March 22, 2011

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood - Honest Player Or Playing At Honesty To Buy Time? A Comment On "American Gullibility"

"Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest." - The Fool to Lear, King Lear, Act I, Scene iv

There is something peculiar about Western, and in particular American, approaches to international relations.  Our leaders have a tendency to trust first, then only change their mind if and only if they must.  This also a deeply ingrained belief among America's leaders that if a promise is in writing, such as a treaty or cease-fire or a non-aggression pact, and it has been signed, then it is binding and assumed that the signatories will comply with its terms.  Why is this?

On the first point, it is as if Americans believe that human beings are inherently trustworthy.  That those who do not live up to their words are the exception.  This is a most noble assumption, even Buddhist.  I grant, there is merit in the argument that a world where no-one ever trusted others and believed their promises would more likely than not be broken would never make progress toward greater peace and a global civilization and morality.  Perhaps American gullibility of this sort derives from our sense of "fairness" or "humanity."  Or perhaps, it is our desire to be liked and shame that we are despised by many as the world's rich, spoiled bully.

President Reagan once said regarding the Soviets in the context of disarmament talks, "trust, but verify."  Note that he did not say "verify first, then trust."  That Americans are gullible in their international dealings as well as their cross-cultural encounters on more personal levels is well known to non-Americans, including our Western allies.  We are generally well-liked but at the same time thought of as gullible and naive.  Russians I have spoken to, for example, about this are quite disgusted with the American habit of always smiling, trying to be friendly, and incessantly talking about trivialities.  Israelis I've know also find this annoying and indicative of a unfounded cheeriness about the nature of humankind and the state of global relations.  It is also well-know to others including Africans and Asians, from heads of state to commoners who have had significant contact with Americans.

They Russians and Israelis are not a glum lot.  Both have profound senses of humor.  But their willingness to trust any stranger they meet is far less than that of Americans.  I suppose one could find in their respective histories numerous reasons for them, generally, to be not as trusting.  The Russians have for centuries feared and suffered the slaughter of invaders from the Asiatic steppes.  Likewise, the Israelis have their backs to the Mediterranean and enemies in front of them, left, right and center.

Americans on the other hand, once they brutally crushed the threat of Native Americans and created the United States, have not really been directly threatened since.  However, World War II was a threat from afar that could have come to our shores, and the attacks of September 11, 2001 did much to take the smile from American faces in their international dealings.  But the tendency to believe what other governments and non-state entities tell us about their good intentions, and our insistence on believing they will honor all documents they sign, remain palpable.

Are we yet again about to prove our gullibility toward the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?  I believe we are.

When George W. Bush implied that sowing the seeds of democracy in the Middle East would lead to societal and cultural transformations that would resemble or be compatible with American society and culture, he was speaking from ignorance.  "Ignorance" in the sense that he did not possess sufficient knowledge of the Middle Eastern society, culture and history and in the sense that he "ignored" those about him who were knowledgeable.

Democracy does not automatically lead to greater freedoms and more open, tolerant societies, as Bush believed.  Democracy is simply the rule of the majority.  If that majority is Muslim and wants a sharia nation-state and credibly votes for their leaders accordingly, then that society has become democratic.  I believe Bush and others across the ideological-political spectrum who wish to transform the world toward something closer to our society and culture must seek something other than the imposition of democracy.  They must seek to increase more than political values and practices alone.  Political structures and processes are outcomes of and totally dependent on a people's values, beliefs and aspirations.

Those who seek international and global transformations should seek increases in societal security, individual opportunity, and the promotion of the values of greater tolerance.  Fighting wars to impose democracy is not the way to accomplish this.  Similarly, being gullible and too trusting is not the way.

Somewhere among blatant force, blind trust and finding common ethical and moral ground is a path that will grow and sustain a world civilization and morality.  I believe we are on that very long path.

Opinions on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and American gullibility:

Muslim Brotherhood Goes Mainstream in Egypt
Don't Fear Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood: Its Agenda
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: We won't take over gov't
Muslim Brotherhood text reveals scope of radical creed
Dangerously underestimating the Muslim Brotherhood

The High Cost Of American Gullibility
Wars Bump In The Road Is American Gullibility

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