14 March 2006

Grisly, Man

A caller to KGO this afternoon was apparently not the first to make the comparison between Tom Fox, the peace activist who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in Iraq, and Timothy Treadwell, the quixotic nature boy chronicled in Werner Herzog's film, Grizzly Man.

It might seem a little tasteless - or heartless - to liken Fox's conviction that his religious faith and non-violent principles would protect him against the Islamo-fascists currently wreaking ruin upon Iraq to Treadwell's belief that grizzly bears were just "big party animals" that he could safely befriend.

But while Fox's death certainly occurred in a nobler cause, it's hard to avoid the sense that his actions were just as naive, if not downright foolish. His unfortunate demise should also - but probably won't - serve as an object lesson to left-wing Islamophiles who persist in believing that if only America weren't so "evil" and "imperialistic," the Middle East would settle right down into a cute and cuddly little workers' paradise.

The fact that Bush and Co. have so badly botched the war and are in serious danger of losing it does not obviate the disaster that would ensue if Iraq falls into the hands of the suicide bombing and beheading brigades. The growing sentiment for simply withdrawing American and British troops and leaving the Iraqis to their own devices is understandable, but I'm afraid it would only postpone a war that must be fought sooner or later.

Perhaps I'm wrong. America's withdrawal from Vietnam didn't lead to communist hordes rampaging across all of Asia. Okay, Cambodia suffered horribly, but after only a few decades, the region is stabilizing and, surprise, surprise, turning into yet another burgeoning capitalist market.

But my sense is that Islamism represents a different kind of enemy. Communism as an ideology had its bizarre aspects, but ultimately it was a thoroughly modern - albeit misguided - effort to pursue rational political and economic goals. Islamism more closely resembles fascism or Nazism: an irrational, implacable, totalitarian culture which insists on imposing itself on the world at large by any means necessary. Just as with fascism, our choices seem limited to either fighting it or succumbing to it.

In any pluralistic and progressive society like America or Europe, there's going to be a significant constituency for peace at nearly any price; in normal times, this can be considered almost a strength rather than a weakness. But when a society is under direct threat from outside forces, it's worth considering Orwell's argument that British pacifists who advocated a non-violent response to Nazi aggression could not claim a moral high ground because they were in effect lending their support to Nazism.

His reasoning turned on the fact that there was no equivalent pacifist movement in Nazi Germany, and that if there had been, it would have been immediately and ruthlessly snuffed out. The sad case of Tom Fox and other idealists who've preceded him should demonstrate that much the same holds true in the Islamo-fascist world.


kendra said...

have you read terror and liberalism by paul berman? i think you'd like it.

Spoke said...

For centuries, the world's countries managed their own domestic/international disputes without the aid of America. Good or bad, for whatever reason,historically that is how it has been. Recently however,the self appointed global police who is America,has been allowed to run rampant around the globe to force rules on other Countries that they themselves don't even adhere to. Although the Geneva Convention agrees on said "rules'. Or worse yet,when America denies breaking said rules (white phosphorous, torture etc.)However, they didn't sign did they? I find it disgraceful,that the American leadership is only concerned with things that will benefit them directly. The only reason they bully their way into other countrys is for personal gain (to the Bush gang's pockets) If it wasn't true, we'd see Uncle Sam in places like the Congo for instance. But there is no oil there now is there? I for one, will not be surprised, when Canada is invaded by American Forces for our oil,natural gas and fresh water.
Its a shame really, the American people are lumped into the "American" category. America, at one time, was my favorite country to visit. I don't think this rings true anymore, I'm freightened of it.

laura said...

Sorry Larry, but what you wrote about Tom Fox is crap. A cursory glance at his own blog shows that he knew what he was getting into by going to Iraq. In October 2004 he directly addressed the possibility of being kidnapped and murdered as a peacemaker. Going to a conflict zone with a gun and going to a conflict zone with peacemaking skills and intentions are equal acts of naivety. Nevertheless either can be effective interventions one way or another. Peacemaking is important because it can be effective, but it is done because it is important to the individual conscience of the individual peacemaker. The Treadwell theory is not tasteless, it's lazy and bollocks. It is also the sort of story people tell themselves to justify the fact that they are standing idly by rather than being moved by conscience to act.

I suggest that you look at, for example, Tom Fox's post on the Iraq Constitution in September 2005 if you actually believe that he saw Iraq's problems as merely the interference of Americans.

I concur with Kendra that Berman's book is your sort of thinking. On the other hand, if you want your preconceptions challenged a bit you could do worse than seeing what Tom Fox had to say for himself:

Larry Livermore said...

