Honeymoon in Mecca

by G. Murphy Donovan (August 2011)    

“Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not understand either.”  – Gandhi

The junction of the Islamist religious right and the secular political left is one of the great ciphers of early 21st Century political history. Some might describe the phenomenon as ecumenicism; an enlightened model, originating in the West; one which believes that tolerance is the best tactical remedy for Islam’s strategic bias – “turning the other cheek,” if you will.  A more skeptical view sees the ecumenicist as a wishful thinker, or worse, an appeaser. Surely religious and political indulgence is not a leitmotif in the Arab League or the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The road to tolerant democracy is still, in spite of decades, if not centuries, of European diffidence, a one-way street. Infidels and apostates might wed in Rome or Jerusalem; but, they do not honeymoon in Mecca.

The tolerance model in the West is conflicted, if not contradicted, by several belligerent axioms such as counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, and the ubiquitous “nation” building. The later, a kind of imposed democracy, is one of those soft simulacrums of Western strategy; a little like trying to force bikers to wear ballet slippers. Islam and democracy, rarely compatible, often require shot gun weddings.

Europe and America are now fighting, holding the fort, or trying to win the “hearts and minds” of Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam

With or without OBL, the Euro/Yankee strategy seems to be a new take on the African proverb: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick,” a replay of Teddy Roosevelt’s brand of imperialism at the turn of the 20th Century. But there are some importance differences. Victorian era imperial excursions were motivated by commercial interests – or exploitation, depending on your niche in the food chain. Surely there are commodity concerns today in Iraq and Libya, but if you exclude opiates and madrassas, Pakistan and Afghanistan have little to offer the West but body bags and bigger budget deficits.

We are often told that the fight must be taken to South Asia so that the sub-continent does not become a haven for terrorists, as if that were not already the case. Indeed, Kyoto and Seoul may be two of the few cities in the world not to have seen a suicide bomber yet. Irredentists are nasty, mobile, global, and on-line. Those social networks may be at better at spreading Agnotology than they are at facilitating democracy.

So the question remains; what are the mutual interests of forward looking progressives, the Euro/American left, and backward looking religious conservatives? Indeed, many of the loudest secular rationalists claim to be atheists while shrill radical Islamists consult their sacred literature as if it were OnStar. What could the godless and the godly possibly have in common? How are they joined? Where are they going?

Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama may provide the answer to these and other new age mysteries. Fukuyama is familiar to few folks except those who need chemicals and a dull read to sleep at night. Nonetheless, Frank is brilliant in the interrogative. He asks the right questions. Scratch that! He asks the “correct” questions. His politics, once thought to be right, neo-conservative, have been drifting west for several decades. You can take the boy out of the RAND Corporation, but you can’t take Santa Monica out of the man.

Picture Fukuyama, a Samuel (Clash of Civilizations) Huntington protégé, on an intellectual road trip. He’s the kid in the back seat who asks “are we there yet?” every fifteen minutes. Fukuyama broke into the majors with a 1989 hit essay in the National Interest entitled The End of History, an argument which claimed that the collapse of Communism was a prelude to:

“…the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final (emphasis added) form of human government.”

There are several things to remember about Frank’s thesis; he doesn’t give a date for the “end” and when he speaks of liberalism, it’s in the classic sense, more like enlightenment – and less like what you might hear from Jane Fonda or Saul Alinsky:

“The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism…”

Notice the sources of Fukuyama’s conflicts are ideological; unlike the economic materialism of Karl Marx, or more recently, the ecological materialism of UCLA’s Jarred Diamond. Fukuyama’s political philosophy is unique or obscure; a smear of moral Darwinism on a slice of Hegelian determinism. He speaks of evolved consciousness and evolved ideology. And he claims that “… people sense dimly that there is some larger process at work, a process that gives coherence and order …” to a place where liberal democracy will someday reign.  Almost sounds religious or utopian, doesn’t it?

