Friday, June 18, 2010

I Can't Stan It

I don't get it. Here we have the latest version of ethnic cleansing, this time in the “stans” -- i.e. in the Central Asian remnants of the Soviet Union, which – predictably – separated along ethnic lines after the Soviet Union broke up. Once they were “Soviet socialist republics”, and enjoying at least a modicum of peace and tranquility, albeit under the iron hand of the Kremlin. But now they are free – and perpetually at each other's throats. No wonder there's a wave of "Stalin nostalgia" in Russia these days; he would have gotten these people squared away in no time at all (the way Tito would have gotten the warring parties in ex-Yugoslavia squared away).

I should point out that these are the same people who, at one time, invaded, conquered, and ruled over most of the known world – you know, the “Asian horde”. Well, that era lives on mostly in memory, but it's clear that the hot-bloodedness is still very much a factor to be reckoned with. And what makes it even more bizarre is that, in the case of Kyrgyz vs. Uzebks (wouldn't you love to play Scrabble over there?), they are all Moslems and all the same subdivision of Moslems. It would be like one Southern Baptist country going to war with another. But hey, try making any sense of the Islamic mindset – I can't, and I've tried, believe me. Apparently ethnicity really is more important than religion over there – a lesson that our State Department has yet to learn when it comes to dealing with places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

But here's the real mystery. If you look at a map of that region – Central Asia – you'll notice that it's just about the most gerrymandered place on earth. The national borders don't follow any natural features, and they aren't in the form of stark straight lines either. What they do instead is meander up valleys and over mountain tops, with arms and tentacles reaching out into far-flung places, and encircling single cities, villages, and – for all I know – individual houses. This is all, of course, in an attempt to round up all the people of one ethnic group and exclude the people of all others. And I was under the impression that this had worked – I mean, it's been 20 years now. And yet, all of a sudden, it turns out that there are huge numbers of Uzbeks living in Kyrgystan, and my question is, who screwed up? You can either divide up territory along ethnic lines in the first place – which is what I thought had been done – and this is a relatively peaceful process. Or you can set down arbitrary lines and wait until things go from “simmer” to “boil over”... at which time you have a refugee crisis on your hands, and any number of other problems. And at that point ethnic cleansing, or at least segregation -- voluntary or otherwise -- is the only remaining option. But from the looks of the map, it seems like the heavy lifting had already been done... and yet here we are, with 400,000 Uzbek refugees fleeing Kyrgyzstan. Clearly someone goofed when it came to redrawing the post-Soviet map. They should never have left that many members of Group A in a country run by Group B.

All of which causes us all to heave a great sigh of gratitude that we live in a country where things of this sort never happen. Right? Not so fast! We have an intractable race problem, with vast areas of our major cities off limits to whites... we have a Hispanic problem which is no longer confined to the Southwest... we have a "Native American" problem which won't go away no matter how many casinos and cigarette stores we license... and, historically, one can point to many instances of racial, religious, and ethnic strife. Every new immigrant (legal or otherwise) group to show up on our shores has been greeted with not only skepticism, but downright hostility and violence. But sooner or later they're integrated, and then become part of the opposition to the next immigrant group... and so it goes. We mock places like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, not only because they have funny names and a low GNP, but because they seem to be bogged down in age-old feuds revolving around religion and ethnicity that we are thankfully rid of. But consider – we have had, in all this time, only one Catholic president – and a very bad Catholic at that. We are right now enjoying the benefits of having our first “black” president, even though he was widely criticized, by the black leadership, as “not really black” during the campaign. We have yet to have our first female president. And so on. The key to success in the upper echelons of this society is still to be whiter than white... non-”ethnic”... and, most of all, non-Catholic. Of course, we also have an opposition movement usually referred to as “diversity”, which is a shorthand term for “anything but white/male/Protestant/heterosexual”. But it is, in fact, an opposition movement, and seems to have had little or no effect in the upper echelons. So yes, we are an allegedly “non-racist” society which is obsessed by race, a "non-sexist" society obsessed by gender, a "non-homophobic" society obsessed by "sexual preference", and a “melting pot” in which one's ethnic background still looms large.

And what does this all reflect, after all? Merely the cold, hard fact that ultimately, “blood” -- race and ethnicity – and creed are still the prime movers in human societies. The liberals, globalists, one-worlders, et al may not like it... they may oppose it with every piece of delusional legislation they manage to turn into law... they may propagandize against it day and night in the captive media... but it's there nonetheless. We find it whenever we venture more than a few miles from our shores. Iraq was supposed to be a “cakewalk”, but guess what, it turns out that there is no such thing as an “Iraqi”. There are only Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds, and countless subdivisions thereof... and loyalties are invariably based on those divisions, not on any artificial concept of “nation”. Likewise, there is no such place as “Afghanistan”, except in the fevered imaginings of the State Department and the U.N. Ask any “Afghan” who, or what, he is, and the least likely term he will come up with is “Afghan”. What he will tell you – with great vigor – is that he is the son of so-and-so, of such-and-such a family, of a certain tribe and/or a certain village. He might mention a province, area, or fiefdom of some sort... but that will be the end of it. Does the average New Guinea highlander know he lives in a place called New Guinea? Hell, no. How about someone living on the Upper Amazon? Brazil, schmazil. This is the natural human lot – this tendency, this drive to identify with something tangible and visible, something that can inspire loyalty and be passed on to the next generation. And this, of course, goes directly in the face of the social change mavens – the people who want to turn everyone on Earth into plain vanilla (so as better to exploit them). Ethnicity rears its unruly, unwashed locks every time some Utopian idealist wants to tear down the “groves and high places”, and replace all “provincialism” with some sort of one-world consciousness (“brotherhood of man”, etc.). And this is precisely what we are running into, with a vengeance, in Southern Asia, which is a redoubt of this sort of atavistic attitude, reinforced by a religion which rejects all forms of modernism.

