Saturday, August 26, 2006

America and the Middle East: Interlude - Be Careful What You Wish For

Over at “Intel Dump” my comrade JD writes:

"I have been called paranoid for trying to warn of the growing threat of fascism. Am I out of line? Our citizens , as free people who believe in the free marketplace of ideas, have always been free to listen to or read anything they want… until NOW:

Today’s NYT’s reports that a man has been charged with a federal crime for broadcasting material deemed in support of terrorists. What was he broadcasting? A TV channel controlled by Hezbollah, available freely around the world but not here.

I am not making this up. From the article (found here: ): Mr. Iqbal was charged with providing customers services that included satellite broadcasts of a television station controlled by Hezbollah — a violation of federal law.

Court papers filed by the government to obtain a warrant to search Mr. Iqbal’s business and home suggested that the authorities learned that certain high-definition global transmission systems were providing access to Al Manar broadcasts in the United States.According to the government documents, agents flew a helicopter over Mr. Iqbal’s home, then sent a confidential informant to the shop to buy a satellite package from Mr. Iqbal.

Am I still paranoid? Yes. But is there a chance I am right about the threat to our American Revolution?"

I thought that my reply reflected what I’ve been talking about re: our country and the Middle East – so here it is…

Sadly, the historical parallel that occurs to me here isn't anything in American History, or even fascistic Nazi horrors, but Western Europe in the late 11th Century - the First Crusade.

My understanding is that Pope Urban II had a complex mess of motives for calling for crusade, only a portion of them the rollback of the gains the Muslims had made since the 700s. He wanted to "do something" about the relentless fighting that France's feudal nobility had been carrying on since the end of the Carolingen Empire. He also wanted to "do something" about the Eastern vs. Western Catholic Schism that had so enlivened the 1050s. And he did, in fact, want to "do something" about those pesky Muslims...

What he got was a hellstorm of fighting throughout southeastern Europe, Asia Minor and the Levant that lasted for something like 500 years, off and on, the horrific end in butchery and slavery of hundreds of thousands of human lives, from the hapless kids of the Children's Crusade to the peasantry of the Balkans, whose religious complexity has yielded intracommunal savagery down to today. Along the way it upended entire principalities, slaughtered entire communities of Jews, Cathars and other minorities, and wound up with Suleiman the Magnificent hammering on the very gates of Vienna.

Now we still have a certain, if not fondness at least complacency, about the Crusades because through a combination of social factors and good luck us Western types managed to hold off the Muslims. But it WAS good luck - there was no preordained "right" or "destiny" that meant that we were bound to win. Lose the "Long War" with Islam in 1550? Guess what - no political Enlightenment, no Rosseau, no Hobbes, no Montaigne, no parlimentary democracy, no United States...

My reading of the situation here in America at the dawn of the 21st Century is that there are groups - and individuals - spoiling for a fight with "Islam". This case is just one of the latest in the backblast here of their obsession with fighting "terrorists over there". In the pursuit of their goals (domestic political power, economic hegemony in the oil-producing Middle East, global unipolar dominence for this country) they and their allies are frightened - as well they should be - of ANYthing that would give the least advantage to their enemies. Bill of Rights? Forget it! Three hundred years of political liberality? A luxury! Geneva Conventions? Outdated! Diplomacy, communication, patient police work and social progress? Outmoded, outrageous, out-out-out!!!!

The maddening and infuriating thing about all this is that the "Islamofascist" enemy that these people are wetting the bed about right now to the point where they're throwing people like Iqbal in the graybar hotel consists of a bunch of raggedy ass guerillas and some pissant Third World countries with the economic potential and military strength of Belgium. To me it's like watching one of those old Warner cartoons where the enormous fat lady is dancing on the chair shrieking "Eek! A moooouuuse!" That part of me that's not disgusted is amused.

But not for long, when I remember two military maxims. First, Sun Tzu's reminder that no polity ever profited from a long war. Especially in a democracy, where openness, diversity and liberality are our strengths. The ever-growing authority of our "war president(s)" will eventually grind us down, making us weaker as our enemy grows stronger. Because the second maxim is - I want to say this was Sun Tzu but was it Clausewitz..? - that you need to be careful about fighting the same enemy for too long or too often. Because the best way to learn war is to fight. Stressing an organism may kill it...or it may produce a stronger, faster, more deadly organism. The success of the First Crusade pressured the fractured Muslims states of the Levant to find common cause to expel the infidels that eventually produced the Ayyubids.

If Mr. Iqbal's confinement is a side-effect of Dick Cheney's obsession with becoming the latter-day Godfrey de Bouillon, I would start looking around VERY carefully at the babies born in the near future in Damascus, Ramadi, Cairo and Tehran. Because I'll bet if Mr. Bush and his intellectual siderunners get their way, get their "Long War" against Islam, that in one of those bassinets is someone we Americans may get to know - to our sorrow - as the 21st Century "al-Malik al-Nāsir Salāh al-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb":


No comments: