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Hating Us For Our Degeneracy

This morning Bret Stephens dusted off D’Souza’s thesis [1] on jihadism:

Bear in mind, too, that the America Qutb found so offensive had yet to discover Elvis, Playboy, the pill, women’s lib, acid tabs, gay rights, Studio 54, Jersey Shore and, of course, Lady Gaga. In other words, even in some dystopic hypothetical world in which hyper-conservatives were to seize power in the U.S. and turn the cultural clock back to 1948, America would still remain a swamp of degeneracy in the eyes of Qutb’s latter-day disciples.

This, then, is the core complaint that the Islamists from Waziristan to Tehran to Gaza have lodged against the West. It explains why jihadists remain aggrieved even after the U.S. addressed their previous casus belli by removing troops from Saudi Arabia, and why they will continue to remain aggrieved long after we’ve decamped from Iraq, Afghanistan and even the Persian Gulf. As for Israel, its offenses are literally inextricable: as a democracy, as a Jewish homeland, as a country in which liberalism in all its forms, including cultural, prevails.

That must be why America was beset by jihadist attacks since at least 1948. Oh, wait, this never happened? How strange. That might mean that the decadence-as-cause-of-terrorism argument grossly exaggerates the importance of such cultural factors in explaining jihadist violence as a way of distracting us from remediable political grievances. In fact, attacks on Americans and American installations began after we inserted ourselves into the region’s conflicts and began establishing a military presence there. Hegemonists can obsess over the writings of Qutb all they want, but it will not change the reality that anti-American jihadist violence did not occur until the misguided 1982-83 intervention in Lebanon. U.S. and Israeli military operations and policies of occupation provoke much broader, more intense resentment among Muslims than any general dissatisfaction with the decadence of Western culture and its deleterious effects
on their own societies. The suicide bomber in Khost was radicalized by the treatment of Gaza, not the performances of Lady Gaga. It might suit a certain type of Westerner to associate fanaticism, political violence and strict moralism, but on the whole this is a misunderstanding and a distraction from the real causes of the problem.

The recent Moscow subway bombings are instructive on this point. The bombings are outrageous atrocities for which there is no excuse or justification, but one would have to be a blind fool to say that Chechen grievances, which outside jihadists have been exploiting for the last decade, are based in morally offensive Russian pop culture. It is acceptable for hegemonists to acknowledge this when Russia is the target of terrorist attacks, but when it comes to acknowledging U.S. and allied policies as important contributing factors we are treated instead to these sweeping cultural arguments and close readings of Sayyid Qutb.

Regarding Israel, there are certainly absolute rejectionists who will never accept Israel’s existence. What is inexplicable is why Israeli and U.S. governments would want to empower those rejectionists by making accommodation and some practical modus vivendi increasingly difficult if not impossible. Settlement-building in itself is not the greatest cause of resentment, but it is the occupation and all its attendant inequalities and humiliations that the construction represents and reinforces that makes it so provocative.

No doubt there are some die-hard jihadist ideologues who would never give up their fight no matter what happened. There is no political decision that can satisfy true fanatics, because they apparently seek goals so far removed from reality that they will never be satisfied, but the majority of Muslims that sympathizes with the political goals of violent jihadists has grievances or sympathizes with those who have grievances that can be addressed and remedied to some extent. Naturally, proponents of perpetual war have no interest in even attempting to address such grievances, and so we hear how they hate us for our immorality. Common sense tells us that other people are far more likely to resent and hate us for what we and our allies do to them and their co-religionists than they are going to hate us because of our debased popular culture.

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11 Comments To "Hating Us For Our Degeneracy"

#1 Comment By Randal On March 30, 2010 @ 10:48 am

Good comment.

As for debased popular US (and UK) culture, I have some sympathy with the jihadists on that point. I think Abu Ghraib pretty much ended the debate. Oh, silly me – I forgot. When Americans do such things they are a few bad apples completely unrepresentative of the culture from whence they come. When jihadists do something bad they demonstrate the evil of muslims in general.

