Monday, June 21, 2004

You Talkin' to Me?

Irving Kristol listed out a classic set of of rules for polemicists, people who are trying to set out a particular set of ideas. Rule 1 says that you should forget about trying to convert your adversary.

"In any serious ideological confrontation the chances of success on this score are so remote as to exclude it as a rational objective. On the very rare occasions when it does happen, it will be because the person converted has already and independently come to harbor serious doubts and is teetering on the edge of ideological defection. This is due, more often than not, to some outrageous action by his own side or some shocking revelation."

Rule 3 says we should we should concentrate on "preaching to the converted"

"Preachers do it every Sunday. The strengthening of the commitment, intellectual performance, and morale of those already on your side is an essential task, both in order to bind them more securely to the cause and to make them more effective exponents of it. As religious move-ments in earlier times and the anti-Vietnam-war and civil-rights movements in our times have shown, dedication and enthusiasm are enormous assets, more than compensating (in the initial stages) for lack of numbers"

Al Qaeda appears to have taken his advice or at least independently come the same conclusion. STRATFOR's Geogpolitical diary for June 21, 2004 argues that the recent beheading of American Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia and a similar threat against a Korean kidnapped in Iraq is pitched to the Middle Eastern audience. This supports observations that Al Qaeda has given up on directly confronting the United States in favor of a new strategy of trying to gain influence and power in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The first would give them power over a large share of the world's oil reserves; the second would give them control of nuclear weapons.

Al Qaeda has three audiences: the Islamic world, non-Islamic U.S. allies and the United States. In the United States, as al Qaeda surely knows, the impact of the beheadings ... will reinforce the feeling that al Qaeda must be resisted at all costs ... It is also not working particularly well among U.S. allies. ... That leaves the third audience, the Islamic world. ... Beheadings are a demonstration of will and ongoing capability.

Al Qaeda may have come to the conclusion that if it hopes to win abroad, it must first of all win at home. The wonder is that America has not taken hymnal in hand and preached to its own choir. One of the implicit assumptions of a the forward strategy for freedom in the Middle East is that is possible to appeal directly to the Arab street; that is to say to convert our adversaries. As Michael Ledeen noted in his The War Against the Terror Masters, the fires of Islamic fundamentalism burn lowest in places like Iran and Afghanistan, where the enemy's cruelties are well known; we have adherents, in Kristol's words "due, more often than not, to some outrageous action by his own side". If anything, the appeal to freedom will find a more receptive audience in Teheran where people must listen to the Mullahs than in Riyadh or Cairo where people can listen to the BBC.

Yet perhaps that is not entirely accurate. Although the process began in the Reagan years, the "converted" did not exist as a coherent ideological flock until the end of the 20th century. To a certain degree the choir only began to sing after September 11, 2001. The attack on New York and Washington was to conservatives what the Paris Commune and the October Revolution were to Marxists: the birth of an intellectual nation. The real significance of the Osama's attacks on America to future historians may be that it marked the end of the transnational project of a politically correct world order; delineated the final boundary of the European tradition of Marxist thought and created the first post-post-colonial Western ideology. The Global War on Terror is in certain respects spectacularly ill-named. Its principal victim has not been the Al Qaeda network but the old order. The notion of the centrality of the United Nations; the idea that terrorism is a law enforcement problem; the idea that history is an irreversible march toward a Green-Left future are projects as cold beneath the earth as the Taliban's armies. If the European Union as envisioned by France finally dies; it will mark its departure, however long it may linger, from the time Mohammed Atta's aircraft struck the Towers.

The Al Qaeda may now understand that it cannot topple America -- let us not say the West -- by a coup de main. It has now settled into a war of civilizations. It is consolidating its own forces in a final bid to impose Islam on humanity. And by it's actions it is forcing populations long asleep to reinvent themselves.