Thursday, September 22, 2011

Puzzling Remarks on America's Foreign Policy

Anastasia Karklina
(Image from One Young World)

I read some rather puzzling remarks yesterday in Souad Mekhennet's column for the New York Times, "In Search of Common Ground Over Muslim Dress Codes" (September 20, 2011). Ms. Mekhennet was reporting on a forum held recently in Zurich by One Young World, an organization founded by David Jones and Kate Robertson. This is a nongovernmental organization with the following mantra: "For the first time in history, the young are seeing history made before it is censored by their elders." I guess this means that the young get to censor it first. Anyway, this forum reportedly "brought together about 1,600 people, mostly under 25, from 190 nations" to discuss common ground among people of all kinds and creeds. Apparently, everyone was happily agreeing on how we can all get along, when the discussion shifted a bit:
[A more conflictual] discussion was initiated by a resident of Latvia who is now studying politics at Duke University in North Carolina. Anastasia Karklina, 19, has most likely passed through enough social upheaval and heard enough pretty words in her life. So this non-Muslim went straight to her point: It was understandable, she said, that participants only wanted to discuss tolerance, and not reality. "In many Western countries," she opined, "the hatred against Islam is being used for justifying the foreign policy, especially in the U.S."

It is no use, she added, to debate war in the name of religion or to urge tolerance, without discussing the double standards in politics.

"How do we want to create an interfaith dialogue if they ban the burqa, discuss the headscarves, don't allow Muslims to build mosques and then even have a preacher who wanted to burn the Koran?" Ms. Karklina asked.
There followed an argument between two Muslims over the niqab -- one in favor of the freedom to wear it, the other in favor of banning it, giving as reason that "It is nowhere mentioned in Islam and does make our religion look bad."

That remark alone is an interesting point that deserves closer attention in light of various other things that make Islam "look bad" and could likewise be banned, but I would prefer to focus on Ms. Karklina's remarks -- which have puzzled me -- and merely pose a few questions:
What examples might be presented as evidence that US foreign policy is being justified by hatred against Islam? The Bosnian intervention that saved Muslims? The Kosovo intervention that saved Muslims? The war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda? The war against Saddam Hussein? The support for the Libyan rebels against Muammar Gaddafi?

What "double standard" in politics does she mean? Assisting the 'revolutionaries' in their overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt vs. maintaining distance from the protesters seeking to overthrow Assad in Syria? Should we have the same standard for both cases?

Who is this "they" who want to ban burqas, discuss headscarves, forbid mosques, and have a preacher burn the Koran? Europeans? Americans? The West? That's a rather broad brush with which to paint "they"!
But I don't know, really, whom to blame for my puzzlement, Ms. Karklina for offering a 'censored' history by not being specific enough or Ms. Mekhennet for not reporting more fully due to careless journalism, but perhaps the latter is culpable, for in relating what Ms. Karklina 'opined,' she first identified the nineteen-year-old woman as Lithuanian, before correcting to Latvian through re-editing.

Incidentally, I'm guessing that Ms. Karklina is Latvian Russian based on the name "Anastasia," her Russian language skills, and the fact of Latvia's large Russian minority of 27.4 percent. That could also explain Ms. Karklina's vaguely anti-American remarks since Latvians are otherwise generally pro-American. But I'm merely speculating on this point, and there is, in fact, evidence of rising though diffuse anti-Americanism in Latvia in recent years.

And the source of her anti-Americanism doesn't matter anyway, just the fact of whether she is right or wrong in her views . . .

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At 6:05 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

the following mantra: "For the first time in history, the young are seeing history made before it is censored by their elders." I guess this means that the young get to censor it first

I love your way of putting things! :-D

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's my way of surviving in this dangerous world.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:54 AM, Anonymous Michael S. Pearl said...


It takes a bit of charity, but I interpret the "hatred against Islam" remark as, at best, an attempt to capture the gist of something Seyyed Hossein Nasr wrote in his book The Heart of Islam (and which I discussed here):

"… it is forgotten that modernism is itself one of the most fanatical, dogmatic, and extremist ideologies that history has ever seen. It seeks to destroy every other point of view … If one is going to speak of 'fundamentalism' in religions, then one must include 'secularist fundamentalism,' which is no less virulently proselytizing and aggressive toward anything standing in its way than the most fanatical form of religious 'fundamentalism.' [p. 109]"


At 7:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nasr's own views sound rather uncharitable toward modernism, don't they?

Thanks for the link. That's quite an extensive post on Nasr.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:23 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

One wonders why the young lady would bother to get her higher education in the belly of the beast....but.....being somewhat familiar with that world.....she'll fit right in at Duke. She already sounds like a grad student...

At 5:26 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I forgot.....she fits right in where ignorance (of facts) is an excuse.....though why shifts at times and is always obscure, at least to me....but I'm a white, male, Christian, (conservative)...(I generally kept that last part quiet when in that world (admitting being a Christian was costly enough), because with 3 strikes against me, I didn't want to be tarred and feathered...

At 5:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Can one get four strikes? I did once see a quadruple play.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:58 PM, Anonymous Michael S. Pearl said...

