Islam’s Last Man

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“War is a force that gives us meaning”~Chris Hedges

At some subliminal level, there is the belief that the world is peaceful, now, and in fact the numbers bear this out.  There is less mass killing going on today than at any time in recorded history.

But why?  There are some that believe that there is less killing because of Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History”. The basic argument being that democracy has trumped war.    At a deeper level, Fukuyama’s little understood theory states that people in democratic societies become ever more self-absorbed, and eventually lose any taste for war.  They become what he calls, “Last Men”.   Fukuyama’s theory took a severe beating from everyone (including myself), both on the Left and Right.  The people on the Left, ears perked because of Fukuyama’s self-proclaimed Neo Conservative views, believed that he was condoning the forceful application of democracy. Those on the Right scoffed when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, and asked, where is your Last Man now?

At its core, Fukuyama’s argument is that of Hegel (why always Hegel?).  He believes that history and man are evolving and that we have essentially found our social Holy Grail: Liberal Democracy.  Democracy, he says, fulfills the understated need of Man–the need to be recognized.  Whereas the easiest way for a man to earn recognition in the ancient world was to become a warlord, now, a vote can provide “shadow recognition”.

But wait.  Just when we think Fukuyama is advocating a purposeful journey to the Last Man, he shifts his argument to that of Nietzsche.  When we get there, when we’ve achieved a state of peace and comfort, we feel no passion.  Nietzsche argued that war is a manifestation of man’s desire for passion and danger.  This flies in the face of the commonly held view that war occurs because of class disparities and economic reasons, which is the Marxist view, and in fact, the view held by many on the Right in the United States.  Fukuyama  recognizes the emptiness at the end of liberal democracy’s road.  We are the dog who’s caught the car. Now what?  Nietzsche recognised  the human need to not only be fed, but to feel energized.  Why else would people do such things as bungie-jumping, extreme sky-diving, and dangerous mountain climbing? Or simply playing a pickup game of basketball or engaging in political argument for that matter.

Where we have gone critically wrong however, is in leaving the liberal out of liberal democracy when it comes to events such as the Arab Spring.  What do we mean by liberal in this sense? Essentially it comes down to a belief in Lockean ideals.  The idea that humans have fundamental rights, regardless of where they are born.  And where do those fundamental rights come from? For Locke and America’s founding fathers, they came from God.  In today’s postmodern world, there is no fundamental reason for inalienably rights. Where do they come from?  Apparently from nowhere.

So there are the fatal flaws of a liberal democracy.  A lack of meaning and fervor.  The Left, eternally beholden to the idea that crime, terrorism,  and most of the ills of the modern world are linked to joblessness or working conditions, does not fathom the importance that radical Islam plays in enervating and providing the chance to be noticed for a young Muslim man.

As the Libyan, Egyptian, and other Arab governments fell, and the Syrian government still holds in the balance, the zeitgeist of economic determinism gave secular Westerners hope.  Striding from the shadows of despotism, true believers saw Islam’s Last Man.  that somehow Big Macs would overcome fanaticism.  Only a person who has ordered too much fast food but never read a page of Joshua would really believe such a thing.   At its roots, this belief is a denial that Islam in inherently dangerous or aggressive.  It is a belief–a hope–that Islam is just another religion.

Fukuyama states, in the ending of his original essay on the matter:

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed. Such nostalgia, in fact, will continue to fuel competition and conflict even in the post-historical world for some time to come. Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its north Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.

But for many in the world, history is just beginning. For millions of people around the world, fighting and killing is still the most meaningful thing they will ever do.  All the better if the killing guarantees paradise.  No amount of Super Sized meals or economic opportunity will change this.  And while a vote can give a person a sense of recognition and power, it can also enrage him if the person he voted for doesn’t get elected.  While it is easy to believe that people like Mubarak held millions under his boot, a closer look will reveal a horde of jihadists that he’d imprisoned to maintain order.  It is the same in Saudi Arabia and it will be the same again in Iraq.  No secular government can survive in the Arab world without maintaining a police state.  We can educate the ideological, and we’ll have a smarter terrorist.  All of the 9-11 conspirators were educated.  We can give the ideological a job, and then he will have money to buy AK-47s.  We can provide him with free health care, and then he’ll receive treatment after blowing his fingers off while making a bomb in his basement.

In fact, the world is still a very dangerous place.  At no time in history has a single man been capable of so much destruction.  Once a single  zealot could only raise a sword in defiance.  Now he can plant a single bomb containing VX gas in a sports stadium and kill 40,000 people in 30 minutes. A single man can move from one side of the world to the other in a matter of hours, whereas it used to take years. The breakup of the Soviet empire and the dissolving of other regimes has spread weapons to the four winds.  States such as Iran and Pakistan routinely use terrorism to achieve political goals.  And even supposedly reformed Russia routinely takes steps to hinder America, supporting blatantly insane regimes like Syria and Iran.    And though al-Qaeda has suffered a series of strategic defeats, it is nonetheless a potent entity, far from dead.  

Now Egypt has elected a Muslim fundamentalist as president, Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Though Morsi talks a good game, promising to honor all Egypt’s peace agreements, analysts, such as myself will watch his actions more closely than his words.  Morsi promises to work to free from prison Omar Abdel-Rahman, “The Blind Sheik”, who is convicted of conspiracy in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Rahman is a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist to the core.  Morsi has called Israeli leaders “vampires” and “killers.” It seems that even if Morsi plans to run a  truly democratic country, Egypt is destined to become a safe haven for terrorists.   Already, two weeks ago, a group of terrorists moved from the Sinai Peninsula and killed several Israeli citizens.  It is not difficult to image Egypt, still psychologically distraught by defeats at the hand of Israel, could use proxy-terror armies similar to Hezbollah to attack Israel.

In any event, it is doubtful that Morsi is Islam’s Last Man.  MacDonalds and the internet have done little to stem the tide of Islamism.  In fact, never before has Islamic extremism been so mainstream.   The new model is political Islam.  Islamists realize they cannot rule a country by merely blowing everything up.  That is the Abu Zarqawi model.  But in these regions, in Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan and Syria, the jihadist is gaining ground.   My tepid prediction is that the next 20 years will not be pretty.  And the last 5 have not been very comely either.

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One thought on “Islam’s Last Man

    Royce said:
    July 2, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    A couple of brief comments. First, there has never been a time of universal peace and the idea of world peace is Utopian. I sincerely think that those who seek this Holy Grail believe in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I think they could better use their efforts. At one time I thought that “democracy” liberal or otherwise was the solution to many of the world’s ills. I have abandoned that idea and have come to accept that some groups of people are simply not ready for anything resembling a democratic government. I think the events in Egypt are about to demonstrate that they — and the world– were better off under military rule. Relative to Islam and the associated violence, the religion itself is violent but consider that it is a male dominated society filled with young males separated from females, low literacy, and high unemployment. There is enormous pent up energy with no outlet so violence is almost guaranteed. Can the islamic society survive? It has for over a thousand years but not through democracy but through absolute rule administered with fear. I agree with you in that I don’t see anything changing in the near future and certainly not through democracy.

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