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Book Review with excerpts, and [Commentary]

[Walter Russell Mead, in his classic "God and Gold" plows fertile ground in no-man's-land between Western maritime empires and the has-been and would-be empires of Islam. He sees centuries-long humiliation of Islamic culture as being as unforgettable by the humiliated as it is forgotten by the victors. The victors of the moment no longer remember their own origins. Every chapter in Mead's book has many eye-openers. We excerpt part of one in particular that addresses our era. Although Mead is optimistic for the long term, his message for Americans is not pretty.]

One of Mead's metaphors is the Walrus and the Carpenter--for the UK and the US. Both are mentioned in this excerpt.

Mead writes:

The imperatives of history force the world's civilizations into contact with one another. Whether they like it or not, all civilizations today are condemned to live in close contact, to deal with one another, and to affect one another. This is one of the ways in which liberal capitalist society imposing its own preferences on the rest of the globe: mass travel, instant communications technology, and global economic integration are products of the maritime system produced by the liberal capitalist realm to serve its own purposes, and the rest of the earth's other cultures have no choice but to address the challenges posed by a shrinking world. [Imagine what it feels like to be in third, or last, place among nations. Islam is behind the largely Christian Maritime nations; behind the Hindus, behind the largely atheistic Chinese, and only slightly ahead of many sub-Sahara African nations in modernization. This, in spite of their oil wealth. Something is amiss and Mead fingers fundamentalist religions. Yes religions, for Christianity was once as backward as Islam still is.]

Both to prevent the rise and spread of terrorism and more broadly to promote the peaceful development of global society along lines favorable to the security and the interests of dynamic society, managing between the maritime system and the cultures and civilization affected by it may well be the primary task of American foreign policy decades to come. [Amen to that. Is anyone in the halls of Congress, the bowels of the White House, or the towers of the Supreme Court listening? If not we may be victimized by history before this century is out.]

The first four years of the administration of George W. Bush were almost a textbook example of the dangers that American foreign policy faces when it ignores the enduring importance of collective recognition in international life. Its European policy trampled openly on the sensibilities of Cold War allies, raising questions about the structure of the Atlantic alliance in ways that seriously reduced public support for that alliance in much of Europe. At times the Bush administration seemed to glory in its relative isolation and its capacity for unilateral action, and it was only too happy to remind countries like Germany and France that they were not the great powers they had once been. [In lay terms, "...seemed to glory...," fits the sociopathic behavior of a self-styled war president.]

What proved to be an unnecessary and poorly planned war in Iraq reminded America's allies of the limits on America's wisdom. With gratuitous slights and grandiose posturing, men like former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld made American power odious in much of the world. This was not wise; it risked waking old memories and disturbing old ghosts best left to slumber in peace. The chief European allies of the United States today are to a large degree former foes: Satans or aspiring Satans brought low by the crushing power of the maritime system. [Much too late, Rumsfeld was himself laid low by common Americans rising up to speak with their ballots.]

"What though the field be lost?" Milton's Satan muses as from Hell he contemplates the unbearable spectacle of God.

Who now triumphs, and in the excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the tyranny of heaven.

Milton's Satan has lost a battle, but he is resolved to continue resisting:

All is not lost-the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield ...
To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deify his power
Who, from the terror of this arm, so late
Doubted his empire-that were low indeed ...

These Miltonic sentiments have lodged in French bosoms since Louis XVI supported the American colonials as a way of revenging himself on Britain for its triumph in the Seven Years' War. They were the animating passion in German nationalist politics in the twenty years between the two world wars and, barely acknowledged, they continue to bubble under the surface among some Germans today. And revenge and resistance today are never far from the thoughts of the Kremlin. [Yes, especially when we consider the egg-shell-thin barrier between our civilized and animalistic natures.]

Let sleeping Satans lie; that is, or ought to be, one of the first rules for American officials dealing with Europe, and Japan, for that matter. As William Faulkner's character Gavin Stevens put it in "Requiem for a Nun," "the past isn't dead; it isn't even past."

The need for tact does not mean that the Europeans or the Japanese are immoral and ungrateful wretches who long to return to their former wicked ways and fail to appreciate the blessings that the Anglo-Saxon triumph has brought them; it means that Europeans are human beings who want their cultures recognized as equals. [And why not?}

Contrary to what many Americans unreflectively suppose, dynamic society in its actually existing form is not simply the triumph of certain principles and values; it rests on the triumph of one power over others in the long and bitter battles to shape the future of the world. It is not just a pax; it is a Pax Americana, and the current world order rests on the power of the United States and is more responsive to American interests and values than to those of other nations. Not everyone enjoys being reminded of this. [Those who see our ugly side that humiliates, alienates, or demonizes others, almost at the drop of a hat, see us in this light.]

