Monday, October 10, 2005

Crusader Rabbit and other hair-brained notions

When I was young, growing up in Texas, I remember occasional religious uprisings, with conservative Christians crushing Elvis Presley and other sinful records in mass demonstrations throughout the MidWest. We were severely disciplined if we showed up for school with our shirt tails untucked, and girls had to kneel on the ground to have the lengths of their skirts checked. I recall "Colored Only" and "Whites Only" on doors of restaurants, laundries and water fountains. Miscegenation was often spoken of in terms as God's law, but a "mixed marriage" could also refer to a Catholic married to a Protestant, and it was unkown for a Jew to marry other than a Jew. When I left Texas, I did so almost as much as a religious refugee from the conservatism of the Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians as an adventurer.

A couple of years ago my wife and I toured Malaysia. As a predominantly Muslim country, the heads of the Muslim women were covered almost wherever you went. But in KL and over much of the West coast we saw billboards advertising shampoo, with pictures of women with long flowing hair. When we went to the East coast, which is much more conservative and Muslim controlled, the shampoo ads were sans hair. The dresses were longer, the women more covered. When we went shopping in the grocery store, my wife, who was admonished not to dress "sexy", and I had to check out in separate men's and women's lines, and there was a man standing behind the woman checking me out to make sure that there was no ontoward contact of any kind, eye or hand. Heaven help you if you wanted to buy a beer or get a quick hug and a kiss from your wife.

It seems whenever conservative religious practice prevails, the freedoms of people to come and go as they like, to eat and drink and sing and dance and make merry, is proscribed or strictly prescribed. Religious conservatism just does not seem capable of abiding tolerant difference, be it thought, dress or manner; particularly if the hair on your head on your face fails the required dress code. It ends up being the ultimate "for 'em or agi'n 'em" clique. Since they demand an absolute belief in only one way to commune with God, it follows that absolutely everyone else is repugnant in their view of God's sight.

If they would just stick with that view and withdraw to themselves, like the Amish or Jonestown fools, then they wouldn't cause too much difficulty. But they don't. They insist that everyone else be like them. They send missionaries out to the whole world to knock on your door, to camp on your parliament, to market and convert, from corner to billboard to radio to tv. You cannot escape them anywhere.

When you look at nation states and their histories, they come and go. Political boundaries are written and rewritten. Life goes on. Boundary grudges get forgotten for the most part. Are Romans still fighting the fall of Rome? Is England still fighting the Boston Tea Party? Are Christians and Muslims still fighting the Crusades?

When you look at the religions of the world, particularly the Houses of Abraham, you find that their battles are never clearly won or lost or forgotten and they battle on from generation to the next, and have been doing so since before they committed their beginnings to scrolls. Sometimes they go through periods of enlightenment and engage in intellectual dialogue and study and are willing to accept scrutiny of the orthodox and tolerance of differences. But then some little cleric with a Napoleon complex jumps up, demands a retreat to some nascent tribal past and stuffs it all up.

These religions, being absolutist by definition and proselytizing by nature are incipient tenderboxes of intolerance, bluster and mayhem, and succumb easily to the clairion calls of the disaffected or disenfranchised amongs them. The result is the disruption of civil affairs, which is to say, civilization, the laws of men and the ideal of those who prefer heaven on earth to the promised afterlife. So stoutly are the beliefs of the religious and so hotly contested are their Godly constructs that they engulf the non-religious civilians, who get dragged into their religious wars like the plants growing along the banks of a flooding wadi.

So, at this point, assuming you're still on the page and haven't hopped on to the next blog, you're probably wondering, "Gee, he hasn't been blogging for a week and now he comes the raw prawn with his same old religion rant -- what got up his nose?" Three same ole things: another Bali bombing, another Bush speech and another Al-qeada communique.