When Fukuyama consigns absolutism and fascism to the dustbin of history, he sounds like every other post-WWII historian. Hitler no doubt gave toxic nationalism a bad name, but then again he was fond of girls, dogs, Spatlese, and the occasional BLT. Hitler’s indulgences illustrate why, in spite of Glen Beck’s scholarship, Islamism is not fascism; indeed, the threat of Islamism is much worse by degrees. The Islamist does not seek to advance one or 56 nationalist agendas, his ambitions, like democratic idealists, are also “universal.”

Fukuyamais not the only political analyst tied to that Hegelian hawser; one which equates the passage of time to progress. He acknowledges historical serendipity, but in the long run  Fukuyama still sees the past as a dynamic, linear historical dialectic – sort of a “bin there, done that” world view. Such arguments often ignore the possibility of catastrophic irredentism, going backwards. At the moment, articulate spokesmen for one fourth of the world’s population, are making just such a case. The movement is Islamism; the levers of which are terror, insurrection, political sedition, and time.

All history is a selective process, often as notable for what it ignores as for what it includes. Phenomena such as irredentism and revanchism are frequently excluded.  Surely the former would characterize modern Salafi activism and the later would cover the contemporary Shia movement. Arguments are made by what’s included – and undone by what’s left out.

History is a two-way street, just as sure as every road has two vectors. Indeed, most of recorded human history might be characterized as authoritarian stasis or virulent irredentism. Darius I, Attila, Mohamed, Genghis Kahn, and Stalin were not pedaling “evolved consciousness” – or town hall meetings. The progressive and the irredentist are two pilgrims on the same road; traveling in opposite directions.

Nonetheless, Fukuyama concludes that the end of the 20th Century witnessed “…the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” Not quite Nirvana, but close enough. Unlike his mentor, Samuel Huntington, Fukuyama didn’t see a problem with “alternatives” like unreformed religious totalitarian movements; such as the contemporary Gordian knot nestled midst 1.5 billion prayerful souls. Huntington specifically warned of the need to contain authoritarian, undemocratic Islamic and “Confucian” states. Fukuyama, like many politicized academics today, seems to be ducking that question.

Historians can’t help but be influenced by who they study. When Doris Kerns Goodwin climbed into bed for a research interview with Lyndon Johnson, you pretty much know how the book would read. And akin to politicians, political scientists often change the subject when the questions get too tough.  Fukuyama, like national security advisor John Brennan, appears to have such a dilemma. When Brennan is confronted with the nastier dimensions of jihad bis saif; he prefers to speak of moral “purification” or Islamic hygiene.

The infamous Fukuyama essay, later followed by a book of the same name, has an eerie similarity to Vladimir Illych Lenin’s celebrated question at the beginning of the 20th Century; What is to be Done? Although there’s no evidence that Lenin got a book deal out of his pamphlet. Still, the intellectual architect of Soviet Communism argued:

“Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside the economic struggle…”

Thus with a one liner, Lenin rejected the material basis for struggle against capitalism, threw Karl Marx under the bus – and elevated political consciousness to the vanguard. Lenin went on to argue for the need for a political party to lead the struggle, the leadership of which would eventually become the nomenclatura, a kind of secular Soviet clergy. In short, Lenin’s essay was an early rationalization of absolutism; that is, the need to impose and control any new political “consciousness” from “without” or above – another kind of parachute politics. Lenin may have paid lip service to the masses and made comforting noises about democracy, but he did not believe in the wisdom of crowds.

This is not to suggest that Fukuyama and Lenin are fellow travelers. Nonetheless, there are more than a few echoes. Francis, like Vladimir clearly rejects Marx, yet like Lenin, Fukuyama continues to milk a vision of social Shangri-La.

The mid-20th Century experience with nationalism put chauvinism in the dog house. Yet, the subsequent late 20th Century defeat of monolithic Communism did not include a rejection of Socialism. Indeed, the purse strings of Europe and America, as Fukuyama admits, are now in the hands of “democratic” socialists on both sides of the pond. And this evolved social consciousness is not without supra-national institutions; the United Nations, the European Union, Staruck’s, and Facebook are prominent examples. The term “globalization” (nee global village) captures the spirit if not the reality of the one-world chimera today. 