Turning to the Arab world, one finds that the issues of collective recognition play a much more decisive roles in complicating and even poisoning the relationship between much of the Arab culture and geopolitical, economic, and cultural elements of the maritime order--and it was in dealing with the Arab world that the Bush administration's inability to practice the diplomacy of civilizations led to the most serious problems. [This is pessimistic.]

As I have argued, there is no reason in principle to believe that Islam as a religion will ultimately prove to be incompatible with the economic and political realities of dynamic society. And there are clear signs that much opinion in the Islamic world is moving toward an approach to the faith that would build on these prospects to find ways of being authentically Muslim that work in a liberal world. [Here, Mead's optimism shows through. His long view of the horizon is one we all can and should adopt.]

But the maritime order and American power frustrate the demands of the Arab world for collective recognition so harshly and on so many levels that the successful practice of a diplomacy of civilizations between the maritime order and the Arab world is one of the most difficult as well as one of the most important jobs on the planet.

We do not start with a blank slate. It is impossible for many Arabs and Christians not to regard the present clashes between their civilizations as communication of a centuries-old struggle between two great faiths. Each Western outrage to Muslim sensibilities, each terror bombing by a fanatic, confirms this impression among millions of ordinary people and--not all diplomats and policy makers are exempt from this popular feeling. [People on each side declare it is so. Still in the long view, there are other forces at work, forces of moderation and liberalization. This is how Islam will loosen its grip, indeed, it already has in many places. Mostly Islam is backward, and it will remain so until it begins to feel more respect.]

The Muslim and Anglophone worlds approach this common past in very different ways. Before 9/II, the wars of religion between Christians and Muslims had largely grown foggy and dim in the Anglo-Saxon mind. "1066 and All That" is a book that purports to tell history as it is remembered by British adults rather than the boring record that pedantic scholars reconstruct from mildewed parchments and heavy books with tiny print. Its account of the Crusades is fuzzy and short. Richard I "went roaring about the Desert making ferocious attacks on the Saladins and the Paladins...."

That is not much and it is not accurate, but it is probably not far from what most twentieth-century Britons remembered about the Crusades, and it is rather more than most Americans knew--or cared to know. Of the episodes of religious warfare before and after the Crusades--the Islamic expansion through North Africa and the Middle East under the early caliphs, the war of reconquest by Spanish Christians culminating in the fall of Grenada in 1492, The siege of Vienna in 1683-even well-educated Americans and Britons thought very little. Neither the defeats nor the victories of Christians in all their wars against" Muslims stirred much popular or scholarly interest; bishops and preachers paid virtually no attention to the whole subject other than to voice regrets about the bad conduct of the Crusaders at various points in the saga. [The Crusade mentality is still with us--see below.]

This reflects victor's amnesia, a condition I first encountered when, as a young boy from the Carolinas, I was sent to Massachusetts for school. This came at the end of the observations of the centennial of the Civil War; most white Southerners at the time could recite long lists of battles lost and won and over the relative merits of Confederate generals. In the North, nobody knew or cared very much about the war, even in a school where many of the students bore surnames made glorious by the exploits of their ancestors in Union arms. Currently, victor's amnesia blinds most Americans to the nature of the problems we face in the Middle East; the Bush administration's comprehensive and catastrophic failure to engage in a diplomacy of civilizations with this vital and aggrieved region is in part a consequence of a failure to grasp the degree to which the last three hundred years look very different to Anglo-Saxon and Arab eyes. [Victor's Amnesia! Spot on!]

Many Arabs think the Crusades never ended because, for them, they haven't. For the last three hundred years, the Christian powers have been carving up the Islamic world, and first the Walrus and now the Carpenter have been the powers with the sharpest carving knives and the longest reach. The stunning reversal of Muslim history since about 1700, and the rise of the Christian West as a whole and especially of the maritime system to power over the Muslim world are the defining facts of the contemporary world for many Muslims, particularly Arabs.

