Obama and the Barbarians

‘Obama may preach about audacity but the enemies of the West are more likely to practise it’

“Grub first, morality later” — Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral. The grim, cynical materialism of Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera no longer shocks us as it once did, because it has become the unspoken but universal assumption of public and private conduct in the 21st century. By a kind of Gresham’s Law, bad morality drives out good. And so the ethics of the gutter are now established in the penthouses of the rich and powerful.

One consequence of this debasing of the moral currency is that the distinction between civilisation and barbarism has become obscured or even abandoned altogether. Modern barbarism comes in many forms: from Diana Mosley interrupting her dinner party to call for a moment’s silence in memory of Julius Streicher, recalled by Raymond Carr in his Dialogue with Nicholas Mosley, to the French Islamist gang portrayed in Nidra Poller’s Dispatch from Paris, who tortured a young Jew to death and actually called themselves “the Barbarians”.

It is dangerous when the leaders of Western civilisation suppose that they can deal with the barbarians by offering the right mixture of flattery, bribery and contrition. President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech laid on all three and even went as far as to engage in comparative exegesis of the Koran and the Bible. The ovation he received was impressive. 

Compare, though, the considered response of Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradhawi, the most influential Sunni scholar alive today — and a favoured guest of the former London Mayor Ken Livingstone. Qaradhawi dismissed Obama’s insistence that the Koran and the Torah (Pentateuch) both call for peace thus: “Never have I seen a single verse, paragraph or sentence in the Torah which calls for peace. Everything in the Torah constitutes a call for war…This is a biblical notion — annihilate them totally, do not leave a living soul among them.” Accusing Obama of pulling troops out of Iraq only to send them into another war against Muslims in Afghanistan, Qaradhawi is clearly unwilling to unclench his fist just yet.

Even more striking has been the Iranian contempt for America’s olive branch. It should not have come as a surprise that the Iranian election was blatantly rigged: the political system is designed to reflect the views of the clerical oligarchy. Yet even after mass protests against the stolen election were bloodily suppressed by the regime, Obama could only condemn the violence, while adamantly refusing to take sides on the election result. He has pledged to negotiate, come what may, with the man the Iranian opposition openly calls “the dictator”. This ties America’s hands. 

Obama has even apologised for America’s role in the Iranian coup of 1953, when the CIA helped the army to overthrow the nationalist Mossadegh regime and restore the Shah. A “Green Revolution” would not be able to count on American support. It is no surprise that America’s popularity ratings have actually fallen in Iran since Obama was elected. 

Ahmadinejad’s “landslide” victory was a deliberate snub to the US Administration. Like North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il, the Iranian regime senses weakness and intends to exploit it. One of the few advantages of tyrants over democrats is their boldness. 

Obama may preach about audacity but the enemies of the West are more likely to practise it. It is not Obama’s fault that nuclear proliferation, confrontation and war are now more likely than ever. But if he does nothing to prevent them, he will never be forgiven — least of all by the young, who look to him for what
Susan Neiman calls “moral clarity”. 

As John Bolton suggests in his critique of Obama’s foreign policy, the most powerful published so far, Europe now has the “post-American president” that it wanted. We may soon have the post-American world that we deserve. In that more dangerous world, Western civilisation might be a luxury to be enjoyed only on sufferance, at the pleasure of the barbarians.

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