Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Core and the Gap?

In "The 'Core' and the 'Gap': Defining rules in a dangerous world" (Providence Journal-Bulletin, November 7, 2002), military theorist Thomas P. M. Barnett sets out his analysis of the security problems facing the world and his strategy for securing a more peaceful future:
As globalization deepens and spreads, two groups of states are essentially pitted against one another: countries seeking to align their internal rule sets with the emerging global rule set (e.g., advanced Western democracies, Japan and Asia's emerging economies, Putin's Russia) and countries that either refuse such internal realignment or cannot achieve it because of political/cultural rigidity or continuing abject poverty (much of Central Asia, the Mideast, Africa and Central America).

I dub the former countries the Functioning Core of globalization, the latter the Non-Integrating Gap. If we count up U.S. military crisis response activity over the past 20 years, it quickly becomes apparent that the overwhelming majority of our effort was concentrated inside the Gap. In other words, the U.S. "exports" security to precisely those parts of the world that have a hard time coping with globalization or are otherwise not benefiting from it. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks did the U.S. national-security establishment a huge favor by pulling us away from the abstract planning of future high-tech wars against make-believe "near peers" into the here-and-now concrete threats to global order. By doing so, the geographic dividing lines between the Core and the Gap were made clear.

The United States faces three national-security tasks in its role as "system administrator" to globalization: 1) to bolster the Core's immune-system response to the sort of disruptive perturbations unleashed by 9/11; 2) to build a firewall to protect the Core from the Gap's worst exports -- namely terror, drugs, pandemics; and 3) to progressively export security to the Gap's worst trouble spots. These are three very different tasks, and each will demand very different levels of cooperation with other states.

Bolstering the Core's immune system is overwhelmingly a multilateral affair, in which the United States builds all sorts of transnational networks of mutual support across both the public and private realms. As a security issue, it is so much more than just the Defense Department's interest: It fundamentally involves the entire U.S. government. Protecting the Core from the Gap's worst exports is more bilaterally focused, meaning that the U.S. partners intimately with states lying on the bloody seam between Core and Gap. Think of our expanding security relationships with Russia or India, or our growing security aid to the Philippines or Indonesia. Finally, exporting security into the Gap's worst trouble spots will be largely unilateral, although we can typically count on Britain for assistance. Here we will play military Leviathan on a regular basis, enforcing the system's rules in a manner that no other state can possibly consider.
I haven't read much of Barnett's writings, but he appears to be 'the man' with the American military's ear these days, so we should all probably be reading him.

Given my ignorance of Barnett's many books and articles, I won't hazard an analysis, but I do want to focus on an assumption that underlies this article. Barnett assumes that the world's problems stem from those places (mostly Muslim) that globalization has not yet integrated into the global system of democracy and capitalism.

I wonder if this assumption is correct. Let me quote two others who have more recently written articles that implicitly question Barnett's assumption. In "A Year of Living Dangerously: Remember Theo van Gogh,and shudder for the future" ( Opinion Journal, Wednesday, November 2, 2005), Francis Fukuyama notes:

We have tended to see jihadist terrorism as something produced in dysfunctional parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan or the Middle East, and exported to Western countries. Protecting ourselves is a matter either of walling ourselves off, or, for the Bush administration, going "over there" and trying to fix the problem at its source by promoting democracy.

There is good reason for thinking, however, that a critical source of contemporary radical Islamism lies not in the Middle East, but in Western Europe. In addition to Bouyeri and the London bombers, the March 11 Madrid bombers and ringleaders of the September 11 attacks such as Mohamed Atta were radicalized in Europe. In the Netherlands, where upwards of 6% of the population is Muslim, there is plenty of radicalism despite the fact that Holland is both modern and democratic. And there exists no option for walling the Netherlands off from this problem.

We profoundly misunderstand contemporary Islamist ideology when we see it as an assertion of traditional Muslim values or culture. In a traditional Muslim country, your religious identity is not a matter of choice; you receive it, along with your social status, customs and habits, even your future marriage partner, from your social environment. In such a society there is no confusion as to who you are, since your identity is given to you and sanctioned by all of the society's institutions, from the family to the mosque to the state.

The same is not true for a Muslim who lives as an immigrant in a suburb of Amsterdam or Paris. All of a sudden, your identity is up for grabs; you have seemingly infinite choices in deciding how far you want to try to integrate into the surrounding, non-Muslim society. In his book "Globalized Islam" (2004), the French scholar Olivier Roy argues persuasively that contemporary radicalism is precisely the product of the "deterritorialization" of Islam, which strips Muslim identity of all of the social supports it receives in a traditional Muslim society.

This is an interesting line of thought from Dr. Fukuyama, previously known for his "end of history" thesis, namely that the world has entered the final stage of history with democracy and capitalism triumphing over all competitors, including Islamic theocracy.

