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September 21, 2014

H. Brandt Ayers: Middle Eastern musings

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Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2014 3:30 am

There is one stunning near-certainty that renders most of our present-day worries insignificant — the next president will be inaugurated to govern a nation at peace.

For the first time since the mid-1940s, we have not been joined in a hot or cold war to preserve freedom and democracy or to impose our values on ancient cultures whose ways were strange and alien to us.

Vietnam and Iraq are examples of the latter.

The imperative for the next president is how to avoid fanning the embers of nationalism, cultural and religious enmities so they do not flame up in actual war. That is where we in the West are in relations with the Middle East, China and Russia.

In Samuel Huntington’s famous essay, “The Clash of Civilizations,” he saw the world teetering between nations with Western values and non-Western culture and religions; “The West and the Rest.”

The challenge for the leader of the Western nations is to conquer or cooperate. The former is unthinkable and the latter is very, very tricky.

Oddly enough, the largest of the non-western powers, China and Russia, may prove less difficult to get along with than the more religious Islamic states. A case in point is Israel and Palestine.

Chinese scholars will tell you that it is not an ideological or religious state bent on imposing its way of life and belief. Through the centuries she has been happy — because of her great size and talents — to accept the tribute of lesser nations surrounding her.

Only once did she mount an invasion fleet against Japan, but a monster storm scattered and sank the Chinese fleet. The Japanese named the storm Kamikaze, or Divine Wind.

Communism is a thin, red paint on China’s culture, which existed before the birth of Christ. Communism is only a name that is a way of organizing what is essentially a fascist dictatorship, but it is proud. When stray U.S. missiles hit the Chinese embassy in Saigon, the furious nationalism of Chinese crowds was frightening.

On the stage of the Beijing Olympics, China was proud to display its amazing talents and architecture built in a one-generation leap from medieval to first-world economic power. It is proud but realistic.

Russia has been through a similar economic rebirth, but its pride is more defensive — a result of centuries of attacks by foreign powers and the scorn of European monarchs who didn’t think it belonged in the royal club.

Its fierce nationalism is the result of a desire to at last look the West in the eyes and demand respect, but President Vladimir Putin is not crazy. Russia will negotiate and find ways to live in the same world as the West.

Huntington believes the risk is stronger in clashes with Islamic nations where non-negotiable religious beliefs and the state are one and the same. An attack on an Islamic state is roughly equivalent to an attack on Allah Himself.

The West needs to understand that the differences with non-Western civilizations are based on “history, language, culture, tradition, and most of all, religion. These fundamental differences are the product of centuries, so they will not disappear soon.”

According to Huntington’s theory, men in coats and ties carrying computers will be more welcome than men in helmets carrying guns. Increasing trust will make it easier to see non-threatening “win-win” situations.

For instance, there is a swamp of unemployed youth throughout the Middle East with nothing better to do than grab an AK-47 and do the “manly” thing of joining a jihad to fight.

Muslim elites should see an advantage to draining those swamps; for instance, by the U.S. subsidizing training programs for industries willing to locate in, say, Yemen, with a job guarantee on completing the course.

More Arabic youth and adults will see the value of skills that join them with the world economy, industries would get a cheaper workforce and access to a growing market, and the two civilizations will see value in cooperation without requiring either to abandon their deepest beliefs.

Daily we are reminded by Iraq that the United States can’t conquer and remake a civilization in our image.

As peace begins to dawn, the next president would be wise to hold on to it by the Coca-Cola way, by teaching “the world to sing in perfect harmony.”

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