First, the communique: Assuming the story to be credible,

"Al-Qaeda's deputy leader has warned the top militant in Iraq that attacks on civilians and videotaped executions committed by his followers threaten to jeopardise the broader extremist cause.... The 6000-word letter, dated early in July, from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was obtained by US forces conducting counterterrorism operations in Iraq, an official said on Thursday.
Zawahiri said that Iraq had become "the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era" but that Zarqawi's forces should keep in mind that it was only a stepping stone towards a broader victory for militant Islam across the Middle East. "The mujahideen must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons and silence the fighting zeal," Zawahiri said in the letter...." (http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/alqaeda-tells-allies-to-tone-down-atrocities/2005/10/07/1128563003570.html) And see: http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/31E6BF7F-D644-45EA-9505-2D70E3FB1E7E.htm

The idea of tribal militants amongst some of the marginal Muslims that there ought to be a pan-Middle Eastern Islamic state governed by sharia custom is not a New Millenium idea. It's an old sandal that has been worn by many a foot. Successions of Sultans, Kings and Princes around the Middle East have been dealing with this bit of mutiny for centuries.

Indeed, it's an idea that has followed Islam across the Indian continent and down into South East Asia, where there are more Muslims than in all of Arabia, where the goal is a pan-Southeast Asian Islamic sharia state. There are proponents and adherents of this notion in the Southern Phillipines, Southern Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Peter Hartcher discusses the Indonesian aspects of this movement in an article following the recent Bali atrocity: http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/their-democracy-vital-to-our-future/2005/10/07/1128562995750.html

Peter Hartcher writes, "The Islamic extremists in Indonesia have a far more ambitious goal and they have been working on it, violently, for 58 years. They aim to overthrow the Government of Indonesia and impose fundamentalist Islamic rule on the country. This project has a name - Darul Islam. And its devotees took on its name as the title of their group... And now the long-standing ideal of an Islamic revolution and an Islamic state in Indonesia was revealed to be too narrow, too limited, too unambitious. Inspired by al-Qaeda's message of a global jihad, Jemaah Islamiah dreamt the far grander vision of a pan-Islamic caliphate that would reach across South-East Asia. This caliphate would unite half a billion people and an entire region of the globe under the sharia, Islamic law. In some definitions this vision, known in South-East Asia as Nusantara Raya, even extends to northern Australia." (This is a small excerpt from a much larger explanation of the situation in Indonesia -- you should read the whole story.)

So, we've got a lot of hot-headed marginal Muslims really focused on their own back yards, trying to wrest control of fellow Muslims and institute conservative sharia custom. Normally, we wouldn't find ourselves involved in that kind of drama. The only thing that is new about this drama is that they have decided to take the show on the road. By getting media attention they hope to stir up more support for their cause. The West is a big, easy target, and nobody knows how to add dramatic flair to any cause like modern Western media. All they need is some big, dumb straw dragon to slay, and they look like hollywood heroes, attrack followers and gain political strength where they want it -- at home.

And what a big, dumb straw dragon they got. Crusader Rabbit posing as John Wayne. Instead of going after the guys who really were behind the bombing of the World Trade Center, and passifying the poppy fields and badlands of Afgahnistan in the process, Crusader Rabbit rocked and flawed the whole balance of Middle East religious stalemate. Instead of spending billions of dollars on creating separate safe and secure states of Israel and Palistine, he sends billions of dollars down crony rat-holes with nothing of substance to show for it after years of struggle and death and fatigue. He has squandered the political capital of the US, blunted the sword of our military might, and planted the seeds of doubt of our claim to superpower status.

Lying about weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al-qaeda, Crusader Rabbit turned the West from victims of marginal Muslim extremism to the perpetuators of it. Rather than marginalizing the extremists, he has marginalized the American military by bogging them down in an occupation of patently unsympathetic Iraqis. The occupation of Iraq has exposed the soft underbelly of democracy, which requires a minority willing to be governed by a majority. And he has evangelized one of the world's great democratic civilizations. (http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/oct82005/foreign1628462005107.asp.)

