First things First…
With an excellent sense of timing, there is currently a BlogSwarm going on to fight against the movement to make the United States more of a theocracy. Before anything else, let me thank both the people running the swarm and the good people at First Freedom First who inspired this virtual event.
OK, on to the post…
Since there are lots of posts on theocracy from a US centric point of view, let me add one from the point of view of a sometime specialist in international studies with a specialty in the Middle East. (Oddly, the Bush Administration didn’t come to me for advice)
The Bushies have gotten a lot wrong in their foreign policy. OK, they’ve pretty much gotten everything wrong and worked hard to break the few things in the area the weren’t already broken. That said, they did get something almost right but, of course, the got it right in such a wrong way that it really didn’t count.
What they got right is that there is a critical cultural war going on. On one hand they’ve been saying it’s a culture war between latte drinking Volvo drivers on the coasts and the middle of the country which would, I guess, mean that all the Volvo dealerships and Starbucks in the Midwest and South should just close up shop. Clearly this isn’t the one they got sort of right.
The other hand – their sense that there is an international culture war going on – is actually correct. (See, I do say nice things about those neo-fascists once in a while). Unfortunately, that’s the only part they got right. They’ve said it’s, depending on the phase of the moon, a war between an undefined "us" and a "them" that’s defined as "terror", "terrorists" and "Islamic Fundamentalism". Needless to say, that’s flat out moronic and incompetent. So, we’re back to par for the course.
So, what IS going on?
What we have really going on is a global backlash of intolerance against the several hundred year old movement of rational thought called The Enlightenment. What’s actually going on is a battle between two alliances.
On one side, radical right-wing authoritarian religious fundamentalists in Sunni Islam centered in Saudi Arabia are allied with radical right-wing authoritarian religious fundamentalists in Shi’ia Islam centered in Iran are allied with radical right-wing authoritarian religious fundamentalists in Christianity centered in the US.
On the other side, rational modernists in both Saudi Arabia and Iran and the US are quietly seeing several hundred years of rational thought subsumed to the religious fanatics on all sides.
What’s really happening is that the Saudi monarchy is split between two roles. On one side, they’re the keepers of the Islamic holiest places in Mecca and Medina. On the other side, they’re responsible for the primary source of energy and both economic and political power in the world. These two sides were in balance for years under the reign of the supremely skilled political manipulations of the Saudi royal family. That ended in 1995 when King Fahd suffered a stroke. For the next decade, Fahd was de jure monarch but the royal family was undergoing a faction fight. While Abdullah was de facto King, it took significant trade-offs with the other factions in the family to keep that unofficial role in place for the decade between Fahd’s stroke and his death that allowed Abdullah to become the de jure monarch.
During that decade, the way that Abdullah and the modernists kept power was through increasing cultural and monetary support to the religious branch of the monarchy. That money was spent in many ways, significantly by financing the incredible growth in funding of Islamic religious and educational centers around the world with the string attached that they be friendly to the Saudi royal branch of Sunni called Wahhabism or Salafism founded by Saud family brother-in-law Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab.
This, combined with the funding of religious troops in Afghanistan funded by the Saudis and the US to fight the Soviets bring us to where we are in the region today.
What does this have to do with the US?
Well, we’ve been seeing something parallel happening in the US since 1964. Where the Saudi power structure has been empowering their Religious Right-Wing fanatics to stay in power, our power structure has been empowering our Religious Right-Wing fanatics to obtain power.
In July 1964, the US Congress, in an act of tribute to the recently assassinated President Kennedy and under massive pressure from President Johnson, passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act finally codified in law what had been struggled for in the Civil Rights movement for the decade before and the decade after as law became cultural reality.
At the time, Johnson was reported to have said "We have lost the South for a generation" in an overly optimistic view of the political costs to the Democratic Party. For those too young to realize it, prior to this vote, the South solidly voted Democratic at least partly out of hatred for the "Party of Lincoln". After this, the South rapidly switched to the GOP and has be a solid Red region ever since.
To court these newly unpredictable southern racists (The non-Racists had no reason to change with the vote), the GOP courted them wildly and shifted their policy away from any rational view of conservatism and toward what John Dean calls "Conservatives Without Conscience". The GOP recruited avowed racists, right wing fanatics and even the occasional ex-Nazi to push toward owning the South. A big part of that Southern Strategy was toward using religion as a cover for political power.
So where are we?
We’re now in a place where to get and maintain power the two most powerful leaderships in the world have sold their souls to their rightmost, most fanatic groups. While they couch it in nationalism and religious terms, where they really are is desperately trying to control the djinni they’ve each let out of the bottle to maintain their hold on power. The only way we can avoid them failing altogether is to make sure that our real power structure – the street – is aware of how little the reality of politics reflects their wishes and hope they’ll insist on returning power back to where it belongs.