Monday, July 30, 2007

Future Fears

I was having a conversation this weekend about Hillary's chances of becoming the next President of the United States. People have strong opinions about her on both sides of the political divide. Personally, I would love to see a woman elected President. However, I don't want a woman elected just because she's a woman; instead, I want the best person for the job.

It seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing the United States and the greater world right now is how to deal with the threats posed by Muslim extremists. I don't mean to suggest that I'm one with the whole "war on terror" focus of the Bush administration, because I'm not. We are certainly not "at war," at least not in the traditional nation-state versus nation-state kind of way. Instead, we've been dealing with what appears to be a growing movement of extremism intent upon - apparently - destroying our way of life in the United States and the Western World. A movement that, based on the number of suicide bombers they appear to be attracting continually to their fold, may be winning the cultural war.

Why are the extremists winning the cultural war? What makes them able to attract more and more converts to their cause? What makes them able to convince educated young Muslims living middle class lives abroad with their pregnant wives to become suicide bombers?

I think one of the main factors is the vast economic inequality between the United States and the Western world and... pretty much everyone else. We have so much in this country, and I think the people who don't have as much are angry about it. And who wouldn't be? If I was looking in on the United States from the outside, I would want what we have as well. And, I would feel entitled to it because we're all human beings and we all deserve the same things in life.

But, it's not only about the economic inequalities. It's also about religion, or at least part of the motivation given for the attacks is portrayed as religious in nature. I wonder though, if there were not the massive economic divide, if the fundamentalist religious message would still be able to attract followers? If everyone had a decent house, educational and career opportunities in their life, clean drinking water, access to health care, the chance to succeed and practice their own beliefs without fear of discrimination and prejudice, and hope for their children's' futures, would the fundamentalist message still find the ground fertile for the recruitment of suicide bombers?

What's it going to take to make the ground less fertile for their recruitment?

If I'm right - that one of the sources of the extremism is economic inequality - it's going to take a lot more than military or intelligence efforts to stop the extremists. It's going to take a massive cultural and economic shift, and as history has shown, cultural shifts take a long time to happen and economic shifts take even longer. It's also going to take the United States living up it to its ideals of freedom, liberty, equality, and democracy, owning up to its past mistakes, and eliminating it's hypocrisy - something it has failed to do miserably under the current administration.

I don't know if Hillary could lead the nation effectively against the tide of extremism now threatening us. I think she could do a better job than Bush, but since he presents such a low standard to beat, that's an easy thing to say. I haven't been following the debates closely enough to know if there's anyone I think would be better than Hillary, but I'm thinking I should start paying attention.

The situation has been bad for a long time, but I'm afraid that unless the United States changes its course soon, it's going to get a lot worse.


Greg said...

I think you are overlooking the root cause and restating what is popular with the media. A lot of what you say is used by both sides as propaganda to get their people rallied up, but underlying all this is a political power struggle.

One group (what we call extremists or terrorists) is in fear of losing basic values and principles of their culture to the values and principles of another culture (the West/us). The shift in the base values also shifts who is in power and who the people listen to.

One obstacle we have is the unreasonable connection the world seems to have between capitalism and the U.S. We don't have a patent on capitalism, but we become the target when others speak against it, probably because it simplifies things.

Economics or food or general resources are not the direct cause of the anti-American and anti-West response we received. Granted the U.S. stuck its nose in an area for its own gain, but that really isn't anything new for us. What is new, is encountering people willing to die to preserve who they are.

I also think you exaggerate that "the biggest crises facing the United States and the greater world right now is Muslim extremists." There are many ways to examine this statement. Granted there has been some horrendous loss of lives of people on every ideological side, but how do these numbers actually compare to the number of people dying from starvation or lack of water? How do losses there compare to economic losses elsewhere in the world that effects the U.S. directly and indirectly? While this issue is not small, unfortunately, it is just one of many world and local issues that should have equal importance to us as human beings. It is the most sensational (as in possessing the ability to generate media sensationalism) issue currently, which is why the politicians on every side can't hardly speak of anything else.

It really doesn't matter what any given U.S. president will or will not do. Sure he/she can make it a little more difficult or a little easier. The real factor is what people will do regardless of their leaders. Will they continue to fight among themselves as we have been, or will we agree on a course of action that we demand our leaders to follow?

Buttercup said...

Greg, I disagree with your insinuation that I am simply restating what's popular in the media, and I also disagree that it's popular for the media to talk about socio-economic disparities that may be fueling extremism around the world. From my perspective, the media is more focused on the religious differences than looking to whatever socio-economic problems my be exacerbating them.