And why do we have so much trouble with this idea? Because it's not been totally exterminated in Europe, for instance... and certainly not among our “allies” in places like East Asia. There, pride in race and blood – ethnicity, religion, and all the rest – is alive and well. Every country, or subdivision thereof, has its own form of exceptionalism – the age-old notion that “we're better than you, because... well, just because we're better, that's all.” Try to prove them wrong! It can't be done. And we fancy that we're free from all that... which we're clearly not. But there's more to it. We have our own form of exceptionalism, but it's based not on race, ethnicity, or creed, but on ideas... or ideals, take your pick. The United States has been described as an “ideational” society, in which nothing really counts but ideas about things like freedom, democracy, human rights, etc. And while this is clearly delusional right off the bat, it has had a huge impact on our development as a nation, and particularly on our foreign policy (which means, on the wars we choose to fight). See, when all you have as your claim to specialness is your race, your ethnic group, your religion... well, you have to admit, at some point that everyone else has comparable claims. This is the basis for what is called “tolerance” -- that thing particularly lacking in places like Kyrgyzstan today (but also, let's admit, in Japan... Iran... Saudi Arabia... almost every college or university campus in the U.S.... etc.). Tolerance is not the same as “indifferentism” -- you can still believe that your race/ethnic group/faith are the best, while allowing others to persist in their errors (you know, like being born in the wrong place at the wrong time – that kind of thing). And this, I have to admit, is one thing the U.S. has been fairly good at – not perfect, and not even the best, but fairly good. (If you want a truly race-blind society, try Brazil. Or Cuba, for that matter.) The problem is that, while we eschew all the old, atavistic categories of race, ethnicity, and religion, we dream up and adopt – and attempt to impose on others – all sorts of brand-new categories. Is a given society, or country, “democratic”? I mean really democratic, not just in name only? Does it practice “tolerance” and “equal rights” -- which at this point have been expanded to include just about every real or imagined victim group on earth. And this ideational baseline forms the basis for our opinions about other countries... our foreign policy... and our decisions as to whether or not to invade (and bring about “regime change”, etc.). We will actually make war on another country based purely on ideas! That sounds incredible, but it's totally true. And we advertise this as a much more “enlightened” and “humanistic” approach than making war based on bad, old reasons like race, ethnicity, and religion. The rest of the world, on the other hand, doesn't give a fig for our “ideas”, and would much rather wage war (or “terrorism”) based on the old values... so this is where things get complicated, and why we can go into places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but we can't get out – at least not with our self-respect (and pocketbooks) intact. We don't understand – in other words – that we are in the minority on this issue. In fact, we're a minority of one. No one else on earth fights the way we do for the things we allegedly fight for. Oh, some of them pretend and go along – you know, the “coalition of the willing” -- but that's all politics; they think we're a bunch of nut-case Puritans, which, in fact, we are. Now, this is not to say that fighting for “ideas” is a brand-new thing on the world scene. Aside from the argument that religious wars are also wars of ideas, one can certainly point to communism as an ideational motive. (I don't give fascism and national socialism the same credit. Germany and Italy were not fighting to spread their way of governing per se – only their political and economic power.) But guess what, communism as a major world force is in semi-hibernation mode at this point, and is not really much of a threat – which leaves us, and our ideas/ideals, the last man standing. So who are we going to go up against? Where will our next crusade take place? Certainly not in Europe, which is showing every sign of latter-day degeneration and decay, and is anything but "ideational"... and certainly not East Asia, which has come up with its own form of capitalism and is, basically, kicking our butt. And not Africa, which has lapsed into tribal primitivism. No – it has to be the only place left with ideas that are considered worth fighting and dying for, namely the Islamic world. But even this is an unequal fight, since it pits secular notions and “philosophy” against a relatively ancient religious creed. How many of our troops, for example, would be willing to go on a suicide mission? My guess is, approximately 0%. That's the difference between ideas and beliefs – people are willing to die for the latter, but not to be any more than mildly inconvenienced for the former. So it is an unequal fight, and we see evidence for it every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our military is fond of talking about “asymmetrical warfare”, but what they are usually talking about is technology. Asymmetry of ideas may, in fact, be a more critical factor – but who, in all of the administration or the military, has been willing to approach it this way and discuss it this way in public? No one, as far as I can tell. The military talks about “winning hearts and minds”, but it's clueless as to the real issues. What we need is a “philosopher king” who can start straightening out our thinking – but I don't see one anywhere near Washington, DC at this point. What I do see is hordes of politicians who simply don't know what we're up against... who don't realize that our ideas and ideals have only survived thus far because of our relative isolation (and power)... and that, once they encounter the rocky coast of real, fervent belief... well, we can already see the result.

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