Saturday, January 12, 2013

Review: Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq by Michael Scheuer

Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq by Michael Scheuer (Twitter)

Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq
As I was listening to this abridged book on CD, I pictured its author Michael Scheuer as a combination of Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now and Cersei in Game of Thrones. His commitment to no principle other than the cohesiveness of the United States and his view that ultra-violence is a necessary tool to preserve that cohesiveness made it difficult for me, a proponent of non-violence and globalism (his term is antinationalist), to keep an open mind to his ideas. Yet I'm glad I did persevere and finish the book, and there is some value in it.

Let me get the things which I think are bad out of the way first:
  • He portrays al-Qa`ida and the rest of the neo-Khawarij who believe that planting bombs in marketplaces and mosques and kidnapping and executing civilians at checkpoints are legitimate means of "resistance" as authentic to Islam. Well, it's nothing that I would consider Islam. Now, granted, Scheuer is not claiming that he's talking about Islam, and he neither has a stake nor claims any in what Islam sanctions. I'm concerned that a reader may believe that these terrorist Islamists are the "true Muslims." He mistakenly refers to them collectively as Islamists, and I think others have demonstrated that the term Islamist covers a wide variety of actors, include a wide swath who would not consider attacking civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, much less the United States.
  • The idea that there is an "America" and an "Islam" as entities which can be joined by the conjunction "and" promotes the idea that there is an unchanging "America" (or more accurately, an America which should not change from his ideal) and an unchanging "Islam." Islam does not do anything. Muslims do things. Edward Said, in Orientalism and his more accessible book Covering Islam, explains the importance of identifying agency and not relying on non-historical concepts like Islam to explain events. I think Scheuer has an idealized view of America as a unified body of free individuals contributing to the common good by seeking their interests with as little government interference as possible. 
  • He repeats the assertions that Muslims are taking over Europe, a la Eurabia.
  • His prioritization of security over all other concerns, especially clean energy and immigrant rights.
While I think these are serious problems, it's only the final point which leads me to diverge with Scheuer in his policy recommendations.

Scheuer advocates for non-intervention. He does a good job explaining the difference between non-intervention and isolationism. But he does not think the United States can implement non-intervention without controlling immigration, and he even mulls the emergence of a United States "Bin Laden" who would force the federal government to implement true Homeland Security. He approves of non-federal government measures, states, municipalities and non-governmental organizations (militias), designed to identify and deal with (incarcerate, deport, execute?) undocumented immigrants.

I wonder if this is exclusively a security concern. In some passages of the book, he disparages multiculturalism and implies that America's uniqueness is a consequence of its Anglo-Protestant heritage. If the only issue with immigration is security, then would not a more liberal immigration policy (e.g. amnesty for the undocumented currently working in the United States who haven't committed felonies), raising minimum working standards in agriculture and food processing and other low-wage industries to decrease demand for undocumented and exploitable labor, ending subsidies for US agriculture which drive American (i.e. Mexican, Guatamelan, Salvedoran peasants) out of subsistence agriculture and into the international wage labor market and decriminalization of drugs result in elimination of the industrial smuggling networks into the United States and reduce the possibility that terrorists could enter the United States with components of a nuclear weapon? On the other hand, if the problem with immigrants is that they are generally not Anglo Protestants, then the only option is to transform the United States into a (more of, much, much, more of) a White Supremacist police state.

I agree that the United States can reduce its need to intervene in oil-exporting regions of the world if it no longer needed to import oil. However, increased reliance on natural gas extracted through fracking or Canadian shale oil or Gulf of Mexico oil or Alaskan oil or Arctic oil or nuclear power has serious environmental consequences. God forbid we justify mountaintop removal of coal in the name of national security. It is better to subsidize the development of clean energy and reduce energy consumption.

Nevertheless, this book is medicine for people for whom immigrants' rights and environmental concerns are not a concern and see no way out of the War on Terror other then maintaining US empire. Many of the problems I had with the book may be a result of its abdrigement, which probably reduced my exposure to the evidence for the author's assertions.

In our local peace group, there is a split between self-identifying progressives and libertarian/non-interventionists. This book is useful as well for illustrating how progressive interventionists often support war.

One interesting thing about the reaction to this book is that more people are upset that Scheuer advocates ending US support for Israel than those who protest his disregard for the environment and immigrants' rights.

He also calls for better controls on nuclear materials and weapons, especially in the former Soviet Union.

One interesting suggestion he had was for states' governors to refuse to deploy the state's National Guard units to war without a proper congressional authorization.