Bombers & Burqas: lifting the veil of liberal fundamentalism
â€˜She was a Home Counties girl, now sheâ€™s bombing Afghanistan,â€™ crowed a Sunday broadsheet, soon after the anti-Taliban campaign was unleashed. Similar headlines extolled the â€˜exploitsâ€™ of a young British-born American woman named Ashley, one of the handful of female â€˜Top Gunâ€™ pilots in the US Navy.
Hers, we are told, is a â€˜Girlâ€™s Own Storyâ€™ and already she is being lionised by publishers and filmmakers, ever on the lookout for a politically correct theme. The only woman in the Black Lions squadron, Ashley has been dropping bombs on Afghanistan â€˜every dayâ€™ and, if her own words are credible, experiencing great personal fulfilment. â€˜I was smiling: I dropped my bombs. They hit,â€™ she told Sunday Telegraph reporters proudly. Of the Taliban fighters, she observed: â€˜they didnâ€™t wake up until I dropped one right on top of them. It was really exciting… We [female pilots] are very few and far between but we just do our job like everything else. I really love it.â€™1 For such human insight, one prominent publishing house is offering â€˜a very healthy advanceâ€™. The lieutenant, its spokeswoman claims, is a â€˜role modelâ€™ who can â€˜take off where Andy McNab and the rest [i.e. male warriors] left offâ€™.
The lieutenantâ€™s choice of words betrays more than the callousness of youth. It reflects a contempt for human life characteristic of Western â€“ and particularly American â€“ culture in its present â€˜liberalâ€™ phase. All experiences, from shopping to bombing, are interpreted in terms of short-term satisfaction, regardless of ethical considerations and with a soulless indifference to human or ecological consequences.
Liberal fundamentalism reduces the bombing raid to a career option to be â€˜open to womenâ€™ and so the taking of life â€“ including womenâ€™s and childrenâ€™s lives â€“ is celebrated as an exercise in â€˜equal opportunitiesâ€™. Indeed, for ideological reasons, the US (and sections of the British) Armed Forces place the provision of â€˜interesting careersâ€™ for women above operational effectiveness and the welfare of the young, mainly working class, men, who bear the brunt of the fighting without the sexy photo-ops or â€˜healthy advancesâ€™.
Ashleyâ€™s â€˜loveâ€™ for bombing Afghans is far from heroic. It is tragically remote from the traditional ethos of fighting men, who grit their teeth as they carry out hateful tasks and think of their comrades and countries, not their careers. Contrast Ashleyâ€™s self-advertisement with the words of Lt Colonel David Capewell of 40 Commando, Royal Marines, a force as yet uninfected by the â€˜PCâ€™ virus: â€˜I have no personal animosity towards the Afghan people… We never underestimate anybody, and we will take considerable time working out the Talibanâ€™s strengths and weaknesses.â€™ Of the men serving under him, Capewell declares: â€˜There is no sense of triumphalism or retribution. These are people who are simply here to do a difficult job â€“ and do it well.â€™
However some readers might view military ethics, they at least contain some core values, from which the ecology movement might usefully learn and adapt to our own non-violent aims, our â€˜truth-struggleâ€™ to use Mahatma Gandhiâ€™s words. These include loyalty, responsibility towards others and the sense of historical continuity that gives a regiment, or any band of fighting men, its esprit de corps. Such values are far removed from those of consumer society, or the rights-based culture of demand that modern â€˜liberalismâ€™ promotes. The warrior does not â€˜loveâ€™ war or regard it as a career. Instead, he is likely to do his â€˜dutyâ€™ with gritted teeth.
