The war in Iraq has been framed to fit the political expediency of the Bush Administration at every step in its mismanagement. Our reasons for invading underwent a host of updates as one justification after another was proved false. The war was called a war of cultures by President Bush, which was countered by Harper’s editor, Lewis Lapham, as a war of superstitions. Bush also said that it is a war of wills and that only with our resolve will come victory. The kind of resolve it takes to blow yourself up amidst a crowd of innocent women and children is more than I hope any civilized person possesses. This does not mean that the United States and the West are doomed to failure; it means that we need to be fighting another sort of guerrilla warfare that we are sure to win.
We are not fighting a war on terror. That is impossible in the first place because terror is simply one tactic used in modern warfare. I don’t believe that we are fundamentally fighting a war to preserve American security. Our security has not ever been seriously threatened and to say that is has overstates the power of a ragtag group of religious fanatics. It is accurate to say that we are fighting al Qaeda although why we are doing this in Iraq is a question Bush has failed miserably to answer. If we are fighting a war of cultures—and I think this may be correct—then this war cannot be fought with arms.
First we must begin with a simple question: Is Western society better for the average individual than fundamentalist Islamic society? I think that most people in the world, including many held hostage in Islamic societies, would say that Western-style freedoms and democracy are preferable to Sharia law and theocracy. Islam’s strict proscriptions on sex and alcohol—among other things—are contrary to human nature.
Only in the last fifty years has the West been able to throw off the shackles of Christianity and begin to create a society that is egalitarian—a concept unimportant in Christianity. For the first time in human history women are beginning to enjoy a status equal to men. Homosexuals are finally being treated like human beings. Not only do we enjoy religious freedom but we are finally free to renounce religion for the destructive fantasy that it is. Some of the countries in Europe with the highest levels of atheism are also the best societies in which to live.
We certainly are not in a war of Christianity against Islam. If fundamentalist Christians had their way our society wouldn’t be much different than life in Saudi Arabia or Iran. We are in a war between progressive culture and medievalists, a war we have been waging since the Enlightenment. Rarely have battles in this war been won with violence, it has been the triumph of progressive ideas over religious dogma and superstition.
The gains made against the tyranny of the Church have not been through direct conflict, but by framing the progressive argument in such a way that its merit is unquestionably the better path for civilization. It wasn’t Christianity that fought for democracy or women’s rights or a more open and free society. The Church has always been willing to sacrifice these ideals in order to maintain its power and privilege. Islam is equally as unconcerned with individual right and freedoms.
Consequently, I don’t think that a more moral society has ever existed on this planet than in the social democracies of Western Europe today and most scientific studies on the subject bear me out on this. I will point to just one recent study that ranks child welfare in Western industrialized countries. The more liberal the democracy, the better place it is to raise children it would seem.
CHILD WELL-BEING TABLE
9. Republic of Ireland
15. Czech Republic
20. United States
21. United Kingdom
As you can see, the United States hardly seems like a beacon to the world or an example to be followed by all. We’ve got a lot of work to do here at home where since 1980 we’ve had Republican presidents who have spouted on about conservative family values.
If you want to talk about “family values,” I can’t think of a better environment for families than here in Spain where homosexual marriage is legal, as well as abortion, personal freedom is respected, women are constantly gaining ground in the gender gap, and income is distributed much more equitably. These are all issues about which I am completely resolute. These are values I believe need to be exported, not just the ability to cast a vote. However, like any product, the best way to find buyers for these values is not through belligerency but by demonstrating to the world that these are the best models for human society.
Iran recently said that it will more rigorously enforce Islamic dress code for women in that country. 200 extra police are to patrol the streets of Tehran confronting impure women who reveal ankles, sport thin headscarves, or wear short or tight jackets. Violators can be fined or subjected to other harsh treatment reminiscent of old communist bloc techniques.
Cuba has endured in spite of America’s belligerency or because of it. Had Cuba been accepted by the U.S., Castro wouldn’t have lasted through one American presidency. Just as most communist regimes fell through their own internal decay, so will fundamentalist Islam. All we need to do is to help it along.
We have only made it much easier for Islamic clerics to demonize the West. Iraq has become The Battle of Britain for the Islamic world. Just as the relentless Nazi bombing of Britain only worked to strengthen the resolve of citizens there, so has our belligerency in Iraq served to galvanize opinion in the Islamic world against us. Iran is only more emboldened against the West because of our failed military ventures in Iraq. Not only has Iran become more defiant towards the West but also towards moderates in Iran itself which explains the new measures to enforce strict Islamic dress codes there.
How attractive an idea could fundamentalist Islam possibly be when allowed to stand on its own merit, without the role of savior of the people that we have conveniently provided with our invasion of a Muslim nation? When left to stand alone against the resounding success of Western democracies, the wall of fundamentalist Islam will crumble under its own repressive decay.
If it weren’t for their tremendous oil revenues no fundamentalist society would be around today. The war in Iraq has created such enormous wealth for Saudi Arabia and Iran that they are both completely impervious to the normal demands of their citizens. They can also finance Islamic fundamentalism in other countries not similarly blessed with oil revenues. As long as both countries are able to generate this incredible wealth they will b insulated from the need for any religious moderation. It is impossible for a country to move into the modern world without enlisting women in the workplace. These countries are able to exclude women from society because of oil revenues.
Our task in the West is fairly obvious: we must better project the advantages of democracy and liberalism, and work to reduce our independence on Middle East oil which finances Islamic extremism.