Tuesday, July 29, 2008

That whole why do they hate us debate

One of the areas where I diverge with many (non-Objectivist-type) libertarians is over foreign policy. I surprisingly find myself often at odds with CATO, a think tank with which I often agree, on this issue. I don’t care for the term interventionist--that’s not an accurate term for how I view a rational and justifiable foreign policy--nonetheless, I am certainly not a non-interventionist or isolationist. I believe there are many cases beyond some immediate and direct threat situated at one’s geographical borders that justify military and diplomatic activity. Anyway, this post isn’t about how to define those cases. I just wanted to preface my comments below.

One of the central themes of those coming from the non-interventionist position is that Arab/Muslim anti-Americanism is primarily the result of American foreign policy and not deep cultural and value differences. Patrick Basham, a CATO adjunct scholar, purports to prove this with some recent polling data. (Why Muslims Still Hate Us)

I am no position to dispute this data (though I think one should always take polls and surveys with very large salt licks); however, I think Basham runs with the data in a misleading way.

First, why only post-9/11 polls? The Muslim hatred of the West (including America) goes back well before 2001, indeed it seems well before any significant American involvement in the Middle East. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the leading anti-Western ideological movements, was founded in the 1920s.

This is a point that the non-interventionists tend to ignore. If Muslim hatred of the US is based primarily on our foreign policy, why was their antipathy prior to any serious, prolonged military or diplomatic forays into the Middle East? A better way to state this might be: why were ideological and religious movements that were anti-West so popular?

Second, the fact that polls show, generally, positive attitudes towards many facets of American culture (movies, TV, scientific progress) doesn’t demonstrate that antipathy for the US is not based on a deep cultural and value differences.

Anecdotally, I’ve had too many arguments with anti-American types in Levis and Nikes to think that people don’t compartmentalize these things. People are quite capable of liking the products of American culture without liking the values and principles that make those products possible. That’s all this particular polling data appears to show: Muslims/Arabs enjoy many of the products of American culture. It doesn’t say anything about their points of view on the kinds of values and principles that underlie that culture: namely, individualism and the primacy of reason.

Closing Caveats:
  • I am not saying that all Muslims or Arabs are anti-individualism or irrational. But, that many of the widespread, popular ideological movements in the Arab and Muslim worlds are.

  • I am not saying that our often irresponsible and unprincipled foreign policy hasn’t created or increased antipathy towards the US. My point is just that to say this is the primary cause is putting the cart before the horse.

9 comments:

Martinator said...

Hey Shawn, another point: if they "hate us" so much, then why do they want to move here. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the US. The Muslim "people" that move here, move here for the same reasons that immigrants have been coming to the "New World" since the Pilgrims. Religious Freedom and Opportunity.

We hear about Shiites vs Sunni and all the other Islamic branches duking it out in the mid-east. I imagine some Muslims are sick of that and just want to be the Muslim that they choose to be. In the US, they can.

America is still the land of opportunity. Probably more so now than it has ever been. It seems like it takes less than one generation for an immigrant family to achieve a middle class lifestyle.

The people that purport to "hate us" because of our principles and value seem to be immigrating here precisely because of those principles and values.

The US is a reluctant empire. We sometimes act like a bull in a china shop when it comes to world affairs. No matter how careful the bull is, something will get broken and somebody will get mad. When the bull defecates in the china shop, everybody will get mad ;-)

Shawn said...

Hey Marty, well I think the folks who immigrate here are probably not the ones that hate the west and its values. I don't the majority of the individuals in the Muslim/Arab worlds are seething with hatred for the West and for Jews. But that hatred is a part of the culture: it's a part of the intellectual, religious, and political movements.

Bill K said...

Shawn, good point about Muslim hatred of the west pre- 2001 and pre - U.S. Middle East foreign policy. There is though a big difference between hatred and "willing to blow myself up". It seems reasonable to suppose that the line between the two is bridged by armed foreign policy.

Shawn said...

Thanks for the comment. I wouldn't say reasonable and "blow myself up" in the same sentence; nonetheless, of course American foreign policy is a part of the equation. Still, I don't think it bridges the gap. It's a corrupt value system that rewards and praises such nihilistic behavior.

Anonymous said...

A completely unrelated question: I just came across your blog for the first time, and I'm wondering what you plan on calling yourself after you get your Ph.D, given that the word "professor" is plastered all over your blog (in your description, on all of the videos, etc.). It's a true question I have: at what point can or ought one declare oneself a professor if one's not finished with school? Do you differentiate in your mind between Professor and Doctor? Would you be alright being called Dr. without a degree? Or is that where you draw the line?

Just curious. Thanks.

Shawn said...

'Professor' is the most typical informal title used by anyone who teaches at the college level. 'Dr.' is a formal title reserved for those who have earned a doctorate. I always correct my students who refer to me as doctor.

rob said...

You seem to conflate "the US" with "the west" in a way that makes your argument rather weak. In 1920 the muslim brotherhood was "anti-west". And yes, the US had little investment in the region and its politics at the time. You couldn't say the same about the British- and other colonial powers- unless you discount recurrent invasions and occupations. They were the "west" the brotherhood rallied against.
Clearly since WW2 the US- in particular, in its support of Isreal- has become a major player in the region- and a focus of arab/muslim rancour.
There's a huge depth of history you've glossed or ignored- I'd suggest getting to grips with a few fat books on the subject!

Shawn said...

Hey rob, thanks for your patronizing comments. I've studied the history of the Middle East (plenty of fact books).

Yes the British were heavily involved in the Middle East (and elsewhere). However, the main thrust of the philosophy of MB was not anti-colonialism, but anti-Western lifestyle and philosophy. One can't discount the anti-colonialism, but one can't make it the centerpiece either. The founders of MB where not thrilled with the British, but largely because they brought with them secular ideas: like equality of women and freethought.

If it were merely anti-colonialism them these movements would have died out in the 50s when the British abandoned the region.

Lastly, you might be the one who needs to read a fat book or two. The CIA was playing around a bunch in Iran, but the US was not deeply involved in the region until the late 60s. And mostly that had to do with the Soviets getting more involved in the Middle East, particularly with Egypt. There was no significant aid or weapons sale to Israel until the Six-Day War in June 67.

Shawn said...

Whoops...how's that for a Freudian slip. In the first paragraph, that should read: "(plenty of fat books)"

Those books were books of fact, but that wasn't what I meant to write.