Modernity [not equals] U.S.A.

Andrew Sullivan semi-approvingly quotes Reuel Marc Gerecht, criticizing Obama for his failure to acknowledge that the struggles of the Islamic world in coping with modernity drive them inevitably to hate and attack the U.S.

 What he does not seem to grasp – and the Bush administration is no better – is that America is the cutting edge of a modernity that has convulsed Islam as a faith and a civilization. This collision will likely become more violent, not less, as Muslims more completely enter the ethical free fall that comes as modernity pulverizes the world of our ancestors. Barack Obama’s newly devised “Mobile Development Teams,” which will bring together “personnel from the State Department, the Pentagon, and USAID … to turn the tide against extremism” are unlikely to make America more attractive to devout Muslims who know that America is the leading force in destroying the world that they love.

This is nonsense. Americans equate “modernity” with “Americanness” out of jingoism. The rest of the world doesn’t necessarily see it that way at all. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the country that symbolizes modernization is increasingly China; that’s where the new infrastructure and consumer technology is coming from. Islam may be wracked by its confrontation with post-industrial consumer society, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Muslims will identify the US as the source of the problem — unless we help them do it. The best thing for the US to do, to defuse hostility driven by the aporia of postmodern third-world dislocations, is to stop equating “freedom”, “democracy”, “capitalism”, “science”, “development” etc. with “America”. Secular democracy is as much French, Indian and Turkish as it is American. The Sony-and-Sushi lifestyle is Japanese. Why should a Muslim upset at his generation’s craving for BMW’s and Wii players direct his hatred at the US? For one reason: because the troops stationed in his neighborhood, blowing shit up in the  name of democracy, aren’t German or Japanese — they’re American.

Capitalism, science, reason, and democracy need no defense by American troops. They will win the confrontation with reactionary Islam by themselves. The best thing the US can do is to tone down its act: lend a careful helping hand here and there, but, for the most part, stay out of the way.


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