Friday, September 29, 2006

Liberty and Independence

In the post below, I wrote how the concept of liberty is rarely understood and found so seldom in human history. Slavery is the ultimate loss of liberty but being nominally free, in a legal sense, isn’t enough to say that one possess liberty (as we’ve seen in 20th century communism and fascism.) Often when a nation is fighting for independence journalists will write that the people are fighting for freedom even though in many impoverished nations they are only substituting local tyranny for foreign rule. Fifty years ago most of the nations of Africa became independent but few have liberty.

Through out history, nations have gone to war to help establish or maintain the dictatorial rule of one hereditary dynasty in the face of the threat of another tyrannical ruler. The rulers exploited fear, patriotism, avarice, and divine retribution (or reward,) to motivate the oppressed into defending their oppressor. But national independence rarely brought liberty for the individual who lived in these societies.

A recently published book by John Lewis, Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens, describes how the distinction of liberty and independence first came about. In the Iliad, “Freedom means living under King Priam’s rule, and slavery means being taken in personal bondage to work in a far off land. This is not political freedom; it is independence from foreign takeover.” But “[f]or Solon a free man is an Attic-speaking male whose personal autonomy inside the polis is protected from attacks by his fellows.”

Today, the notion of liberty (inherently individualistic) and mere independence (sovereign rule) is blurred by the dominant leftist notion of self-determination. For a leftist, self-determination is inherently collectivistic and applied to “a people” or nation and embedded in the institution of democracy. To this mindset, you have self-determination when you have to wait for millions of other people to agree with you on some Tuesday in November. Call what you want but liberty it is not.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Arab Culture

A few days ago I quoted conservatives from the 1950s who argued that Communists don’t think the way we do but they are immersed in a completely alien mindset antithetical to the liberal order that we take for granted. This guy explains how those in the Arab/Islamic world don't think the way we do and we in the West can't come to grips with that fact. If his observations come as a surprise, I recommend reading The Arab Mind.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bernard Lewis and the Myths of Islam

Bernard Lewis summarizes how, in his view, the Islamic world has degenerated first by importing European totalitarian models and now as it returns to Islam. It’s an article worth reading even if it is flawed. Or perhaps because it is flawed! Lewis, we should remember, is esteemed by today’s conservative establishment.

Lewis repeats themes typical of European conservatives going back to the French Revolution. American conservatives, influenced by Edmund Burke among others, echoed these notions and sentiments during the Cold War. Traditionalist conservatives tend to romanticize feudalism, monarchy, and what they see as a delicate balance of institutions maintained by tradition. There is a fondness for so-called middle institutions – those between the individual and the nation-state – such as church, guild, fraternal orders, etc. Lewis sounds a similar note in his analysis of Islam’s history.

Prior to the influence of the West, the Ottoman Empire had a balance of power, weighed down by a paralyzing Byzantine bureaucratic gridlock. Writing in 1786, “…the French ambassador in Istanbul, [i.e. Constantinople] ... explain[s] why he is making rather slow progress with the tasks entrusted to him by his government in dealing with the Ottoman government. ‘Here,’ he says, ‘things are not as in France where the king is sole master and does as he pleases.’ ‘Here,’ he says, ‘the sultan has to consult.’ He has to consult with the former holders of high offices, with the leaders of various groups and so on.”

According to Lewis' way of thinking, this idyllic stasis was corrupted by eating the fruit of knowledge – a knowledge that empowered its leaders with the technology to withstand the social forces limiting their power. Lewis explains:

“The first of these changes is what one might call modernization. This was undertaken not by imperialists, for the most part, but by Middle Eastern rulers who had become painfully aware that their societies were undeveloped compared with the advanced Western world. These rulers decided that what they had to do was to modernize or Westernize. … What they did was to increase the power of the state and the ruler enormously by placing at his disposal the whole modern apparatus of control, repression and indoctrination. At the same time, which was even worse, they limited or destroyed those forces in the traditional society that had previously limited the autocracy of the ruler. In the traditional society there were established orders-the bazaar merchants, the scribes, the guilds, the country gentry, the military establishment, the religious establishment, and so on. These were powerful groups in society, whose heads were not appointed by the ruler but arose from within the groups. And no sultan, however powerful, could do much without maintaining some relationship with these different orders in society.”

