Monday, May 16, 2011

Tell Me What They're Reading and I'll Tell You Who Will Win?

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By Barry Rubin

There's an interesting point about pre-World War One Europe that applies very well to today's international situation as well. In Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman pointed out the difference between what the British and Germans were reading on the eve of the war.

In 1909 Norman Angell, a British member of parliament wrote a pamphlet, "The Great Illusion," that became a best-seller. It argued that since war had become so terrible and governments were rational and would understand this, another major international war was impossible.

But in Germany they were reading Friedrich von Bernhardi's Germany and the Next War,  where he argues that "war is a biological necessity" based on the law of nature, the struggle for existence.

Germany was preparing for war; Britain was pacifist. The same process repeated itself before World War Two. And the same process was again repeated in the brief time before the end of World War Two and the Cold War.

Each time, though, the "less prepared" but more democratic side won in the end. Still, because the "fat, materialistic, having a good time" democracies took too long to realize what was going on and the resulting conflict took longer and cost more lives than might have been possible.

In 1940, John F. Kennedy published Why England Slept, a book about how British appeasement helped create an atmosphere where Nazi aggression prospered. Of course, his own father had favored and encouraged those policies. Of course, the war he was "warning" about had already begun the previous year. But the surprise attack that killed about 2400 Americans and brought the United States into the war took place more than a year later.

Twenty years later, Kennedy was elected president.

In 2006, Bruce Bawer published While Europe Slept. It was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. One panel member described the book as "racist," while the group's president lamented, "I have never been more embarrassed by a choice" and called it an example of "Islamophobia." Needless to say, he didn't win the award.

For anyone to have read the book and made such statements is a measure of the intellectual insanity that has seized hegemony in the West. Bawer's book was published not one but five years after the conflict he described had already visibly emerged in the form of 3000 Americans killed in a surprise terrorist attack on New York and Washington. As of today, the United States is engaged in three different wars relating to the issues he discussed.

So far nobody's been talking about electing Bawer president.

We can call this state of being, post-September 11 snoring.

We're in the grip of a new version of Angell's "The Great Illusion," a double-edged title if there ever was one. Surely, nobody could want a radical Islamist state! Certainly, nobody would be willing to sacrifice their life for such a thing! Nor would anyone conceivably prefer martyrdom and murder to having a nice toaster and a hybrid car!

That's why all of this talk about Usama bin Ladin hiding behind women, pleading for his life, doing drugs, and having a pornography library really bothers me. Such things stem from this need to prove the other side doesn't really mean what it says, they're really just sybaritic, materialistic, hedonistic hypocrites. Because if they are, well there really isn't any threat, is there? They can be bought off.

Meanwhile, anyone who examines the real politics, current religious thinking, and actual behavior doesn't get an award but is slandered instead. Or, at best, is ignored and barred from access to the mass media's audience.

Yet every day on the other side, the argument is openly and publicly being made that--in a slight paraphrase of von Bernhardi's theme--that war is a religious necessity (jihad) based on the law of the divine being and natural struggle for existence.

And simply repeating what that side is saying daily is a thought crime.

Last October, I published an article about the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's declaration of war against the United States. A few months before the Egyptian revolution, the speech by the Brotherhood's leader made clear that it was a radical, Islamist, antisemitic, anti-American movement that incited violence.

Not a single mass media television station or newspaper has mentioned that speech to this day, despite huge coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood. The chiefs of American intelligence seem to remain unaware of it. On the contrary, one could find hundreds (thousands?) of claims that the Brotherhood is secular, moderate, pro-democratic, and against violence.

Recently I was interviewed on a big-city radio station. When I made some of these points, the show's host retorted that their correspondent in Cairo "speaks lots of languages," is very experienced, and hadn't mentioned any of these things. So why should he believe me?

Don't believe me, I explained (without any success in this case). Believe what America's enemies are reading, and saying, and doing. Of course, to do that you first have to know about what they're reading, saying, and doing.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at

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