own destiny, and they will have to work things out.

Back in Western Europe and the US, it seems to me, the only way to reduce the appeal to Jihad--which is not large, but large enough to kill dozens of people a year--is to renew the meaning of citizenship at home by enlisting the young people of the nation in some common enterprise.  I do not see that happening in any major western nation.  The Boom generation and its somewhat younger European counterparts have been taking their inheritance for granted for too long.  Their leadership needs to do something about unemployment and economic inequality at home, too, to secure the active allegiance of the population.  We did not get where we are by accident, and there is no automatic mechanism to keep us here.


13 comments:

Assurance-First-Assurance said...

Good Morning:

Another vitally thought-provoking post. I will be mulling it over most of the week.

Your last paragraph was critically interesting. I also see no improvement in our political and therefore our economic situation meaning exactly that as the prosperity gap continues to widen the newer members of our society will continue to see only hypocrisy in our much vaunted words.

Thanks

Jim

ed boyle said...

The events are certainly not limited to islam. Authority has through insensitivity created backlash in the US as well. Directionless young men will seek heroism to give deeper meaning to life. If the leaders are clueless people will take things into their own hands. 2015 should see voters in Europe destroying the current consensus view. The leadership of the West is in decline, economically, politically, morally. The genie is out of the bottle. Enlightenment values say we are all equal. As europe colonized, vanquished the world, it enslaved it. I read of 10million dead alone in belgian congo over 30 years colonial rule. The french in indochina, usa afterwards, british colonies all against homeland ideals. Now we could see payback. Imagine europe and america in severe decline colonized. We feared japanese colonization in 80s and nowadays from china. USA, europe are over time through immigration
becoming less european. Perhaps european genotype will become a curiosity.

USA wars in partnership with gulf wahhabist petrodollar recycling to maintain reserve cuurency status and quasi imperial staus is more directly to blame. But French have colonial legacy, neglected Arab popoulation which invites neo storming of bastille as charlie hebdo screams to arabs in words of Marie Antoinette 'let them eat cake'. Similarly in the North we have invited immigrants to work here but excluded them from anything but entry level service jobs and the ghetto. So blacks riot in US, Arabs in France. The population of these nations grows, their self confidence. They acquire weapons, learn military, propaganda tactics. Toynbees internal proletariat(poor, minorities), external proletariat(3rd world) sharpening pencils, swords to take over old rome.

I am reading Spengler's 'Decline of the West'. Perhaps it really is fate. All civilizations decline. However seeds of hope for rebirth of a new civilization, ideology, religion even out of current existing religions, economic concepts.

The globalization has brought us all together. Perhaps a drastic peak oil scenario, destroying jet travel , internet, container shipping could hinder the gradual syncretic ideological global fusion occurring worldwide.

Maybe democracy will die but traditional religions remain. If western modernist influence were reduced othr peoples would be free to lead traditional lives without everything being perceived in context of the colonial entity.

Gloucon X said...

“In the case of Charlie Hebdo, militant Islam came across another late twentieth-century belief: the idea that offending traditional values is, in and of itself, a good thing. Do not misunderstand me: I believe in the right to free speech as much as anyone. Rights, however, do not exist to be abused, or to incite hatred. The cartoonists had the right to do what they did, but that does not make it noble or wise. It is no accident that some of them were veterans of the struggles of 1968 in Paris: that was the moment at which the mockery of the older generation's values became not merely a right, but a sacred duty. We would not suffer if we gave up that particular legacy.”

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; except when it offends traditional values, or is abused by ignoble or unwise cartoonists, or mocks an older generation’s values; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

There, much more to your liking (and the murderers of Charlie Hebdo), right? I see your face there in the crowd that issued the guilty verdict to Socrates. Some of us think the legacy of free speech should not be given up, it is a legacy that is older than many religions. But since you’ve embarked on this task, please list for us all the traditions that should not be mocked. Racial superiority? Astrology? Mormonism? Alien abduction? NFL football? Scientology? Free market capitalism? Homeopathy? I know people who would react with anger if these traditional beliefs were mocked.

David Kaiser said...

Gloucon X, it is interesting, if I may say so, that you insist upon missing the point I was making completely. I made clear that I am just as much against a LAW forbidding the mocking of anyone or anybody as you are. I am merely asking that we discipline ourselves to use our rights responsibly, which begins, I suppose, with using free speech to spread truth, not falsehood. There are times when satire and mockery serve a useful purpose. Being offensive for its own sake, in my opinion, does not.

Taylor Sims said...

There's another way to stop things like this from ever happening again and that's through education. You bring up the IRA's past to what transpired in Europe earlier this month (and is still continuing), which I find interesting because there are a lot of striking similarities. Take it from an Irishman though, there are still people in Ireland especially the North that actually believe the IRA's intentions were justified against the U.K. so it has a lot to do with education and also national pride because nobody can really define what terrorism is. Anybody can be labeled a terrorist, it's just a label and nothing more. For instance, back during the American Revolutionary War there were some British politicians that labeled people like George Washington and Paul Revere as "terrorists".

