Monday, May 25, 2009

DAVID MILIBAND AND THE MUSLIM WORLD: A COMMENT



"President Obama has made it clear that there is a problem. He said simply a few weeks ago: “America is not and never will be at war with Islam”. Next month he will address this theme in a landmark speech in Cairo. The fact that he feels the need to say and do these things, and the positive reception he has received around the world for his determination and candour, reveal the depth of division and distrust towards the west that has emerged in the period since 9/11. Our coalitions are too narrow and consent far from won.

To broaden the coalition and win consent, we need to understand the Muslim world better, or we will risk undermining the force of our own argument, as I have sometimes done when using the labels ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’; we need to hold fast to our own values and support those who seek to apply them, or we will be guilty of hypocrisy; and we need shared effort to address the grievances, socio-economic and political, that are perceived to keep Muslims down, and in fact do....

Our challenge is to understand that while there is no single template for a good life, there must be a template – and a better template than the one we have now - for people of diverse views, that derive from different belief systems, to work together....

In setting out these two aims - building coalitions and winning consent - the tension between them is clear. The widest possible coalition will, at times, include groups whose aims we do not share, whose values we find deplorable, whose methods we think dubious. But it will be impossible to win the consent of peoples if we cannot demonstrate consistency and certainty in the application of our values. A rigidly consistent application of our values would surely exclude from the conversation organizations without whom progress is impossible. Yet if we engage all the relevant parties, with no regard for our values or theirs, we are open to the charge of the purest realism.

The way through the tension lies in our commitment to politics and the rejection of violence. It is always when silent consent for violence is withdrawn – in favour of politics - that the actions of diplomacy have the chance to stick. Even in countries which are not democratic, the actions of governments are constantly conditioned by the demands of their people. This, a deep belief in politics, is the bedrock. The nobility of politics is contained in the negotiation of conflict through conversation, the replacement of dispute by compromise and of force by persuasion.

Coalitions can and must be wide but they can only be forged on the basis of a commitment to politics and the renunciation of violence....

Over the last decade the focus of the relationship between the west and the Muslim world has narrowed. Terrorism has distorted our views of each other and skewed our engagement with each other. Organizations with different aims, values and tactics were lumped together. Little or sometimes no distinction was drawn between those engaged in national territorial struggles and those pursuing global or pan-Islamic objectives; between those that could be drawn into domestic political processes and those who are essentially anti-political and violent.

The upshot was that the West came to be seen not, as we would have wished, as anti-terror, but as anti-Islam. No matter that mainstream politicians in the UK and US and in Muslim countries repeatedly rejected the notion of a clash of civilizations. That is how it came to be perceived.

If we want to rebuild relations – to forge broader coalitions - we need to show greater respect. That means rejecting the lazy stereotypes and moving beyond the binary division between moderates and extremists. We should not just see Muslims as Muslims, but as people in all the many guises they occupy in their lives – at home, at work, in all the many aspects of a rounded individual life. There is always more to life than is captured by a single label".


David Miliband, British Foreign Secretary, "Our Shared Future: building coalitions and winning consent," 21 May 2009, in www.fco.gov.uk

"Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation, has to realize these ethical paradoxes. He must know that he is responsible for what may become of himself under the impact of these paradoxes. I repeat, he lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence. The great virtuosi of acosmic love of humanity and goodness, whether stemming from Nazareth or Assisi or from Indian royal castles, have not operated with the political means of violence. Their kingdom was 'not of this world' and yet they worked and sill work in this world. The figures of Platon Karatajev and the saints of Dostoievski still remain their most adequate reconstructions. He who seeks the salvation of the soul, of his own and of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence. The genius or demon of politics lives in an inner tension with the god of love, as well as with the Christian God as expressed by the church. This tension can at any time lead to an irreconcilable conflict. Men knew this even in the times of church rule. Time and again the papal interdict was placed upon Florence and at the time it meant a far more robust power for men and their salvation of soul than (to speak with Fichte) the 'cool approbation' of the Kantian ethical judgment. The burghers, however, fought the church-state. And it is with reference to such situations that Machiavelli in a beautiful passage, if I am not mistaken, of the History of Florence, has one of his heroes praise those citizens who deemed the greatness of their native city higher than the salvation of their souls....

Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth --that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say 'In spite of all!' has the calling for politics".


Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation," 1918.


David Miliband's latest endeavor to make a name for himself, which to some extent did indeed 'work' (id est., a favorable leader in the bien-pensant Financial Times last week), however only to the extent that his usual offerings of semi-pious platitudes, and hypocrisy and moral double bookkeeping, were clothed in the borrowed & new (if intellectually speaking very threadbare) robes of the new American President and his 'respect agenda' (Bog Gospodi help us!). As per Miliband (and the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name), the West is on the losing side (or at the very least yet on the winning side) of the public relations battle with violent and anti-political fringe of Al-Qaeda, et. al. And, the way or the means to change this, is to repeat for the ten thousand time, that the West is not, per se: 'anti-Islam', and that Islam is a 'peaceful religion' (the fact that the people throwing the bombs and killing others are Muslims, is something that Miliband chooses to ignore...), et cetera, et cetera. That in addition the West needs to endeavor to try to contact (and one would assume) negotiate with those Islamicists who are not per se, interested in violence qua violence, but, merely interest in violence as a means to an end. Here of course is the real crux of Miliband's speech. Now if one ignores for an instance the sloppy thinking behind it (id est., even Hitler or Stalin, for example, were not at some level adherents of violence for its own sake: I am sure they would have been quite content if all of their opponents had merely committed suicide, rather than having to be killed, et cetera.), the real point that the British Foreign Secretary is trying to make, in a sotto voce fashion, is that not 'all', of our opponents need to be killed, and, some of them (elements in the Taliban being the prime example), can be 'turned' to 'our side', insofar as they are willing to give up the gun, and, adopt or go back to the political game.