And now he's about to make it all worse. While the usual lefties dismissed Bush's latest speech about Iraq as the "same old" "9/11 time warp" (http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/100705J.shtml), the hard noses who more closely watch him for any deviation from approved rhetoric, the conservatives, noticed and approved the Bush's new intention to take Islam head on. The Heritage Foundation had this to say:

"By identifying the enemy specifically as Islamic radicalism, rather than the more generic “terrorism,” Bush’s latest speech is a step forward in the evolving U.S. approach to defeating al Qaeda. The change signifies a recognition that terrorism is only a part of bin Laden’s revolutionary strategy for imposing his harsh Islamic ideology on the Muslim world and that “bin Ladenism” will continue to pose a threat long after the terrorist leader has been captured or killed....
"The President described in detail the nature, goals, and strategy of the Islamic extremists: “This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom....”
"Bush correctly (sic) pointed out that “We’re not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We’re facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world.” He ruled out any attempt at appeasement and prepared the nation for a long ideological struggle against the militant network and its enablers, including Iran and Syria. However, the outcome of this struggle is not in doubt because “Islamic radicalism, like the ideology of communism, contains inherent contradictions that doom it to failure.” http://www.heritage.org/Research/MiddleEast/wm778.cfm
And if you think that reference to fighting Islam didn't raise a hackle or two in the land of Islam, have a read of http://www.jihadunspun.com/intheatre_internal.php?article=104698&list=/home.php

This statement paves the way for Bush to invade Iran and Syria (neither of which supplies bin Laden any significant support from anything I have read), all as part of a grand plan. It gives him more cover for his failure to snag bin Laden. It draws us closer into a Christian Crusade against Islamic "elements". Rather than further marginalizing Al-qaeda, this gives it greater power as the focus of all of our rhetoric, and humiliates us for our inability to deal with the criminals who invaded New York.

And all in the name of saving "the Muslim world" from the "harsh Islamic ideology" of "bin Laden-ism". Great. Just Great. Bush creates another religion, another "ism", where before there was just a bandit and then seeks to impose a Western, faith-based perspective and "solution" on an issue that, apart from the criminal terrorist acts, doesn't involve the non-Muslim world.

If this is to be an ideological battle, the last thing the West needs is to be led by an idiot-logical Christian. If this is to be a faith-based battle, it will have no solution, only more bluster, more battle, more victims, more scores on the same old scoreboard, more old scores to setttle at a later date. In a battle against a religious ideology, it is going to be all the more intractable if we nominate our side to be led by a competing religious ideology. Just remember what the author of the Jihad cite noted above said: "This [Bush's speech] is the best rallying point for all the young and energetic faithful who are struggling in the last global struggle between the good and the evil."

I am not denying that we are up against a religious ideology. I was up against one when I was growing up in Texas. Not as violent, but one intrusively concerned with the length or part of my hair, the sound of my music and the length of my sister's skirt, just the same. I accept that that is the nature of the problem. I do not accept that an evangelically-driven faith-based policy approach is one that will find the right nuances, the right compromises, the right sensitivities to reach a practicable solution. As our misadventure in Iraq showed, you can shock and awe the bodies, but you have got to find another way to win over the minds. I do not believe that an Onward Christian Soldier mindset can do that in this case. We cannot afford to have Crusader Rabbit go off on some kind of messianic throwback of religious glory. The situation does not even afford us the possibility of the appearance of it.

