But they’re no longer about Cleopatras nose.
If we look at the world from a distance, instead of a series of highly differentiated conflicts, we see one big conflict that pits haves against have-nots, and simultaneously, license against sexual repression.
The buzz today is all about maybe talking to the Taliban. But we do not see the Taliban to, say, the way we saw the Germans during the second world war: essentially people of the same culture who had fallen prey to a national delusion of grandeur. We know the world the Taliban are defending tooth and nail is different in fundamental ways from ours, so how can we talk about leaving the Afghan people to their mercy?
I should say “the Afghan women”. For this is a war about license versus sexual repression. In the West, which is organized for the unlimited growth of capital, everything is a means to that end, and sexuality is tailored accordingly: men and women must constantly be concerned with looking young and if possible beautiful in order to attract a succession of mates. To that end, they purchase beauty products ever improved upon and clothing that will be out of fashion next year. And when women - and men - serve advertising to earn a paycheck, they become full-time sex symbols. The feminists denounced this long ago, but they got nowhere with this aspect of women’s lib because they didn’t realize that we live in a culture whose ultimate purpose is to increase returns on capital. Anything that achieves this is impervious to reform.
This is the nexus between the revolt of the have-nots (the Shiites), against ‘the West’, and the fierce determination of the repressive Sunni Wahabbi, represented by the Taliban, to preserve the sexual slavery of women. The differences between these two groups have us in a state of utter confusion: the greater conflict in the Middle East and Central Asia - which has recently spread to the Horn of Africa - is about the unequal distribution of wealth. In those areas where fundamentalist Sunni Islam holds sway, it is also about maintaining the subjection of women, considered as possessions.
Given that the Taliban fall into this latter category, we could possibly persuade them to abandon the wealth provided by poppies for that which could be extracted from high priced minerals - apparently ’discovered’ in the nick of time, but perhaps in fact the heretofore unavowed reason for the eight-year Afghan war. In that case, the liberation of Afghanistan’s women would have to wait until the influx of wealth from that economic bonanza overwhelms tradition, as is beginning to happen in other Muslim countries.
The fight for equity that is foremost in the Shia dominated areas, (Iran, and recently Iraq, where the long suffering Shia majority are now in power), is not that of equity in the traditional Marxist sense, but as Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah makes clear, in the sense of the Radical Enlightenment about which Princeton’s Jonathan Israel writes.
And so, in reality, our foreign wars mirror our domestic situation: the United States is increasingly polarized between a growing minority of Christian fundamentalists, whose women are expected to remain in the home, often schooling their children to shield them from the secular education system, while workers, blacks, Latinos, single mothers, and those with special needs begin at last to organize events such as the Second US Social Forum recently held in Detroit, where residents are inventing new forms of urban self-sufficiency instead of waiting for government to solve society’s problems. At the very same time, however, Tea Partyers are pushing back against these initiatives, also in the name of not waiting for government to do so.
Monday night Larry King rebroadcast his recent interview with Bill Maher, who in a rare moment of passion, said what American progressives are thinking on this Independence Day: “There is no Tea Party equivalent for us. We have two parties, but only one politics, and while the Tea Party is pushing the Republicans to the far right, no one is pushing the Democrats to the left.”
While Christian fundamentalist women do not cover their heads, they are expected to remain in the home - and to vote for a politics of inequality based on a consumerism that relies heavily on fashion models and wrestling match sex queens.
Talking to the Taliban and Hezbollah, is only likely to be productive if and when “the West” drops the capital W that implies superiority and accepts the inanity of chasing after oil and gas in order to continue a way of life that besides demeaning one of life’s great pleasures, will render the planet inhospitable to humans.
It took the admission by BP that it may ultimately not be able to plug the leak in the Gulf for President Obama to commit major funding for solar power. Energy Secretary Chu fears that we might be reaching a tipping point on climate change, yet he suggested we could save a lot by adopting tougher energy standards for new buildings, implying that the consumer society these represent could continue in the face of a point of no return for the planet.
Replace Allah and Jehovah with nature and it’s clear that our conflict with Islam is importantly about how we live our individual lives. Before we can hope to see them move toward more personal freedom, we have to reconsider what we do with our own.