Fukuyama hasn't quite renounced his thesis. Globalization is still pressing democracy and capitalism toward what Barnett has called "the gap," but the victory begins to look hollow when one realizes that by undermining traditional guarantees of identity, globalization turns those alienated from their traditional identies toward the worst aspects of those traditions. Into the gap, says Fukuyama, steps Osama bin Laden:
It is in this context that someone like Osama bin Laden appears, offering young converts a universalistic, pure version of Islam that has been stripped of its local saints, customs and traditions. Radical Islamism tells them exactly who they are--respected members of a global Muslim umma to which they can belong despite their lives in lands of unbelief. Religion is no longer supported, as in a true Muslim society, through conformity to a host of external social customs and observances; rather it is more a question of inward belief. Hence Mr. Roy's comparison of modern Islamism to the Protestant Reformation, which similarly turned religion inward and stripped it of its external rituals and social supports.
Islamism offers the solution, a theocratic transformation of society in the image of an idealized early Islam. Serving as a utopian goal, it both comforts the believer and motivates him (usually him) to strive for the goal's realization.

Striving, as we have come to know, is one possible translation for the Arabic word "jihad." Muslims distinguish between inner and outer jihads, the former toward transformation of oneself, the latter toward transformation of society. In "The Suicide Bombers Among Us" (City Journal, Autumn 2005) the acute essayist Theodore Dalrymple shows how these two can come together in a dangerous way:
As is by now well known (for the last few years have made us more attentive to Islamic concepts and ways of thinking, irrespective of their intrinsic worth), the term "jihad" has two meanings: inner struggle and holy war. While the political meaning connotes violence, though with such supposed justifications as the defense of Islam and the spread of the faith among the heathen, the personal meaning generally suggests something peaceful and inward-looking. The struggle this kind of jihad entails is spiritual; it is the effort to overcome the internal obstacles -- above all, forbidden desires -- that prevent the good Muslim from achieving complete submission to God's will. Commentators have tended to see this type of jihad as harmless or even as beneficial -- a kind of self-improvement that leads to decency, respectability, good behavior, and material success.

In Britain, however, these two forms of jihad have coalesced in a most murderous fashion. Those who died in the London bombings were sacrificial victims to the need of four young men to resolve a conflict deep within themselves (and within many young Muslims), and they imagined they could do so only by the most extreme possible interpretation of their ancestral religion.
Like Fukuyama, Dalrymple notes the identity problem:
Young Muslim men in Britain -- as in France and elsewhere in the West -- have a problem of personal, cultural, and national identity. They are deeply secularized, with little religious faith, even if most will admit to a belief in God. Their interest in Islam is slight. They do not pray or keep Ramadan (except if it brings them some practical advantage, such as the postponement of a court appearance). Their tastes are for the most part those of non-Muslim lower-class young men.
But they need their identity, so they turn to Islam . . . sort of:
Even if for no other reason, then (and there are in fact other reasons), young Muslim males have a strong motive for maintaining an identity apart. And since people rarely like to admit low motives for their behavior, such as the wish to maintain a self-gratifying dominance, these young Muslims need a more elevated justification for their conduct toward women. They find it, of course, in a residual Islam: not the Islam of onerous duties, rituals, and prohibitions, which interferes so insistently in day-to-day life, but in an Islam of residual feeling, which allows them a sense of moral superiority to everything around them, including women, without in any way cramping their style.
I think that Dalrymple is onto something. Analysts have noted the odd fact that the terrorists often don't lead lives guided in detail by Islamic principles. Think of the reports that the 9/11 terrorists spent time drinking in bars and visiting prostitutes. Dalrymple offers a plausible analysis of the terrorist mindset:
Muslims who reject the West are therefore engaged in a losing and impossible inner jihad, or struggle, to expunge everything that is not Muslim from their breasts. It can't be done: for their technological and scientific dependence is necessarily also a cultural one. You can't believe in a return to seventh-century Arabia as being all-sufficient for human requirements, and at the same time drive around in a brand-new red Mercedes, as one of the London bombers did shortly before his murderous suicide. An awareness of the contradiction must gnaw in even the dullest fundamentalist brain.

Furthermore, fundamentalists must be sufficiently self-aware to know that they will never be willing to forgo the appurtenances of Western life: the taste for them is too deeply implanted in their souls, too deeply a part of what they are as human beings, ever to be eradicated. It is possible to reject isolated aspects of modernity but not modernity itself. Whether they like it or not, Muslim fundamentalists are modern men -- modern men trying, impossibly, to be something else.

They therefore have at least a nagging intimation that their chosen utopia is not really a utopia at all: that deep within themselves there exists something that makes it unachievable and even undesirable. How to persuade themselves and others that their lack of faith, their vacillation, is really the strongest possible faith? What more convincing evidence of faith could there be than to die for its sake? How can a person be really attached or attracted to rap music and cricket and Mercedes cars if he is prepared to blow himself up as a means of destroying the society that produces them? Death will be the end of the illicit attachment that he cannot entirely eliminate from his heart.
If Dalrymple is correct, then globalization undermines traditional Islam and attenuates Muslim identity in a way that produces alienated Muslim men who turn to a radicalized form of Islam in an attempt to prove their Islamic authenticity, even if they have to kill themselves to prove it.

Islamist leaders perhaps instinctively -- or even personally -- recognize this inner dynamic and make good use of such young men in a jihad that, as we can see, is increasingly a global one.


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