Re: Atlantic: "Coming to Grips with Jihad"

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Fri Sep 14 2001 - 10:29:50 MDT

On Fri, Sep 14, 2001 at 10:54:16AM -0700, Mark Walker wrote:
> Thanks for the interesting essay. Suppose we accept your analysis of the
> etiology and your prescription for the ill, namely, a new age of
> enlightenment in the middle east. I am not sure how you propose to get from
> "here to there". You suggest that we take Japan as the poster child for the
> sort of transformation that we would like to see, but of course the changes
> in Japan were instituted by a foreign military dictatorship. If the parallel
> is to hold, western forces would have to institute a military dictatorship,
> at least for a while.

Isn't that taking the analogy too far, and missing out what the real
point is? The goal is a new enlightenment (and not just in islamic
nations, preferably also here in the west!), we have to select ways
towards this goal that fit with reality. Unless the US invades
Afghanistan or something similar, dictatorships are obviously out of
question. But what about pressuring for democracy? What about giving
support to the free press and pro-democratic groups across the middle
east? What about opening a dialogue with islamic scholars (whose views
often have far greater impact on culture and policy in their countries
than our scholars could ever hope to achieve)? What about removing trade
tariffs against such nations? There are a lot of different options here.

> In effect, I think you are saying that we know best what is best
> for them. (If not this only exacerbates the problem). You might even be
> right about this, but still there is the problem of instituting what we
> think is best for them. After all, saying that they are ignorant in this
> respect is part of what they do not like about the west in the first place.
> Any thoughts and getting from here to there? Mark

Charlie's article was unashamedly universalistic: it claimed it is good
to live in a free, open society where human rights are respected. This
is an opinion that is seldom heard today, but I think it should be
supported. Empirical evidence show that open societies work, become
prosperous, free and fairly safe, and beside this they have a solid
philosophical foundation that doesn't necessarily have to contradict any
religion (as well as they are compatible, no, nearly indispensable for

In our postmodern culture such universalism is viewed with scepticism:
who am I to declare what is good for others? The realisation that other
cultures may have valid points is often extrapolated to the incorrect
idea that all expressions of all cultures are equally valid. Even if
this ridiculous extreme is not accepted, many think that it is wrong to
not just impose ones own values onto another culture by force, but also
that it is wrong to impose it - even without deliberation - by exposure
or non-coercive means such as trade. This is the foundation for much of
the resistance in Europe agains "American cultural imperialism" -
Starbucks and Euro-Disney are seen by some intellectuals as an act of
cultural "war" (my quotation marks, not theirs).

But cultures have always interacted. Ideas spread, customs mix and
structures are challenged. We should be happy about the creolization
that have brought forth greek philosophy, hellenism, indian art, the
netherlands, the US and rock music. Trying to keep a culture static and
untainted by outside influences is equivalent to killing it by freezing.
We should not try to impose our values with force on other cultures -
that never works - but we should show them the best
ideas/things/institutions we have achived, why they work, how they work
and invite them to do better. The Japanese understood this long before
WW II - it might have taken them a gunboat to start the process simply
by showing them what they had missed, but soon it had its own momentum
when they realized that they could learn and make something good out of
what they learned.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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