December 30, 2003


Assault on the established order (The Japan Times, Dec. 31, 2003)

The concluding year will be remembered for the many ways it undermined the building blocks of the world as we know it. Globally, regionally and even here at home, the events of 2003 posed a direct challenge to the most basic ways in which states and societies act. While change is inevitable, it is by no means clear that this assault on the established order will open the door to a better future. That will depend on whether our governments have the courage and the wisdom to seize the opportunities presented by a world in flux.

Globally, the big story of 2003 was the invasion of Iraq. While Washington mustered an international coalition to overthrow Saddam Hussein, the attack was most notable for its blatant disregard of the United Nations. The decision to proceed without U.N. approval was not unprecedented -- NATO action in Yugoslavia in the 1990s did not enjoy U.N. legitimacy. But rarely had a government -- and an architect of the international order at that -- so flagrantly dismissed international opinion.

This is somewhat the premise of the book I'm working on too: that the paradigm of state sovereignty--which has prevailed since the Peace of Westphalia--is under attack from Left, where transnational progressivism would discard the authority of the nation-state altogether, and from the Center/Right, where America's Jacksonian unilateralism and humanitarian concerns seem to have converged to add a requirement that the sovereign be legitimate, meet the standards of the end of history, or else be considered fair game. Regardless of which side prevails--and it would be catastrophic if the Left does--the sovereignty paradigm will have shifted in a revolutionary way, but like the proverbial frog in the pot of water set to boil, we seem hardly aware of what's underway.

N.B.--If anyone is aware of any essays pertinent to these topics, please send them on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 30, 2003 8:02 PM

Well, I'm still impressed by Bassam Tibi's argument that outside the west there never was and never will be a system of functioning nation-states, because people do not regard themselves as members of nations.

My paper declined to publish my review -- too Islamophobic, probably -- but maybe I can dredge it out of the archives.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 30, 2003 8:54 PM

That would be more an issue of how the West drew the borders, no? People like the Palestinians, Persians, etc. certainly seem to have a sense of their own identities.

Posted by: oj at December 30, 2003 9:22 PM

If I understand Tibi, no, he doesn't think they accept the principle of the western nation-state. Here's what I had to say about it:

THE CHALLENGE OF FUNDAMENTALISM: Political Islam and the New World Disorder, by Bassam Tibi. 262 pages. California, $19.95.

For two decades, Bassam Tibi, one of the tiny and dwindling number of Muslim liberals, has been preaching conciliation between his co-religionists and the rest of the world.
"The Challenge of Fundamentalism," which was written after the first Gulf War but before Sept. 11, 2001, then revised, represents a viewpoint that may need serious revision again as a result of the second Gulf War. Nevertheless, as a comprehensive and clarifying statement from one end of the political range, it repays reading.
If nothing else, it's worth $19.95 to clear away the sappy misconception that Islam is a "religion of peace."
Tibi explains that this refers not to peace now, but to a promise in the Koran that eventually the warfare between dar al-Islam (house of Islam) and dar al-Harb (house of war) will end with Islam triumphant. There will then be no more war between the houses, since one will have ceased to exist.
That such a childish tautology has status as profound doctrine in Islam shows how very different Islam is from other societies, leading some, like Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard, to predict a "clash of civilizations."
Tibi also demolishes the idea that jihad means spiritual struggle. Of course it means armed violence, he says, which will hardly surprise anyone but the willfully ignorant.
"Fundamentalism" is an unfortunate term to use for American audiences, because it gets confused with Christian Fundamentalism, which is not even remotely similar to the Islamic kind.
Nor, says Tibi, is Islamic fundamentalism either traditional or authentic. He contends that Islam as a religion should be viewed as an ethical system, that sharia does not derive from either the Koran or hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) and that Islamic fundamentalism is riddled with modern, although unacknowledged, concepts.
"The Challenge of Fundamentalism" is loosely reasoned, but among several candidates as the central point, Tibi argues that the concept of the nation-state is western and alien to the rest of the world -- not just the Islamic part. The borders and the forms of government, not being organic to their societies, of course have failed.
With the Cold War ended, this hidden crisis springs into the open.
The situation is complex, with Tibi taking pains to try to separate out strands such as pan-Arabism, legal systems (Islam has four) and anti-colonialism.
He concluded, though, that Gulf War I was a political victory for Saddam Hussein. It's a dubious proposition, but if ever true, it didn't last.
Tibi, a Syrian who lives in the West (as almost all Muslim liberals must do to avoid being murdered), says that the political program of the Islamic fundamentalists can never succeed, but that does not mean they cannot create a "new world disorder" by trying.
He disparages military solutions from the West, suggesting instead that Islam as a religion could revert to an authentic tradition of rationality and secular government. Unfortunately, the last important Muslim philosopher who advocated rationalism died more than 500 years ago, and Tibi does not explain how to inculcate an admiration for rationalism in a billion people who are mostly illiterate, who do not enjoy a free press when they can read and whose leading intellectual institutions are avowedly antirational.
If there were suitable institutions, even he avers that "in the minds of the Islamic peoples . . . democracy is not an important issue."
If that's right, then Tibi's program of "international morality and cross-cultural bridging" is more a counsel of despair than a practical political program.
He lets his guard down at one point, noting that "there are competing views of what the commonalities might be."
In that case, then, they aren't commonalities.
Nevertheless, Tibi is persuaded that the only alternative to a clash of civilizations (which Islam is certain to lose) is "cross-cultural morality."
"The Challenge of Fundamentalism" is meant to be an optimistic analysis. It comes across the opposite.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 30, 2003 11:42 PM

ROFL, holy cow, Harry, I'm not one bit surprised that they wouldn't publish your review.

Very nice work putting the knife in, though. Quite entertaining.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at December 31, 2003 12:20 AM

ROFL, holy cow, Harry, I'm not one bit surprised that they wouldn't publish your review.

Very nice work putting the knife in, though. Quite entertaining.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at December 31, 2003 12:22 AM

Mr. Eager;

I went ahead and published it, in a webby sort of way.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 31, 2003 12:50 AM

Well written.

Is Japan an example of a long-standing, non-Western, nation state?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 31, 2003 6:28 AM

Harry -

Any idea of how many Muslims live in Hawaii?

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at December 31, 2003 8:28 AM

Denied a national idenity,people will simply fall back to racial/ethnic,cultural/religious and regional identities.In their attempt to break down national societies(divide and conquer)they may find such a degree of balkinaztion that it is simply impossible for them to rule.

Posted by: M at December 31, 2003 8:54 AM

For thoughts about transnational progressivism and many of the themes you're interested in, check out Steven den Beste's archives.

Posted by: randy at December 31, 2003 10:21 AM

Jeff, yes, I think so. Thailand, too. Maybe even Ethiopia. Korea.

In general, places that managed to develop strong monarchies seem to be able to transition to a modern national state.

In Europe, peoples who had no real consciousness of belonging to a separate nation were rather easily nationalized by propagandists like the Grimms, and you ended up with Czechs, Romanians etc. by the late 19th century. Nobody thought like that in 1800.

Europeans seemed to be primed for it, so to speak; and Tibi thinks other people are not.

Thanks, Guy.

Bruce, probably not more than a few thousand. In my county, I know 9 and that's probably almost all of them.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 31, 2003 4:59 PM