Friday, January 11, 2008

Censorship and servility 2

Another example of the drip-drip comes in this week's TLS. With stunning relevance for what's happening in the world, Edmund Bosworth reviews Islamic Imperialism (not online) which argues that the 9/11 attacks had "little to do with U.S. international behavior or policy in the Middle East".

No, he's not kidding. And Bosworth finds it refreshing that the book resists the belief (which, for obvious reasons, he attributes to no-one in particular) that "the West is responsible for all the Middle East's ills". Instead, it details various histories revealing Islam's imperial dreams. It's almost comical though how Bosworth plays down the impact of the West's real life imperialism. He does condemn Russia for being "a ruthlessly exploitative power" and even calls the Russians "invaders" but you won't find these words applied to any other Western nation, let alone their ruthless exploitative histories, despite two rather prominent recent examples. Also, apparently the British Empire extended to Mesopotamia only because:
First World War British officialdom, persuaded by advocates of the Arab cause like TE Lawrence, were taken in by the grandiose claims of the Sahrif Husayn ... to express the real will and aspirations of all Arabs in greater Syria and Iraq.
Ah, yes, of course, that makes perfect sense. Britain was benignly concerned to meet the aspirations of Arabs only for them to be ruined by wicked Islamic imperialists! According to the author and reviewer, the US is now in Britain's position. They both say the violence afflicting the region is:
largely directed against the United States (the book was presumably written before the London Tube bombings of 2005), but this is only because America's position as a pre-eminent world power blocks Arab and Islamic imperialist aspirations. If America and Israel disappeared off the map instantly, the attitudes would still be there, albeit with newly found specific targets.
So the US needs to invade and occupy countries for years on end in a totally non-imperialist way in order to protect the world from Islamic imperialism, and any resistance is an expression of Islam's latent imperialism? Bosworth is for good reason a professor of Arabic Studies and not elementary logic. Isn't the reason why the US is a pre-eminent power a major factor in what is happening the Middle East? That is, wouldn't it disappear tomorrow if there was no oil to be found there?

Bosworth admits that Karsh's analysis "will not convince Western liberals with minds fixated on their own guilt, let alone any Muslims". Well, I should hope not, though I do admit I am fixated on the issue of guilt. But it's not guilt I feel. What I feel very strongly is shame and anger that I share this freedom with those for whom professional servility to power takes precedence over the deaths of over a million people, which are not only unmentionable but apparently irrelevant. Or maybe this review was written before any of that happened.


  1. Anonymous5:03 pm

    Why is it, mr. Mitchelmore, that you presume "Islamic Imperialism" is only about "dreams" versus the "real world imperialism" of the West? This is a deep disservice to the book, which traces the history of "real world" Islamic Imperialism from the religion's origins to the present.

    It is a measure of the failures of Western education and the extent to which the West has internalised Muslim charges against it, that most people these days seem not to realise that things like the Crusades were not created in a vacuum. They were a response to centuries of unbridled "real world" Muslim Imperialism, not mere "dreams".

    The "dreams" of a renewed Caliphate and global Islamic Empire are important insofar as they drive most current Muslim terrorism, but it is hardly accurate to imply that Islamic Imperialism has always only been about "dreams" rather than "real-world" Imperialism, and that the latter should be attributed solely to the West. I'd recommend actually reading the book, rather than a two paragraph summary review.

  2. Well please tell me what nations have been invaded by huge armies recently. Any of these armies Islamic? The only islamic armies in action happen to be haphazard ones resisting Christian occupation. Their imperialism is only in dreams.

    The pressing matter in this review (which is what I was responding to) is not Islam's past but the present. The review has an agenda to belittle the suffering of caused by the most powerful army in world history, to sneer at opponents of this terror and to support more of the same. I don't think quibbling about your over-reading of what I wrote is necessary.

  3. So tell us, which Christian countries have these armies invaded recently? The ones you complain the IC isn't doing anything about, could it be because they're internal matters, nothing to do with imperialism?

    And what drove Lebanon in such a direction?

