Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Living Memory

Here’s why it’s a World War: Moslems are all over the world. Those other, old fashioned wars? They were World Wars because nations are all over the world. But Islamists do not want nations. They want a pre nation-state world. For us, that’s going back a thousand years. For them, it’s a few years more than 80. That’s right. The Ottoman Empire is just the ticket. Everything after that has been a Western interlude, an interregnum.

The three Ottoman provinces that Churchill cobbled together and called Iraq comprise a “nation” only as a geopolitical fiction. Like Yugoslavia. Like Czechoslovakia. These of course are thriving countries ... oh, wait ... hmm. Well, it could be that cobbled-together countries aren’t really such a great idea. Like the United States -- a real failure. Oh, wait. Hmm. Well, it seems that when there’s a shared culture and the unity comes from an internal impetus, such agglomerated nations might work. After all, the US never had a civil war. Oh, wait. Well, our civil war was about an alien institution, one of anti-freedom -- one inherently antithetical to the very unifying principle from which the nation arose. Maybe that’s what all civil wars are about. Yet somehow the US seems in an entirely different category than Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia, or Lebanon or Iraq.

In Iraq, democracy and constitutionality -- like its very borders -- are alien artifacts of an imposed system. That men of goodwill conspired to imagine that the concept of Iraq had any substance demonstrates the human capacity of optimism, but reality has a sort of rudeness about it, and interrupts our social ruminations in a most abrupt manner. My point is that Iraq can only work if there is some unknown minimum of perhaps illusory patriotism, some loyalty to the imposed fiction of nationality or nationhood, that will allow the country to continue to exist in its present form.

The danger is that Iraq is like some desert succulent, that might give the appearance of thriving, but uproots easily simply because it never put out roots. Is Iraq just a stick with leaves, presenting the similitude of vitality only in the absence of a breeze?

The broader point is that there are a number of ways for peoples to organize themselves. There are a number of concepts about which they might gather and present themselves to the world. Nationality is only one of them. Religion is another. The Jews survived the stateless millennia just so -- as a religious culture, so interbred with the surrounding peoples that as much of the blood of Abraham might flow in my veins, as in some Cohen or Levi. The Iraqis are for the most part Arabs -- not that Mesopotamians are racially Arabs, but by the millennia-long adopted culture and religion of the south. But the unifying principle has been, broadly, Islam. Islam is not a national religion. It is tribal, and as such it does not bode well for the continued nationality of any Islamic country.

Now we have Lebanon. An invented country, as almost all Middle Eastern countries are invented. People there of goodwill -- we might call them citizens -- identify themselves as Lebanese. But then there’s Hezbollah. They have a nation. But they do not recognize any state. Their nation is the Caliphate -- an empire after the old style. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia arose from the ruins of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Middle East today is just the visible part of the grave of the Ottoman Empire, famously styled the Sick Old Man of Europe. To what then would loyalty best be paid? Arabs most certainly do not have a long historical memory. They have a long memory for imagined grievances. Emotional, then. What inspires loyalty to an emotional people? Certainly not the cold elegance of blindfolded Justice and Her impartial scales.

Well. My metaphors are all over the place. I am rambling. It’s a rich topic, that I’m feeling too scattered to mine thoroughly. Another metaphor. So here it is. We’re due for another Hundred Years War -- a religious war -- this time intercontinental. The old empires are quickening, and what they will grow into we cannot know. But history is a most edifying discipline, not predictive like astrology, but indicative, like astronomy. The guiding star, then (my final metaphor) must be an understanding of human nature. My nature is increasingly pessimistic. But maybe that’s just a mood. Might be a metaphor, except I’ve used up my last one.

A World War, then. Of a different order -- a more ancient order. It's a World War the way Islam has been fighting World Wars since the seventh century. Islam invented World Wars, what with its invasion of three continents, from the peninsula of its origin. What we've been seeing is not, most certainly not, the final tactic of the emerging Caliphate. Moslem Islamist terrorism is just the first phase of a sinister master plan. Has anybody seen a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Mecca? I bet it's an interesting read. And that's not one of those pointy-headed metaphors you're always using.



Brent said...

"I like to think of what Churchill said when he crossed the Atlantic after Pearl Harbor and gave a magnificent speech. He said we haven’t journeyed this far because we’re made of sugar candy. It’s as true today as it ever was." (

I'm more concerned about our own erosion than I am about Islam. Islam will only advance as we become soft and loose our root system. I still believe that in the face of extreme difficulty we as a whole will awaken from our drunken stupor with a fierce sobriety.

By the way, Word craftsman, I love paragraph 5.

Jack H said...

"We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy."

Yes, we need optimists. Not every drink is gall. But consider Israel, ancient Israel, with its true prophets and its urim & thummim and its Shekinah Glory. And most of its kings did evil in the sight of the Lord. Not to mention Adam in his perfect garden, walking in the very presence of God. Given the failure of those so much more blessed than we are, what of our nation? That's the shadow. The sunlight is that we have had some number of Great Awakenings, and another may be in line. Who knows. God directs us to pray pray pray. Yet we know that some prayers are not answered. Yet we must pray. Is the lesson that we must learn to tolerate futility? Or that maturity accepts disapointment? Or to pray only for what God has already determined to give us? I have no idea. In any case, we do know that drunken sots sometimes reform. But the Harlot, steeped in the drunkenness of blood, cannot. Fate, and free will. Such a confusion.

Brent said...

Maybe God is looking for faith? Not pie in the sky faith but a dependance on Him and His Word. This doesn't shield us from suffering, in fact, it may ensure us of it. "Affliction is the good man's shinning time."

I consider myself optimistic but that does not negate from a realistic assessment of our quandary. We can bitch but this can become only some kind of catharsis that inhibits action. The "I told you so" satisfaction of seeing something so obvious and others refuse to accept. Or are we forgotten prophets (forgotten in the sense of ignored) doing our duty and leaving the results with God? Prophets in the sense of understanding the times but also hearing God's perspective on the times and arousing the sleeping.

I don't believe our hands are tied. I believe we are shown this for a purpose. Maybe to encourage faith?

Jack H said...

Faith and fate. There's a way that they are the same thing, what with election and all. Act as if you have faith, and it will be given to you. Or not. We are told to thank God for all things. All things. Good or bad. Well, that's a kind of prayer. And prayers, to be prayers, must arise from faith. So there you are. It all ties together. And well it should, forgotten prophets that we must be. Forgotten in the sense of not remembered, once we have passed out of sight. Prophets in that we know the broad outline of the truth, though not the details, and profess as much, as much as our strength and courage allow us to.