Friday, 6 February 2015

The Argument from Dogma: The Failings of "Orientalism" and "the West".

'What the far right Pegida UK share with several more mainstream voices is the fantasy worldview that pits an enlightened “west” against a backward Muslim world– a worldview that fails utterly to recognise both the west’s extensive complicity with repression in other parts of the globe'
When David Wearing writes about the 'frightening degeneration of the political debate' on immigration and Islam in Britain he means the debate is not being 'framed' in the way he demandsCopying the Chomsky template, with rigid devotion to orthodoxy, Wearing ascribes the anti-Islamist practice and 'discourse' to 'foreign policy'.

The argument, inherently lacking in much intellectual vigour and so perpetuated throughout European universities, is that 'the West' is wholly responsible for having created the threat of Al Qaida. Institutions of power 'conceal' the West's role in that by producing a 'discourse' in which 'the Other' is created to serve power interests.

In this ideology, the perceived 'backwardness of the Muslim World' is a complete consequence of Western Imperialism that Westerners need to deal with and accept or else, regretfully, accept the violence they have coming to them as a mere reaction to the repression. The irony is that this is pretty much standard ISIS propaganda.

The other irony is that those lambasting the terms of engaging in a 'debate' on Islam and the West want to assert their way of seeing it without arguing about inconvenient facts. There is just as much in dogmatic assertion in this as there is in the absurd idea that ISIS is a 'real' example of Islam in practice.

Wearing rounds on Pegida's use of the word 'Islamists' with contorted fury 'So who are these “Islamists”? The peaceful adherents of political Islam of the kind who have contested elections in Egypt and Tunisia? The violent jihadis of al-Qaida and Isis?'  He seems to think his argument is so superior that he needn't answer those questions.

Of course, in the space offered by one newspaper commentary piece in the Guardian, it might not be possible to go into great lengths about the Arab uprisings across the Maghreb and Middle East or about the geopolitics of conflict, protection of global oil supplies, resource wars, and politics in these lands.

However, if this is the case then Wearing would be better off at least trying to convey that words matter and that Islamism is not 'one thing' any more than Socialism or Liberalism. But as his purpose is a sort of intellectual bullying, a posture of self-assumed superiority over idiotic 'Islamophobes' he does not bother.

It is most likely that Pegida have the violent jihadist in mind because they do appear to be threatening and the media does tend to feed that fear just as it does about GM food, Ebola and a whole host of potential threats to civilisation or 'our way of life'. Often, the reason is media companies want to sell newspapers and bump up TV viewer numbers.

Evidently, mass media in the West does not make always for sophisticated understanding of the problems of the Middle East. Neither, however, does Wearing and other fellow ideologues in academia whose job it is to perpetrate a crude and vulgarised version of Edward Said's thesis as put out in his book Orientalism in 1978.

When Wearing writes of the 'the West's 'extensive complicity in repression' it could easily be countered that there was a jihadi-Islamist plot discovered in Belgium in the new year. Curiously, the West is blamed as a whole for 'complicity in repression' but he doubts whether 'the West' exists as some enlightened contrast to a 'backward Muslim World'.

Wearing does not bother to clarify what he means by Islamism but ascribes any opposition to it is necessarily a racist form of oriental stereotyping and, anyway, any dangers come from the West's 'complicity in repression'. But he doesn't come out with any concrete examples or state the exact causal link.

Making out that the threat of jihadist violence is just an extreme form of protest against 'foreign policy' is folly. After all, the Western military interventions in the Third Balkan Wars in the 1990s were against Christian orthodox Serbian forces and to protect Balkan Muslims. There have been as yet no Serb terror reprisals

The Argument from Dogma.

The West, then, exists when blame can be ascribed to it but mysteriously counts for nothing or only exists as a 'fantasy worldview' when invested with darker qualities. No doubt that is because those with a sulky adolescent outlook, entrenched by the experience of a university 'education', loathe it as much as Pegida think they admire it.

The evident problem with Wearing's version of Orientalism is it oversimplifies as much as Pegida does. After 2011, the Western powers, the US, France and Britain seemed to have been welcoming to Arab democracy in Libya, Egypt and Syria to the point of trying to blind themselves to the fact of their being a 'moderate' opposition to Assad.

The fiction of some democratic rebel force dominant in the Free Syria Army in Syria was maintained long after it had become clear there was not. Backed by Qatar and Turkey, increasingly important trade and energy partners with Britain and France, the Western powers seemed to have wanted democracy in Syria and Egypt.

Contrary to Wearing, 'the West' does not determine what happens in the Muslim World. Certainly, Western politicians would be flattered by Wearing's idea that they could. The 'complicity in repression' is a vague phrase lacking in concrete detail. In fact, ISIS would certainly argue the West determines Muslim repression. That's in the 'discourse'.

However, dogma is comforting to those frightened at reality. The idea there is one seamless Islamist totalitarian threat that extends from out of the Middle East deep into the European heartlands, however, is a 'paranoid fantasy', though it's peddled by discredited politicians such as Tony Blair to some degree.

The problem with Wearing is that he is so outraged by what he regards as the hypocrisy of the West in prating about democracy and freedom while, for example, grovelling to Saudi Arabian regime, that he seems to insinuate that as ISIS style violence now transcends national borders what 'we' do there affects 'us' here.

In this sense, Wearing is not that much different from Pegida but he putting a leftist spin on it. He's annoyed that people are protesting against Islamism instead of protesting alongside with what he regards as democratic Islamist groups against their own governments which he holds responsible for propping up tyrannies.

Wearing is bad at making arguments. In fact he is not interested in them so much as asserting dogmas that radicalise people according to his way of 'framing' the 'discourse' on Islam and the West. This is then responded to with anger at 'craven appeasement' of Islamist totalitarianism by those in positions of responsibility.

The power of nightmares-and the way governments deploy 'public diplomacy' to shore up enough fear and support for their ability to protect 'the West'-is no less stultifying than the promise of waking up from the nightmare through the promise of utopia, that only if 'we' stopped our governments doing what they do then 'we' would free from terror.

It is necessary to challenge dogmas and orthodoxies whether from government and spin doctors as well as disgruntled academics frustrated by their own lack of power and influence outside the campus. Embittered by this, they spend their time trying to intellectually sabotage the idea of Western civilisation.

Since 9/11 2001, the tedium of Western politicians using dissimulation in the 'War on Terror' and the just revulsion at governments indeed being complicit in ideologically driven resource wars, torture and repression has been accompanied by useful idiots using this as proof that this is 'just what the West is and does'.

What looks obvious is that permanent war and a 'War on Extremism' could result in governments the West becoming that as the power of the surveillance state grows and large numbers of citizens are increasingly confused at the rapidly changing world around them and the dangers it seems to present.

So being critical of the foreign policy of Western states is vital so long as it is understood that 'the West' is not all omniscient or a cosmic force of evil. This means not following figures such as Chomsky as infallible intellectual lodestars whose vision of the universe is a complete explanation of the way things are.

Averting a deepening crisis in civilisation, and ensuring the response to the real threat posed by global heating and overdependence upon fossil fuels is not going to be war, division, conflict, violence and bloodshed depends on casting off the tendency to view the world through obsolete and parochial ideologies.

The US and 'the West', however defined, is no longer ( if ever it was ) a primary unilateral power in the world. Other powers such as China are emerging as global economic and military superpowers. The US state is going to be a powerful state among others which has the ability to do some good or bad. It's not uniquely good or bad.

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