    Islamic terrorism wasn't a problem to the West when it was directed against the Soviets and shouldn't be now, just as a hornets nest shouldn't a problem. Kicking it is the problem.

  4. Oh, and by 'armies' I mean those like ours, tied to a nation - not some ragbag of fanatics.

  5. Anonymous2:22 am

    "Internal matters"? Muslim militias - funded, organized and armed by the government of Sudan - engage in the genocidal mass murder of Christians and animists, and all you can say is, "it's a internal matter"? So long as no Western "imperial" power is involved you're perfectly willing to slough-off mass murder as a mere "internal matter"? Wow, how disgraceful. I shudder to think how you would have responsed to Hitler had you been around then: "Genocide? Who cares? It's just an internal German matter. Better not let those horrid US or British imperialists get involved. After all, we know those imperialist Brits and Yanks are the root of all worldy evil! Make Hitler chairman of the League of Nations Human Rights Commission!"

    We're clearly dealing with a form of mental madness here, one so deranged by hatred of one's own cultural heritage, that you're willing to excuse any attrocity so long as it's committed by some a Third World, non-Western culture. To paraphrase what Christopher Hitchens said regarding his former colleagues at The Nations: You hate the US and Britain more than you hate Islamo-Fascist terrorists who wouldn't hesitate to murder you and everyone else in the West if they ever get their hands on a nuclear bomb, and whose goals are completely antithetical to every fundamental civil and political right that Westerners of all political persuations hold dear.

    Just goes to show you that reading a lot of books and holding oneself out as a keen literary critic and generally cultured person doesn't necessarily have any bearing on one's ability to reason clearly or make sound moral/ethical judgements.

  6. The problems with your statements are numerous, satirev. Steve has offered some correctives. Admittedly, my earlier comment was not exactly helpful in that regard. Let me try now.

    There is "Islamist terrorism". No one who isn't a 9/11 conspiracy theorist pretends there isn't. The question is, what are its actual goals, and what are its likely achievements? As Steve says, there are no "Islamist" armies that remotely resemble the US Army. They may "dream" of a worldwide caliphate, but they have nothing like the resources necessary to achieve this sort of aim. And it's not a real, political aim. Their aim tends to be much more local. Their focus finds us because we are where we do not belong. Israel is a major factor in the recruitment of terrorists. If Israel disappeared tomorrow, would "Islamist" terrorism change? Of course it would. Don't be stupid. Would it disappear altogether? Of course not. No one says it would. One key reason for that is that we'd still be there, in the Middle East, mucking shit up.

    Which brings me to the question of "internal affairs", which I think is misleading and has gotten us sidetracked. The truth is, the problems in the countries you name are not merely internal matters, and they have everything to do with Western imperialism. What do you think happens to places that have been colonized, plundered, under-developed, subjected to he harshest of repression by client tyrants, converted to labor and resources for the imperial center? For this is indeed the history of Western Imperialism, what the West has done to the rest of the world. Do you think the result would magically be sweetness and light? Do you imagine that a modern liberal democracy would somehow sprout up of its own accord? No. What happens again and again is reaction, often extreme, often horrid reaction.

    The West is not responsible for all the world's ills; the West is not pure evil. Islamist terrorism does exist. To think that we (or "leftists") think otherwise on these points is to seriously be unable to read. However, the West has been the dominant power center for centuries. The US, as the main boss currently, has military bases in every corner of the world. The US (like the European powers before it, especially the British of course) has meddled into the affairs of so many countries around the world, routinely destroying indigenous popular movements that don't conform to US designs, that to speak now of most of these countries even having anything like their own internal affairs is not possible.