Nasr's own views sound rather uncharitable toward modernism, don't they?

Without context (and I was hoping the link would provide some), Nasr's view certainly comes across as harsh. I take it that what he means there by modernism is a strident secularism (as distinguished from a more defensible nondenominationalism), and his contention is that such a secularism has made it quite clear that there need be no place for religious expression in the public (which is to say political) sphere. As a consequence and especially with regards to political matters, the West does not, will not, and is for the most part unable to engage the Islamic world in Islamic terms -- here meaning in manners of expression that to a significant extent can fit with, derive from, or openly respect any identifiably Islamic perspective. Clearly, the same criticism can just as well be applied to the Islamic world and its relations to the non-Islamic.

I think it is this failure to engage the other in terms of the other's common manners of expression which gives rise to the (often convenient and self-serving) notion about there being some sort of hatred at work: in this case, the West having a hatred for Islam. Coming from a position of power, the secularism of the West can readily seem to be demanding that the Islamic world give up its Islamic manners of expression, which would be to say its Islamic perspective(s).

Obviously, the ability to (even try to) convey much of one's own perspective in some other person's preferred manners of expression requires far more charity and far greater skills than is to be expected of most people. Every bit as obvious is that the development of such a charity and such skills is not incumbent only upon those who hold to one particular perspective (the secularists, for example). Therefore, exclamations about a general "hatred against Islam" will usually turn out to be either an indication of (at best) an intellectual unimaginativeness/immaturity/laziness or sheer and deceptive political opportunism wherein engagement is undertaken with the intent of restricting expression to those terms which best suit one's already extant interests and goals -- to be more brief about at least one of the points I was suggesting in that discussion based on Nasr's book.

At 2:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I should probably re-read your blog entry, more slowly this time (shortage of that, unfortunately).

I hadn't realized Nasr was speaking of secularism when he wrote "modernism." I'd disagree with him if he thinks that the latter reduces to the former.

Unless I'm confusing Nasr with someone else, I believe he's the scholar who wrote something on the history of science that I read back in the old days. I was sympathetic to hearing a religious position, but his was so fideistic that I grew annoyed with the rant against the West's secular reasoning. He seemed to believe that everything should be subsumed under religion. I later understood this to be an intellectually Islamist position.

But I may be confusing him with some other Iranian writer, for I read that book thirty years ago.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:03 AM, Anonymous Michael S. Pearl said...

I think Nasr uses the term modernism quite loosely, but, in the quoted passage, I think that his reference to 'securlarist fundamentalism' makes clear enough just what is the particular target he has in mind there.

Despite having relatively little familiarity with Nasr's writings, I can easily see how he could be described as "fideistic" and as holding "that everything should be subsumed under religion." But, then, I find him to be more of an apologist than a philosopher. As I recall it, worse than the way he "rant[s] against the West's secular reasoning" is the way he discusses Christianity. He certainly does not expend much charity in his analyses of others, but, through his secretary, he was cordial enough to "commend [my] efforts to engage with the content of [his] book."

At 3:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I recall his criticism of Christian 'dualism' -- as I think he called it -- echoing the typically Muslim critique of Christianity's 'inconsistency' in distinguishing between the sacred and the secular as two legitimate spheres.

In my opinion, the Muslim critique radically underestimates what Christians call human fallenness. Integralist visions always do underestimate our human capacity for evil and attempt to construct an ideal society subsumed under one big idea. The result is always Hell on Earth.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I take it that what he means there by modernism is a strident secularism (as distinguished from a more defensible nondenominationalism), and his contention is that such a secularism has made it quite clear that there need be no place for religious expression in the public (which is to say political) sphere. "

Such strident secularism exists but I'm not sure how representative it is of secular humanists who are either atheist or agnostic. All US presidents and most presidential candidates have participated publicly in organized religion and mentioned God in public statements. God's name got added to our money and inserted into our Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s. As a public school teacher and atheist, I have two choices: skip God's name when I recite the Pledge or utter it anyway, no harm done since I don't believe in him anyway. I do the latter because I am required to teach my students the official words and because I'd like to avoid drawing unnecessary negative attention to myself. Though the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, I don't care to put it to a legal test. Okay, so I have to pretend in front of my students that I believe in God once a day...whatevs. Small price to pay to keep those strident secular humanists in check.

Religion in the public space is a complex matter with no easily identifiable rights and wrongs; rather, what is acceptable and unacceptable is negotiated between our leaders and the incredibly diverse people they were elected to represent.


At 2:02 AM, Anonymous Anastasia Karklina said...

It is interesting that I got to stumble across your post only now, nearly 3 weeks after. While I was surprised to see myself featured in your blog, my immediate reaction is probably not something I would have expected of myself in another situation - I could not agree with you more.

I was pleased to be noticed by NYT reported and was honored not only to have a 20-minute long conversation with the reporte4 but later on find my quotes in a NYT article. That has been an interesting experience. Partially, because I agree with your concerns regarding my position in the article. I myself was slightly concerned about those quotes being taken out of context and applied to the rest of the article, which talks about a completely different issue. Ms. Mekhennet, however, did a splendid job at critically covering the summit, exposing some of it covered flaws. That brings me to my next attempt to contextualize my opinion.

