The Middle East today is driven by five big conflicts: Among states for power; the Iran-Syria alliance’s war on everyone else; the struggle between Arab nationalists and Islamists to control each country, and the Sunni-Shia and Arab-Israeli conflicts.
No wonder there’s so much turmoil.
To many in the West, this seems a time-wasting matter of “false consciousness.” One need merely explain their true interests to the Iranian and Syrian governments, to Hamas or Hizballah, to Arabs and Muslims, so they can rise to moderation. Western sins will be atoned by throwing out Israelis, Lebanese, and Iraqis with the bath water.
How can the doctrine now dominating Western discourse possibly understand these issues, especially when the song of the siren is heard in the land? Call it Lennonism, not the Leninism of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known as Lenin, but of former Beatles’ member, John Lennon.
His blueprint for utopia would be a better theme song for the European Union than its current anthem:
“Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too/Imagine all the people/Living life in peace….”
One can only refer here to George Gershwin’s earlier lyrics: “It ain’t necessarily so.”
There are several problems with Lennonism.
First, contrary to current wisdom, love of country and belief in religion can be a very productive thing, although of course that depends on specifics.
Second, despite the misdeeds committed in the name of deity and country, those doing them today are rarely from Western democracies. Ironically, those most likely to use them to good purpose are also those most eager to abandon them. After centuries, the West developed a tolerant form of patriotism and religion. Why abandon what you’ve already tuned properly? Having transcended the problems associated with religion and nationalism, the democratic world doesn’t need to discard them.
Third, it’s quite true that some use God to justify their own will and terrible deeds but, as Fyodor Dostoevsky reminded us in 1880, if God doesn’t exist morality is on a weak basis. Consider the case of Phil Spector, who produced the record of “Imagine.” While he beat the charge of first-degree murder of a woman who resisted his advances, the trial brought out his likely guilt, madness, violent propensity, and massive drug and alcohol abuse. What Lennon glorified as “Living for today,” usually means mindless consumerism.
For Karl Marx, religion was merely the masses’ “opiate,” a drug keeping them from realizing they should instead be overthrowing the ruling class and installing a socialist utopia. Marx was disagreeing with the proto-Zionist Moses Hess who called religion an opiate in the sense that it was a healing balm that reduced life’s pain.
Finally, patriotism might be the scoundrels’ last refuge, as Samuel Johnson said in 1775, but hating one’s country and religion is the first.
At any rate, the Middle East is not ready for this Lennonist vision. For those confronting the real threat of radical Arab nationalism and Islamism, Lennonism is unilateral disarmament. The more Lennonist the West, the more contemptuous and certain of victory are its enemies.
To make matters worse, Lennonists give the Middle East a free pass, arguing that Arabs and Muslims have such compelling grievances that they cannot be expected to indulge in this elevated philosophy. In effect, the Lennonists accept the notion that Western civilization is an empty cart which must give way at the bridge to the full cart of those who really believe in nationalism and religion.
According to this view, those who want to kill you are reacting to past oppression and so that makes it okay. The West must destroy its own patriotism and religion while appeasing that of those who “really mean it.” And let’s not forget that if you ridicule Christianity and Judaism or slander America or other democratic states no one will cut off your head. Instead, you will become a hero to the intellectual and cultural elite.
Thus, those who worship diversity define it at home as a situation in which no one dares disagree with them, and define it abroad as supporting quaint customs like dictatorship, lies, and oppression.
In Barrack Obama, America now has its first Lennonist presidential candidate. He recently accused average small-town Americans of being bitter over economic problems so that “they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
This is a version of the Marxist concept that anything other than determination to pursue economic well-being through a leftist utopian solution is “false consciousness.” Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini explained thirty years ago that anyone thinking Islamist revolution’s purpose was “to lower the price of housing or watermelons” was a fool.
Of course, Obama didn’t mind listening for 20 years to anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-middle class, and anti-white rants from his minister-mentor, who played on his congregation’s bitterness quite effectively to explain their frustrations in other terms. Poor Lennon himself was murdered by a deranged fan who listened to all the talk of peace and love, then responded in his own way.
The real world is tough. Conflict is real, hate effective, and there are people out there trying to kill you. Better hope there are some on your own side motivated enough by patriotism, religion, and love of liberty that they’ll put their bodies between you and the bullets because they think there is something worth killing and dying for.
Lennonism is intoxicating: believe in change; all can be okay if we just keep apologizing and don’t offend anyone. Unfortunately, though, nowadays there are many who, to quote Lennon, “dream the world will be one.” And the world they envision as one would be living under a caliphate.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).