Emanuele Ottolenghi announces that he has no patience with “root-cause talk,” which he sees as an especially dangerous form of intellectual inquiry.
He blames the West's alleged interest in the “grievances” of the oppressed on the Enlightenment, and accordingly makes the shocking suggestion that the Enlightenment had a dark side:
[T]here is the dark side, not of Locke and Montesquieu...but of the French terror, of the tyranny of ideas over the liberty of men, of the totalitarian regimes that sprang out of Enlightenment philosophy no less than liberal democracies did.I can see a pretty clear connection between Locke’s right of rebellion and the “French terror,” so I wouldn’t oppose them quite so diametrically as Ottolenghi does. But honestly...as disagreements between us go, it’s barely worth mentioning.
Ottolenghi's gripe is that the Enlightenment’s legacy of cockeyed optimism about human rationality leads people to assume that the situation in Palestine contributes, somehow, to Islamic terrorism. As he puts it:
The logic of cause and effect is at work....Heaven forbid! Ottolenghi does his best to steer clear of this logical pitfall, but it retains a certain magnetic pull on his mind. Here’s his response to the argument that ordinary Muslims feel as though they're being targeted for forced conversion or extermination:
Maybe it means they are delusional, or maybe it means that their leadership is cloaking [sic] the mantle of victimization in order to hide the fact that radicalization and unwillingness to embrace Western values are at the root of the problem.In other words, those goddamn Muslimanians better stop claiming BushCo’s launched a new Crusade, and start embracing Western values, or else!
Which they can’t actually do, of course, ‘cause they’re all completely insane:
It is a legacy of the Enlightenment that we find it so hard to deal with madness and fanaticism. We are always inclined to seek an alternative explanation: There is a cause — our policies — there is an effect — their anger — and there is a solution — our change of policy.In his attack on the Enlightenment's worship of rationality, it seems to me that Ottolenghi runs the risk of taking down the Free Market along with Islamofascist apologetics, but never mind about that.
Western impulses to explain away the threat of terror and seek a solution to the problem are empowering in a way. We have a diagnosis and we have a cure.Why this argument doesn’t apply to the Bush Doctrine is beyond me. Ottolenghi says that “the ‘root-cause’ argument boils down to excusing the inexcusable.” Can’t the same criticism be made against those who use 9/11 as a root cause for BushCo’s extraconstitutional antics and deranged foreign policy?
Even if one grants that the root cause of Muslim extremism is much more complex than anger over the plight of Palestine - even if one grants, in fact, that it's completely insane - there’s still no compelling argument for supporting Bush’s obviously radicalizing, obviously failed policies, except inasmuch as one feels empowered by his offer of a simple diagnosis (they hate freedom) and a gratifying cure (bombs galore).
Ottolenghi next resorts to the ancient conservative cliche that Westerners are unable to look evil in the face and call it for what it is. I really haven’t noticed any hesitation on the part of the West to denounce countries or people as evil. But even if I had, I’d be curious as to which culture Ottolenghi thinks we're supposed to emulate. If Westerners don’t look evil in the face and denounce it, then who does? The Malaysians? The Senegalese? Hezbollah? Who?
The evil that Westerners can’t look in the face tends to be their own. Not because they’re Westerners, mind you, but because they’re human beings and, as Simone Weil noted, they tend to experience the promptings of evil as the clarion call of duty. (In 1677, Charles de Saint-Evremond defined a cruel person as “One who enjoys doing harm to others, without the intention of making them better”).
Next comes a fairly standard (in wingnut circles) explanation for the term “Islamofascism”: Muslim extremists want to remake the world in the name of an Idea, which makes them fascists. That's hogwash, of course, but I’m not going to get into that debate. I’m much more interested in this delirious explanation of Hitler's rise to power:
Just as the failure and inadequacy of liberal governments to face the Communist threat after World War I empowered the fascists, so will the failure to treat radical Islam as a brutal totalitarian ideology end up empowering Europe’s extreme right.Aren’t you glad we’ve left “the logic of cause and effect” in the dust? Seriously, if anyone has any idea what Ottolenghi’s talking about here, please fill me in. I can’t make heads or tails of it.
For his grand finale, Ottolenghi offers us a diagnosis, and a cure:
As for those who have “unaddressed grievances,” one thing should be made clear: as children of the Enlightenment, we believe that some values are universal, both rights and duties. Therefore, we believe in reciprocity. Those who renege on this social compact and choose not to play by the rules are beyond the pale. They must be treated accordingly.So the Enlightenment left us unable to perceive evil as such, and simultaneously obliges us to exterminate people we’ve designated as “beyond the pale.”
It’s no wonder that, as Adorno and Horkheimer said, “the wholly enlightened earth is radiant with triumphant calamity.”