#2 Comment By Northern Observer On March 30, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

People who hide behind the “they-hate-us-for-our-freedoms” argument are cynical, since they too care little for liberty when it doesn’t suit their needs. (dentention, wiretap without review, rendition on command) So, you are right to take them down a peg.
That being said, Qtub and his shia equivalent Kohmeini are not to be dismissed out of hand as uninfluencial third world intellectual wannabes who simply don’t matter all that much. Their ideas are influencial, widspread and have literally remolded the self conception of the middle east and muslim self perception. They rank in influence in the muslim world as much as Karl Marx or Lenin did for the European world. It is only our general unfamiliarity with this world that allows us to ignore them. None of this invalidate the necessity of considerate behavior as the starting point for any general peace in the Middle East, however we must remain aware of the fact that for a large segment of muslim world opinion, some of which is in leadership positions, there will always be a theological motivation to convert or destroy the Crusader/Jewish states of the world. In their understanding of the Islamic texts this is the clear and urgent will of God.

#3 Comment By Randal On March 30, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

“Qtub and his shia equivalent Kohmeini are not to be dismissed out of hand as uninfluencial third world intellectual wannabes who simply don’t matter all that much. Their ideas are influencial, widspread and have literally remolded the self conception of the middle east and muslim self perception.”

In the end, without continuing western interference in ME affairs any “theological motivation to convert or destroy the Crusader/Jewish states of the world” will quickly fade to the level of the comparably silly dispensationalist stuff that’s disproportionately influential in the US, but tolerable because it only seriously motivates a small fringe.

It’s killing people, blowing up or stealing their property, and interfering in their government that really pisses most people off, not disagreeing with them about politics and religion.

#4 Comment By MBunge On March 30, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

“When Americans do such things they are a few bad apples completely unrepresentative of the culture from whence they come.”

Shorter Randal – “America is bad! I hate America! Therefore, I am good!”

Mike

#5 Comment By krogerfoot On March 30, 2010 @ 9:11 pm

‘Shorter Randal – “America is bad! I hate America . . . ‘

Is this meant to be a parody of Mr. Larison’s post? If not, this neighborhood is starting to go downhill. This is normally one forum where commenters can disagree about politics without arguments collapsing into dick-wrestling contests about who Loves Their Country more.

#6 Comment By Aaron On March 31, 2010 @ 1:35 am

It’s a shame to waste time responding to that mentally-challenged neocon hack Bret Stephens, but I guess somebody had to do it, because D’Souza’s ridiculous theory is useful enough to gain support.

More interesting to me were the last two paragraphs by Larison, particularly this sentence: Settlement-building in itself is not the greatest cause of resentment, but it is the occupation and all its attendant inequalities and humiliations that the construction represents and reinforces that makes it so provocative.

Larison is quite right here as far as he goes, but he doesn’t go very far at all. He’s right that anti-Israel people are not provoked by waking up in the morning and looking at a map of the Middle East. What provokes them are reports of violence, most of which is related to the 1967 occupation.

The question then is, what if the 1967 occupation were ended tomorrow by an immediate Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line, either unilaterally or as part of a treaty? Would all provocations cease? Of course not. Attacks would still be launched against Israel (i.e., against the 1948 occupation), Israel would eventually retaliate (despite heavy international pressure not to respond), Palestinian civilians would be killed, and the al-Jazeera cameras would film all the blood. We’ve already seen this with the Oslo accords, which caused an enormous increase in casualties from 1993 until 1996, and with the Gaza withdrawal, which led to Operation Cast Lead.

On a day to day level, inequalities and so-called humiliations would not cease either. Israeli Arabs will be unequal for as long as Israel is a Jewish state threatened by Arab enemies. The newly created, irredentist Palestinian state will likely embark on a project of gaining influence over Arabs in the Galilee and the Triangle (Fatah officials have already discussed this). There will likely be a propaganda campaign by Arabs and Europeans against the “apartheid state” of Israel (within its 1948 borders).

So yes, most Israeli provocations are related to the 1967 occupation, but there will be plenty of new provocations to take their place if that occupation comes to an end.

#7 Comment By Patrick Glenn On March 31, 2010 @ 7:24 am

“That must be why America was beset by jihadist attacks since at least 1948. Oh, wait, this never happened?”

Terrorism was a rarely used tactic until the 1970s, so no, we would not have expected many jihadist attacks against the U.S., or any other nation, in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. During the late 1930s, early 40s, the Muslim Brotherhood was allied with the Nazis, and they carried those sympathies forward. In the 40s, 50s, 60s, the MB mostly used political assassinations and low-level paramilitary operations, primarily against feasible (localized) targets, especially Arab rulers and colonial elements (esp. British and French).

