Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Iraq and the Cartoons

What do Ralph Peters, Hugh Hewitt, Jim Geraghty at TKS, and our own Lutheran blogger Bob Waters have in common? Support for the Iraq war and strong criticism of the Danish newspaper Jyllends-Posten's publication of the Muhammad cartoons? Unlike most of those on the right, they have not given a full throated roar of support for the publication of the cartoons. Likewise they are all on record as saying good things about many moderate Muslims. Is it a coincidence that they have all been staunch in their ongoing support of the war in Iraq? I don't think so.

Jim Geraghty and David Pipes have both noted with alarm that the cartoon controversy seems to have pushed Islamic and Western civilizations closer to a "clash of civilizations." Ironically, it is us supporters of the Iraq war in the West who seem to be the last holdouts for the idea that the West and the Islamic world can find common ground on opposition to terrorism. Other one time supporters of the war seem to have defected either to a "bomb them back to the stone age" mentality, or else dropped out of political solutions entirely and adopted a "evangelism is the only solution" slogan.

It seems paradoxical that supporters of a war in the Middle East are the main people insisting that we can work with Middle Easterners as they are, without necessarily having to convert them to our religion first, it's not. The war in Iraq cannot succeed if Muslims and Arabs by nature can never be allies of Americans and Christians. Of course, paleocons interested in cultural purity might see this as just so much "blowback." America's wars in Asia have played a big role in the "Asianization" of our cultural life (from Zen to karaoke to martial arts) and for those hostile to foreign cultural influences, this is bad news. Foreign adventures have always mixed cultures, and ours won't be an exception

One movie I use in class, "The Cowboy in Mongolia" starts off with Dennis Sheehy going to Vietnam, and then coming back injured, but hoping to find a way to interact with Asia more positively. Eventually he learns Chinese and as a rancher gets a degree in rangeland management, before working in Inner Mongolia with the Mongols there on how to preserve the Inner Mongolian grasslands. Even if America eventually withdraws from Iraq in defeat (which I really doubt, although I expect our victory will be less than fully satisfying), the soldiers there will, I predict, play a significant role in generating an interest in the Arab world that goes beyond simple hostility. Whether that's a good thing or not will continue to be debated.