However, I actually agree that to say that this is the biggest crisis may have been putting it a little too strongly... perhaps. Certainly, global warming, starvation, and massive inequalities are also huge problems.

On the other hand, it seems to be THE issue directing how both international and national policies are being shaped, so if not the biggest crisis, it's at least being treated like that (which is perhaps the problem).

Maybe, because of the fear engendered by terrorism, it has an immediacy to it that those other global problems do not. Maybe it's because starvation and global warming are things that we can imagine affecting some other part of the planet but terrorism is something that we obviously have been directly affected by and something that we could imagine destroying our society.

For example, if some extremist faction were to get a nuclear weapon, would you not agree that that would pose one of the biggest, if not THE biggest crisis to our country (and or the world?).

Greg said...

I didn't say or mean to imply "socio-economic disparities that may be fueling extremism around the world." I think we are on the same page there. Economics IS NOT a cause. I tried saying MAINTENANCE OF ESTABLISHED IDEOLOGICAL POWER is the cause.

And I didn't mean to imply you didn't put thought into this also. But I DID mean to say that I think that thought was colored by the media blitzkrieg that constantly tells us that there are BAD GUYS (TERRORists) wanting to DESTROY OUR WAY OF LIFE. You say as much when you mention the "growing movement of extremism intent upon destroying our way of life in the United States."

As far as I know, all the fighting has been taking place outside of the U.S., mostly in Iraq. Since 9-11, we haven’t had another "terrorist" attack that I recall. Maybe Bush is doing a great job on this front, and maybe that explains why he's messing everything else up because he's fightin’ all these "terrorists" before they can act in our country. Maybe. But I'll reserve judgment until the facts are in.

Iraq, and the Middle East is a big issue, but it isn't OUR big issue. We've mucked it up hopefully as much as we will. We've become the problem, so there isn't much we can do except wait or leave. But many of our interests are in conflict so we are indecisive. Our foreign relations with the rest of the world is a bigger issue for us moving forward, especially with Iran. And then there is a huge laundry lists of problems that we can also effect.

Iraq and the Middle East are now more a regional issue to solve. A lot depends on what the people there want. We need to learn to listen more than talk. Ask what we can do rather than just do. Until they get ownership of something in there lives, there will be no stability.

The reason the media and politicians make it "THE ISSUE" is because that's how you get the most votes. By talking about more than one issue, you fragment the vote. If I worked for a campaign I would do everything I could to keep everything coming back to one issue. The answer to every other problem would come down to first finding a solution to "the war on terror." Of course this is not logical, but it would help my candidate win.

"For example, if some extremist faction were to get a nuclear weapon..." You mean like if some extremist government got hold of a nuke and blew up a whole city? Or maybe two? Didn't we already do that?

That's a real possibility for a group to pull off. And it's scary to think about. And everybody would be focused on it (including me). But that has been a possibility since long before our "war on terror."

Most of the people in our government (just like some lawyers) aren't all evil blood-sucking shells of humanity. We have some great people that have been looking out for us long before this.

No matter how big a problem looks, you can't drop all other things. Seeing a lot of death close together like in 9-11 is easier to comprehend than death when it is spread out thin like cancer, automobile accidents, or starvation. Sometimes I get the feeling that the media thinks we only have one guy/gal running all things. We have enough people to spread the workload. Everyone in the country doesn't have to focus on people wanting to hurt us. Give a few smart people the job, and let the others handle the other issues.

Somewhere between Terror and Paris Hilton there has to be another issue to talk about.

Buttercup said...

To clarify, I believe that socio-economic disparties are in fact a factor fueling religious extremism around the world. They're not the only factor, and they may not be the most important factor, but they are certainly a factor.

Greg said...

It really isn't the people themselves that are fighting us, they are motivated by their leaders. Yes, they might use socio-economic propaganda as fuel. But the real fear is the establishment of a Western capitalistic model that will oust their ideological power. The real mistake we made was to send in Western corporations. We should have allowed them to build their own corporate infrastructure. Give them the ownership and maintain friendly trade relations with them. Once they identify property as their own, they will work to protect and defend it.

Capitalism can be scary if you aren't used to it. If you don't believe me, try going to work, or even to a club, without any makeup or deodorant. There is no doubt that our belief systems in the U.S. are altered by what we learn from marketing. I'm not saying this is bad, I'm just saying that it can be scary to see our commercials coming over the horizon.