    As it happens, yes, in fact, I have heard of Sudan and Darfur, Somalia, Indonesia, the Philipines. The question is, have you? Do you have no knowledge of Western activity in those places, going back many decades? Have you heard of the Cold War? How do you think American "anti-communism" played out in those countries? What might have been the result? Has it ever occurred to you that when all the leftists, or even liberals, or nationalists not interested in playing the US game, have been killed, what you end up with is right wing religious nutters? Are you seriously bringing up the Philipines and Indonesia to support your "case"? Do you know anything about the history of American clients Suharto and Marcos? Do you know anything about their treatment of the populations of their respective countries, with the full endorsement (and involvement) of their American backers? Again, what do you suppose might be the result of such repression? Maybe, instead, you're not interested in "history" (too dusty, not what's happening now) (unless of course you want to obsess about the Crusades). OK. Ask yourself what are current American interests in Sudan. Which side are the Americans supporting?

    You talk about Pakistan--Pakistan has always been a US ally. Why is that? What purpose does it serve in that capacity?

    The fact is, you have no idea what you're talking about. We in the West, living somewhat comfortably, live in a bubble, a bubble that relies on extreme privation, the privation of others not so fortunate to live in the imperial center. You have no idea who or what I hate. You can rest assured that I have no desire to live in a country that enforces sharia. What makes you think that the general population of Muslims wants to either? Just irrational devotion to an evil faith? Seriously? It seems to me that they'd just like to live their fucking lives without having to worry about goddamn bombs all the time. Rule of any kind requires consent of the governed, to some extent, including tyranny. Given how easily those of us in the US have acquiesced to the security state in the light of our extreme fear and ignorance of others, especially post-9/11, is it really any wonder that Muslims, living in countries routinely under attack by the West, might gravitate in the short-term towards reaction? The only way for those elements of reaction to be overcome is through local, internal movements. And those movements can never develop under the kinds of conditions that currently obtain in so many of these countries. That is what the West is responsible for, and that's a lot.

  7. I've a couple of posts on imperialism recently, particularly this one, Steve, one inevitable conclusion being that the current American devotion of so many illustrious British 'intellectuals' is simply the transmutation of what would have been their ego bolstering devotion to the British Empire. Another inevitable conclusion is that the natural conclusion regarding the ruling idea of the British Empire, and any empire is a supremacist racial or nationalist sense in the host country, which axiomatically justifies one's political expansionism. That this bigotry was the very mental atmosphere that ordinary citizens breathed was exemplified in the recently discussed Charles Dickens' quote where in reaction to the Indian Mutiny, where he wrote he would “do my utmost to exterminate the [Indian] Race” and “with all convenient dispatch and merciful swiftness of execution…blot it out of mankind and raze it off the face of the Earth.”
    An even more striking example of the same ambient atmosphere being the intrinisic intellectual ground is historian Charles Kingsley on seeing the devastation during the Famine in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century:

    "I am daunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along the hundred miles of horrible country. I don't believe they are our fault( that people were forbidden education, destitute and starving to death while foodstuffs were being removed to Britain). I believe that there are not only many more of them than of old, but that they are happier, better & more comfortably fed & lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours."

    In 1859, Kingsley was made chaplain to Queen Victoria. From 1860 to 1869 he was professor of modern history at Cambridge and in 1873 was appointed canon of Westminster. His book The Water Babies is a story for children written to inspire love and reverence of Nature.

    The innate holiness of western imperialism is accepted as self-evident, even to the unbelievable point where it is even denied that such exists.
    In the light of Kingsley's "white chimpanzee" remarks- which were in no sense the thoughts of an isolated individual but the expression of the essence of the ideology of imperialism- it is interesting to read Roger Scruton writing in his apparently unironically titled The Glory of the West is that life is an open book, "Unlike Islamic culture, western culture has gone out to the stranger, has tried to understand, to sympathise, to learn, in every arena where learning is available."

    Scruton's transmutation of the faith in British and European imperialism towarads faith in American is relatively standard practice, and as illustration of the intellectual axiom of the superiority of the host nation: from Bryan Appleyard's short piece 'New Jersey's Death Penalty':

    "I have always been intuitively against the death penalty. But, I reasoned, this was little more than a visceral reaction and the Americans in particular have their reasons and their traditions."

    The Americans in particular have their reasons and traditions. Why is it that this particular body of humans are intrinsically more justified in what is a clear universal moral issue? Why else but they are of a superior strain, however fuzzy such logic might be.



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