Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Global War on Secularism

Andrew Sullivan nails the Christian right's assault on secularism, and why anyone (including any Christian) who believes in personal liberty should oppose it:
Secularism is not only compatible with aggressive and proud Christian faith; in practice, secularism has fostered that faith. The polar opposite of Christianism, in contrast, would be a government that actively suppresses religious faith, discriminates against Christianity and forbids Christians from practising their way of life. No one is proposing that. I'm really concerned that secularism is slowly becoming tainted with the same brush as "liberalism." But secularism is the great modern achievement of Christianity and of Western freedom. It is an honorable tradition, integral to the entire concept of Western liberty. The difference between secularism and Christianism, to put it bluntly, is that one side is happy to let people make their own moral choices; and one side isn't.
Sullivan ought to take the argument one step further: the only way to make sense of what the Christianists are doing if they are making a bid for totalitarian hegemony. Because destroying the religiously-neutral state only makes sense for believers if you believe that your version of the faith is going to be able to dominate completely. If some other version becomes the dominant faith, then you'll be much worse off that under the current secular regime.

I wonder whether Andrew has considered that a major reason why his beloved war in Iraq has been able to proceed (I initially wrote "succeed" -- oops) is because of the support of these totalitarian-motivated religious fanatics in this country. (Don't blather to me about this link coming from a liberal, foreign Web site: for a particularly rancid explanation from one Christianist of why he and his support the war, check this out.) The Christian Right's bid for the totalitarian hegemony of evangelical protestant Christianity obviously cannot stop at the shores of the United States. If you believe that your views of a Jesus-ordered world are universally correct and not subject to secularist limits, then war to impose your values is a logical corollary. When just after leaving a meeting we now know constituted the first planning session for the War in Iraq, Bush blurted out his comment about launching a "crusade" in the Middle East (a phrase he used as a synonym for the phrase "war on terrorism"), he was in fact voicing the exact sentiments that motivate the support for the war by "the base."

The Christianists are not wrong when they suspect that the European opposition to the war in Iraq is related to their secularism. No one was against a war to knock over fundamentalist whackjobs who were housing a mass murderer. But a war to help pave the way for the End Times? Well, it hardly takes an athiest to want no part of that nonsense.


Anonymous said...

How do you know that Bush's comments about the crusades came after his war planning session? In my opinion, he was planning this war since 1992 when his father lost his election. It seems to all stem from the fact that his father was criticized for his good sense (from his CIA background)to not occupy Iraq.

Nils said...

Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War" recounts meetings on 9-14 and 9-15 where the question of invading Iraq was raised (by Paul Wolfowitz, specifically, and endorsed by others) as a response to 9-11.

Bush may not literally have stepped right from the meetings where invading Iraq was discussed to the press conference, but there's no way (or at least, let's give him the benefit of the doubt) that those discussions were not in his mind when he gave the press conference.

Anonymous said...

You know, for the most part I'm with you on your political analyses. But we part company where you champion the war in Afganistan as the right thng to do. You take take it too far in this post when you claim that "no one" was against the Afgan war. I, your own brother, was against it, for one. In the first place, I foresaw the long-term result of that military action: business as usual. As I've pointed out before, everywhere but Kabul the warlords continue to maintain their (localized) absolute power, and most of these whackjobs (your phrase, and not at all inaccurate)support the same old tribal power structures, oppression of women, drug-based economy, etc. And secondly I foresaw that the Afgan war would not topple Al-Qaida. As you yourself have noted, it was POLICEWORK that accomplished that much-needed task. Oh, and by the way, I predict now that as soon as the heavy foreign (largely U.S.) occupation of Kabul ends, things there will revert to business as usual also. -- Lars

Nils said...

Lars, the reason I wasn't against the war in Afghanistan is not because I though the Northern Alliance would bring delight and freedom and propserity to the Afghan people. Nor was it because I thought that the Taliban were a nasty bunch who deserved whatever they got. If those had been the grounds on which I thought the war justified, then you'd be right that I had made a mistake.

The reason that the Afghan War was necessary is that the Taliban was either unwilling or unable to hand over the 9-11 planners -- in other words, in the Taliban (unlike with Musharref, say) we had no partner for the necessary policework.

This meant that to nad the 9-11 planners, we had to attack Afghanistan. In fact, compared to his temerity in Iraq, Bush actually acted with (perhaps excessive) restraint in Afghanistan, choosing to rely mainly on proxies for the on-the-ground fighting -- which may be why bin Laden got away.

Now, you're right that on the grounds on which the Afghan War was justifiable (namely decapitating Al Qaeda) it did not succeed. But just because Bush failed to achieve useful results from the Afghan War does not mean that it was not worth fighting.

I should be clear, however, that even though the Afghan War was ethically and legally justifiable, that does not mean that the way it was fought was very sensible, or that it as an end in itself it could possibly be successful. (In fact, even Bush realized this, which is why he invaded Iraq.) If fought in isolation, without any effort to try to attack the "demand-side causes" of anti-Americanism (our oil politics, our Levantine politics, our cultural politics), then the so-called GWOT was doomed to failure. As you know, I argued from the beginning that Bush would make a hash of things in Afghanistan and the Middle East generally.

But just because we have an incompetent for President does not mean that attacking a country who sovereign leadership was unwilling or unable to hand over bin Laden was unjustified. I suppose you could argue that since we knew Bush was a callow, lazy, feckless ignoramus, it was irresponsible to give him the moral authority to attack other countries. My main response to such an argument is that even if Bush was and is a dork, you have to weigh that against the fact that the Taliban were, by their own testimony, "hosting" a guy who had orchestrated the century's single most heinous act of mayhem.

The other thing to keep in mind is that at the time, in the Fall of 2001, it wasn't clear that the neocons would hijack the post-9-11 agenda. More generally, things didn't have to turn out the way they have, and you had to give Bush the chance to do wrong in order to give him a chance to do right. He chose to do wrong, but it needn't necessarily have turned out that way.