At some point the significant individual involved in a situation will have to make the relevant decision.
And here comes the difference between a human and a horse.
The horse will wait until it becomes thirsty, no matter how ample opportunities to drink would present themselves before him while the human will first make sure that the water is safe to drink and only then decide what to do: drink pre-emptively, fill a flask, take a nap by the spring…
The point I’m trying to make here is that while animals, no matter how ‘sophisticated’, act according to their instincts (or ‘training’) we humans sometimes act instinctively/emotionally and some other times ‘rationally’ – we ‘identify opportunities’ and try to use them to further our goals.
And here lies the watershed…
Our ‘rational’ decisions can be good or bad and there is no real way to tell before hand which is which. Hence the ‘primum non nocere‘ (“first do no harm”) rule used by the professional healers of this world.
The problem with our rationality is that we never have all the pertinent information at our disposal, enough time to process whatever information we do have nor the wisdom to realize the first two limitations. And this is why we too often proceed as if those two limitations never existed….
Why haven’t we failed miserably until now? (Miserably enough as to never be able to stand up again or to finally learn the lesson?)
Because we relied heavily on ‘tradition’/’religion’. Usually these two are taken together but I prefer to treat them separately. You see, it is true that both of them are nothing but information accumulated in time as a result of the social cooperation that takes place even without us being aware of it but there is a fundamental difference between them.
‘Tradition’ usually has to do with ‘technology’, the way we do things, while ‘religion’ (which comes from the Latin word ‘reliegare’ = ‘connecting to’) is mostly about sharing a common understanding of the world and acting, collectively, according to that ‘Weltaunschauung’.
And here comes the interesting part. Being the member of a certain religious cult/church is nothing but a set of circumstances. Each individual is ultimately/personally responsible for the path he chooses ‘inside’ his religious tradition, for the way he interprets/acts upon the religious teachings he has received during his upbringing.
And this is exactly why I am in full agreement with Erdogan: “There is no moderate Islam. Islam is Islam”.
You see, I grew up in communist Romania and in those times we had a saying that went like this: “it’s not the “ism” but the “ist” who causes the trouble!”.
When placed in a certain situation some people act naturally – they drink if they feel thirsty – or they may decide to use whatever opportunity they identify in order to further their goals.
You can study communism in a library or conspire to impose it on people exactly as you can practice Islam in your community or try to impose it by force to all your neighbors.
It’s neither ‘communism’s nor ‘Islam’s fault, it’s the communists who cannot understand that communism doesn’t work and the hard-line Islamists who fail to understand that by acting exactly as the Catholic Inquisitors did during the Dark Ages they’ll eventually drive their flock away from their pulpits.
The real problems arise from the arrogance that blinds those “ists”, individuals so ‘concentrated’ on their self-assumed/assigned goals (no matter if they are well intended, like trying to spread – by force – the wealth around and to – administratively – reduce social inequality, or on the contrary – obsessed with becoming filthy rich at the expense of everybody else and/or accumulating dictatorial power over those around them) that they forget/fail to realize that human rationality is inherently limited. And so they fail to understand that ‘the law of unintended consequences’ will eventually bring them back down to where they belong – with a bang!
There are three sets of social circumstances that these kind of ruthless ‘political actors’ perceive as opportunities: inflamed nationalistic feelings, strong religious beliefs, wide spread social malaise due to economic hardships.
For instance the French Revolution (remember, today is Bastille Day) was fueled by the desperation that ‘doused’, at that time, the French people. They were not only hungry but they also felt abandoned/neglected by their rulers. Marie-Antoinette, the French Queen beheaded during the Revolution, was described as being so callous/ignorant of the real life of her subjects that when informed that her people didn’t have enough bread she interjected: ‘Let them eat cake instead!’
Some historians debate whether this really happened, one of their arguments being that the same words have been attributed to many other historical figures that lived before her but the simple fact that the utterance itself was so widely circulated remains and speaks volumes.
A century later Lenin was able to manipulate the same kind of public sentiment and imposed the Soviet rule over the Russian imploded empire while Ataturk, the leader of the Young Turks, fashioned the freshly minted Turkish nationalism into the glue that held together, until recently, the modern – and secular – Turkish state that succeed the ailing Turkish empire by 1925. It is often forgotten but if we really want to understand Turkey we should always remember that until the late XIX-th century it still was a feudal empire and the social costs of such a short/hasty transformation into a modern nation state were tremendous. Unfortunately in the last decade Erdogan has been working hard, with the unwitting help of the Euro-skeptics who reject Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, to replace secular, and relatively moderate, nationalism with religious zealotry as the backbone of the Turkish republic.
Coming back into Central Europe we have the classic example of how Hitler used nationalistic tensions exacerbated by the economic crises deepened by the unwisely imposed war reparations to implement his demented dream of a Reich that was supposed to last for a thousand years.
The same process is happening again, under our own noses. This time all three ‘components’ are present. The economy of the region is in shambles, arguably because of foreign intervention, nationalistic tensions are rife while religious ones are heated way beyond boiling point.
So why wonder that the al-Baghdadi led Isis uses Islam as a pretext to impose a new dictatorship in a region that has no real need for another one?
“Though al-Baghdadi constantly invokes the early history of Islam, the society he envisions has no precedent in history. It’s much more like the impossible state of utopian harmony that western revolutionaries have projected into the future. Some of the thinkers who developed radical Islamist ideas are known to have been influenced by European anarchism and communism, especially by the idea that society can be reshaped by a merciless revolutionary vanguard using systematic violence. The French Jacobins and Lenin’s Bolsheviks, the Khmer Rouge and the Red Guards all used terror as a way of cleansing humanity of what they regarded as moral corruption.
Isis shares more with this modern revolutionary tradition than any ancient form of Islamic rule. Though they’d hate to hear it, these violent jihadists owe the way they organise themselves and their utopian goals to the modern West. And it’s not just ideas and methods that Isis has taken from the West. Western military intervention gave Isis its chance of power.”
Now it’s up to us. Just as our great fathers used the opportunity presented to them at the end of WWII and helped Germany refashion itself, both economically and socially, by including it in the Marshall Plan instead of making it pay for the rebuilding of the war ravaged Europe we should try to help the peoples in the Middle East find their own respective ways instead of impose on them whatever we might think it would be better for them. And I mean real help, not just let/prod them fight each other to exhaustion.
In fact it would serve our interests also.
The Balkans were considered the powder keg of Europe and indeed the tensions accumulated there helped ignite the WWI. After communism imploded those tensions resurfaced precisely because the previous arrangements were imposed, more or less, from ‘above’. Exactly as the map of the Middle East was drawn by Sykes-Picot.
No, I’m not advocating wholesale dismantling of borders, as it happened in ex-Yugoslavia. If they find a way, by themselves, to preserve the present situation we should encourage and help them to do so. But we should never try to impose something on them just because we consider it would serve our (short term at best) interests.
It won’t be simple, every major power has vested interests there, including Russia, but it can, and should, be done. Specially since the the alternative would be horrible.