I happened upon Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 2002 Harvard Commencement speech this morning. It makes for interesting reading. I think of 2002 as the uphappiest year. It was the year this country lost its mind. It was the year of the Duct Tape Fatwa and color coded terror warnings. It was the year that Andy Card and Judith Miller rolled out a new product in September that would lead to the biggest tragedy for our country since Vietnam. Moynihan’s thinking reflects that collective insanity we all experienced, to one extent or another, as we were subjected to an unprecedented Campaign of Fear. Despite its faults, Moynihan’s speech still has its gems. Like this:
For argument’s sake one could propose that Marxism was the last nearly successful effort to Westernize the rest of the world. In 1975, I stood in Tiananmen Square, the center of the Middle Kingdom. In an otherwise empty space, there were two towering masts. At the top of one were giant portraits of two hirsute 19th century German gentlemen, Messrs. Marx and Engels. The other displayed a somewhat Mongol-looking Stalin and Mao. That wasn’t going to last, and of course, it didn’t.
Most Americans will probably do a double-take after reading “Marxism was the last nearly successful effort to Westernize the rest of the world”, but there is a definite sense in which it is true. There are a couple reasons the statement seems odd. First, we don’t associate communism with the ‘West’. But, more importantly, we don’t equate secularization with Westernization. Most other people do equate those two things. In the Middle East it was the influence of Marxism on the pan-Arab movement that made the Ba’ath Party secular. Being secular, though, was not an advantage in the Arab world, which led socialists to coin new terms, like Arab Socialism. Pan-Arabism, Nasserism, and Arab-Socialism all were attempts to forge a post-colonial ideology. Their failure to accomplish their goals is what has led to a rise in Islamist groups.
Once Marxism’s failure in the Middle East is understood to be a failure to Westernize the Middle East, the history of the last sixty years becomes a lot more interesting.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was successful in secularizing and westernizing Turkey, but I think that may have been because he had credibility after defeating the Sultan’s puppet government and the Greeks.
Marxism was, after all, thought up by a couple of “hirsute 19th century German gentlemen”. It is a Western way of thinking, never more so than in its official atheism. Today we still are experiencing the fall-out from Marxism’s influence in the Middle East. As Moynihan points out (regarding the phrase: Zionism equals racism):
This hateful equation first appeared in a two-part series in Pravda in Moscow in 1971. Part of Cold War “agit prop.” It has since spread into a murderous attack on the right of the State of Israel to exist — the right of Jews to exist! — a world in which a hateful Soviet lie has mutated into a new and vicious anti-Semitism.
Of course, Russian “agit prop” was rarely based on umabiguous lies. To what extent Zionism, in practice, has had a racist component is certainly open to debate.
What isn’t open to debate is that neither European colonization, nor Marxism, have succeeded in taming the Middle East, nor in bringing it into the post-war community of nations that live and trade in relative peace.
As the region falls into utter despair, it is not clear what ideology can arise to put things on a better course. Imposed democracy seems a non-starter. But what other options are there?