Ron Paul, Neoconservatism and Islamophobia, Plus a Thought Experiment
Supporters and opponents of Ron Paul’s foreign policy make a number of arguments, some good, some bad, and some, frankly, mad. Since I’m in the position of supporting Ron Paul, whilst having significant qualms about his foreign policy positions and, more particularly, attitudes, I’m quite sensitive to one of the more effective responses of those who argue that this rollback of the American empire would be immoral and dangerous.
The argument runs like this. Look at the conflicts of the past decade or so – Chechynya, Xinjiang, Kashmir, Israel-Palestine, South Sudan, Darfur, Indonesia, Nigeria – and try and figure out what they can’t have in common. In most of these cases there’s no legacy of U.S. meddling to pin the blame, so it must be something else and the answer is pretty obvious. The unifying thread in all these conflicts is Islam. Either, Osama Bin Laden is telling the truth and there really is a global conspiracy to attack Mohammedan faith, or, and rather more plausibly, Islam is very prone to getting into conflicts with other people.
The Islamocritics have two main pieces of supporting evidence. First, there are the Koran and Hadith, which are, they argue, essentially a charter for endless expansionist war against the infidel. What we call Islamic extremism is not, they argue actually extreme in Islam, it’s just what it’s holy texts call on their adherents to do. Calling jihad ‘extremism’ is like calling belief in the Virgin Birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus ‘extremist Christianity’ or belief that the Torah was given on Mt Sinai and the binding nature of all 613 mitzvot, ‘extremist Judaism’; it may not be what most Muslims believe, but it is nevertheless what their religion says.
The second piece of evidence is Islamic history and, yeah, frankly, it’s a pretty bloody affair. Sure, there were the famous high spots of Golden Age Spain or the tolerant and magnanimous Sulemein the Magnificent, but even these were in conquered territories where the native population was systematically exploited and, further, they quickly degenerated into much more fanatical and intolerant kingdoms. The other stuff is eyewatering. I’ll just rattle off a few data points. The famous barbarian invasions at the end of the Roman empire don’t seem to have made much of a dent in the population of North Africa, which stayed steady until the 7th century Muslim invasions when it suddenly plummeted. The Ottomans had an elite army called the janissaries, kidnapped in their youth from (usually) Christian parents, castrated and kept as slaves till their dying day. During the Islamic invasions of India between 1000 and 1500 CE the population fell by something like 80 million. The victims of the long campaigns of the Monghol warrior king Timur (or Tamerlane as the English speaking world knows him) are estimated at about 19 million.
So, the Islamocritics argue, the Islamic world will always have a tendency to throw up violence. From the battle of Lepanto, through the Gates of Vienna to the Battle of Tours, it was only strong military defense that kept Islam from totally overwhelming western civilization. America can’t just end the war on terror and hope to make peace with these people. Any attempt to do so will just free them to wage yet more bloody violence, with terrorism and genocide spreading until eventually America just has to get involved, as it did, but too late, against the menaces of Fascism and Communism in the 20th century. It’s no accident that the non-interventionist Jefferson, was forced to go to war against the Barbary Pirates who thought that their religion permitted, ney commanded, them to loot infidel ships at will.
Now, as I said, this argument has force, though that’s not to say I agree with it entirely. A lot of the arguments, say, about the unique danger of an Iranian bomb are premised on the idea that, whereas post-Enlightenment ideas like Communism (essentially a revolt against reality) are at least “rational”, religions are not. I also can’t help but notice that a lot of the arguments that are used to show the regressive and oppressive nature of Islam are also used about Orthodox Judaism and since I know from experience that, in the latter case, such claims are gross distortions, I also have to distrust them in the case of the former. In fact, a lot of the criticisms Muslims make about the modern, secular West are, basically, bang on target. Further, in as much as the Middle East is a pretty dysfunctional and unpleasant place, my reading of history leads me to place more of the blame on Arab nationalism, a typically destructive 20th century ideology, in comparison with which Islam is relatively benign.
