Sunday, January 6, 2008

On the Taliban in Pakistan

From the New York Times

A reporter contrasts the views of older democratic and younger revolutionary Islamist leaders in the towns of southwestern Pakistan near the Afghanistan border.

Some dichotomies this article raised in my mind: peaceful versus violent means of gaining and maintaining state power and social stability; young versus old; democrats versus autocrats; pragmatists versus idealists; democratic motivations versus religious motivations; the means are part of the ends versus the ends justify the means.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Re-considering Benazir Bhutto's legacy

I did not know much about Benazir Bhutto's background and formed my views from what I have read about her over the past few years. And I must admit I was quite taken in by her charisma, so David Warren's column is a sobering antidote. Still, her views struck me as quite sensible regarding terrorist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Her approach to forming an understanding with Musharaf made political sense. And, perhaps by 54 years of age she had matured enough to modify behavior patterns and attitudes referred to by David Warren and Gwyn Dyer

The potential for a de facto coalition between her and the current President offered some hope for stability and progress for Pakistan and for stemming the Islamist insurgency.
She could have brought some democratic legitimacy and he could have helped control the military. We'll never know. That she had courage is indisputable and no small characteristic. However, there is a fine line between courage and recklessness, making her approach to campaigning irresponsible vis a vis the millions who supported her and the people who have suffered and died in the aftermath of her assassination.

N.B. Another link to check out regarding her short-sighted, though reluctant, cooperation with Pakistan's ISI to help arm the Taliban:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ideas have consequences: Modern progressives, Islamism and appeasement (with apologies to Richard Weaver)

In a recent column in the Globe and Mail (12/28/07), Rick Salutin wonders how we can help diminish the number of Islamist extremists and then responds: “What about getting out of their faces.” And, any reasonable person can understand the “don’t wave a red flag at an agitated bull” basis for this hypothesis. The argument presumably goes along the following lines: As we stop helping the Afghan and Iraqi governments, the Taliban and al Qaeda will gradually weaken and the forces of moderation and accommodation will get relatively stronger; the Madarassas in Pakistan will teach less hatred about Westerners and Jews and start turning out students with a more moderate and less imperialistic interpretation of Islam.

Notwithstanding the dubious assumption that appeasement is a constructive strategy in the current situation, Rick Salutin does not give enough weight to the fact that it is ideologically motivated extremist leaders who are calling the shots in too many of the Islamic centers of power and influence globally. Do they hold these beliefs, teach them to their children and spread them in their communities and societies because we are in their faces. Of course not. (I appreciate that ideologically motivated neocons in Washington have not been much of a help either. But that's the subject of another article.)

It occurs to me that it is the same fact that Chamberlain failed to appreciate about Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain believed that by getting out of Hitler's face, Hitler would stop his aggressive foreign policy. But instead it only served to reinforce Hitler’s view that the West was morally weak, corrupt, decadent and too afraid of sacrificing lives to stop his aggressive actions -- in short, too afraid of death to fight for life. Chamberlain's failure was in not appreciating the overriding motivating power of the world view that Hitler elaborated in Mein Kampf. (Of course, he could not appreciate it as Mein Kampf was only widely available in English in the late 1930s.)

We, on the other hand, understand extreme Islamism's imperialistic, totalitarian, theocratic and internationalist world view. So there is no excuse for appeasement in this case.

All of this makes me wonder what it is about many modern progressives that makes them fail to take into account the power of ideas as a motivational force in human affairs. It was their Achilles heal when dealing with the realities of international communism in the 20th century. Could it have something to do with a world view that is grounded in a materialistic ontology that is a throwback to their Marxist roots?