The military ethic calls upon men to show courage and integrity. Ashleyâ€™s career bombing, by contrast, is catwalk combat chic translated to the theatre of war, with liberal lashings of callous nihilism. Were a terrorist to boast of â€˜smilingâ€™, he or she would be viewed with revulsion and held up as proof that terrorists are â€˜evilâ€™. Ashleyâ€™s words call to mind those of Bernadine Dohrn, co-founder of the â€˜Weather Undergroundâ€™, a cell of urban terrorists that splintered from the student New Left. When she heard of the killing of Sharon Tate and her friends by the drug-crazed disciples of Charles Manson, Dohrn merely laughed and said: â€˜Wow! I dig it. It blew my mind.â€™
The psychopathology of 1960s Marxism-Hedonism has penetrated everyday American life from mall to mess room. It a system of organised amorality that American liberals and, increasingly, their European counterparts, regard as a model of human rights, to be imposed on the rest of the world, by clusters of Starbucks where possible and cluster bombs where necessary.
I cite this example of equal opportunity bombing because it has wider implications for the cultural conflict at the root of the â€˜war on terrorismâ€™. For it is not a war on terrorism at all, or a conflict of Christian and Islamic values, or â€˜civilisationâ€™ versus â€˜barbarismâ€™. After all, there were more executions in Texas last year than in the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan. Nor are the partisans of the â€˜warâ€™ defending Western ideals. Rather, the bombing of the Afghans should be seen as an episode in a struggle, on behalf of liberal fundamentalism. This ideology is concentrated in the US but has increasing influence in Europe, especially in the transnational agencies of the EU and is spreading over the â€˜developingâ€™ world through economic hegemony and a secular missionary impulse.
Islamic terrorists, including Osama Bin Laden, are the creatures of liberal fundamentalism. This is true in the literal sense, because Bin Laden and his cohorts were armed and trained by the CIA when the â€˜enemyâ€™ was Communist, instead of Muslim. It is true in a more profound sense, however, for it is the encounter with modernist Western ideology that fuels support for fundamentalism and a more generalised antipathy to the West, not just amongst Muslims, but amongst Hindus and in traditional African societies that have embraced â€˜Westernâ€™ Christianity and take it seriously.
Many Muslims cite the behaviour of American troops in Saudi Arabia during and after the Gulf War as the start of their disillusionment with the West. A good number of these young people â€“ men and women â€“ not only failed to observe local customs, but also openly and proudly flouted them, in a manner unprecedented on territory held to be sacred. Their indiscipline was a symptom of the corrosive effects of political correctness, undermining any sense of honour and making them less equipped for battle, let alone drawn-out conflict. The refusal to respect another culture was also motivated by ideology. Liberal fundamentalists do not regard cultural differences as valid. They have but one interpretation of â€˜rightsâ€™, based on dominance, which they believe to be valid for all human societies â€“ and which, in turn, they claim a â€˜rightâ€™ to impose.
Western politicians, anxious to hold the fragile â€˜coalitionâ€™ together and reassure their Muslim minorities, tell us endlessly that this is not a war against â€˜Islamâ€™. Yet the attack on Afghanistan and the so-called â€˜war against terrorismâ€™ are proxies for a liberal fundamentalist Kulturkampf, conducted within the US and other Western societies as well as the benighted â€˜Third Worldâ€™. For some years before the 11 September atrocities, the Taliban regime has been a convenient liberal hate symbol â€“ and hell hath no fury like a liberal fundamentalist scorned. The Taliban, who (in ironic parallel to the American â€˜New Leftâ€™) emerged from the student movement, are fundamentalists who impose a grotesquely distorted version of Sharâ€™ia law, a form of Islamic political correctness that eschews the scholarship of traditional Islam and has arisen largely in response to misguided â€˜modernisationâ€™ policies, of Soviet and then Western inspiration.
Liberal fundamentalists have singled out the Talibanâ€™s treatment of women for ritual denunciation. This is because images of Taliban extremism provide a useful foil for the denunciation of all of â€˜Islamâ€™ and beyond that all religions, cultures and traditions that assign different roles to the sexes, even those that give high status to women. Indeed any person, male or female, who rejects the dominant liberal fundamentalist interpretation of feminism can be accused of being â€˜like the Talibanâ€™, or placed in the same box as â€˜religious extremistsâ€™, the word â€˜religiousâ€™ pronounced with special hatred and scorn. Like other bigots, liberal fundamentalists find it easier to attack than discuss.
