Monday, November 16, 2015

The Late John Robert Gallagher: "Why the War in Kurdistan Matters"

John Robert Gallagher in Kurdistan
Photo from Michael J. Totten's Blog

In Michael J. Totten's Dispatches for World Affairs (November 9, 2015) appears posthumously a long article written prior to May 6 by John Robert Gallagher, "Why the War in Kurdistan Matters," from which I excerpt three crucial paragraphs:
For decades now, we have been at war. This war has been unacknowledged by our leaders, but enthusiastically proclaimed by our enemies. This war has produced casualties on every continent, in nearly every nation on earth. It has had periods of intense fighting, followed by long stretches of rearming and regrouping, but it has never ended. It is not even close to being won. Someday historians will look back and marvel at how much effort we put into deceiving ourselves about the nature of this conflict, and wonder how we convinced ourselves that it was not even taking place. This war may have started in 1979, or earlier; 2001 increased the intensity of the conflict; the withdrawal from Iraq kicked off the latest phase. Like the American Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War, this war is about ideas as much as it is about armies. Slavery, fascism, and communism were all bad ideas which required costly sacrifice before they were finally destroyed. In our time, we have a new bad idea: Theocracy.

We live in a society that's grown around a very basic philosophical principle: That the world around us can be understood using our senses and our minds. From this simple insight comes the moral revelation that all human beings are equal in this capacity, and therefore equal in dignity. This radical idea was the turning point in human history, before which all civilizations had been dominated by the idea that class hierarchies and racism were perfectly justified according to the revealed wisdom of ancient texts, and sanctified by holy men with a special relationship to some 'divine' power. We began to see justice as something which could be measured by its effects on living people, not as superstition.

This idea has been under threat ever since its inception, because it's the most powerful force for human emancipation that has ever been, and so it is a deadly threat to the privileged. It is also a threat to those who fear a world where human beings must be the judges of our own actions. Some prefer to subordinate their own morality to a doctrine they know they can never fully understand; this is more agreeable than facing the thought that we are alone in this world. This terror at our own freedom, and hatred for the mind that makes its realization inescapable, has given birth to movements that promise to give us back our comforting delusions. Communism and fascism were both answers to the problem of human freedom. These ideas were defeated. But always in the background the germ of these ideas was aggressively breeding. Theocracy isn't just as dangerous as fascism; it's the model of fascism, and all totalitarianisms. Communism said 'instead of god, the Party.' Fascism said, 'instead of god, the Nation!' Theocracy simply says 'God.'
We have lost an insightful man in Mr. Gallagher. I do not agree with every point he makes in his lengthy essay, but he is correct in his main point, the danger of theocracy, especially for the fact that one must, in the currently 'popular' brand of theocracy, submit one's reasoning powers, one's very rationality, to the Islamist limits of ignorant, biased, prejudiced men who would not hesitate to chop off a limb or a head in the service of an irrational, arbitrary deity constrained only by an unconstrained will.

We call this "theocracy," but it's more accurately called "theonomy," for no god rules directly, but only through the hands of power-corrupted men.

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