Sunday, September 04, 2005

Just another word for nothing left to lose

The president and his administration are fond of using historical analogies to bolster America's resolve in the war on Iraq and the larger war on terror. The war against jihadism is akin to our nation's great and ultimately successful struggles against fascism in World War II and communism during the Cold War. Many of these analogies, of course, are bogus, and this thoughtful essay explains why the comparison to communism fails:

But there is an essential distinction -- one that may make the strategy that worked against the Soviet empire impotent with regard to the jihadists. Communism was a version of modernity. It valued education -- above all, scientific education -- and it insisted on gender equality. The United States was also committed to modernity. The conflict was thus a clash between two systems that shared certain fundamental presuppositions. And given the rank inferiority of the communist version, the belief that democracy and capitalism could and would prevail made sense.

But the conflict with jihadism is a contest between modernity and antimodernity, and, as we are discovering to our cost, obscurantism has a far larger constituency and a far more powerful hold on the popular imagination, certainly in the Islamic world, than most people imagined a generation ago. Jihadists have the advantage of speaking to a Muslim population that already shares many of their beliefs, whereas communists had to indoctrinate many of their constituents from scratch. Add to this the fact that, in countries like Egypt, a version of modernity has largely failed to provide ordinary people with a decent life, and the appeal of the fundamentalists is neither so difficult to explain nor so irrational as it sometimes appears. ...

Of course people crave freedom, but Karen Hughes's idea of it and the Ayatollah al-Sistani's idea of it are very different. As for people unfailingly choosing tolerance, the historical perspective suggests that this has been the exception rather than the rule. An American public diplomacy that convinces itself otherwise has little chance of success, no matter how influential the person at its helm and how many resources she has at her disposal.


Blogger Rob said...

Communism tried to deny a lot of science. They were very strongly opposed to the idea of evolution. Their attempts to substitute Lamarckian principles resulted in severe damage to their agricultural programs.

1:47 PM

Blogger Maria said...

This administration isn't exactly the biggest proponent of science.

2:40 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

The point was that the debate between capitalism and communism was held on our own terms.

11:26 AM


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