An ideofact is an artifact imbued with meanings other than its technical function.
Saturday, April 05, 2003
Terror and Liberalism
Interesting review in the New York Times of the new book by Paul Berman (whom I mentioned here) called Terror and Liberalism. I commented on Berman's article on Sayyid Qutb in the Times, and wrote,
[M]y impression of [Qutb] is that he's primarily an advocate of totalitarianism.The review of the book states
But Mr. Berman's most important argument — and one that helps make this compact, focused book one of the most challenging accounts of the post-9/11 world — is that the war on terror doesn't just resemble the war on totalitarianism, it is literally a continuation of it. The intellectual and political roots of Islamic terror, he suggests, lie in the West.Islam, like Christianity, has its notions of martyrdom; like in Christianity, martyrdom is something -- well, inflicted probably isn't precisely the right word, but I'll use it anyway -- on one. For the greater period of Islamic history, to paraphrase Patton, Muslims wanted the other poor bastard to die for his religion. Suicide bombings have a fairly recent pedigree. And yes, the Assassins -- or rather, a heretical portion of the Isma'ili sect -- had a comparable practice (their weapon of choice was the dagger), but they were hardly the mainstream of Islam, and most of their victims were Muslims of the non-heretical variety.
I think getting one's followers to commit suicide for one's cause is the ultimate expression of the totalitarian -- not the Islamic -- ideal.
Friday, April 04, 2003
The Great War will continue later this weekend. In the meantime, I found this interesting, from the New York Times, November 8, 1918:
This statement was issued by the British Embassy in Washington at the request of the British Foreign Office:From the invaluable World War I Document Archive.
Thursday, April 03, 2003
The Great War, cont.
James Woolsey, the former CIA director, has joined others in arguing we are in a Fourth World War:
He said the new war is actually against three enemies: the religious rulers of Iran, the "fascists" of Iraq and Syria, and Islamic extremists like al Qaeda.He numbers the Cold War as the third world war.
Last night, I suggested that we are in fact still fighting the First World War. As I noted then, I am not entirely sure I agree with my own argument, merely putting it forward as an idea. Last night, in rudimentary form, I sketched its outlines; in my usual idiosyncratic and unsystematic way, I'll try to move forward.
In the introductory chapter of John Keegan's The First World War, he notes:
The Second World War, five times more destructive of human life and incalculably more costly in human material terms, was the direct outcome of the First. On 18 September 1922, Adolf Hitler, the demobilised front fighter, threw down a challenge to defeated Germany that he would realise seventeen years later: "It cannot be that two million Germans should have fallen in vain...No, we do not pardon, we demand -- vengeance!"But was the Second the outcome, or the continuation, of the first?
One of the things which Howard stresses is the awareness among war planners, in the run-up to the Great War, of the expense of maintaining a huge army in the field. As the war of attrition wore on, the German general staff realized that it was a contest of industrial societies, and which one would be able to outlast the others. Germany didn't lose in 1918 on the battlefield -- Russia was out of the war and while German troops were being driven back, they were still fighting on foreign soil -- but rather their national economy was exhausted, the arrival of the Americans gave the allies a seemingly unlimited supply of fresh troops. The convoy system and the resilience of British shipbuilding and American shipbuilding meant that German submarine warfare couldn't starve the allies, while the Royal Navy maintained a fairly effective blockade of Germany. In the test of industrial societies, Germany had lost. The intervening years were spent rebuilding that capacity -- it's worth noting the Weimar government cheated on the provisions for disarmament in the Versailles treaty long before Hitler rose to prominence -- and tried to make good on the mistakes of 1914-1918 with such disastrous results. The third phase of the Great War, the Cold War, was a test of industrial societies with (relative to the first and second phases of the Great War) little actual combat. The inefficiency of the Soviet economy, the crushing demands that the arms race put on the rest of the economy, led in large measure to the collapse. And in Iraq, the cost of maintaining a deployment of a quarter million men in the Gulf was among the arguments against prolonging an inadequate inspections regime -- while the U.S. certainly could afford to keep them their indefinitely, the minimal results of the U.N. inspections did not justify the cost of doing so.