It’s obvious that the Islamic world failed to deal with the challenges of change. But we’d do better to consider the inherent flaws that make it susceptible to disintegration in the face of the winds of modernity. It is inherently autocratic, illiberal, dogmatic, ritualistic, and hostile to reason – limiting its ability to absorb the classical liberal ideals while leaving it susceptible to the socialist totalitarian mode of thought. Lewis notes that while Arabs understood the concept of equality they have a very limited notion of liberty.

“As used in Arabic at that time, liberty was not a political but a legal term: You were free if you were not a slave. The word liberty was not used as we use it in the Western world, as a metaphor for good government. So the idea of a republic founded on principles of freedom caused some puzzlement.”

Lewis fails to explain that the British concept of liberty, expressed best by John Locke, is based on individual self-ownership – not this vague notion of good government that merely begs the question. Self-ownership wasn’t merely de jure, it was freedom from the state with full rights to the fruits of one’s labor, the right of acquisition and disposal of property, and the complete freedom to associate with other sovereign individuals. Good government was virtually no government except that which insured that liberty was universal by prohibiting the initiation of force.

This isn’t an accidental omission on Lewis’ part. Consider how he illustrates the Islamic mindset by describing the philosophy of an influential Egyptian sheikh returning from Paris: “… when the French talk about freedom they mean what Muslims mean when they talk about justice. By equating freedom with justice, he [the sheikh] opened a whole new phase in the political and public discourse of the Arab world, and then, more broadly, the Islamic world.” Once again, this is a left-liberal definition that has its origin in Plato’s Republic. Justice, for Plato, is everything in its proper place guided by a guardian class. It was Plato’s Republic and The Laws which had a major effect on Islam during its formative years in the Abbasid dynasty. The socialist notion of justice popular in France is equal access, not liberty, determined by an entitlements-theory of who gets what from whom.

Despite the imperfect understanding of the West, the Arab world absorbed some of the customs of civilization, from the French and more importantly the British. Unfortunately, the Continental influence came to dominate. As Europe went down the “Road to Serfdom,” Arabs followed by embracing the Nazi ideal before turning to the Soviet model. Lewis exaggerates by saying “the Soviets moved in, established an immensely powerful presence in Egypt, Syria, Iraq …” – Soviet tanks never rolled into these nations – Soviet ideas and aid were welcomed with open arms. They simply fit the Arab/Islamic mindset like an old worn garment slightly refurbished with new trimming.

The exception, ironically, was Saudi Arabia. It was seen as an anti-communist ally during the Cold War because it shared a strong opposition to that atheistic creed. Saudi Arabia maintained Islamic traditions. Yet, Lewis dismisses them as a lunatic fringe. Indeed, in the "colonial-influenced" West-looking Arab world of the 19th and early 20th century, it was indeed just that. But by religious standards can we say the same? He points out the wide acceptance of the Wahabbi establishment (which he blames on oil wealth) but again, he fails to explain the susceptibility of the vast Islamic world from Mecca to Los Angeles (his example) to what he calls the lunatic fringe. Why is the Saudi version so readily accepted rather than shunned as the bizarre variant Lewis wants us to believe? Could Catholicism sweep Alabama if the Pope had the wealth to build churches everywhere? Or the Anglican faith sweep Ireland if the 19th century British, with their vast wealth, tried to fund such an expansion? The money doesn't explain the return to a vigorous practice of original Islam, i.e. Salafi theology.

There is a return to Islam and Lewis realizes it: “That there has been a break with the past is a fact of which Arabs and Muslims themselves are keenly and painfully aware, and they have tried to do something about it. It is in this context that we observe a series of movements that could be described as an Islamic revival or reawakening.” This, of course, should be the main theme and focus.

