Skip to comments.Civilization Envy
Posted on 09/28/2001 2:01:52 PM PDT by VinnyTex
September 28, 2001 4:15 p.m.
Someone once noted that a "gaffe" in Washington is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. Thanks to globalization, this is a worldwide phenomenon.
A Reuters story this morning begins, "Muslims around the world today demanded an apology from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the European Union recoiled with horror after the Italian asserted that Western Civilization was superior to Islam."
The Arab League demanded an apology or an explicit denial that the Italian could have even said such a thing. The European Union, led by Belgium (stop laughing), acted as if someone had used his fingers to eat caviar. "I can hardly believe Mr. Berlusconi made such remarks," gasped Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian prime minister.
Mr. Berlusconi told reporters in Berlin, "We should be conscious of the superiority of our civilization, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion."
"This respect certainly does not exist in Islamic countries," he asserted.
While critics have called his remarks "unacceptable," "barbaric," "silly," and of course "racist," I am at a loss to find a single untrue word in his remarks (meanwhile, how his comments can be "racist" is beyond me, since all "races" can be found within the Islamic world).
Now of course, this hasn't always been so. There was a time when the Muslim world was out in front in the race for human advancement, and there was an even longer period when the leader in that race was too close to call between the Islamic, European, and Chinese civilizations. But for right now, and for the foreseeable future, members and fans of Western Civilization have every right to wave the big foam "We're Number 1" finger as high as we want.
There's not a single category of enlightened governance in which the West broadly speaking isn't superior to the Islamic world again, broadly speaking. Religious freedom, social mobility, and tolerance, the guarantee of rights and liberties in law, prosperity you name it, and we beat the robes off them (though in family cohesion, they probably have the edge on us).
To disagree with this assessment would require us to throw out the very standards by which we judge our own society's shortcomings. For example, you can't say (as Jesse Jackson does all of the time) that the United States is racist or authoritarian or a police-state, and hold that Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, et al., aren't far worse, without being intellectually dishonest. You can't say that it's a crime that America "lets" so many of its people live in poverty, and then think that Saddam Hussein, with his dozens of palaces, is in some way a more enlightened leader. The same holds even for our "allies" Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Even in the historical arena, the argument is not so cut-and-dried as the anti-Westerners would have us believe. After all, the Arabs are just as culpable for their participation in the slave trade as the West. What makes the West unique was not our involvement in slavery, but our insistence upon ending the institution, both at home and abroad.
No, I'm beginning to believe that the central source of animus from the Arab world is, quite simply, envy.
Indeed, I've been reading a lot of books and articles about the Middle East lately (what? I do research sometimes), and I'm coming to the conclusion that this really doesn't have much to do with Israel after all. At first, like everybody else, I could hardly avoid the conclusion that the World Trade Center was related in some significant way to Israel. I never agreed with the folks who are always looking to peg any of these sorts of things on our support of Israel, but it seemed naïve to think that the Jewish state didn't have something to do with it (even though bin Laden's biggest gripe is the presence of our "crusader" armies on the Arabian peninsula and they aren't there because of Israel, they're there to protect the flow of oil from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia).
Of course, even if the attack did result from our support for Israel, I wouldn't have agreed with those who say September 11th proves we should abandon Israel. After all, you can make enemies by having the right policies just as easily as you can from having the wrong ones just ask all the cops who are hated just for being cops. We supported Afghani freedom fighters in order to defeat the Soviet Empire, and just because the Taliban is a harsh unintended consequence of that support, doesn't mean we should have held the door open for Soviet expansionism. Does it?
Bernard Lewis, perhaps the greatest living English-language historian of the Middle East, wrote a brilliant essay eleven years ago in the Atlantic entitled "The Roots of Muslim Rage." It is the best short piece I've found on this subject to date, and I think anyone interested in this topic should read it (thanks to Andrew Sullivan for calling it to my attention).
Lewis shows that while Israel is obviously unpopular in the Arab world, it may not be for the reasons so many knee-jerk Israel foes believe. Consider that when the Soviet Union was a bigger supporter of Israel than the U.S., the Arab world didn't turn their enmity upon the Russians for it. Nor did they praise America when we stood aloof from Israel's plight. The United States has no imperialist or colonial record that even compares to Britain's, France's, or Germany's, and yet we are denounced for our "imperialism" more than any other country. Indeed, the Russians ruled millions of Muslims, while the U.S. ruled virtually none. And yet the United States remains the bad guy above all others. Lewis suggests, with professional restraint, that this is because the Muslim world is jealous and resentful. Pure and simple.
Islamic culture, politics, and religion which are far more conjoined than they are in the West cannot reconcile with the fact that the West, led by America, is the lead dog on the sled of humanity. Israel may serve as a painful reminder of this superiority, but they will find something else to gripe about no matter what you do.
The Islamic world has a self-esteem problem.
Lewis gives a wonderful example. In 1979, a group of Muslim dissidents seized the Great Mosque in Mecca "an event in which there was no American involvement whatsoever," Lewis writes and an angry crowd in Islamabad, Pakistan, attacked and burned the American embassy in response.
This is the sort of thing individuals and even whole societies do when they feel they aren't getting the respect they deserve. Personally, it reminds me of our domestic race-mongers who are convinced that every American action or event has to do with race. It's an attempt to elevate your own status by picking an "opponent" of greater stature even if that "opponent" doesn't spend a minute out of his year thinking about you. The deeper your sense of victimhood, and the more unfair the world is to you, the greater your claim to moral superiority.
