Crossposted from ePluribus Media.
What follows is an excerpt reprinted from the piece Danse Macabre 03: The Return of Ja(a)far [Donald Rumsfeld], which was published by ePluribus Media in December 2006.
With all the back-and-forth rumbles about Iraq, Iran, peak oil, the “long war” and such, I thought a reprint of this particular section would be enlightening. It briefly review a paper written by Rudy Jaafar regarding that author’s perspective and commentary about the US role in the determination of the social and political future of the Middle East.
I strongly urge people to read the original piece by Rudy Jaafar in its entirety, and request that people add — in comments — any additional insights or references that could help educate the public about the regions cultures and history.
From al Nakhlah, The Fletcher School Online Journal for issues related to Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization Fall 2004, Article 3, by Rudy Jaafar: “Time for Arab History to Follow its Course” (PDF file)
America is now more than ever engaged in a historical dynamic it has so far failed to fathom. At present, the single most important source of international instability is America’s problematical relationship with the Muslim world generally, and with the Arab world in particular.
Note here that the perspective — that the problem is America’s relationship with the Muslim world — reflects the author’s viewpoint. As we look back upon our involvement in the region, it’s not impossible to see that, in spite of the perspective, the observation is indeed accurate: our participation in the regional politics and our “problematic” relationship with the region reflects our nation’s interests as defined and stated by our leaders. When our leaders have a vested interest in the oil supply, with a rank and wholly corrupted co-interest in war profiteering, they reflect their own interests as that of our nation, and with it they reflect poorly upon us.
The Bush Administration has not been alone in this regard. They have been, by and far, the culmination of the worst aspects of this self-centered nature. It is not in their best interests for the nation to pursue alternative energy. It is not in their best interests to pursue peace or diplomacy. But it is in their interest to sell us on the idea that the region is significant, that alternative energy is not yet viable (or is being pursued vigorously, in spite of diverted funding). And it is most assuredly in the interest of the Bush Administration to convince us that they and (by extrapolation) America, must bring “democracy” to the Middle East. At the point of a gun.
Surely, the thinking goes, none could refuse America’s liberal democratic ideals and its vibrant culture — hence the American bewilderment at the recent violent resistance to America’s “benevolent travail” in Iraq, once again blamed on terrorist elements or radical clerics. To Muslim Arabs, however, the perception and understanding of the present situation is very different.
Muslim Arabs are not alone in their vastly different perception and understanding of the present situation. Most of the world sees what is going on. But the region — perhaps particularly “the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat” — has circumstances, history and faiths that tie intricately together and give them a unique viewpoint: this “mess” is in their backyard. Indeed, it’s in their front yard, too, as well as in the town squares, the hospitals, the streets and the morgues.
It’s not simply a matter of a “democracy” or even “a more democratic” method of governing and living. It’s a matter of an entirely different culture, one based on a history of conflict and conquest, suppression and faith. And “faith” isn’t simply a word to incite the masses over there — it’s a real thing, a living part of their everyday lives and deeply entrenched in their history. Here’s a complicated but enlightening excerpt:
The predicament revolves around the Muslims’ struggle to balance the exigencies of temporality with the transcendental requirements of the Sharia’ah, the Muslim holy law. Muslims believe their polities must be governed by the divine regulations dictated to the Prophet. However, with some exceptions, these provide only finite generic principles; what are God’s answers to the increasingly complex necessities of life? To respond to the specific contingencies of their governments, Muslim rulers in the past adopted an expediential principle called Siyasa, where worldly utility was used for state policy and public law positivization, as long as it contradicted no explicit Sharia’ah statement. On the other hand, the Muslim clerical class maintained its autonomy to dictate the application of Islamic principles in the private sphere, acting as the ultimate authority on the concurrence of law with the Sharia’ah.
Ah, there it is — a nugget of knowledge, obscured slightly by context. In short, a diamond in the rough. Let’s break it down: Laws being updated and improved to reflect the modern complexities of life in order to improve and keep in step with their neighbors and trading partners, but governed and moderated by their religious laws as interpreted and dictated by the clergy, who serve as the final authority of where the law and the Sharia’ah meet.
It’s a balancing act, but unlike the “balance of power” that our nation’s system of checks and balances used to provide, the Muslim version favors the clerical class and the religious interpretation of the Sharia’ah over the law whenever there is a conflict. Tough? Yeah.
How does one implement the transcendental principles of Islam in the temporal context of a nation-state? How does one interpret, then positivize, the indefinite Islamic Sharia’ah, all the while responding to the contingencies of a modern state? Islamic thought, having met its first challenge of divesting itself of Western interference, now faced its true dilemma.
The Iranian Islamic revolutionary state has, so far, failed to overcome this obstacle.
Iran is held up as a nation that accomplished one part of a goal that other middle eastern nations seek to achieve — throwing off a heavy-handed Western influence in order to return to their roots, effectively establishing a religious backbone to their national government.
And it has, so far, failed.
What lessons does the evolution of Islamic political and legal thought in the case of Iran hold for the United States in the present day? Firstly, America must realize and admit to itself that, nolens volens, it has inherited a colonial legacy in the Arab world. Its actions are perceived through the historical lens of past experiences. America’s worldview clashes with the Arabs’ and it is important that America understand that its every action will be perceived as reinforcing the neo-colonial structure. Even if formulated with genuinely “good” intentions, America’s policies can only have negative effects in a world defined by its opposition to Western intrusion.
America wasn’t the first nation to come in and set up a colonial type of nation-state, but the continued presence is viewed exactly as if it is all part and parcel of the same system. Occupiers.
Only when genuinely native governments emerge will the internal historical Muslim debate redirect from its present anti-Western vector towards a search for genuine inner development. This may well mean that several Islamic governments may come to life. Nevertheless, this may be the best America could achieve given the present situation.
And this is reminiscent of some of the very “plans” being explored now regarding American withdrawal and the aftereffects of it upon the region. Staying there is not an option.
A direct intervention to create a liberal Arab order will only backfire, as the Iraq case is slowly proving to be. America’s longing to export its values will be better served by giving Arabs a real opportunity for self-determination. Maybe it is time the United States practiced what it preached and allowed Arabs to determine their own future, free from interference. Maybe it is time to let go, strip the neo-colonial mantle, and allow Arab history to follow its course.
A major factor that would affect our ability to “let go” ties back to the strategic importance of the region, both in terms of energy and access. But in terms of the PNAC’s plan, “letting go” is just not an option. And many of the changes that Rumsfeld made, in order to “update” our military to meet his vision of the future — and, idealistically, to enable the Rumsfeld Doctrine to succeed — will take a while to correct.
Are these changes insurmountable? No. But it might just take a level of dedicated effort not unlike that required to spawn a whole new branch of the military.