One hundred years ago, the waning influence of French and British "colonial" rule left the Arab world with several cosmopolitan centers, where intellectuals looked to Europe for a vision of the future. Ataturk was soon to rid Islam of its influence in Turkey and the Arab world would be on its own with the demise of the Ottoman Empire. The specter of totalitarianism was to sweep the Arab world away from the liberal 19th century French and British colonial models, to usher in illiberal regimes that were more in tune to the Islamic mindset. The loss of the "colonial" influence and failure of indigenous totalitarian regimes encouraged a return to the original practice of Islam. It is an Islamic revival, and it has to do with internal dynamics of Arab and Islamic cultures.

Contrary to the vast majority of Western writers, Lewis realizes that Islamic nations have their own culture that generates the dynamics and direction of their societies. The typical Western writer sees the Muslim as a passive responder to Western culture and American foreign policy. This dismisses their ideas, religion, and cultural traditions as mere props unrelated to the real dynamics emanating from the sources of power in the West.

Any detailed investigation, even a flawed one, shows the key to Islamic dynamics is Islamic thought and its interplay with regional cultural peculiarities. Algeria, for example, got its independence 40 years ago but it wasn’t until the 1990s that religious strife lead to the slaughter of over 100,000. In an effort to purge itself of colonial influence it sought to re-establish an indigenous authentic culture by reviving the original practice of Islam. It is on the verge of a fundamentalist breakdown held at bay by a military regime. Lewis realizes that it isn’t an imposed backwardness but an internal failure that brings the Arab and Islamic world to its current state. He is one of the better academics as is his student Martin Kramer (see my link on the right.)

Unfortunately, Lewis goes astray in his romantic sentiments; he has fallen in love with his subject and its mythical past. Entering the stage during the last act of the colonial performance, he has mistaken the cosmopolitan ethos which Islam marginalized or reduced it to mere perfunctory trimmings as the norm and as evidence of the continuation of its mythical past. But the rejection of Western influences, both liberal and totalitarian, has exposed the unvarnished core reality underlying the patina of centuries of decay. And it is ugly, brutal, and fierce; its objective is the establishing and extending the rule of Islamic oppression.

While jettisoning the post-colonial propaganda of today’s Middle East Studies departments we should beware that returning to romantic Orientalists, such as Mr. Lewis, is an understandable temptation; but it still doesn’t deal to the core of the problem. The world Mr. Lewis knew doesn’t exist anymore. One now wonders if it ever did beyond a surface appearance.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Truth Needs No Apology

The New York Post headline read “Amen: Al Qaeda Thugs Prove Pope’s Point.” (New York Post, Sept. 20th edition) Indeed, very little needs to be said at this point. This is the same mentality that would kill over a cartoon as we’ve seen in response to the Danish cartoons. At that point, I argued that we must be able to speak the truth. But it is so important that it warrants repetition.

Free speech is valuable as a prerequisite to establishing the truth. We shouldn’t qualify the truth with the disclaimer that it is only our opinion. The truth needs no apology. But when liberty is exploited to lure the gullible down another path, we must nevertheless be steadfast in our commitment to the process of free inquiry and free speech. One never surrenders this potent tool for temporary comfort.

What freedom demands of us is our commitment to step forward and insure that the truth will be heard and defended. We must speak loudly, clearly, and with reason. Only then will we insure that liberty brings forth that which she was design to safeguard: a civilization grounded by the eternal truths that “all men are created equal” with “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Today we face a religious ideology “destructive of these ends” as the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century nearly extinguished the flame of liberty in our parent’s time. We must face this threat with the confidence that the truth will once again prevail.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

What's Our Excuse?

I have long watched the moral posturing of the boomer generation that with the advantage of hindsight claim they wouldn’t have been fooled by Hitler in the 1930s. David Pryce-Jones has some thoughts on the matter.

In WWI, France lost 50% of its men between the age of 20 and 32 years of age. While we may be tough critics of the French, it is good to remember that for four years most of the fighting on the western front took place in France. These mitigating circumstances should be taken into account when discussing their appeasement of Nazi Germany. What excuses do we have today?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Oriana Fallaci, RIP

From AP via the New York Sun:

Fallaci's recent publications -- including the best-selling book "The Rage and The Pride," which came out weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks … sold more than 1 million copies in Italy and found a large audience elsewhere in Europe ...

