Friday, October 31, 2008

"Thanks, But We're Not Actually Going to Do Anything."

Over at Crossroads Arabia the proprietor, John Burgess, notes the increasing crescendo of interfaith dialogue events. One story in the English-language Arab News even headlines a story, "UN move proves success of Saudi initiative".

I don't believe a word:
The move to the U.N. is not a sign of the success of the Interfaith Dialogue Initiative, but the U.N.’s tribute to the Saudi King. Judge for yourself: at home, when the King brings up the subject the response is rather unenthusiastic, along the lines of “We heard you the first time. And the second time. And the third time. Thanks for the free food, swell trips, and increased budget. But we’re not going to commit to actually doing anything.”

The IDI reached a peak at the Madrid Conference earlier this year and failed to take off as it should have. Madrid, in my opinion, should have ended with a statement of agreements and differences and a commitment to institutionalizing the IDI at an Interfaith Institute on Saudi soil under the responsible direction of accountable individuals of an appropriate Muslim or Saudi organization. That would have ensured continued engagement. Instead, the process is being allowed to die a dull death: by definition, if people aren’t talking among themselves, dialogue isn’t happening.

How is pushing responsibility on to the U.N. supposed to help? The U.N. is a world-wide diplomatic institution and any religious dialogue process there must necessarily take place within the organization’s normal limits and conform to the U.N.’s other purposes. For example, if a Sunni-Shia conflict threatens to break out somewhere, is the U.N. really going to risk an interfaith dialogue (and maybe its own role as arbiter) if it feels a slip of the tongue could cause a war? The answer, of course, is a resounding “No!”

However, throwing the IDI to the U.N. does allow the Muslim World League, which organized the Madrid Conference, to wash its hands of the whole thing. Maybe other Muslims will now think that the failure of the IDI isn’t their fault any more, either.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On Kingship

“It is a good thing to burn down the capitol and kill the King every now and then.”

Yes. If Michael's interview with "resistance" fighters didn't convince me -
Abdul, who can speak a little English, said that at first they liked the French and Americans because they were friendly and helpful. But he said that local people now see people who wear a uniform “all have one same face. ANA and NATO are all in one hand.”

Solomon2: These are not jihadi fanatics. They are not Afghan patriots. They are seeking justice for themselves and their families and village. That is a great reason for hope - if they are representative of others who have taken up arms against the Afghan gov't and NATO, then everything needed to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda is contained in this interview.

then this conversation surely did.

Democracy is the wrong form of government for Afghanistan. These people need a king.

A king, not a tyrant. Not a constitutional king, either, but one pledged to uphold local traditions and independence yet lend a hand when outside troubles threaten, and can deliver some goodies without excessive greed. Think King Alfred or the kings of Castile* rather than Saddam or George III. That's because in a land where literacy is low and philosophy non-existent, loyalties are limited to the familiar or the personal.

Think about it. An elected leadership could not be easily checked and thus would be too interested in padding its nest and fleeing abroad later. Religious dictatorship founders because those in power claim the right to decide what is right, and thus invariably lose their way and the respect of the people they dominate.

Selecting a monarch would be the difficult part. An enthusiastic crowd in the capitol can sometimes do the trick, but that's also how the Thirty Years' War got started. While foreign powers can make their own selection, it is the Afghans themselves who, as the "old men" point out, will wield the ultimate veto.

* Correction: Not kings of Castile, but kings of Aragon. Here is the loyalty oath taken by their subjects:
We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are not better than we, to accept you as our sovereign lord, provided that you observe all our liberties and laws; but if not, then not.