At this point, the jury is still out on the supra-nationals. Hard to tell whether they represent an “evolved” political conscience or just expensive talking clubs. Both the UN and the OAU were absent without explanation during the Rwanda genocide. And the Arab League is not exactly eager to prevent similar misanthropy in Libya or Syria. 

If evidence matters, the deployment of trans-national African “peace keepers” to places like the Sudan or the Congo is part of the problem, not the solution. Recreational rape may soon replace soccer as the favorite UN sport on the subcontinent. The “global village” crowd argues that the world would be worse without trans-nationals, but unfortunately there are no measures of effectiveness for what doesn’t happen. As the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld has observed; “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

This is not to suggest that the debate which Fukuyama began has not been useful. If nothing else, he has helped illuminate the common ground shared by progressives and recidivists. Clearly both seek a kind of ideological utopia at different ends of the political spectrum. And both may be equally unrealistic for any number of reasons.

First, there is the history of all utopian movements, secular or religious. Not a great track record here. Monolithic political or religious systems tend to deteriorate very rapidly into repression. And if repression doesn’t work the next tool in the kit is usually violence, a contingency Fukuyama recognizes in Volume One of his latest argument: The Origins of Political Order.

Other considerations are competition and conflict. Both are essential for healthy social systems. True diversity or pluralism is not some selective racial pandering or misguided ecumenicism.  Managed competition between individuals or individual nation states is necessary for progress in science, art, politics, and bocce.  Hegel got that right; conflict is good. Unfortunately, not all struggle leads to progress. Revolt is not reform. Drunks, felons, and failed states are daily reminders that chronic backsliding is always an option.

A third flailing of one-world visions is the tendency to underestimate the power and influence of religion while over valuing monotheism. Religious reform may have had more to do with the development of “evolved politics” than any other single factor. At the same time, the superiority of monotheism is for the most part an asserted conclusion. Orthodox monotheists have pronounced tendencies to ignore the necessary space between church and state. That space was created by the American experiment– tolerant religious pluralism.

Arguments about separation of church and state are often tainted by every atheist’s favorite fake food fight; the so called conflict between faith and reason. This false dilemma was settled by Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas centuries ago, long before Christophor Hitchens opened a salon in Georgetown.

Spirituality in every culture is as real as any science and probably not half as dangerous. And religion, like science, requires continuous renewal, if not periodic reformation. No amount of ecumenical Esperanto is likely to compensate for reform deficits.

Just as there are degrees of religious observance, there are degrees of political freedom. Civility is a running compromise. Religious pluralism is as necessary as secular diversity to guarantee an “evolved” political conscience.

Jarred Diamond eloquently captures the rewards of true pluralism:

“The rate of human invention is faster, and the rate of cultural loss is slower, in areas occupied by many competing societies with many individuals in contact with societies elsewhere.”

In the end, there are two requirements for any personal or political relationship: trust and regret. Without trust no contracts, fiduciary or social, are possible. Without regret, no change or progress is possible. Regret, the recognition of error, precedes reform. The inability to adapt or reform is a singular historical failing of Islamic faith, politics, and culture.  

And yet, presumptions about democracy, like those of Fukuyama, are similar to those about monotheism, impractical supposals that one ideology might fit all. Capital Communism might be the appropriate political model for Beijing and market oligarchy might be the best for Moscow. If fiscal prudence and solvency are measures of merit, new political arrangements in Russia and Asia are giving American and European democratic capitalism a run for its money.

Western democracies are still works in progress. The tendency of fun loving progressives to make more social promises than they can possibly keep may be a fatal flaw. Social democracy, in its worst incarnations, is a kind of fiscal fellatio; satisfying for the moment, but never suited to the evolved purposes hard-wired into the respective organs.