Her next essay, "The Strength of Reason," accused Europe of having sold its soul to what Fallaci described as an Islamic invasion. It also took the Catholic Church to task for being what she considers too weak before the Muslim world.

Describing Europe as "Eurabia," Fallaci said the continent "has sold itself and sells itself to the enemy like a prostitute." "Europe becomes more and more a province of Islam, a colony of Islam," she wrote.

Robert Spencer from Jihad Watch:

“She was one of the most fearless and courageous defenders Western civilization had in these latter days, and the West rewarded her by hounding, persecuting and vilifying her. Such is the state of the society and culture she loved and tried to save from itself.

Many times in her last months, after she did me the honor of calling me her friend, I thought to myself, What can I do for Oriana? … But the best way we can pay tribute to Oriana is by becoming Oriana. Let there be a hundred new Orianas today, a thousand new passionate and articulate and absolutely unbowed defenders of Western culture and civilization, …

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Brook vs. Buckley

Khatami, former President of Iran, spoke of tolerance at Harvard. Brook comments, “But there can be no “free exchange of ideas” between … between a brutal dictatorship and the free nation it seeks to annihilate.” However, Buckley is smitten with Khatami; he's impressed with the latter’s claim that “there is, actually, an overlap in teachings from the three world religions that descended from Abraham.” Buckley concludes that “What does have to happen is a softening of ideological positions. … We can make our modest demands, to the effect that Jesus, Moses, and Mohamed should co-exist without nuclear weapons in their portfolios.”

Back in the 1950s, here is how Conservatives spoke about the threat to civilization:

George H. Nash, in his definitive history of American conservatism, captures the conservative anti-communist resolve. “In this struggle, there were, according to [Frank S.] Meyer and other conservative cold warriors only two choices: ‘the destruction of Communism or the destruction of the United States and of Western civilization.’” 9 “Liberals might prefer to hope – serenely, pathetically, endlessly, futilely – that maybe now, maybe this time, maybe soon, the Communists would change their spots, cease to be committed revolutionaries, and settle down. Perhaps we could then have peaceful coexistence at last. Meanwhile let us negotiate, “build bridges,’ engage in cultural exchanges, climb to the summit. Come let us reason together.” “The Communist system is a conflict system; its ideology is an ideology of conflict and war …” says Robert Strausz-Hupe 10 Frank S. Meyer argued, the Communist “’is different. He thinks differently.’ He is not ‘a mirror image of ourselves’ Communism is a ‘secular and messianic quasi-religion’ which ceaselessly conditions its converts until they become new men totally dedicated to one mission: ‘the conquest of the world for Communism.’” Gerhart Niemeyer writes, “It was totally unrealistic to expect that Americans could ’communicate’ with a Communist mind that ‘shares neither truth nor logic nor morality with the rest of mankind.’” 11

Should we talk like this today given the enemy's ideology and history? Brook is fighting the intellectual and moral battle against today’s threat to civilization. Buckley has joined the appeasement axis and sees no fundamental difference that can’t be smoothed over by recycled platitudes. Some conservatives can’t retool for a theocratic enemy. We'll have to move ahead without them.

Update1: Cox & Forkum (Hat Tip Thrutch)

Monday, September 11, 2006


For the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, blogger D. C. Roe has organized a tribute where each blogger is assigned an individual to honor. On this venue we pay tribute to Mr. Joon Koo Kang. He is remembered by his family and friends; and they tell us about a fine young man who had his life before him before it was cut short by an act of violence.

Mr. Kang was a systems analyst for Cantor Fitzgerald working on the 102nd floor of 1 World Trade Center, the first to be attacked. He came to America as a child. Growing up he'd watch after his three younger sisters while his parents worked hard to support the family. In many ways, his story is the story of America. He studied hard and made sure his sisters did the same. But to get a sense of his unique personality, it's best to let his family tell us who he was.

