Skip to comments.Is the West Too Civilized?
Posted on 07/22/2003 7:21:19 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
"Since the events of 9/11," observes Lee Harris, America's reigning philosopher of 9/11, "the policy debate in the United States has been primarily focused on a set of problems -- radical Islam and the War on Terrorism, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein in Iraq."
We sense that these three problems are related, Harris notes in an article at TechCentralStation.com, but we can't quite figure out how. He proposes a subtle link between these seemingly disparate issues -- and it's not specifically their common Muslim identity. Rather, it has to do with their unearned power.
"All previous threats in the history of mankind have had one element in common. They were posed by historical groups that had created the weapons -- both physical and cultural -- that they used to threaten their enemies." States achieved their military power through their own labor and sacrifice, developing their own economies, organizing their societies, training their own troops, and building their own arsenals.
But the same cannot be said of the threats emanating from the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda destroys airplanes and buildings that it itself could not possibly build. The Palestinian Authority has failed in every field of endeavor except killing Israelis. Saddam Hussein's Iraq grew dangerous thanks to money showered on it by the West to purchase petroleum Iraqis themselves had neither located nor extracted.
How, despite their general incompetence, has this trio managed to guide the course of events as if they were Powers in the traditional sense?
The cause of this anomaly, Harris replies, is that the West plays by a strict set of rules while permitting Al-Qaeda, the Palestinians, and Saddam Hussein to play without rules. We restrain ourselves according to the standards of civilized conduct as refined over the centuries; they engage in maximal ruthlessness.
Had the United States retaliated in kind for 9/11, Harris tells me, the Islamic holy places would have been destroyed. Had Israelis followed the Arafat model of murderousness, the West Bank and Gaza would now be devoid of Palestinians. Had the West done toward Iraq as Iraq did toward Kuwait, the Iraqi polity would long ago have been annexed and its oil resources confiscated.
While morally commendable, Harris argues, the West's not responding to Muslim ruthlessness with like ruthlessness carries a high and rising price. It allows Muslim political extremists of various stripes to fantasize that they earned their power, when in fact that power derives entirely from the West's arch-civilized restraint.
This confusion prompts Muslim extremists to indulge in the error that their successes betoken a superior virtue, or even God's support. Conversely, they perceive the West''s restraint as a sign of its decadence. Such fantasies, Harris contends, feed on themselves, leading to ever-more demented and dangerous behavior.
Westerners worry about the security of electricity grids, computer bugs, and water reservoirs; can a nuclear attack on a Western metropolis be that remote? Western restraint, in other words, insulates its enemies from the deserved consequences of their actions, and so unintentionally encourages their bad behavior.
For the West to reverse this process requires much rougher means than it prefers to use. Harris, author of a big-think book on this general subject coming out from the Free Press in early 2004, contends that Old Europe and most analysts have failed to fathom the imperative for a change. The Bush administration, however, has figured it out and in several ways (all of which surfaced during the Iraq campaign) has begun implementing an unapologetic and momentous break with past restraints:
- Preempt: Knock out fantasist leaders (the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Yasir Arafat) before they can do more damage.
- Rehabilitate: Dismantle their polities, then reconstruct these along civilized lines.
- Impose a double standard: Act on the premise that the U.S. government alone "is permitted to use force against other agents who are not permitted to use force."
In brief, until those Harris calls "Islamic fantasists" play by the rules, Washington must be prepared to act like them, without rules.
This appeal for America to act less civilized will offend some; but it does offer a convincing explanation for the inner logic of America''s tough new foreign policy.
As its power increases, a community ceases to take the individual's transgressions so seriously, because they can no longer be considered as dangerous and destructive to the whole as they were formerly: the malefactor is no longer "set beyond the pale of peace" and thrust out; universal anger may not be vented upon him as unrestrainedly as beforeon the contrary, the whole from now on carefully defends the malefactor against this anger, especially that of those he has directly harmed, and takes him under its protection.
A compromise with the anger of those directly injured by the criminal; an effort to localize the affair and to prevent it from causing any further, let alone a general, disturbance; attempts to discover equivalents and to settle the whole matter (compositio); above all, the increasingly definite will to treat every crime as in some sense dischargeable, and thus at least to a certain extent to isolate the criminal and his deed from one anotherthese traits become more and more clearly visible as the penal law evolves.
As the power and self-confidence of a community increase, the penal law always becomes more moderate; every weakening or imperiling of the former brings with it a restoration of the harsher forms of the latter. The "creditor" always becomes more humane to the extent that he has grown richer; finally, how much injury he can endure without suffering from it becomes the actual measure of his wealth.
It is not unthinkable that a society might attain such a consciousness of power that it could allow itself the noblest luxury possible to itletting those who harm it go unpunished. "What are my parasites to me?" it might say. "May they live and prosper: I am strong enough for that!"
I agree with Pipes. If we want Terrorism to end, we've got to take the barbarians down. Hard. Fast. Repeat as necessary. No rules.
They can be sissies if they want, just let real men take care of the exernal threats and GET OUT OF OUR WAY.
Which may be closer to being a radical political regime than a "religion". How do we define and deal with regimes that hide behind a freedom that we ourselves guard with jealousy? I thought GWB was pretty clear, but obviously, some in the world don't or cannot hear clearly and are quick to critisize those who were attacked and not the attackers. If other westernized nations cannot/will not help, then they should just be quiet. Nothing worse than a back seat driver.
I'd have supported all of these responses 100%. I have no interest in losing from the "high moral ground," and going under muttering, "Well, at least we played nice." I want to win because this is no game, this is our lives.
I agree with you but Im afraid not everyone would share our viewpoint and it would be unlikely that W would get a second term. The Bush administration realized (correctly) after 9/11 that we are at war with Islam (not just radical Islam) but that it would be political suicide to come out and say it. The result is that we need a pretense for action and I think thats why Iraq was the next one on the list (1441 was grounds enough). I think Iran will wait until after the 2004 elections and sometimes think one of the reasons that W seems to be leaning a little to close to center is that he knows his core constituency is secure and wants to make sure that he picks up enough of the center left for a decent win. Im guessing that he is swaying more of these than he is losing independents.
I hope I am right on this and that after next November the gloves come off.
I hope so too. Oh, how I hope. OH, how I hope!