Thanks for the link, Laura; I had a look at Tom Fox's own writing and didn't see much to change my opinion. It's obvious that he was a very idealistic man, but so, in his own way, was the Grizzly Man. Both thought that their own world-view and/or spiritual beliefs might somehow render them immune to the conditions that afflict most normal existences.

To the extent that Tom Fox recognised that he might die in pursuit of his vision, we can either admire him as a martyr, or mourn him as a misinformed ideologue with a Christ-complex. Both viewpoints, I think, have some validity.

I did pick up Berman's Terror And Liberalism, recommended both by Kendra and Dr Frank, and am about halfway through it. You're right, I do find much more to agree with there, though I haven't yet had the time to check out the accuracy of some of Berman's more surprising (to me, anyway) premises, such as not just the commonalities, but the shared history between militant Islamism and Western fascism and Nazism (and, to a lesser extent, Communism).

Whereas Tom Fox seems to have a not particularly unique viewpoint, one common to the allegedly antiwar left, which seems to focus exclusively on documenting the awfulness of it all without ever suggesting a practical (as opposed to a mystical or quixotic) alternative.

drydock said...

A review of Bermans book.


Larry Livermore said...

Thanks for the link; I've read the review, by Ian Buruma, and found it very insightful and well argued. I recommend that anyone interested in the subject have a look at it.

That being said, it does come up a bit short in terms of offering constructive alternatives to Berman's viewpoint. In Buruma's opinion, many of Berman's premises are valid; it's just his conclusion - that we have little choice but to wage war against radical Islamism if we do not wish to suffer worse consequences - that is at fault.

All well and good, and I'd like to agree, but while Buruma makes some good points, especially in light of the fiasco that the Bush team has made out of Iraq, his contention that we in the West simply can't expect to achieve significant positive results through intervention in the Islamic world leaves one asking what, if anything, we can do?

At that point, it seems, Buruma is content to join the chorus of doom so prevalent on the left and on the isolationist right in a rousing version of, "Ain't it awful?" alternating with "The sky is falling and we've got no umbrella."

Which may be true, but anyone, proponent or critic of waging war against Islamism, needs to offer something more than accusations and laments if he or she wants to hold my attention. And this is where the so-called "antiwar" forces seem to be constantly coming up short.

Larry Livermore said...

Note to Spoke:

While it may be true that the world's countries "managed their own domestic/international disputes without the aid of America," it's equally true that they "managed" them in much the same way that they are too frequently managed today: by bombing, attacking, invading, colonising, occupying, and exploiting, whether by stealth or brute force, those who were weaker.

Whether the degree of violence or exploitation is greater or less now that America has graduated to global top dog is something that could be argued from here nigh on to infinity, and I know quite a few people in Berkeley who will be happy to do just that.

Certainly one can point to crimes and excesses on the part of America, but one must also acknowledge America for its role in defending civilisation against the twin perils of fascism and communism (incidentally, Berman claims that these two extremist ideologies are not opposites, as their adherents insist, but only variant expressions of totalitarianism, something I've been arguing myself for some time).

Now that America, whether by choice or default, has taken on the role of global policeman, it's of course vital to call American actions to account when they breach accepted standards of international conduct or basic human decency. But at the same time, it's worth keeping in mind: if not America, who? What other country or alliance of countries has the power and will to defend civilisation against the perils currently aligned against it?

I don't doubt personal or corporate gain forms part of the motivation for American intervention in other countries, but I'm not cynical enough to believe that it's the only or even the most important reason. America has always been a highly idealistic country - too idealistic, many would claim - and has often expended enormous effort and sacrifice in defence of democratic principles when it would have been cheaper and safer (in the short run, anyway) to stay out of the fray. As with individuals, countries don't act on a single motivation, nor for solely good or evil reasons. Like individuals, they're far more complex than that.

drydock said...

While I disagree with liberal/leftists who argue that the Islamists pose no threat, I do agree with Fukuyama that threat was way overexagerrated (by the neo-cons). Further I would argue the Islamist threat didn't particularly exist in Iraq. Saddam was completly hostile to them. This is pretty well known.

Hitchens was a liar on this point-- trying to connect 911 to Saddam. And Berman was misleading in arguing that Baathism is rooted in Islamism. (the Baath party was founded by a Syrian Christian). Islamists are now pretty much in control of both the government and the insurgency in Iraq. If the goal of the Iraq war was to smash Islamism, I can't think of a worst job.