Thursday, September 19, 2002

A Very Persuasive Essay About Why The West Must Engage in Cultural Genocide

It's here. Den Beste says a lot of sensible things about the problems of the Middle East. You don't have to agree, but it raises some important issues about the manner in which envy drives much of the hatred of the West.

UPDATE: Eric S. Raymond's position is much the same as Den Beste's.

Let me make a couple of cautious points, however. Raymond is arguing for the revival of nineteenth century imperialism as a way to avoid "the likely alternative is nuclear megadeath, plague in our home cities, and the smell of Sarin in the morning." A few caveats on such a strategy:

1. Part of what brought about the various fundamentalist revivals of Islam was imperialism threatening traditional ways of living. The Shah of Iran's attempts to drag his people out of the fourteenth century played a strong part in putting the mullahs in power. (Dragging them into the fourteenth century with electrical devices attached to their genitals certainly wasn't going to help the Shah's position.)

2. Nineteenth century imperialism was a mixture of simple greed and high-minded idealism; as one of my textbooks in college pointed out, it was as much a Peace Corps sort of idea for some Europeans as the pursuit of resources and political control. This can be a good thing; if you could sell liberals on the idea that such imperialism would be for the purpose of liberating women, educating the masses, and promoting democracy, they could put all their good intentions to work on reforming the Middle East. The bad side, however, is that this is part of what got us into the mess of the twentieth century--local political leaders using our doctrines to argue for decolonialization. In the case of Africa, it's clear that the European powers, having done practically nothing to prepare these nations for modern nationhood, left too early, with horrifying results.

3. Let's not get too confident that the Japanese example of reform is going to work with Arabs. Japan was a culture very deeply accepting of orders and hierarchy. General McArthur came in, took over, and effectively replaced the Emperor as ruler of Japan. The Japanese, being a deference culture, accepted this. It is not at all clear that modern Japan's democracy really works the way that the formal constitution describes. This is a country with >99% confession and conviction rates, and where torture is commonly used by police--while judges simply refuse to see it, even when there are still marks on the prisoner's body.

4. Germany worked perfectly, because the sickness there wasn't very old. It was, in a sense, a recent overlay of totalitarianism on top of a mildly authoritarian culture. We weren't trying to remove centuries of a wildly different culture, as we would be in the Middle East.

ANOTHER UPDATE: It occurs to me if the West decided to simply starve out the Arab world by refusing to either buy or sell from them, in very short order, most of these countries would collapse. The Saudis can't eat oil. The difficulty is that such embargoes are very difficult to maintain for any length of time, as was discovered when Libya secretly violated the 1973 oil embargo to the West.

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