The great Irish comedian Dylan Moran once joked that the American method of imperialism is to first occupy a country and then, when the natives begin to object, ‘slowly build a Starbucks around them, until they themselves become Americans’.
One can treat this observation seriously in cases like that of Kuwait – which today resembles a militarised shopping mall, the natives happily spending as much time at McDonalds as they do at the mosque. In the burgeoning democratic state of Afghanistan too, American businesses are springing up at a lively rate, and in response the locals are steadily – in conformity with Moran’s theory – become more Westernised and less keen on violence.
But is it this simple really?
In a way, yes. Yes it is.
I have long treated the idea that Neoconservative policy in the Middle East failed because it didn’t take into account the local love for traditional life – specifically for religious life – with contempt. The truth is more likely that Neoconservative policy took too much care to tread lightly around these issues.
As many have pointed out, democracy in-itself has a neutral value. It can be good, and it can be bad, depending on the people voting. In Iraq, democracy was established on a wing and a prayer – a hope that Iraqis already knew that Western living was superior to their own.
But they didn’t ‘know’ this.
They hadn’t any experience of modernity. To the average Iraqi in 2003, it was a self-evident truth that free social mixing of the sexes led to rape, homosexuality and grievous sin. This is all he knew. He wasn’t trying to be radical in believing that. He was simply a product of a closed society, brainwashed to hate the freedoms of the developed world.
In time however, that Iraqi, and millions of other (especially young) citizens of the Middle East can be shown that modernity is not the moral nightmare that they have been told it is, and that personal liberty – to date who one wants to, to marry who one loves, and – crucially – to choose or change ones own religion and moral convictions, is the basis of a happy life and prosperous society.
Neoconservatism failed in its promise, its main goal – which was to snatch millions of gifted people from a 13th century prison and replant them in a 21st century environment.
And it could have been done. It could still be done. But only when we cease ‘respecting’ barbaric virtues in Islamic countries by calling them ‘tradition’ – and instead make war on them, for their sake and ours.
An ideal Neoconservative policy – one which could rescue the movement entirely – would go something like this:
Say America was attacked again by al-Qaeda, and the world again rallied behind it. But this time instead of wading through the diplomatic mud at the UN, the US resolved to do something unannounced and spectacular with a view to the long-term.
Imagine if – without warning – US marines invaded a small Muslim country like Tunisia, and secured under occupation one half of the nation’s territory. Imagine if they announced that this part of Tunisia was now a protectorate of Nato, abolished all local government and declared the area would hereby be subject to the values of the US constitution. Then say the marines demolished (physically and judicially) the Islamic institutions responsible for the repression of women in that area, and made free inter-mixing of the sexes not only legal but promoted in law.
After a few months of enforced partition, the locals would be given a choice between living in the newly constructed modern half, or the half which has not been blemished by Western control. All are free to stay in the new state, but only on the condition that they acknowledge that modernity is superior to backwardness. Any excessive religious behaviour will result in deportation to the Eastern half, so that eventually, the dross settle on one side, and the…..erm..
Er…Yeah maybe it wouldn’t work.
I am only half-serious with this. But whatever it takes – Muslims must be forced to make a choice. Piety and poverty – or modernity and happiness. This is what they are still wrestling with, and because they can’t decide one way or another they are coming to the West in droves trying to undermine modernity and eliminate the need to choose.
They must understand that modernity is going nowhere and that it is they who must change.