Re­sent­ment with­out end from Is­lamic mil­i­tants

The Washington Times Weekly - - COMMENTARY - VIC­TOR DAVIS HAN­SON


hat makes two-dozen Bri­tish Mus­lims want to blowup thou­sands of in­no­cent pas­sen­gers on jumbo jets? Why does al Qaeda plan hourly to kill civil­ians? And why does oil-rich Iran wish to “wipe out” Is­rael? In short, it’s the old blame game, one that over the last cen­tury has taken mul­ti­ple forms.

Once, a tired whine of Is­lamists was that Euro­pean colo­nial­ists and Amer­i­can oil­men rigged global com­merce to “rob” the Mid­dle East of its nat­u­ral wealth. But they were pretty quiet when the price of crude oil jumped from around an ex­pen­sive $25 a bar­rel to an ex­or­bi­tant $75.

Re­cently, oil ex­porters of the Mid­dle East have taken in around an ex­tra $

bil­lion year in wind­fall prof­its be­yond the old lu­cra­tive in­come. It is one of the largest, most sud­den — and least re­marked upon — trans­fers of cap­i­tal in his­tory.

An­other old ex­cuse for Is­lamist anger was the claim the West had fa­vored au­to­crats — the shah, the House of Saud, the Kuwaiti royal


fam­ily — in a cyn­i­cal de­sire for cheap gas and to prop up strong anti-com­mu­nist al­lies.

Some of that com­plaint cer­tainly ac­cu­rate. But since Septem­ber 11, 2001, Amer­ica has en­sured democ­racy in Afghanistan, spent bil­lions and more than 2,600 lives fos­ter­ing free­dom in Iraq, pres­sured Syria to leave Le­banon, and lec­tured long-time al­lies in Egypt and the Gulf to re­form. For all this, we are now con­sid­ered crude in­ter­ven­tion­ists, even when our ef­forts may well pave the way for rad­i­cal Mus­lims to gain le­git­i­macy through plebiscites.

Is­lamists have and con­tinue to­day to gripe about West­ern in­fi­dels en­croach­ing on Mus­lim lands. Osama bin Laden at­tacked be­cause of Amer­i­can troops sta­tioned in Saudi Ara­bia, or so he said. Ha­mas and Hezbol­lah re­sorted to ter­ror to free Gaza, Le­banon and the West Bank, or so they said.

Yet, noth­ing much has changed since the United States pulled its com­bat troops out of Saudi Ara­bia, or af­ter the Is­raelis de­parted Gaza and Le­banon, and an­nounced planned with­drawals from parts of


the West Bank. Mean­while, the elected Iraqi gov­ern­ment wants Amer­i­can sol­diers to stay longer (while the latest polls sug­gest the Amer­i­can pub­lic doesn’t agree).

Then there is moan­ing that the West treats its Mus­lim im­mi­grants un­fairly, de­spite ev­i­dence to the con­trary. Af­ter all, Mus­lims build mosques and madras­sas all over Europe and the United States; yet Chris­tians can­not wor­ship in Saudi Ara­bia or have mis­sion­ar­ies in Iran. West­ern res­i­dents or im­mi­grants in most Arab na­tions would not dare demon­strate on be­half of Is­rael. But in Michi­gan two weeks ago, largely Arab-Amer­i­can crowds chanted “Hezbol­lah” — de­spite that ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion’s long his­tory of mur­der­ing Amer­i­cans.

An­other Is­lamist grum­ble is that the West sup­ports only Is­rael. Again, that’s hardly true. The Euro­peans gave plenty of aid to the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion and Ha­mas, and their hos­til­ity to Is­rael is well-es­tab­lished. The United States make no bones about aid­ing Is­rael, but it also has given tremen­dous amounts of money to the Pales­tini­ans, Egypt ($50 bil­lion so far) and Jor­dan. And with­out the United States, Kuwait would be the 19th prov­ince of Iraq, the Tal­iban would rule Afghanistan, Sad­dam and his sons would still slaugh­ter Kurds and there might not be any Mus­lims left at all in Kosovo or Bos­nia.

The one thing, how­ever, that the United States can­not do to please Is­lamists is change its lib­eral char­ac­ter and tra­di­tions of West­ern tol­er­ance. And isn’t that the real story be­hind all th­ese per­ceived griev­ances and phan­tom hurts: the in­tru­sive dy­namism of free­wheel­ing West­ern, and par­tic­u­larly Amer­i­can, cul­ture?

Both its low form of girly mag­a­zines and punk rock as well as its im­pres­sive lit­er­a­ture, art, com­merce and tech­nol­ogy now sat­u­rate the world. And why not? Amer­i­can rad­i­cal in­di­vid­u­al­ism ap­peals to the in­nate hu­man de­sire for free­dom and un­bri­dled ex­pres­sion. West­ern­iza­tion sub­verts most hi­er­ar­chs, es­pe­cially in the re­ac­tionary world of Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ism, where the mul­lah, fam­ily pa­tri­arch or state au­to­crat can’t keep a lid on it. In­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tions have also brought to a so­cially in­se­cure Mid­dle East first­hand views of how much wealth­ier, freer and more tol­er­ant the out­side world is when demo­cratic and trans­par­ent.

But in­stead of pro­vid­ing a blue­print for re­form, th­ese rev­e­la­tions only in­cite envy and anger from mil­lions who are ad­vised that par­ity with the West is found in­stead by re­treat­ing fur­ther into sev­en­th­cen­tury re­li­gious pu­rity.

So never mind the tril­lions in petrodol­lars, bil­lions in aid and con­ces­sions. Un­less we change our very char­ac­ter, or the Mid­dle East achieves suc­cess and con­fi­dence through West­ern-style democ­racy and eco­nomic re­form, ex­pect more tired scape­goat­ing and vi­o­lence from rad­i­cal dis­con­tents, from Le­banon to Lon­don — and well be­yond.

Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian at the Stan­ford Univer­sity’s Hoover In­sti­tu­tion and au­thor of “A War Like No Other: How the Athe­ni­ans and Spar­tans Fought the Pelo­pon­nesian War.”

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