Christmas Eve, Samuel Huntington died at his home at Martha's Vineyard. A decade and a half ago, in his most famous book "The Clash Of Civilizations," professor Huntington argued that Western elites' view of man as homo economicuswas reductive and misleading – that cultural identity is a more profound behavioral indicator than lazy assumptions about the universal appeal of Western-style economic liberty and the benefits it brings.
Very few of us want to believe this thesis.
"The great majority of Palestinian people," Condi Rice, the secretary of state, said to commentator Cal Thomas a couple of years back, "they just want a better life. This is an educated population. I mean, they have a kind of culture of education and a culture of civil society. I just don't believe mothers want their children to grow up to be suicide bombers. I think the mothers want their children to grow up to go to university. And if you can create the right conditions, that's what people are going to do."
Thomas asked a sharp follow-up: "Do you think this or do you know this?"
"Well, I think I know it," said Secretary Rice.
"You think you know it?"
"I think I know it."
I think she knows she doesn't know it. But in the modern world there is no diplomatic vocabulary for the kind of cultural fault line represented by the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, so even a smart thinker like Dr. Rice can only frame it as an issue of economic and educational opportunity. Of course, there are plenty of Palestinians like the ones the secretary of state described: You meet them living as doctors and lawyers in Los Angeles and Montreal and Geneva … but not, on the whole, in Gaza.
In Gaza, they don't vote for Hamas because they want access to university education. Or, if they do, it's to get Junior into the Saudi-funded, Hamas-run Islamic University of Gaza, where majoring in rocket science involves making one and firing it at the Zionist Entity. In 2007, as part of their attempt to recover Gaza from Hamas, Fatah seized 1,000 Qassam rockets at the university, as well as seven Iranian military trainers.
At a certain unspoken level, we understand that the Huntington thesis is right, and the Rice view is wishful thinking.
So when Britain's Channel 4 says that we don't get the chance to see these fellows speak for themselves, it would be more accurate to say that they speak for themselves incessantly but the louder they speak the more we put our hands over our ears and go "Nya nya, can't hear you." We do this in part because, if you're as invested as most Western elites are in the idea that all anyone wants is to go to university, get a steady job and settle down in a nice house in the suburbs, a statement such as "England's demise is on our agenda" becomes almost literally untranslatable. When President Ahmadinejad threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map, we deplore him as a genocidal fantasist. But maybe he's a genocidal realist, and we're the fantasists.
The civilizational clashes of professor Huntington's book are not inevitable. Culture is not immutable. But changing culture is tough and thankless and something the West no longer has the stomach for. Unfortunately, the Saudis do, and so do the Iranians. And not just in Gaza but elsewhere the trend is away from "moderation" and toward something fiercer and ever more implacable.
January 7, 2009
Rocket Scientists at Gaza
Mark Steyn wrote an excellent article on events at Gaza. He made some great points. Among them are these: