Saturday, March 9, 2024

The West and Bin Laden


The West and Bin Laden

Peter Schultz


                  Gradually, as I have read about 9/11 and the War on Terror, a question arose for me that hadn’t arisen earlier: Why did the United States consider bin Laden, et. al., enemies, and enemies that had to be defeated? In other words, why weren’t there more examples of attempts at negotiations between “the West” and bin Laden, et. al.?


                  At first, the answer seems simple: it was because bin Laden had “declared war” on the United States because it had invaded the Holy Land, among other things. So, the United States and the West were just defending themselves against attacks from Islamic fundamentalists. But even if these fundamentalists thought of themselves as enemies, why not try to manage the situation via negotiations? It is possible, even with enemies, to negotiate differences and, thereby, avoid warfare. Of course, the reason given is that these fundamentalists wanted to destroy the United States, destroy “the West,” which made negotiations seeking coexistence impossible. So, it was the fundamentalists who forced war on the United States, and made negotiations futile.


                  But what if the situation isn’t as simple as that? That is, what if “the West” has an agenda and it’s an agenda that makes Islamic fundamentalists (1) enemies and (2) enemies that can only be dealt with aggressively or militarily? In other words, the West wants something or some things that can only be gotten by defeating, one way or another, Islamic fundamentalism. If so, then “the failure” to pursue a policy of negotiation with Islamists isn’t a failure at all; rather, it is the logical implication of the West’s agenda.


                  Strange as it seems, as interpreted in the West, the West doesn’t have an agenda or, if it does, it is an agenda that’s completely benign. It is an agenda that is non-threatening because it is simply an attempt to impose the most human, the most just, the most praiseworthy values on the world. The West’s agenda assumes, therefore, that there are such values and, consequently, also assumes that there are only one set of such values, that there is only one way of being as fully human as humans can be.


By implication, then, there are no fundamental choices available to human beings, that is, choices each of which represents a way of being as fully human as possible.  For example, the choice of living scientifically or of living religiously are not equally legitimate and desirable ways to live. Some say the way is scientifically, while others say the way is religiously. Or some say living “modernly” is the only fully human way to live, while others say living traditionally is the only fully human way to live.


The point being that if the West has an agenda which denies that there are different ways of living as humanly as possible, then the West might well aggressively pursue its agenda in order to impose its way of being human on the world. And those who reject that way, those who embrace another way of being fully human, have to be defeated. Hence, there can be little or no reason for negotiations as there is the right to live, and other ways should be rejected.


The Enlightenment did not and does not posit there are fundamentally different but equally valid ways of being as fully human as is possible. As such, the Enlightenment embraced an agenda that should be universalized. Those who are, out of ignorance, unenlightened are to be educated, while those who know but reject enlightenment – the apostates – should have it imposed on them, as aggressively as is necessary, “Hearts and minds” are to be “won” whether by persuasion or by imposition or some combination of persuasion and imposition. Which is a pretty good description of the crux of what is now called “counterinsurgency,’ winning hearts and minds by persuasion and imposition.


So, the West isn’t properly understood as merely defending itself against its “enemies.” The West, insofar as it is devoted to enlightenment as the way to live, has created these “enemies.” Perhaps those “enemies” would prefer not to be seen as enemies, would prefer to just be left free to embrace their un-enlightened ways of being human. After all, being enlightened is only one way of trying to be as fully human as possible. And, as some contend, while praiseworthy, it may not even be as praiseworthy as some other ways of being human.

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