'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

culture wars

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamposts - for support rather than illumination"
--Andrew Lang

I was fascinated by the google books ngram viewer that Thomas Rid used on his last KingsofWar blog post and which, at base, scans electronically stored books from a developed database which has volumes from 1800-2008. Naturally, I had a little go on the site myself and generated this set of statistics.

Blue= culture + war; green = islam; red = orientalism; yellow = jihadism

The role that culture plays in military planning, in particular counterinsurgency, is the crux of my PhD thesis, the title being, "to what extent does Orientalism inform the War on Terror?" and it draws largely on the points made in Patrick Porter's insightful "Miltary Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes" (2009, Hurst). The most interesting point to be made from the graph is that "Islam" reached a similar high after the 1979 Iranian revolution as it has done since 9.11. Jihadism has often been equated to nihilism and recent scholarship at CTC West Point by Lia, Lahoud et alia and also in Europe by scholars such as Alia Brahimi ("Crushed in the Shadows") suggest that while jihadism may be difficult to align with nihilism, in the words of Lahoud, jihad is performed for "jihad's sake", in other words, jihad is the end and also the means. Jihad has no voice in the Arab Spring, which seeks to negate Western influence over proxies and corruption.

On the BBC World Service today, a commentator observed that the "1.2 trillion dollars" America has spent prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is an amount equal to the amount it owes China in Federal bonds. If ever there was a "statistic" that favoured soft over hard power, that is perhaps it. In tracing the ascent of culture in the role of military planning, there is a seminal work by Ralph Peters in Spring 2000, written in Parameters. This influential 8 page mission statement is required reading for any student of military doctrine. Being written before 9.11 its theory is based around the Mogadishu and Balkans affairs, and Peters concerns himself primarily with cities (see also Porter's notes on megacities of the third world in his Military Orientalism) and I quote Peters in full here, as I think it foreshadows Iraq and Afghanistan and hence underlines his importance:

"From the military standpoint, multicultural cities can be easy to conquer--with the aid of oppressed minorities as a fifth column--but difficult to administer after peace has been established. If you have made allies of one group, they will expect to dominate after the victory or intervention. Western notions of equitable treatment and the rule of law strike the population as risible, if not as an outright betrayal. Peace can be imposed, but not even a generation of occupation will convince the opposing groups to behave "like us." In cultures where compromise is, literally, unthinkable, the peacekeeping adventure will see a constant jockeying for favor and usually a hardening of physical divisions between groups. The citizens of all factions will be looking beyond the presence of the peacekeepers to the renewed struggle, violent or otherwise, for hegemony. Often, the nominal government imposed by the occupier or peacekeeper will have less real power than ethnic leaders, militia commanders in mufti, religious leaders, or mafiosi. The primary interests of each faction will be to exploit the power of the constabulary force for partisan purposes, to exploit gaps in the force's knowledge of the local situation for advantage, to shield illicit activities from the force's awareness, to consolidate power within the group, and, finally, to corrupt key elements of the force to facilitate prohibited behaviors and to undermine competitors. The primary challenge for a Western military operating in a multicultural city is to get at the facts--and the facts never hold still."

Anthropological notions have become ascendent in recent years as has been well documented, but mapping the "human terrain", whilst a project eagerly undertaken by the Pentagon, has proved illusive. MAP-HT and HST have come in for considerable criticism and from the post war planning of the Bonn conference, 2001 in Afghanistan, we now have the talks with the same Taliban that were defeated a decade ago. "War is hell," and hubris and anger necessitated our instigation of "culture wars" on "the edge of empire". We strove to become children of Huntington and Lewis, viewing the world as a clash of civilizations when in reality, prudent observations show that material interests predominate over cultural or even religious consderations. We wanted 9.11 to show us that the world was about a backward Islam trying to thwart an enlightened, modern West. In reality, it was the tiny minority instigatiing mass murder, unpresentative of any body of any population  

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