So, I’m not fully on board with the Mark Steyns and Jihadwatchers of the world. I see the Islamic world as something more like the Romans, a civilization whose default mode is expansion and which, when it is unable to make more military conquests, has a strong tendency to atrophy. The lust for conquest and victory is not the most edifying thing in the world, but it’s pretty human and I have a sneaking regard for the assertiveness of the Muslims compared to the morbid self-loathing of the liberal West. That said, however much a 2nd century German or Parthian might have admired the Roman’s poetry or art, or their boisterous exuberance, they certainly got scared when the Centurions were marching in their general direction and it seems sensible to take a sort of similar approach to Islam, without the touch of hysteria some are prone too.
But here’s the thing. The neo-conservative foreign policy of George Bush has absolutely nothing whatsoever to with that. Bush’s first act as President after the 911 bombings was to visit a Mosque and declare that Islam was a ‘religion of peace’, perverted by only a handful of extremists. Soon after that he declared America’s commitment to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The idea of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan was premised on the universalist assumption that the only thing wrong with these countries was their tyrannical rulers and, with these gone, they could be swiftly transformed into modern functioning democracies. That means, Islam is fundamentally fine, if you can just get rid of the nasty rulers oppressing their own people. Neo-conservatism is actually Islamophillic, it’s just not very successful at being so since the policies it advocates have an unfortunate tendency of enraging the people they are supposed to help.
In short, you can be an Islamophobe or you can support the neoconservative policy of foreign intervention, but you can’t do both, or at least you can’t do so without a lot of cognitive dissonance. There’s something almost uniquely bathetic about seeing people vociferously support wars in the Middle East based on an analysis of Islam that itself demonstrates that these wars are futile wastes of money and life.
Now, let’s say the Jihad-fighters are right, or at least half right. What can we do? One option, I suppose, would be to just declare war on the whole Islamic world, forcibly convert its leaders to Christianity and have done with it, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind is up for that. So, I have the following suggestions for what the western world can reasonably easily do:
1) Set a quota for immigration from the Islamic world at somewhere near to zero. Of course, if there’s some wizkid scientist from Dubai who wants a job at Harvard we can tacitly look the other way, but, as a general rule, if we really need cheap immigrant labor we can get it from Latin America or Eastern Europe. If Muslim populations in the West want to continue their practice of taking brides from the homeland they should be free to do so, but they will have to do it over there. Hopefully, once starved of fresh recruits the existing populations of the West would go the way of the Jewish populations of America and the United Kingdom before WW2, evolving more moderate versions of their faith, assimilating and finally, intermarrying almost out of existence.
2) No more foreign aid for the Islamic world. Not one penny, ever.
3) Withdraw all Western support for a Palestinian state. If Israel wants to annex Judah and Samaria, so be it, if they want to just carry on with the status quo, then they can do that. What matters is that the Western world has no interest in creating yet another Islamic state.
4) Fund Christian missionaries (and Scientologists too if we want) to spread their faith in the Islamic world. In the West, whilst being careful not to restrict anyone’s freedom of religion, government institutions should not to fund Islamic outreach groups or allow them access to state-run schools, university and media outlets.
Whenever, I make these points though, the big bad foreign policy hawks seem to go all wobbly at the knees and say something like “that’s not feasible” or “we can’t do that”. Well maybe not, but it’s a pretty loopy world where launching trillion dollar wars on the other side of the globe to impose democracy on phenomenally violent societies is realistic and mainstream, whereas immigration controls are fringe.
So, essentially what I’m saying is, if you can’t man up enough to support something like the program I’ve outlined, then please drop all the counter-Jihad rhetoric and just stop throwing money down the drain on utopian wars for global democracy. If you would endorse such a program then why are you rejecting Ron Paul in favor of other Republicans who have no intention of implementing any such policies at all? I’ll end by noting that while Ron Paul is just as big an Islamophile as the Neocons, at least he wouldn’t antagonize the Islamic world so much in the process and, further, he’s already made items (2) and (3) on my list part of his official policy, placing him a few steps ahead of warriors Perry, Santorum and Gingrich at a much lower cost.