His sister tell us, “For those of you who have known our brother Joon Koo know that he is not a man of many words, but that his action spoke loud and clear. He had a laughter that was contagious and a heart that could not be contained. His past coworker wrote of our brother being a true gentleman and as genuine a person as he has ever met.”

He was a pillar in his family and community, as his nurturing disposition encouraged him to mentor others. He was devoutly religious and played an active role in his church. The New York Times (October 27, 2001) recounts how he met his wife:

The couple met when Mrs. Kang visited New York as a college student in 1994. She soon returned to Korea, but he followed her back to Seoul the next year, and proposed to her the day after she graduated. "He gave me a thousand origami cranes, and said when he missed me, he would make a crane," she said. "He also showed me a photo album of me growing up. I don't know how he got the pictures. At the end of the album, there was a card, which said, 'Will you marry me?' "

They settled in New Jersey with their two daughters.

Although I didn’t know Mr. Kang, I know the importance of this professional work. From the World Trade Center, Cantor Fitzgerald played an important role in the finance world where the funding of the nation’s, indeed, the world’s economic activity – production, job creation, trade, and consumer acquisitions – is facilitated by the flow of investment assets to their most productive use. Cantor was the premier inter-dealer broker that in the course of its business provided the most accurate information to every fixed income (bond) professional.

Business funding, pension planning, and mortgage valuation, were all based on the information that Cantor provided. Cantor was an innovator in the electronic flow of information required to investment decisions. The information screens of Cantor monitored the most vital interest rates in the economy. It was the EKG monitoring the nation’s economic pulse.

I vividly remember September 11, 2001, as traders sat staring at their screens, the pulse stopped. At first everyone was puzzled and assumed it was a failure of our company's equipment – Cantor was always there and could always be depended on. Our communications officer (who would later serve a tour in Iraq) actually managed to get a call through to Cantor but could only hear the panic and disarray. It was on our over-head TV monitors that we first saw the pictures of the World Trade Center. The confusion and disbelief remained until the second tower was hit.

We may not have known the lives of the people who help us in our daily work – indeed, anyone who has a job, takes out a mortgage, or puts aside funds for retirement relies on the hard work of many anonymous but honest and decent people. It is of such people that civilization depends. We remember their lives; we remember their greatness. His sisters expressed it so simply, “Thank you for living your life to the fullest.”

We thank his sisters for sharing their memory of this quiet but noble gentleman and express our condolances.

For Sept 12

First a moment of silence for today. But tomorrow we need to move forward.

Friday, September 08, 2006

This Little Brit

In June 1946, Ms. [Olivia] de Havilland was asked to deliver speeches that seemed to be straight from the Communist Party line. … She refused and rewrote the speeches, this time championing President Truman's anti-Communist program, making her persona non grata in Communist Party circles. … Ms. de Havilland felt a great sense of personal betrayal that the communists had used her, other celebrities and liberalism as covers for their party work. … Ms. de Havilland began taking the lead in trying to circumvent the organization's communist core. Her ultimate goal was to have an anticommunist declaration by the committee appear in newspapers. … Ms. de Havilland's group was making plans to fight communism. "There I was, the only woman in the group," she says, "this little Brit trying to be a good American." …

Ms. de Havilland was impressed with what she saw in Reagan. … [She] encouraged him to take a tougher stand on communism. "I said, 'Ronnie, it's not strong enough. It's not strong enough. It has to be stronger than that or I won't accept it," she says. … But there's one question that still haunts her from that era: why so many brilliant people were seduced by communism in the first place. "That," says Ms. de Havilland pensively, "is a mystery."

Read the rest. (Hat Tip Bilwick)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Peters Doesn't Get It

Over on IBA, I comment on the disappointing Ralph Peters' article.

A Clear Explanation

This fellow sums it up. (Hat tip Thrutch.) He explains the root cause of terrorism as well as our inability to face the problem.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Ledeen was right; Said was wrong

The New York Sun reprinted an article written by Michael Ledeen in 1979 describing exactly what would happen with Khomeini in power in Iran. I excerpt the article and comment here.