What I am trying to suggest, in this long digression which nevertheless reduces tomes to pharses, is that if we have a hundred years war -- when some of the players are democratic societies, when many of them are industrial societies -- it won't be 100 years of straight fighting, it'll be fought in fits and gasps, with long pauses that look like peace but are actually something quite different. But the war aim, at least as far as the United States is concerned, remains the same one Wilson enunciated: To make the world safe for Democracy.
I still haven't gotten to the main part of this series, which will deal primarily with -- well, not Islam, but with some of the lands and peoples we associate with the faith. I noted a long time ago, when I first started posting on Sayyid Qutb, that the notion that Islam was the enemy was poppycock, that the enemy was tyranny. I began this series on the Great War because I do not think one can discount European influence on the lands of Islam -- the same Europe that sleepwalked into the catastrophe of the Great War, the same Europe that drew the map of the Middle East in its wake. I'll write more on the subject tomorrow, but for now I think this piece by Bernard Lewis illustrates my point:
In 1940, the French government accepted defeat and signed a separate peace with the Third Reich. The French colonies in Syria and Lebanon remained under Vichy control, and were therefore open to the Nazis to do what they wished. They became major bases for Nazi propaganda and activity in the Middle East. The Nazis extended their operations from Syria and Lebanon, with some success, to Iraq and other places. That was the time when the Baath Party was founded, as a kind of clone of the Nazi and Fascist parties, using very similar methods and adapting a very similar ideology, and operating in the same way -- as part of an apparatus of surveillance that exists under a one-party state, where a party is not a party in the Western democratic sense, but part of the apparatus of a government. That was the origin of the Baath Party.While it illustrates the point, it does not make it entirely, but that will have to wait...
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
The Great War
Both John Keegan and Michael Howard, who each wrote books titled The First World War, note that at the outset of the conflict French soldiers, unlike their British, German or even Russian counterparts, wore not the drap khaki, grey or olive drab uniforms, but outfits more suitable to the 19th Century -- red trousers, bright blue coats or jackets, and the like. Howard notes that the French "...were compelled to retain their distinctive scarlet trousers by nostalgic nationalist politicians, and suffered terribly in consequence." The French politicians did not realize they had entered a new age.
I have thought about a post like this for some time, toying with the ideas, sketching out names of countries past and present, and invariably deciding that I'm not entirely sure I believed in the idea. So take what follows with a grain of salt -- I'm making an argument I'm not sure I entirely agree with, but which has some attractions nevertheless.
I recall reading that the 20th Century lasted for a mere 75 years -- from the onset of the First World War to the collapse of Soviet communism. We might all recall that the first President Bush declared a New World Order -- to the consternation of Pat Robertson (whose book on the subject, by the way, is a masterpiece of paranoid delusions, replete with the Illuminati of Bavaria) ushered in by the international cooperation in Kuwait. That foundered, of course, in Bosnia. Kosovo was not declared as such, but represented something of a different order from the one declared at the end of the Cold War. And then Sept. 11, and another new era -- the 90s reduced to a vacation from history, and a new new world order, or new world crisis, born.
But perhaps we are not in a new era, but in the midst of an old one, heirs of the fallout of the assassination of the heir to the throne of an empire which no longer exists in a provincial capital in a region of no particular strategic significance. We have cast off the scarlet trousers and climbed out of the trenches, but are still fighting because of issues unresolved in the Great War.
Any metaphor can be stretched too far, and any idiot with a blog (i.e. -- me) can sling together enough disparate facts and appear to make a pattern of them. I'll try to avoid the grand tour of European and world history and instead sketch -- in terms that I am quite sure can be shown to be full of holes or leaps of logic -- a few points that are, in embryonic form, the empirical evidence on which I base my theory (which I'm not entirely sure I believe). So, in no particular order:
World War II Fought largely to resolve the unresolved Great War problem of German power. The Germans sought a place among the great powers -- England, the dominant power in 1914, was perceived as true enemy (hence the massive shipbuilding program in the run up to the war). Germany, the historic enemy of both Russia and France, ended World War II divided between them. Side benefits: Japan pacified.This last item is too much to go into now (a later post), but whereas many of the issues of the other protagonists have been dealt with, what to do with what was the sick man of Europe, and his vast empire, was not satisfactorily resolved. If bin Laden acted out of a desire to restore the Caliphate (which was abolished formally by Turkey in, I believe, 1924), he was reacting to a Great War consequence. Similarly, I found this piece on the KurdMedia site of interest (in which a Kurdish writer argues for war in Iraq):
The political order in Europe changed twice since the Second World war, from a system based on East/West, capitalism versus communism, into a system of free interdependent democracies within a rapidly globalised world.I think the interesting point is the idea that the problems of the region can be traced to 1920 -- the post-war settlement.