Indeed, after September 11, claims to social martyrdom were invoked by Arab-American activists far more quickly than any denunciations of the assault. In that corner of the national conversation, the shrieks of outrage about discrimination against Muslims came fast and furious, while the fatwas against mass murder remained in their holsters.
But this attitude also reminds me, oddly enough, of the global assault on McDonald's, about which I've written a bunch. Around the world, McDonald's is attacked for all sorts of bizarre reasons, including ones that don't technically qualify as "anti-American." Depending where you go, Mickey D's haters may invoke the environment or animal rights, economics or religion. Indeed, protestors often prefer attacking McDonald's to attacking the local American Embassy.
While ideologues of all kinds see McDonald's as an enemy, McDonald's sees them only as potential customers. This conflict of visions alone may explain a lot of the problem. But from a broader perspective, the anger may be explained by the fact that McDonald's is a tangible signal that the world is going in a direction these people don't like. McDonald's is carried on the same wind as consumer culture generally, women's rights, economic freedom, and all sorts of other stuff, good and bad.
But one thing is certain: That wind blows from America. This arouses jealousies, inflates grievances, and fans resentments not based in fact. The problem is that even if you get rid of McDonald's, you do nothing to stop the wind. In this sense, Israel may just be like a giant McDonald's franchise in the Middle East an infuriating reminder of the fact the Islamic world won't be calling the shots for a long time to come.
In fact, as Lewis argues better than I, this poses a real problem for both sides in the conflict of civilizations. If America is going to be resented for its success no matter what, there isn't much we can or should do to make them like us. All we can do is protect our own interests as best we can. And then wait for them to grow up.
(It's a bear trying to wade through latest posts or latest articles, anymore. I'll just add you to my home page, then.)
Granted, there's plenty on which we disagree but the book is written in love and is very illuminating in many respects ... both as to Islam and as to those points at which "radical Islam" could be tapped by those with an agenda they can fulfill USING Muslims ... just as they are mighty good at USING Christians to fulfill same in places like Latin America or Catholic Universities.
I'll flag you when I post so you can weigh in. Way back in "Limbo" days, I always found you both thoughtful and thought-provoking.
FWIW, I printed the Atlantic piece out and have saved it as a reference work to compare against current and future events. I think one can make a case that the article posits, amongst other reasons, that "envy" is a driving factor in Muslim rage.
Barbarous folk, Vikings, as-yet-unChristianized Bulgars, Avars, Crusaders and Muslims all flocked to Constantinople as moths to a candle, until weakened by the Crusaders it fell to the Ottoman Turks. The City was a haven to Saxon exiles from the Norman conquest, had tolerant policies toward religious minorities more generous than the dhimmitude offered by Islam, had hospitals, a university, homes for the aged, the poor, and for reformed prostitutes. The arts flourished, for contrary to what Western art historian taught, classical knowledge of perspective and form were preserved in the secular art of the Empire. Indeed, the stylized forms of iconography could not exist without a knowledge of perspective, and the deliberate choice to send a spiritual message by reversing perspective so that the viewer is the vanishing point, and that which is beyond the icon, visually the background, but noetically the spiritual realm to which the icon points is larger. It is from the Empire that both the Muslims and the Western rennaisance derived their knowledge of classical antiquity. The Muslims did not preserve classical antiquity, rather they destroyed its last outpost.
The only significant contributions Islamic culture gave to the world are some poetry (mostly by authors whose sect of Islam was persecuted by the main body of Islam), some non-representational art and algebra. Even the latter is simply the result of having a very smart man who saw how to put the numeration system stolen from the Hindus together with the knowledge of Diophantine equations lifted from the Christian Roman Empire.
We all thought that Brave New World and 1984 addressed western civilization, right?
I have never seen better examples of "doublespeak" than this...
And yes, I also am waiting for the Muslims to point out which part of those statements is not true.
No we are a stupid bunch.
Adding 20 million Afghanis to our welfare rolls will freeze terrorism in its tracks.
Yep, works for me.
Yes, it does. Russia has always been at war with Islam. Just because there happened to be Communists in the Kremlin does not alter the justice of Russia's cause. They also imprisoned murderers and rapists in the USSR. Should we have sided with common felons just because they were enemies of the Soviet government?
The West has been engaged in a life and death struggle with aggressive Islam since Mohammed's psychopathic homicidal vermin galloped out of their desert to destroy Christian civilisation in North Africa. Until now, America has been spared the tender mercies of Islam because we do not have a significant indigenous Islamic community, nor do we border any Islamic states. Now, after 9/11, we Americans have been fully initiated into The West. We have joined the same club as the Byzantine Empire, Russia, Hungary, Austria, Serbia, Greece, Spain, Italy, and France. They have all, at some time, been targeted by Jihad. Their lands were invaded, their citizens massacred, their churches desecrated, and their children sold into slavery.
Russia has know this at first hand. The U.S., blinded by ideological and geo-political categories, simply assumed that the war in Afganistan and the rebellion in Chechnya were purely political struggles. They are not; they are part of an ongoing agenda of world domination that will not end until the last Jihadist is safely planted.
No doubt you'd rather nuke 'em.
I'm all for an all-out assault on bin Laden and sympathetic groups and nations.
But, preventing mass starvation is simply the right thing to do. These Afghanis won't be so amenable to helping the Taliban, either.
A list of discoveries whose utitility was not exploited due to social conditions of the civilization in which they were made does not put a civilization at the forefront of culture or social development. The most humane and cultured society of the middle ages was the Christian Roman Empire, which Islam destroyed and pillaged for the basis on which what you have cited was built.
For the record, the author of this piece is Jonah Goldberg.
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