Many historians date the turning point from the 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz. For the first time the mighty Ottoman Empire had to yield; Russia and Poland made territorial gains, and the Austrian Hapsburgs received a right to intervene in Ottoman affairs to protect the rights of Roman Catholics. Since that time, a tsunami of Christian conquest has swept over the Muslim world. First the outlying and contestable lands fell-the khanates of Russia, the most extreme Ottoman conquests like Budapest. But the tide of disaster continued. [There was of course more to this. Much more. Free enterprise for one. It enabled the Industrial Revolution and the maritime system. Other than getting out of the way, Christianity had very little to do with it. Islam has yet to pick up on that bit of good sense. China is fast becoming a world power; it is democratizing, if more slowly. Christianity had nothing at all to do with that.]

The Dutch overcame Islamic resistance in the East Indies; Muslim power collapsed in much of Ukraine and into the Caucasus as the Orthodox Russian armies advanced. The British put increasing pressure on the Muslim states of India.

The eighteenth century witnessed the decline of Muslim power, the years from 1800 to 1920 saw the fall. North Africa fell to the French and the Italians, and Muslims encountered systematic discrimination in their homelands. Tens of thousands of European settlers planted themselves on the best agricultural land and built exclusive neighborhoods like the Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Muslims paid extra taxes but could not attend good schools; native Algerian Jews received automatic French citizenship but Muslims were barred unless they abjured the use of Muslim religious law. The British brought the once-powerful Moghul Empire in India to an end, reducing the emperors to puppets before deposing the last.

The Muslim emirates and sultanates of sub-Saharan Africa were crushed by European forces (mainly British and French). The Ottoman Empire itself came under more and more vigorous and unremitting attack. Christian powers vied to be named "protectors" of various Christian minorities in the empire to give their governments the right to intervene in Ottoman politics. Encouraged and often armed and supplied by Christian powers, the Christian minorities of Europe rose to fight for independence.

The most bitter wars of the era were fought in modern-day Greece and the Balkans. These were wars of ethnicity and wars of religion: grievances ran deep on both sides. Over the centuries, many Greeks and Slavs had converted to Islam while Turks and other Muslims had settled throughout the empire. The Greeks, Bulgarians, Romanians, Croats, and Serbs sought to regain their independence in the nineteenth century, supported by one or more of the European Christian powers. Savage and brutal warfare spread throughout the region. Hundreds of thousands of civilians on both sides were killed in one vicious atrocity after another Muslims killed Christians, Christians killed Muslims-and often killed Jews for good measure. When Russian forces drove the Turks out of Bulgaria in the 1970s, panicky Bulgarian Jews fled with the Muslims, fearing the attacks of their Christian neighbors and the forces of the Russian tsar.

According to historian Justin McCarthy's "Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims. 182I~1922," approximately five million European Muslims were driven from their homes between 1821 and 1922 in the greatest movement of ethnic cleansing in Europe until the forced removals of Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia following World War II. A century of ethnic cleansing and murder converted the former territories of the Ottoman Empire in Europe from a population with an absolute majority of Muslims to a region with a Christian majority. Between 1912 and 1920 alone, an estimated 62 percent of the Muslim population of south- eastern Europe (excluding Albania) disappeared, fled, or was killed or driven into exile. Twenty-seven percent of the original Muslim population died. Many of the survivors fled to what became Turkey; one-fifth of Turks today are descended from Balkan-refugees, and no doubt they receive both pleasure and instruction from the many lectures showered on them by earnest Western politicians urging Turkey to live up to European values.*

* Balkan history in this period is, of course, a controversial subject. I do not wish to imply I that the Ottomans and the Muslims were innocent of atrocities; all sides sometimes behaved badly in a century of vicious and bitter conflict. My goal here is not to balance the accounts and give a dispassionate and even handed account of the period; my goal is to help a Western and non-Muslim audience understand the perceptions behind contemporary Muslim attitudes toward the West.

The final stage came with World War I. The British had previously made themselves the paramount power in the Persian Gulf, imposing themselves on Persians and Arabs alike-even before the region's oil was discovered. The Ottomans held the British off at Gallipoli, but across the Arab Middle East British armies advanced into the Arab heartland of Islam almost at will. [America emerged by seizing the sea lanes, slowly at first, then with a rush by WWII.]

The Crusaders briefly emerged from historical obscurity in Britain in 1917, when joyful Britons hailed General (later Field Marshal) Edmund Allenby, who entered Jerusalem on December 9,1917. After the war, virtually the entire Arab world was divided among the European powers, with Britain having by far the largest share, and France coming second. By 1920, when the British Empire reached its geographical peak, more Muslims lived under British rule than had ever lived under any Muslim caliph or sultan. An empire that included one-fourth of the world's people and one-fourth of its land surface ruled over more than half of the world's Muslims, and in much of the world, Britain was seen as the leading imperialist power and the greatest threat to the freedom and the religion of Muslims.