The burqa is now notorious as the Dalek-like, all enveloping robe that women under Taliban rule are forced to wear outdoors. Liberal fundamentalists hate and love the burqa. They hate it because it appears so antithetical to their ideology, which makes a virtue of coarse, loveless forms of sexuality and seeks to abolish differences between women and men. They love it because it provides a propagandist stick with which to beat non-Western cultures. Only Western â€˜democracyâ€™ can give â€˜equalityâ€™ to women, the argument runs. The burqa dehumanises women, deprives them of their dignity and symbolises their subjection to â€˜patriarchyâ€™. Furthermore, it is the logical conclusion of â€˜male dominanceâ€™ or any attempt to distinguish male from female roles.
For liberal fundamentalists, therefore, Bomber Ashley is a success story, for she fulfils their imperative of â€˜challenging gender stereotypesâ€™. But this is where the logic of liberal fundamentalism breaks down and their secular moral absolutism is laid bare. Western liberals accuse traditionalists, in their own societies as much as anywhere else, of limiting â€˜opportunitiesâ€™ for women. Their version of feminism, however, extols the virtues only of women in â€˜menâ€™sâ€™ jobs or â€˜breaking down male bastionsâ€™. Liberal fundamentalists use political and economic means to force women to have careers, placing â€˜equalityâ€™ before freedom and ignoring many womenâ€™s needs and desires. Bomber Ashley is a hero (it is old-fashioned to say heroine), but a mother who protests against cluster bombs is a potential â€˜terrorist sympathiserâ€™.
In Britain recently, the government-sponsored Equal Opportunities Commission lamented the fact that girls still choose â€˜womenâ€™s jobsâ€™, including such trivial tasks as nursing, social care and teaching, or frivolities like drama and hairdressing. Rather than raising the status of these â€˜femaleâ€™ professions, the liberal fundamentalists of the EOC enjoin women to take up â€˜maleâ€™ occupations like engineering. They want â€˜more womenâ€™ in the boardrooms of multinationals, not fewer multinationals and stronger local economies.
Indeed the rhetoric of modern liberalism abolishes â€˜sexâ€™ as a descriptive term altogether, putting in its place a vague, quasi-sociological concept of â€˜genderâ€™. Simone de Beauvoir expresses with refreshing Gallic honesty the true liberal fundamentalist view of women: â€˜No woman should be authorised to stay at home and raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.â€™
Liberal fundamentalists claim to be the exclusive champions of equality, but really they value only traditionally â€˜maleâ€™ spheres of influence, whether political, military or crudely materialistic. Their philosophy is quite different from the eco-feminism of Vandana Shiva, for example, which aims for a creative balance between male and female principles â€“ a more equitable society and a more equitable relationship between humanity and their nature.
Liberal fundamentalism exalts male stereotypes â€“ for women â€“ but attacks masculinity with puritanical fervour. It is the aim of American feminists, especially, to deprive boys of male mentors and if possible abolish fatherhood altogether. New York polemicist Gloria Steinem summed up succinctly their agenda when she said that â€˜We need to raise boys like they were girlsâ€™, in other words force them to deny their true natures as boys. The sexual politics so central to bien pensant liberalism is, in a subtle way, as oppressive as any clerical dogma.
Liberal fundamentalism is founded on moral confusion and double standards. When loyalty and sense of community are undermined, when men and women are pitted against each other in â€˜gender warâ€™ and when tradition or custom count for nothing, then only commercial values can prevail. The bomber and the burqa are not opposites, but two sides of the same dehumanising coin â€“ like globalisation and political correctness. Ecologists of the world, beware!
[The Ecologist, November, 2001]