And there is little evidence that democratic collectives, like the Euro-basket, are any more efficient or effective than individual liberal nation states in this regard. Neither democracies nor global political condominiums have proven themselves as social safety nets.

Nation states and their citizens live in a binary, or Manichean, world where survival and sanity require moral choices daily. The true evolved political conscience, which Fukuyama seeks, may have already been described by Emanuel Kant as the categorical imperative

And evolved ideology, political or religious, is not an “end” or destination; it’s a continuum, a process. What works works; a universe of morality is necessary. Political philosophy is just a game plan, not the end game. If global monoculture, secular or religious, were to take hold, it wouldn’t be an achievement; it would be the beginning of the end.

Jarred Diamond, a geographer by training, is the material antithesis of Fukuyama’s political idealism. Diamond is a product of the manure school of evolved consciousness. He attributes the most salutary political developments to land, animals, and climate; the haves and the have nots. Conversely, he attributes man’s social pathologies to science and evolved hubris. In many ways, Professor Diamond’s curb level pragmatism makes Hobbes and Malthus look like cub scouts. Diamond speaks of “ends” also. Yet, his ends have biological or scientific roots. For the ecological determinist, Armageddon comes with a whimper or a bang; some unmanageable pathogen or a nuclear conflagration. Guns, Germs, and Steel indeed!

The Fukuyama thesis, to date, is unsettling in two respects. Judgments about the end of the political “isms” of the 20th Century may be premature. New age vampires like “theofacism” are still part of our nightmares. A second worry is the obvious bias towards some kind of one-world pattern, a political theory or model which might be thought to have universal application. Such political moulds might look a lot like a Comintern or a caliphate.

This is not to prejudge Fukuyama’s evolving paradigm. The first volume of his current project stops at the French Revolution. When he catches up to the 21st Century, we can only hope the virtues of national sovereignty get a second look. The ideal is often the enemy of good enough.

Theories about globalization, or better political mousetraps, have always been out of step with centrifugal national reality; the 26 original members of the United Nations are now 200. Most of these are both autocratic and dysfunctional.  And the UN is just one among a half dozen inert regional baskets. No political realist can ever expect any assembly of semi-sovereign castrati to be problem solvers.

The fatal flaw of international organizations, or one-world schemes, is accountability or the lack of it – the absence of moral hazards. There are no incentives for good behavior in general assemblies. Sovereign nation states, on the other hand, can always be motivated by a cruise missile, a sack of corn, or a margin call.

If we read a scientist like Jarred Diamond we get a sober and refreshingly prosaic analysis of political success models and their origins. Fukuyama, in contrast, wanders through a maze of philosophical thickets hinting at improbable destinations. You might not agree with Diamond, but you know where he has been and what he believes. With Fukuyama, there’s a lot of leaf litter, more questions.

Part of the problem may be political “science.” As an academic discipline, it’s probably more alchemy than arithmetic. Yet, analysis of any sort ought to be in the business of clarity, not chronic uncertainty.  Today, politicians, academics, and Intelligence analysts have raised obscuration to a high art.

Fukuyama is not alone. Political advisors at the highest level speak incoherently about “protecting the American people.” Comically then, the masses are admonished to “see something, say something” about terrorists; while national moguls can’t bring themselves to name or describe the enemy with any specificity. Generals in the field talk of “soft” tactics and strategy while excluding “kinetic” solutions. If there are no kinetic solutions why are NATO armies deployed on four remote battle fronts? And analysis has raised debt and deficits to national security concerns, yet more spending is still the perennial response.  Political candor might be our most pervasive deficit.

Yet, progressives and Islamists are optimistic – surely because they believe they are winning battles, if not a war. When you read apologists like John Esposito or Islamists like Tariq Ramadan, you could conclude that progressive democrats and orthodox theocrats are about to post their china pattern on Facebook. Nonetheless, a honeymoon in Mecca is still out of the question – today or anytime in the foreseeable future.

So Frank, we’re not there yet.


G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security and intelligence matters. He was a colleague of Frank Fukuyama at RAND Corporation, Santa Monica.

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