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Naming the Foe

Jul
24
2005

I’m not sure that the difference between the “evil-doers” of George W. Bush and the “evil ideology” of Tony Blair is as significant as Chris Nolan asserts. The President’s rhetoric is rooted in a background alien to Tony Blair’s: namely, that of conservative American Protestantism. But the meaning is essentially identical. Note the Presidents’ pre-7/7 interview with the Times of London, in which he discusses an “ideology of hatred” indistinguishable from the Prime Minister’s post-7/7 formulation. On the policy front, too, the close cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere defies much attempt at discerning conceptual daylight between the allies’ leadership.


Because the concept of the enemy is basically the same, the flaws in the concept are basically the same. The specific nature of the enemy ideology, when it is elaborated upon at all, is characterized as “evil” or one of “hatred” as mentioned. This vagueness is inactionable, and purposefully so for two reasons. First, the policy implications are unpalatable; second, the leaders are sincere converts to the multicultural cause. When specifics of place and peoples must be invoked, the references to the terrorists’ self-proclaimed cause of Islam are thereby rendered absurd in the extreme. How risible would it be in a sane world for the likes of the President to repeatedly pronounce upon the very nature of a faith — or for the endlessly slick Tony Blair to utter theological verities with the certitude of a legitimate scholar or a cleric?

Chris, I take it, rejects the clash of civilizations thesis; I do not, but I suspect we can both agree that there are social pathologies within the ummah that drive its members to jihad around the planet. Whether this is an expression of “real” or “legitimate” or “mainstream” Islam is neither relevant nor a thing that we non-Muslims ought to presume to declare. The ideal of liberal democracy incorporates faith into public policy only inasmuch as faith affects action in the public sphere: thus it’s a legitimate concern of the US government whether Mormons practice polygamy; and of the Indian government whether Hindus practice sati; and of the British government whether tribalist immigrants practice ritual child abuse. What these governments do not do is legislate against Mormon celestial marriage, Hindu reincarnationism, or tribal demonologies. One is left to wonder why Islam is different.

Because our leaders do not call things what they are, and because they wade into waters for which they are grossly unprepared, we are left with the signal struggle of our era cast as a “war on terror” — a ludicrous struggle against a tactic that can have no conceivable end. The mind rebels at the Second World War being fought to stamp out mechanized divisions per se; but it is precisely for this manner of conceptual incoherence that we ask our best and bravest to fight and die on foreign fields today.

Is there a meaningful difference between the President and the PM in this? No.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 6:29 PM | Permalink

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