Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!
Midterm congressional elections in the United States are barely two weeks away, and all the polls I’ve read (as here ) predict a severe rout for the Republicans, largely because of the chaos in Iraq. In the lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion, I recall two columns by the New York Times columnist (and advocate of the war) Thomas Friedman. (I can’t supply the links here, because they require a subscription, money I would rather spend elsewhere than on the Gray Lady.) In one of these columns, Friedman said that President Bush was inevitably gambling his entire presidency, not to mention the viability of the entire neoconservative project, on a successful outcome of the invasion; in the other, he said that the invasion would result either in an Arab Germany or an Arab Yugoslavia. (I am using "neoconservative" in the limited sense of the war planners surrounding the president.) I’m sure I am giving away no state secrets when I point out that we are now facing an Arab Yugoslavia and probably something even worse. A lesser casualty, but a real one nonetheless, will likely include the worldview out of which neoconservatism sprung. For example, soon after Saddam Hussein’s army was routed and the Coalition assumed control of Baghdad, the provisional government was actually suggesting setting up a Baghdad stock market! Whom the gods would destroy, they first make proud. A London-based website by the name of Spiked , whose stance is "liberal" in the old nineteenth-century sense of the laissez-faire humanism of John Stuart Mill, had come out against the war in 2003. But because it followed the pro-liberty and utilitarian philosophy of Mill, it voiced its opposition to the war for reasons quite different from the ones usually adduced by the European left. On strictly utilitarian grounds, Spiked invoked the eminently practical norm known in just-war theory as "likelihood of success." In retrospect, this was a component of just-war doctrine that had been rarely invoked by opponents at the time, who usually focused on what to me was a red herring, the prohibition of a preemptive strike (the truly preemptive strike was Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990). Having registered more level-headed objections to the war before it started than those brought forward by the liberal left, that same site (it did not surprise me to learn) has recently made another point, one that also has not fully registered among either erstwhile supporters of the war like Thomas Friedman or, still less, on those who had opposed the war all along. According to Spiked, the reason for the chaos currently raging through the sad country of Iraq can hardly be attributed, at least chiefly, to a Vietcong-style insurgency that is inflicting all this violence in the name of fighting an invading colonial army out for oil. That narrative fits nicely with the moral stance of the left, but it’s not really the dynamic currently obtaining in Iraq. As one of Spike’s writers, Brendan O’Neill, points out , something much more ominous is at work:
The violence in postwar Iraq is more peculiar and barbaric than any of us could have predicted. There is no national liberation struggle between any coherent Iraqi force and the armies of the Coalition, or even much sign of the civil war between Shia and Sunni forces that was predicted by many. Instead there is a kind of spectacle of death, a relentless and pointless bombing and burning of men, women and children by faceless, nameless killers. Iraq looks like a country committing suicide rather than aspiring to independence and liberty. It is striking, for example, that the bombers seem always to lash out against Iraqi civilians, including civilians who have signed up for Iraq’s ragbag police force, rather than against America and Britain’s occupying armies. Iraq takes today’s "cult of the suicide bomber" a stage further: we could say that Iraq is the world’s first Suicide State, responding to war and occupation not by mobilising the masses in opposition or organising resistance armies, but rather by destroying itself, by committing suicide in front of the world’s cameras.