That is en effet, Miliband's main point. And, what got him that favorable leader in the FT. The only problem (one that I give the FT credit for pointing out), is that once one leaves this rather cloudy & airy vacuity, and, proceeds to endeavor to find out qui? Who are the groups, and, the elements in the Muslim world, who while not necessarily having 'our values', none the less, one can try to include in 'our coalition', that the issue tends to become a trifle more difficult. At least where Miliband, and, his American friend are concerned. 'Elements', of the Taliban, who (as per Miliband) favor a merely 'tribal version of Islam', which was not perhaps entirely represented at the Bonn Conference of 2002, are mentioned more than once. The fact that the 'tribal version of Islam', that Miliband mentions includes such things as honor killings, no schooling for girls, forced marriages for girls under the age of twelve, et cetera, et cetera. If one were to ask Miliband if he would be willing to countenance an open alliance with such creatures, one would assume that our Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary of State, would immediately wrinkle his nose, point it in another direction, all the while uttering that 'of course no such thing was ever envisaged', 'how possibly could anyone ever have thought such a thing', et cetera, et cetera. Yet, as a practical matter, it is precisely such unsavory 'friends', as these village elders, who may or may not (I am much more skeptical, as I noted a few postings back about the ability to easily 'turn' such elements of the Taliban), be prized away from the Taliban, who we need to ally with. Let us be clear: diplomacy and statecraft is at times a messy or indeed a nasty business. As the late great Max Weber pointed out above, if one is interested in savings souls, one should probably not enter politics. The ultimate, 'art of the possible', as the even more great Otto von Bismarck-Schonhausen once put it. The real issue as it relates to the Muslim world, indeed the troubled, ugly and not very appealing world outside of the USA, Canada, Japan (other parts of East Asia) and Europe, is how does one hold hands or co-operate with rulers who while not in the least democratic or tolerant, are: a)legitimate; b) not aggressive outside of their own borders. The answer seems to at least me, that context is everything. Of course one may very well respond it was precisely 'context', which labeled Saddam Hussein as being an evil dictator who needed to be over-thrown, when in precisely anothercontext, Hussein, was say much more tolerant of say differing faiths than the rulers of Saudi Arabia, and, not as dangerous to the surrounding region as say the current rulers of Persia.

The reality of the situation, is that due to a variety of differing and not very intelligent or cogent reasons, Western views and policies as they relate to the Muslim world are at best quixotic and at worst idiotic & simply mindless. As per the latter, Miliband's not very intelligent attempt in his speech to explain why the West refuses to deal with Hamas. A similar answer would not doubt be offered for not dealing with say Hezbollah, and, a short while ago, for not dealing with the regime in Syria. Similar intellectual conundrums emerge as per Miliband's allied topic of winning 'consent' for a 'larger coalition', with the West. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Muslim majority states in the world, and, almost all of the same in the Near and Middle East, are ruled dictatorially. Many run `a la 'Police State' methods in the old-fashioned sense of the term. Egypt being a prime example. With such a background, it is both quixotic and idiotic to talk about 'consent' of the majority of the population in any meaningful sense of the word. And, while no doubt, in some polls, a majority of the Muslim population of the world expresses 'admiration', for American / Western Democracy (leaving aside for a second how such polls are conducted and who exactly is being polled...), the fact of the matter is that such 'admiration', does not in any real sense translate into active support for either an alliance with the West, much less ignoring and or overlooking Western policies which inflame Muslim feelings in much of the world (aka Palestine for starters). Especially, since most of the current regimes in the Near and Middle East, are and have been currently allied to the West in the first place. What Miliband and his America counter-parts would like to do is the square the circle in the following sense: Muslims, while not in any way giving up their ardent and true beliefs, should at the same time also: a) be tolerant of other faiths. At least while Western journalists are looking; b) not oppress women. At least while Western journalists are looking; c) believe in Democracy, and, at the same time, make sure to vote for: i)the current regime in power, at least if they are friendly to the West; ii) vote against any party or parties which is not friendly to the West. Especially, if this party actually represents the intolerant and fanatical beliefs of the vast majority of the voting population; iii) vote and support the foreign policies of the current regime, which supports the West, and, which is vastly hated by almost the entire population, not only of the country but much of the entire region.

To conclude, notwithstanding all of the 'brilliance', of the upcoming speech in Cairo, by the new American President (believe you me, 'brilliant', 'path breaking', are some of the many terms that will be used to describe this speech by the bien-pensant Western press), the fact of the matter is, that the conundrum that I referred to above, by Western policymakers as it concerns the Muslim world will continue, as long as the clear rules of grossmachtpolitik are avoided like the plague and hazy and cloudy rhetorical tricks `a la Milibands recent speech are indulged in.

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