Initially, what is described in this article as where the discussion was initiated was my comment during the Q&A session of a Interfaith Plenary at OYW summit. Summit has received great amount of criticism from attending delegates for being a lecture-style conference, where young people had no space to make their voice heard and the conference as a whole was filled with CEO propaganda. I am a witness to that. Interfaith dialogue is something that I am truly passionate about. Attending the summit for the third day having to hear standard talk about need to love and tolerate each other and change the world, made many delegates, including me, question our purpose of being there. That's when I made my public statement encouraging delegates to engage in a CRITICAL discussion - which is why we were there (or so I thought). Now, discussion of intersection of politics with post 9/11 Islamophobia came into place as an example of something specific that could and should be addressed as an issue of great importance.

Discussion of double-standards that as you have noticed I urged for comes into place with critical reflection. As you notice, it is not all black and white. And that was exactly my point. The examples that you bring up are great case studies of how world leaders can address human rights violation in the developing world. That does not apply only to American government, but other world powers too. YET: when we talk about American government assistance in the overthrow of Mubarak, we do NOT talk about Egypt being #2 recipient of American military aid after Israel and its decades-long support for Mubarak's regime - we only talk about our noble dedication to democracy in the Middle East. Similarly, Libya's Qaddafi has long been supported by Western governments, including American government, in his regime, long before Libyan people demanded change. Or, China and Russia recently using their veto to stop UN sanctions against Assad's Syria, where peaceful protesters have been mercilessly murdered by their own government. That brings me to a total of 40+ vetoes that the United States used to stop any UN condemnation of Israel's human rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank in the last 40 years or so. And yet, we tune into mass media and we observe world leaders promising their dedication to noble cause of democracy, freedom and human rights. Ultimately, there is always self-interest that comes along with our interventions. Many Americans agreed that war on Iraq was a failure, considering Saddam Hussein was secularist and did not have any ties to Al-Qaeda (but OIL was there!). I do not claim to be all-knowledgable, there is a lot more to learn - but is it only me who sees hypocrisy and conflict of words and actions?

At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anastasia Karklina said...


Again, I do agree that "hatred against Islam" in relation to foreign policy is not adequately articulated in the quotes that were chosen out of the interview. And in another situation, I would have never allowed myself to use "they" - very simplistic way of viewing things as you correctly have pointed out. I remember specifying the social and political contexts of these case studies (whether it was policy implemented in France or Netherlands or the United States), however, I do allow the possibility that nervousness might have taken over, who knows. So, in that sense - I agree with you, your criticism is well-grounded. What I meant to expose is a much more complex system where there first is the foreign policy, driven by power and economics, and then there is a public sentiment (often discriminatory agains Muslims and Arabs, in general) that makes this policies popularly accepted.

Your judgment of my background forms unjustified assumption as my views were largely developed through my education at one of the non-profit int'l boarding schools, United World College of Hong Kong, where I spent two years of my studies. In fact, I have not resided in Latvia since the age of 16. Having said that, I'm Latvian by nationality and again I must correct you by saying that most of my views were shaped outside of my home country. I understand where you coming from but that is a very immediate assumptions of yours, which is fundamentally wrong. In regards, to other comments to your post about me "fitting into Duke culture" - I don't take any offense at all, there is a great load of ignorance in this elite community that we are actively resisting. My student profile is very different from Duke standard, which is why those comments appear to be personal assumptions that are hardly justified at all and in my opinion do not quite fit into an intellectual discussion. Ironically, at time I still struggle to fit into Duke community where so much is based on competitiveness and over-achievement rather than true dedication to education and inner development.

Either way, it was a pleasure reading your blog entry as I could relate to a lot of your criticism, simply because that is the way I felt towards my views as presented in this article specifically(for whatever reasons). I wish you could have found a way to reach out to me first, but I am glad that I am learning to receive criticism as a learning experience rather than a personal attack. I do not expect you to agree with what I said but I hope it clarified some misunderstanding that arose from quotes featured in this NYT article, and made it look less simplistic.


At 4:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anastasia, thanks for the unexpected, but gracious response.

I've just retrieved the second part of your comments from Blogger's spam folder. I don't know why it went there, for many advert spam 'comments' that belong there don't go there at all! Your comment is definitely not spam!

First, I apologize for my curiosity concerning your origins. I had some hesitation about adding those musings, and I should have deleted them before posting the blog entry. They had no substantive place in the discussion of your views even if the NYT column did make your origins an issue. I ought to have ignored that issue, and I am sorry that I didn't.

Second, I see from your nuanced, gracious response here that the report of your words in the NYT column was indeed incomplete. That sort of thing happens all too often in news reports. Your remarks here show you in your greater complexity.

Finally, though we'd likely disagree about particulars -- the nature of 'islamophobia' and the issue of Israel -- I imagine we could have a cordial exchange of views over coffee if you ever come to Seoul.

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

Jeffery Hodges

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