If that news were not disturbing enough, an even more ominous warning comes from an Arab writer from Germany by the name of Khalid al-Maaly, who has this to say of most of his fellow Arab intellectuals living in the West:
During the 1980s, a friend of mine¯a left-wing, secular-minded Syrian writer living in Paris at that time¯surprised me by his open admiration for the newly organised Hizbullah. At first I thought his admiration was merely a passing fancy. But when Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1990, he and I finally collided. He could not disguise his delight at the "annexation" of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s troops, which made me regard his secular, leftist views as a joke. Yet his career led him ever deeper into the arena of the struggle for human rights. With European financial support, he issued a periodic newsletter on human rights, which for years had not a word to say about Saddam’s crimes, nor about women’s rights. Meanwhile his relations with Arab Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, deepened steadily. His joy over the 9/11 attacks, as well as his admiration for Osama bin Laden and his "blow at the heart of America," fit the rest of his political development only too well. He constantly sought justifications for Islamist acts of violence, as if he were acting under the ancient Arab tribal principle that, no matter what internal differences we might have, we must stand together as one man against an aggressor. My contact with that old friend has since been severed. Nowadays he regularly appears as a guest on the satellite TV channel al-Jazeera , where he comments, in his usual, warm and self-righteous tone, on issues of human rights and on Syrian politics in general. Unfortunately, this brief biographical sketch might all too easily be extended to a large proportion of Arab intellectuals. Many of them are characterised by a carefully masked double standard. In their home countries they present themselves as guardians of traditional Arab values, but when writing in other languages for foreign audiences they express very different, more cosmopolitan views. The Arab intellectual behaves like a despotic father. No internal family matter may be exposed to the outside world; regardless of what the reality may be, a façade of unbroken unity must be maintained. This is especially evident with respect to such matters as relations with Israel, the scandal over the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the attacks of 9/11, the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, or the recent war in Lebanon. In private talks with such people, one hears opinions that are radically different from what they publish in the newspapers the next day. It is as if the views propounded in the Arab media are not based on independent thinking, but formulated as opportunistic statements for public consumption.
One of the nightmarish aspects of the war in Iraq is how many Muslims in Europe identify with the colonial-oppressor narrative of the war and then take out their self-induced rage on their host countries either by signing up for jihad in Iraq or by terrorizing passengers on subways and airplanes¯and yet the violence in Iraq is mostly of the Muslim-versus-Muslim kind, and not even primarily Sunni-versus-Shiite either but just violence for its own sake. What is so disturbing about all this intersecting madness is the way two different versions of nihilism are now meeting in mutual combustion. Nihilism in Western thought has a long pedigree (see here and here ) has never been satisfactorily resolved, let alone exorcized, as the cases of Nietzsche and Heidegger prove. No wonder, then, that so many allegedly "moderate" voices among the Arab and Pakistani intelligentsia now holed up in western Europe (and therefore safe from their tyrannical home countries) find themselves, perhaps even unawares, speaking out of both sides of their mouths. These are the intellectuals, always a minority within a minority in every civilization. But then there are the jihadist drones. Consider this mordant observation from Mark Steyn, that Jeremiah with a sense of humor, in his new and often quite funny book America Alone . In a portion of the book published online by the New York Post , Steyn notes this telling factoid:
NOT long after 9/11, I said, just as an aside, that these days whenever something goofy turns up on the news chances are it involves some fellow called Mohammad. A plane flies into the World Trade Center? Mohammad Atta. A sniper starts killing gas station customers around Washington, D.C.? John Allen Muhammad. A guy fatally stabs a Dutch movie director? Mohammed Bouyeri. A gunman shoots up the El Al counter at Los Angeles airport? Hesham Mohamed Hedayet. A terrorist slaughters dozens in Bali? Noordin Mohamed. A British subject self-detonates in a Tel Aviv bar? Asif Mohammad Hanif. A terrorist cell bombs the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania? Ali Mohamed. A gang rapist preys on the women of Sydney, Australia? Mohammad Skaf. A group of Dearborn, Mich., men charged with cigarette racketeering in order to fund Hezbollah? Fadi Mohamad-Musbah Hammoud, Mohammad Fawzi Zeidan and Imad Mohamad-Musbah Hammoud. A Canadian terror cell is arrested for plotting to bomb Ottawa and behead the prime minister? Mohammad Dirie, Amin Mohamed Durrani and Yasim Abdi Mohamed.
No matter which party wins control of Congress, the dangers of the world aren’t about to go away. One thing I do know: No matter what lever gets pulled in the voting booths in this country on Tuesday, November 7, it will make no difference to that pride of leonine Mohammads now prowling the world in their nihilistic rage. Welcome to the second half of the first decade of the new millennium.

(Access contributors’ biographies by clicking here .)

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles