Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Mustache strikes again

Tom Friedman has his usual painfully shallow take on the conflict in Gaza. Here's his contextualization of the rise of Hamas: "Hamas’s overthrow of the more secular Fatah organization in Gaza in 2007 is part of a regionwide civil war between Islamists and modernists."

What arrant nonsense. Just for starters: On which side of that alleged "regionside civil war" is, say, the Saudi royal family? how about those ultraorthodox Israeli zealots--big modernists, they! when the Israelis, during the First Intifada, chose to back Hamas and other Islamic charities against the secular Fatah, did that make them "anti-modern"?

Next up: does that allegedly central division have anything to tell us about the main actual civil war in the region--namely the one the U.S. precipitated in Iraq? Are the Sunni insurgents modernists or Islamists? How about the Mahdi Army?

As Sarah Palin might put it: Here's a little clue for y'all: whenever you hear some pundit bring up the word "modernity" as an analytical tool for understanding the Middle East, they almost always are full of shit. That's because "modernity" is not an analytically stable category, but rather is a political code word for "like us" (itself a fungible, messy concept that depends on what the speaker thinks "we" are actually like). In other words, examining the way the term "modernity" get used around Washington may provide a useful tool for understanding attitudes in Washington, but it is basically irrelevant for understanding the divisions on the ground in the Middle East or anywhere else.

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