Warren Perroquet said...

Lettre ouverte d’un athée à Charlie

Maintenant que tes potes et collègues sont enterrés sous les fleurs offertes par tous les autres Charlies d’un jour, accompagnés par les belles paroles de nos politiciens, philosophes, journaleux, commentateurs, ecclésiastes et autres pros du de profundis et de la condoléance :
Marine va pouvoir cracher sur leurs tombes sa haine des musulmans, homos, roms et autres assistés qui mangent le pain des français ;
Houellebecq suivra avec un vif intérêt la courbe ascendante des ventes de son dernier torchon;
Les fidèles raseront les murs des synagogues taguées par les partisans de Dieudonné bla bla
Les députés nous dégaineront une grande loi, histoire de serrer les boulons des droits de l’homme ;
Les flics se feront un plaisir de soulever les voiles et fouiller les barbes dans le métro, les salles d’attente et les CHU ;
Netanyahu profitera de l’aubaine pour se faire réélire histoire de terminer sa tache de précarisation du peuple palestinien ;
Les gouvernements occidentaux (y-compris les soit disant socialistes) nous chanteront encore l’Arlésienne de la croissance illusoire et du pouvoir d’achat au rabais ;
Les 67 individus qui possèdent la moitié des richesses monétaires de la planète se sentiront un peu plus tranquilles dans leurs quartiers sécurisés ;
Les ventes de ton Hebdo subiront un pic violent qui s'effondrera dès que les lecteurs inconstants auront reçu les premières factures de l’année accompagnée de la surcharge d’austérité ;
Cependant rien n’aura changé quant à la misère des masses, la cruauté des tyrans et l’indifférence des repus.

Quand l’ordre sera revenu et que tous & toutes auront retrouvé le rythme triste des semaines, laisse-moi, Charlie, te poser une question :
Ton insistance à déshonorer les icones de millions de personnes valait-elle la mort de 14 individus ? J’y inclus bien entendu le policier qui n’avait rien dit, rien écrit, rien dessiné, ainsi que les deux fêlés qui refusaient d’accepter que l’humiliation et l’insulte font partie intégrante de ta liberté d’expression et ne connaissaient comme droit de réponse que la kalachnikov ou la ceinture d'explosifs.
Ces dessins, caricatures et commentaires dont tu as fait ton fonds de commerce, et n’ont pour résultat que de faire rire les indolents, saliver les racistes et provoquer la révolte des forcenés jusqu’au drame qui vient de nous frapper tous, pourquoi ne pas les boucler dans la boite à gifles et créer un Charlie Pour Tous au service des exploités, des laissés pour compte, des désespérés de tout bord, de toute couleur et de toute croyance.
Pour quelques grincheux de perdus, imagine l’augmentation du nombre de lecteurs. Au lieu de t’adresser à un petit nombre de frustrés, tu aurais l’admiration des justes, l’oreille des bâtisseurs, l’approbation des tolérants, la reconnaissance des condamnés, le soleil des heureux, le rire des comédiens, les questions des chercheurs, et l’espoir des gens qui luttent pour un peu de bonheur quotidien.

Moi qui ne suis pas Charlie, je promets de m’y abonner. Alors tu vois… tout n’est pas perdu !

Gloucon X said...

Thanks for responding. A lot of bloggers simply ban anyone who questions them. So in the spirit of honesty I must state that your Charlie Hebdo paragraph really irked me. You used the context of mass murder to criticize the speech of the victims. You did everything but say they deserved what they got.

“I am merely asking that we discipline ourselves to use our rights responsibly, which begins, I suppose, with using free speech to spread truth, not falsehood. There are times when satire and mockery serve a useful purpose. Being offensive for its own sake, in my opinion, does not.”

I agree that such an impossibly high standard would be nice, and it would put an end to most of our current political discourse, certainly talk-radio and Fox News. Under that standard most advertising would vanish too.

You wrote that it was an abuse of speech to incite hatred, but you did so only in the context of Charlie H. Would you agree to broaden that context to include those who would print this?

Quran (8:12) - "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them"

Unknown said...

When US policy began to include the dissemination of Western values, i.e., individual freedoms such as freedom of speech, and began to justify military intervention in that cause (totalitarian regime change, for example), the interests of the country were often at odds with US policy. Such was the case with intervention in Iraq undertaken by Bush II, when Bush I had forthrightly, and correctly, rejected the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime following Gulf War I.

I agree that it is a point of hubris to believe that the world can be made to accept a unifying philosophy. Religion is not the only reason. Peoples of the world think differently about time (repetetive flow of existence v.s. eternal heavenly life), community v.s. individualism, caste v.s. egalitarianism, random v.s. pre-ordained, etc. Failure of US policy makers to account for differences, ignorance of them, mostly, results in ill advised, disasterous military interventions that do more harm to US interests than good.
I just re-read your post on De Gaulle's advice to Kennedy concerning US military intervention in South East Asia. It parallels your comments concerning Africa, and leads one to conclude that even in the Middle East the social quagmire and political struggles ongoing must be solved in those territorial caldrons by the people of those societies, whatever that struggle may cost them. That is not to say that US policy should be hands off, but to agree that policy goals must be pursued privately rather than publicly, and that the use of broad US military intervention must be reserved for protection of US vital interests, not the nebulous ones of intervention based on US values.

