Current Affairs

"the more it snows

piddely pum, the more it goes, piddely pum, on snowing.” Perhaps you recall that old A.A. Milne rhyme.

More than 900 years ago, the First Crusade resulted in the establishment of the Crusader States in the Holy Land. Brief history lesson: the ostensible purpose of the Crusades were religious–to protect Christendom from the infidel Muslim and to recapture the Holy Land prior to Judgment Day (which is always around the corner). However, the Crusades were also important political-economic wars, opening trade routes and securing key commodities such as spices. Of course this sounds familiar and I’m far from the first to make the connection. Indeed I seem to recall Bush himself refering, with his usual diplomatic aplumb, to our current adventure as a “crusade.” Indeed one could say our current situation is part of an ongoing, off and on, conflict.

But I’m not interested in developing a grand historical theory here. What I want to point out is this. I don’t think our notion of the Islamic world has changed all that much in several centuries. That is, we can see in the Middle East a struggle between religious fundamentalism and modernity that overlaps ideologically with attitudes regarding the West connected to colonialism. Modernity is associated with the West (with Judeo-Christianity), and perhaps what Islam needs (like SE Asia and China) is its own non-Western modernity.

However, the problem is complicated by the fact that the West itself continues to struggle with religious fundamentalism and modernity. Our recent electoral debacle is clear evidence of this. I know Democratic pundits are trying to say “Americans share our values but we failed to connect to them,” but I don’t believe that’s true. Bush was elected because voters came out against Islam, abortion, and homosexuality. That is they came out (excuse the pun) against that which is different from themselves and their “values.” For example, see the recent fight over the word “evolution” in the Georgia public school system.

Here is the “problem” in the Islamic world, which I think is painfully obvious to anyone who is educated and able to think critically (which is unfortunately a very small percentage of the population). Across the Islamic world, there are repressive regimes that exist to benefit a small segment of the population who profit from oil sales. They oppose true democracy and education for their people.

Those are the US allies.

The opposition to this repression (and its obvioius coziness with the West) takes the form of religious fundamentalism (a la (excuse the pun, again) Iran in the 70s to anti-commie Taliban in the 80s to contemporary terrorism).

In short, what we have today is much like what we had 900 years ago. Much like the Europe of the Dark Ages, we have a significant portion of the population (in the US) who are deeply religious and poorly educated (if you’re offended by this characterization, in the words of our president, “bring ’em on”). We have a war that is obviously (though tacitly) being fought on religious grounds but for equally obvious and tacit economic ends.

Here is our one and only hope Obi Wan. History. The Crusades opened exchange between Christendom and Islam. The result was education, for the West. Islam gave us Greek culture, which we had destroyed. Islam paved the way for the Renaissance, humanism, and thus modernity in the West. Clearly modernity is an unfinished project in the West. Obviously we now look at postmodernity as we say modernity leads to the error of fascism, which I would characterize as the inability to leave behind the absolutism of monotheistic culture.

The error, I think now quite obvious, of the latter 20th-century was to imagine the US as postmodern, when we were, and still are, pre-modern. Only now are we entering our modernist-fascistic stage. Europe’s error was to be so horrified by the Holocaust to imagine that it was still moving forward. Afterall, Europe acheived modernity by expelling its stubbornly pre-modern population to the US. Yes, we have “religious freedom” but only to permit the worst forms of religious extremism and fundamentalism, not to protect us from these things. If we were/are a nation of “freedom and tolerance” why would we be built on slavery, colonization, and genocide?

I am calling on the world community to support the large, though minority, community in America that opposes the horrors of our nation. The US’s greatest supporter, the UK, does so for the most cynical of reasons, to gain political leverage against France and Germany in the EU. The people of the UK do not support us.

Perhaps someday, more than 900 years after the Crusades began, America can learn to stop hating. This is why I personally will echo the Nietzschean proclamation: Good news! God is dead. For certainly religion is the most destructive force on our planet, and only in the death of god(s) does humanity (to say nothing of every other living entity on this planet) stand a chance for survival.

EUROPE! Listen to Me! For centuries, we have taken on the dross of your society: religious extremists, criminals, “huddled masses,” etc. We have been an escape valve for your struggle to modernize. You don’t need to imagine what kind of country results from such a process. You can see it for yourselves on your television.

We have enslaved and murdered millions of people. Hitler is small potatoes compared to American history. We have employed weapons of mass destruction, and we are building more.

“the more it snows …

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2 replies on “"the more it snows”

Of all the post-election political responses I’ve read, Alex, this is still the most compelling one I’ve come across. I know you’re not referring openly to the election outcome, but as I followed the chilling musical chairs dirge of cabinet re-assignment, I kept thinking about “the more it snows.” Your point about the U.S. being pre-Modern makes me think about whether we’re dis-contemporaneous in terms of modernity. Beyond the morality frames oft cited for our partisan misunderstandings, these temporal fissures seem to play a considerable part. I don’t know if this makes much sense.
Anyway, I thought it was an insightful post–one I’ve thought about a few times since I read it last week.


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