Monday, May 21, 2007

Reza Aslan on Cosmic War

Listen here.

Talk Reza Aslan gave on his upcoming book (to be released this summer I think):
How to Win a Cosmic War: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror.

He begins with reviewing his earlier arguments about the Islamic Reformation. Which as he says is not a question of something to come but is already happening and has been he argues for 100-150 years.

The Reformation (like the European one) is simply about larger access and the individualization of interpretation. There are more pluralistic, modernist types as well as Bin Laden.

He had argued in his earlier works that the rising generation (The Boom Generation) would sweep away the tyrannical regimes of the Middle East from within.

He is now much less optimistic (or as he says depressing) because a new variable was thrown into the equation: the American's going from liberators in Iraq to occupiers.

He repeatedly points out that the moderate Muslims the world over have been silenced because if they ever question any aspects of jihadism they are immediately labeled American stooges.

Deeper than the two narratives that the Iraqis have failed to take the responsibility on themselves and that the Bush administration is incompetent (true as that is), is a narrative he believes underlies why we 5 years in are losing the (ideas war) in the War on Terror.

The Bush administration has bought into the narrative of the jihadis themselves: that this is a Cosmic War between Good and Evil. And Aslan is correct: we can never out-radicalize the radicals. We don't know the rage, the shame. If we fight their war on their terms we lose. No amount of Western civilization is doomed screeds (America Alone or whatever) is going to work.

Bin Laden's strategy from the beginning was the following:

Attack the US and force them into an over-reaction in the Muslim world thereby giving credence to his (bin Laden's) argument that the West is only out to destroy Islam. Bait the US into fighting an asymmetrical war.

One would have to say given that, his strategy has proved beyond successful. And the "returns' on his attacks astronomical. Think about how much money the US has spent on the Iraq War, Dept. of Homeland Security, the amount of dead. And what it cost bin Laden in terms of man (roughly 20) and financing the attacks.

True Bin Laden thought that the US was a paper tiger and would crumble quickly thereby allowing him to install his Caliphate after knocking out the weak governments of Saudi Arabia, etc. He was wrong on that account to be sure.

But while al-Qaeda itself is not going to be the main player going forward, the ideology has gone viral. And the US continues day after day to give more validity to this narrative.

I'm aware of this in relation to the partition idea. Aslan is against it. I agree with him that if the US starts the partition then the conspiracy narrative that the US from the Arab world that the US has always been out to divide and conquer the Middle East will become true.

It seems the only way for Iraq to stay a unified country is if Sadr and the Sunnis join forces. The Kurds will not go for them banding together to stop them from taking Kirkuk. And the Shia forces to the South want autonomous region---SIIC in particular. If that doesn't work I don't know how the country stays together.

The biggest difficulty with the partition idea as Aslan points out is that there still are deep ties and mixed places in so much of Iraq. True. That's why I think the bloodshed is going to last for another decade or so. And if the Iranians, Turks, Jordanians, and/or Saudis jump in all bets are off.

I don't think Bush intentionally was out to start a war on Islam. But the policies have done nothing to allay those fears. In fact quite the opposite they are stoking them and giving legitimacy to the

Bush at the beginning was wise (after his initial "crusade" comment) to talk about it as not a war against Muslims but extremism. He unfortunately argued for democracy instead, buying into the neoconservative mythic line that democracy brings stability.

When that narrative failed after the elections of Hamas, Hezbollah, Shia Fundamentalist Parties in Iraq, the conservative base ratcheted down from orange-democracy to blue Cosmic War. Clash of Civilizations, Islamo-fascism, World War III/IV---all these are the narrative of the Cosmic War. Of the blue mythic meme.

Only such a narrative (as Aslan points out) could so stupidly equate say Hezbollah with al-Qaeda. Given that Hezbollah's Leader Nasrallah and al-Qaeda's Bin Laden have mutual death sentences against each other. If they want to kill each other, why are we acting like they are on the same team.

The way to win a Cosmic War? Not get in one. Aslan, smartly I think, calls for a re-framing of the narrative and the struggle. The US has been pulled into the Islamic Reformation and the civil wars that have been raging in the Muslim world now for over a century.

It has to be agile. We can't align ourselves too closely with the Boom Gens./moderates or they lose all credibility. At the same time we can't be occupiers in the Middle East. Like during the Cold War the US offered a better vision to those under the curtain. We never occupied Poland or Hungary.

The US has to offer a better vision to those under the "Sheik" Curtain. The narrative needs to be more criminal, police action---i.e. trying terrorists like at Nuremburg (read: World Court) for the whole world to see. As imperfect as that institution is.

When Bush leaves office, the US gets a reprieve from most of the world. No matter who is elected, but particularly if it is a Democrat. It won't be a complete reboot, but the world will be ready to buy US leadership at a much lower price.

An modern narrative--economic, political, criminal. And by political not fundamentalist belief in democracy. Rule of law, freedom of information, access to markets. That way the US is working on the right-hand exterior aspects and leaving for people themselves to deal with their own interiors, culture, etc.

What the Muslim world wants in large measure is modern technology, markets, wealth but not Western secular culture. When you see the poles saying majorities want Sharia they also don't want a Caliphate. Meaning they want a conservative form of their own government. Not bin Laden as Caliph. Not Puritannical Salafism.

People do indeed as the conservatives are right to point out, want to autonomy, want self-rule. They want it in on their terms. It's going to be far from perfect. But look at the history of the US in the 19th century. Not exactly flowers and lilies.

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