"We certainly do not want to administer their disgusting territories and people," the British "political adviser" in Bahrain stated at one point. The British preferred to rule indirectly through local elites and royal families. Some of these families still sit on Middle Eastern thrones today; many Middle Easterners believe that the United States is pursuing a slightly modernized version of Britain's traditional practice of indirect rule. [It is hard to deny that appearance.]

From the standpoint of the Arab world, then, the Crusades are not an ancient and misty memory of Saladins and Paladins whacking away. The last three hundred years have seen one invasion after another by the Christian powers of lands that the Muslim world considered part of its own territory. No corner of the Muslim world was or is safe from this unrelenting onslaught. Since Allenby's entry into Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam has been mostly under either Christian or Jewish rule. At the time of this writing, the seat of the first great caliphate in Baghdad is patrolled by American troops. The dependence of Saudi Arabia, site of the holiest places in Islam, on the American military for its security has been demonstrated over and over. [What an irony, not to speak of injustice. The House of Saud spawned Osama bin Laden by its tyranny.]

Decolonization has not given Muslims the recognition they hoped for. Muslim power in India was not restored when the British left; most of British India has become an aggressive and growing Hindu power. Muslims are left as minorities in India, or as citizens in troubled and less powerful Pakistan and Bangladesh. No Arab state outside the tiny sheikhdoms of the Gulf has achieved European or American standards of affluence. Worse, East Asia has long passed the Arab world as China, Korea, and other Asian countries advance. [These events will eventually force liberalization in the lands of Islam.]

This is the context in which Arab opinion (and indeed much Muslim opinion throughout the world) views American foreign policy and the state of Israel. Israel is simply the latest in a long line of incursions into Muslim territories; Muslims are shoved aside and Europeans (and Middle Eastern Jews) are preferred, just as they were in Algeria. The Muslims huddle in miserable camps, as they did in Anatolia after the various ethnic c1eansings of the Balkan Wars. Arrogant Christian powers lecture Muslims on moral and civilized values as they recklessly play with the fates of Muslim peoples for the sake of their own imperial games. The Americans, like the British, are utterly ~e where their national interests are concerned and where oil is at stake. And American power is even more omnipresent than British power used to be.

On top of all that, the secrets of economic success still seem hidden away. The Israelis are prospering more on their strip of worthless sand than the Egyptians or the Syrians, to say nothing of the Iraqis, with their oil and water riches.

This is not a complete and is certainly not an unbiased account of the last three hundred years of Muslim-Christian relations, and it does not include other, more positive elements in the relationship, but the context described here is an important fact with which American foreign policy in the region must work. In Arab eyes, the maritime system and the European civilization from which it sprang lack legitimacy from almost every point of view. Religiously, it is both alien and hostile. Geopolitically, it is responsible for centuries of wrong, and today its power is seen as continuing to block the aspirations of Muslim states. Its firm support of Israel is not an isolated instance; it is part of a long established pattern of anti-Muslim, anti-Arab policy.

Into this charged environment came Bush and Blair, intoning pieties about individual rights, the virtues of liberal economic policy, the need for massive revolutionary upheaval in the Arab world, and the universal principles of moral law. Many Arabs dismissed this as simply the usual happy-crappy Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy, meaningless background noise for the invasion of Iraq. Others saw it as an attempt to undermine Arab cohesion and resistance in the service of some sinister plot connected either to Israeli expansionism, oil, or both. Still others saw it as the latest stage of a conscious and well-developed plan to undermine Islam, hatched by the enemies of God. [Some things never change, Barbara Tuchman had it right, when she wrote March of Folly ]

Americans will have to go well beyond diplomacy as usual to address the deep differences that divide the Arab world from the United States,especially since the United States is committed and will remain committed both to the security of the state of Israel and to the orderly functioning of the international markets in oil and natural gas. The maritime system has interests that require continued and even deepening U.S. engagement in the Middle East, but the historic relationship of the maritime system with the Arabs makes that engagement very difficult to sustain.

There is no way forward without a much deeper encounter between the United States and the Arab world, and this encounter cannot succeed unless the Carpenter can learn to talk less and listen more.

We can only hope that the next administration takes heed of Mead's wisdom.


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