Saturday, November 7, 2009

Toxic Idealism

Noble ideals produce a fatal paradox. We all buy into them; who doesn’t believe in freedom, democracy, liberation and civil liberties? These are ideals that have taken centuries to evolve in the West and are currently under siege as the United States continues to evolve into a corporatized military state, which could be why we’re so hell-bent on spreading them to the Middle East.

And that is where the paradox turns fatal. Ideals have the habit of coalescing into absolutes, and absolutes have a habit of shedding blood when one nation attempts to impose them on another. Missionary zeal has a long and deadly history in the West that dates back to the days when the missionaries accompanied Spanish conquistadors as they savaged Latin America.

We now see this same missionary zeal at work in Afghanistan where we are told that ours is an effort to liberate Afghan women from the yoke of oppression that has been placed on their shoulders by a misogynist regime. It has appeal because in truth, women in that country are treated as if they’re chattel.

The paradox, here, is that women’s rights will never ride into Afghanistan astride a drone. In Vietnam we destroyed villages to save them; in Afghanistan, we destroy wedding parties to free them.

Two years ago, Malalai Joya was expelled from the Afghan parliament for denouncing corruption and the occupation. She sums up the paradox beautifully when she say, “The United States and NATO eight years ago occupied my country under the banner of woman’s rights and democracy. But they have only pushed us from the frying pan into the fire. They put into power men who are photocopies of the Taliban.”

Nothing corrupts a noble ideal like ignoble means. Yet, attempts to spread the ideal always become toxic because the ideal is seen as an absolute, and when implementing an absolute one must destroy all who oppose it. And in doing so, the ideal loses its nobility.

Missionary zeal is a product of western hubris. All too often it is assumed that the western worldview sits atop the Great Chain of Being as if we represent the end product of social evolution. After all, don’t we have more “stuff” that the rest of the world?

Because God has so blessed us, the thinking goes, we have a moral obligation to spread this lifestyle to the ignorant savages of the world and turn them all into middleclass consumers, whether they want to or not.

Progressives have been sucked into this argument. They are reluctant to oppose the slaughter in Afghanistan because they see it as a fight for women’s rights, even though our efforts are having the opposite effect.

The treatment of women in Afghanistan is abysmal. Both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance are little more than narco-thugs. However, the brutal truth is that our military occupation of the country is only making these conditions worse. An equally brutal truth is that change will only come to Afghanistan when all foreign troops leave and courageous Afghan women like Malalai Joya bring change to the country from the inside out.

Of course, the above argument has one fatal flaw: noble ideals are simply marketing gimmicks to sell a war that has an ulterior motive, be it expanding markets or securing a supply of natural resources. It is an unfortunate blind spot in the progressive vision that it doesn’t see this.


Ivan H. said...

Good, objective and viable criticisms, across the board. Being "progressive" does not mean that you cannot have a patch over one eye.

Case Wagenvoord said...

...or a couple of snyapses misfiring.