As I said above, I'm just sketching this idea in shorthand -- this post is like a rudimentary schematic drawn on the back of a napkin in a bar -- but I find it interesting that a fairly common year cited in writings about the Middle East is still 1920 -- still fallout from the Great War.
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Aziz was kind enough to provide a translation to the Hadith mentioned in the post below --
Here is what it means: "As I am your Mawla (master), Ali is your master"Which reminds me that a while back, on Aziz's recommendation, I bought The Peak of Eloquence, and still have barely cracked the cover of it. One of these days I'll give it the attention it deserves...
Monday, March 31, 2003
#%@!!!! Sorry, spent most of the night trying to shift my email account (Earthlink no longer is using the domain I've had for lo these many years, but apparently the new domain doesn't work yet). I set up a hotmail account temporarily -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- because not only can I not get email from the old account, the new one doesn't seem to be working yet, which is a bit of a pain in the ass.
Aziz emailed (while email was still working, it seems) to tell me of an interesting post on Shi'a Pundit, one of his other blogs which, I'm embarrassed to admit, I don't check as often as Unmedia. I found this worth noting:
I recognize that as a historical fact, three men took the title of Caliph after the death of the Prophet SAW - this is not an opinion, or interpretation, it is fact.I wish he'd offer a translation of the Hadith he cites in the post, but in any case he makes a point worth remembering. I'd comment more, but after a few hours of tech support and trying email on iMac and iBook, I'm too tired to continue staring at pixels.
Update: Well, the old account still seems to be working -- just got three things I'd emailed home from work at 6 p.m. Now I can't use the excuse that the ISP ate my homework...
Sunday, March 30, 2003
Back to work
I can't say for sure why, but this winter (which crawled out of the crypt and offered us a reminder of itself in the form of wet snow today) has been filled with more colds, flus, and general complaints than any other I can remember. Part of it is probably due to our intrepid four year old's having ventured out into the world, specifically nursery school. He's had more than his fair share of illnesses, although in his case, he has the sniffles for a day or two, while I come down with bronchitis, walking pneumonia, or break out in bubons that have to be lanced. This was another weekend lost to recovering from a cold, hence the lack of posts.
When I went to bed Thursday night, I was planning on playing a trick with Friday night's post -- quoting a bin Ladenesque manifesto that ran something like this:
The annexation of Jerusalem was only one of the blows which the enemies of the Ummah have aimed at the faithful. Many blows preceded it, and many will follow it. Work and preparation are necessary so that a new attack may not find the faithful equally unprepared.But the text is a ruse; the original version read:
The annexation [of Bosnia and Herzegovina] was only one of the blows which the enemies of Serbia have aimed at this land. Many blows preceded it, and many will follow it. Work and preparation are necessary so that a new attack may not find Serbia equally unprepared.Yes, a cheap trick -- confusing the 1911 program of the Narodna Odbrana (of which Gavrilo Princip, the assassin whose bullets touched off World War I -- and 10 million casualties -- was a member) with Islamist manifestoes. What interested me, though, were the changes I had to make to the text, which I think suggest the accuracy of one of the points that Bernard Lewis makes in The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. (He makes the same point, with more elaboration, in the excellent Multiple Identities of the Middle East.) But that'll have to wait for tomorrow; given that I seem to catch cold with the slightest draft, staying up past midnight writing blog posts is something I'll have to forego until tomorrow.
But two things I wanted to point out before curling up for a winter's nap: when I swung over to Aziz Poonawalla's Unmedia, I was greeted with these two advertisements on the blogspot header:
Serbia/Srbija 17.9 centsOf course, Aziz has no control over what they advertise.
And secondly, I want to thank Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk for her suggestion that readers come to Ideofact and "read everything." Comments like that persuade me that maybe staying up past midnight, on occasion, is worth the effort...