Going back to Peter Hartcher's piece on the Indonesian situation is instructive:
"Why was the Darul Islam movement so durable even after half a century of repression by successive tough dictators? It was not the brilliance of its members or the power of its international sponsors - for most of its life it hasn't had any. It has never had much money or many guns.
It endured because of the attraction of its vision. Its power is in its appeal as an idea. And now the Darul Islam movement has been electrified by its connections to the al-Qaeda ideal of a world united by the global rule of Islam.
"It is in the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet," wrote one of the leaders of the modern Islamist movement, Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928.
The terrorists are trying to engineer what the American political scientist Samuel Huntington foresaw as a "clash of civilisations" between Islam and the West.
"A delegation of Indonesian parliamentarians visited Australia recently, members of their foreign affairs committee and drawn from all the main political parties. They expressed bewilderment at Australia's misconception of the nature of the problem.
"The focus on counter-terrorism from Australia is all physical so far," said one MP, Untung Wahono from the Islamic-oriented Justice and Prosperity Party or PKS. "But it's really about belief. Perhaps Australia can invent a device that will detect terrorists' beliefs and go 'beep.' "
Another, Boy M.W. Saul of the Democratic Party, the party of the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said: "It's an issue of belief. We have to force these people to change their views."
The first priority for Indonesia is to demonstrate that it can develop successfully as a democratic, stable and prosperous society within its existing constitutional framework as a secular, tolerant state where people are free to practise their religion but not to impose it on others.
This will legitimise the current system, and deprive the extremists of a platform for mass support. But this is by no means a certain outcome. Indonesia, only six years after the fall of its last dictator, is still a system in the experimental stage. And Islam, after being repressed in Indonesia for decades, is still trying to find its own natural level in Indonesian society. How the state and Islam come into balance is an open question.
The future of the Yudhoyono Government, less than a year old, is an important part of this experiment. Yudhoyono, a modern, secular leader who is working against terrorism and corruption and in favour of economic growth, is pro-Western and, specifically, pro-Australian. He is, in short, the best thing Australia has going at the moment.
He has just been obliged to cut fuel subsidies, effectively doubling the price of petrol. Raising the price of petrol is extraordinarily sensitive in Indonesia - it was one of the triggers for the downfall of both Soekarno and Soeharto.
The last thing Yudhoyono needs just now is to be undermined by Australia. Barton's advice: "He's vulnerable right now and Australia needs to recognise that in the way it engages him." It would certainly be a bonus for the terrorists if, by killing some Australian tourists in Bali, they can drive a wedge into Indonesian relations with Australia.
The unwavering aim for Australia must be to concentrate on helping the emergence of a secular, stable and successful Indonesia, to try, as the British are trying with Turkey, to bring all the world together on the side of civilisation. That way, we win and the terrorists lose."
I fear we must work against religious zealots on two fronts, both in our own homelands as well as in the homelands of the marginal Muslims, else they will consume us all in their flames and their gods' names.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Nicholas Brain said...

An interesting contribution to the ongoing debate surrounding how we should deal with terrorism post-september 11.

Indeed, these sorts of discussions are rare to find today. This is not surprising considering that in Australian Political culture opinions tend to form around traditional ideological lines because they indicate where you stand on the political spectrum. For example, members from the broad left tend to be against the War in Iraq, pro-palestine and are anti-America. In comparsion members from the broad right tend to justify the war, are pro-israel and pro-America. These two competiting views tend not to leave room for centralists in politics, whom would assert a common sense approach is required in dealing with these issues.

I can state with certainty that most Australians are sick of hearing about the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict and recognise peace can only be achieved if both sides reach a compromise. I can also state that they recognise war can sometimes be unavoidable, particularly if our civilisation is under threat. On the final point, most Australians like consuming American goods and can respect America's democratic institutions. What they don't like is US unilateralism.

In a time were citizens are searching for answers on quesitons concerning terrorism, our political leaders are still divided amongst these traditional ideological lines. Unfortunately, this will not provide us with comprehensive answers about what we as lay persons can can do to help eliminate terrorism. Being on the lookout for aliens with a be 'alert, but not alarmed' attitude won't help. This is proven by the fact the London bombers were home grown. Instead, we need to have a real debate concerning how terrorism has been permitted to be bred in our world. Otherwise, its like you said Guambat. Extremists on both sides will win and get the war they so badly want to fight.

12 October 2005 at 8:41:00 pm GMT+10  

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