Bruce Wilder said...

Could even the eloquent Obama make a convincing case for liberal hypocrisy? Seeing the flawed movie, Selma, reminded me that I grew up in the era of peak egalitarianism, when people actually expected leaders and law to enact ideals. Enlightenment liberalism was claiming that its truths were self-evident in the 18th century, when Thomas Jefferson, slaveholder, wrote that all men are created equal. It's part of the schtick, not an indicator of some new weakness of character in the 21st century. Your proposed remedy -- a renewal of national solidarity and purpose -- indicates that instinctively you understand that the political problem of our time is not philosophic ideology per se, but authority and authoritarianism.

The common, shared experience of national service, national purpose, and national identity, which has been a foundational component of liberal nationalism -- the ideal of a people responsibly governing itself through constitutional institutions according to democratic, egalitarian principles of fairness -- is at a low ebb. Americans, in particular, exhibit an extreme of social disaffiliation and atomistic individualism, reflected in libertarian ideological attitudes.

Being frightened by seemingly senseless, random acts of violence, and the expedient use of authority in militarized police state responses, just pushes the society further and further in the direction of authoritarianism. I can scarcely imagine the effect on Boston of effective imposition of martial law following the Boston Marathon bombing, or the more recent national manhunts in France and Belgium. The number of deaths cannot account for how terror and the response to terror is re-shaping attitudes and institutions.

Liberalism has always had a love-hate relationship with the lower classes, with the poor. That historical ambivalence was evident in the dynamics of the French Revolution, in the tension over the demands of the common people for bread over and against the bourgeois demand for laissez-faire. It was evident when capital-L Liberals presided over Irish potato famine that killed a million people. It was evident in the callous indifference and inattention that allowed the worst impulses to drive colonial and foreign policy in far-away places (and still drives so many to overlook the rank incompetence and corruption of the American foreign policy establishment).

At its best, enlightenment liberalism embraced and legitimated conflict, and the check that an educated mass opinion might provide against irresponsible exercise of authority. The concepts of a loyal opposition, of a Country Party, of labor unions and mass movements, of a separation of powers forcing rational deliberation and blocking the formation of fixed and tyrannical factions, within the framework of a shared national identity and loyalty -- this was enlightenment liberalism at its best and most practical.

We have dissent in the purely symbolic sense of rude or noisy caricature -- in the U.S., the right parodies itself in its strident albeit impotent expression of resentments. Rush Limbaugh is Charlie Hebdo every day on the radio.

Bruce Wilder said...

What we do not have is either a genuine national solidarity -- the intellectual left largely rejects national identity as a species of racism in the genus of unalloyed evil -- or a check by the masses on authority. Obama prosecutes only whistleblowers, not banksters. No one is held at fault for more than a decade of military and foreign policy failure on an epic scale; we will be training an effective local force real soon now.

In Europe, democratic institutions have ceded their power to unaccountable supra-national authorities, and the consequence is the Euro and an economic catastrophe of a magnitude for some countries comparable with the Great Depression. The violence of Islamists serves as a distraction, justifying the building up of a security state to defend this betrayal of mass interests, while liberals look on uncomprehending.

I'm deeply troubled by the notion that Islam embodies any philosophic ideas that might compete with Western Enlightenment liberalism. I think that simply mistakes the case. The clash of civilizations notion is profoundly silly, not profound. Population and resource pressures are the driving forces, and institutional failures are handicapping the response. The institutions that failed were Western institutions. Saddam Hussein and Bashad al-Assad were friggin' socialists! Islam can hardly explain the upheavals in places as disparate as Ukraine, Thailand, Argentina, Mexico, nor the palsied response to the economic crises created by the Euro in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and France.

Islam and Terror are convenient distractions for an elite that does not care to be held responsible.

DAngler said...

Bruce Wilder has focused in on the big picture accurately. It isn't that Islamic terrorists are not real, for they definitely are. But, they are not the biggest issue. And ... if we could correct the biggest issue, it would definitely reduce the Islamic terrorist issue.

DAngler said...

Sam Harris just published an article on the same issue, and I think it is relevant to whether or not we should modify our speech for the sake of not irritating those who threaten to kill if they don't like what we say. I think Sam has a valid point. http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/after-charlie-hebdo-and-other-thoughts

Bozon said...

Professor

Great post. Stirred the pot very well.

For me, re the West and the Rest, and so called Islamic 'terrorism',in particular, Huntington, perhaps, said it best, in The Clash,

and I paraphrase here, 'for Western Civilization, extremist Islam is not the problem; rather, for each civilization, the other civilization, itself, is the problem.'

all the best