In other words, they weren’t in a position to attack the U.S., but that doesn’t invalidate the argument that jihadis/Muslim Brotherhood types have despised what America represents to them – a cultural wasteland, devoid of true religion, etc. – since the 1940s, and really before that.

Has U.S. involvement in the ME made it more of a target? Sure. But it’s the old joke about hding from the crocodile, so he’ll feast on other victims first . . . If the crocodile ever has the means, rest assured that he’ll feast on everyone who is not a crocodile. If you have a better strategy for neutralizing the crocodile, by all means make that argument, but don’t pretend that he’s an alligator.

#8 Comment By beej On March 31, 2010 @ 8:35 am

Imagine the United States as a crooked monarchy supported, indeed enabled, by powerful foreigners of a different, relatively wealthy culture halfway around the world sucking as many of our national resources out of the country as they are able to bribe away. Imagine that these foreigners kept their armed forces inside our borders with the consent not of Americans, but through kickbacks to our unelected rulers. Imagine years of day-to-day provocations perpetrated by restless foreign soldiers, mercenary foreign businesses and misguided lethal bomb attacks on our population. Don’t you think we would in time become a teensy bit bitter about not just the economic injustice of said plundering, but of the foreign cultures’ entire day-to-day lifestyle far away? Had we left the Mideast alone, they might not have loved us, but they certainly would not be launching frequent, horrible terror attacks against us. The cultural resentments are rooted in the politics. Fix the politics, and the cultural resentments will melt away.

#9 Comment By Daniel Larison On March 31, 2010 @ 9:13 am

“During the late 1930s, early 40s, the Muslim Brotherhood was allied with the Nazis, and they carried those sympathies forward. In the 40s, 50s, 60s, the MB mostly used political assassinations and low-level paramilitary operations, primarily against feasible (localized) targets, especially Arab rulers and colonial elements (esp. British and French).

In other words, they weren’t in a position to attack the U.S., but that doesn’t invalidate the argument that jihadis/Muslim Brotherhood types have despised what America represents to them – a cultural wasteland, devoid of true religion, etc. – since the 1940s, and really before that.”

In other words, they allied with the enemies of their colonial rulers and fought against their colonial rulers and the allies of those rulers. Caliphalists accepted help from the Kaiser when they thought it might help push the British out of India, which is what you would expect dissatisfied colonial subjects to do. Their resistance probably had more to do with India being ruled by Britain than with the immorality of British society.

I don’t deny that jihadists despise what America represents, but I assume they would also despise what Switzerland and Italy and Canada represent, and yet they tend not to target these countries or their citizens. They seem to use violence mainly against both Muslim and non-Muslim political enemies to achieve political ends.

#10 Comment By vanya On March 31, 2010 @ 10:02 am

“one would have to be a blind fool to say that Chechen grievances, which outside jihadists have been exploiting for the last decade, are based in morally offensive Russian pop culture.”

Really? Have you ever had to listen to t.A.T.u?

#11 Comment By Patrick Glenn On March 31, 2010 @ 11:52 am

Mr. Larison, you make two very good points in response to my comments above. Well played.

But I think you underestimate the Nazi influences among the Muslim Brotherhood elements. Mein Kampf is still a big seller in the ME. Large numbers of jihadists are virulently anti-Jew to an extent matched only by the aryan Nazis. The MB-adherents look back fondly on the Third Reich not merely as allies of convenience in a war that happened 6+ decades ago, but as ideological sources.

That the jihadists have done what they’ve had to do to survive at times and later to attempt to grow in power and influence; that they have had the strategic sense to attack higher priority targets; that their capabilities have evolved over time, none of that takes away from their hatred of liberal western values.

How would attacking Switzerland, Italy, or Canada help to promote their goals? If things go as they forsee, and as “Allah” promises – according to their twisted jihadi mindsets – they can always get around to subjugating the weaker nations after they’ve first destroyed the Great Satan.

What do you see as their ultimate “political ends”?

Do you believe that the MB and related elements would stop trying to spread radical Islamism, by any means necessary, if the U.S. were to take a 1930s foreign policy posture?

The MB/jihadists might never have the means to achieve their ultimate goals, and your recommendations for American foreign policy regarding the ME might be the most effective means of blunting their aggressions, but let’s not kid ourselves about those goals.