|2003-04-29 11:11, by Julie Solheim-Roe|
The greatest gulf - "Jonathan Raban argues that, apart from the immediate cost in human life, military intervention in Iraq has also represented a disastrous failure of imagination and a fatal inability to understand the role of history - and religion - in the region."
Thursday April 17 2003
"Whatever its immediate apparent outcome, the war on Iraq represents a catastrophic breakdown of the British and American imagination. We've utterly failed to comprehend the character of the people whose lands we have invaded, and for that we're likely to find ourselves paying a price beside which the body-count on both sides in the Iraqi conflict will seem trifling.
To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited Books site, go to [link]
Passionate ideologues are incurious by nature and have no time for obstructive details. It's impossible to think of Paul Wolfowitz curling up for the evening with Edward Said's Orientalism, or the novels of Naguib Mahfouz, or Seven Pillars of Wisdom, or the letters of Gertrude Bell, or the recently published, knotty, often opaque, but useful book by Lawrence Rosen, The Culture of Islam, based on Rosen's anthropological fieldwork in Morocco, or Sayyid Qutb's Milestones. Yet these, and a dozen other titles, should have been required reading for anyone setting out on such an ambitious liberal-imperial project to inflict freedom and democracy by force on the Arab world. The single most important thing that Wolfowitz might have learned is that in Arabia, words like "self", "community," "brotherhood" and "nation" do not mean what he believes them to mean. When the deputy secretary of defence thinks of his own self, he - like me, and, probably, like you - envisages an interiorised, secret entity whose true workings are hidden from public view. Masks, roles, personae (like being deputy secretary for defence) mediate between this inner self and the other people with whom it comes into contact. The post-Enlightenment, post-Romantic self, with its autonomous subjective world, is a western construct, and quite different from the self as it is conceived in Islam. Muslims put an overwhelming stress on the idea of the individual as a social being. The self exists as the sum of its interactions with others. Rosen puts it like this: "The configuration of one's bonds of obligation define who a person is . . . the self is not an artefact of interior construction but an unavoidably public act.