Putin & Al-Baghdadi
Genocidal Murders and Ordinary Thuggery

There is no moral equivalence between the Islamic State and Putin’s Russia—the first is a genocidal totalitarianism while the second is brutally authoritarian, but not genocidal. But both want to carve out new or enlarged states across internationally recognized borders, both threaten international stability, and both ultimately legitimate themselves in religious terms.

Published on: September 17, 2014
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  • Duperray

    A year ago Putin was an acceptable gentleman, looking towards West rather than East, praised for having stabilized ethnic tensions in Georgia and so on.
    The year after, nothing is worse in the Universe than Putin.
    Come on newsmen, even the most childish undereducated people would not swallow such a diiference ! More than everybody in US, media looks outraged because after 10 years of underground US driven political destabilization in the vipers’ nest that Ukraine became long ago, Russia stalled US goal (to occupy the only Balck Sea base, Sevastopol).
    When we compare such litterature with those of foreign newspapers, we obviously see who is professional.

  • DiaKrieg

    Curiously this article fails to mention the Jews of Ukraine. In 2012, there were 70,000 of them. Ukraine ranks no. 11 on the list of nations with the largest Jewish populations.

  • Diws

    Orthodoxy (including its Russian variety) and Islamism are both showing reactions against Western secularism and both predate it, particularly in the former case. Both claim to be authoritative. That’s probably as far as you can push the analogy.

    I’m not sure what exactly Berger means that the Orthodox Church in America ‘luxuriously ignores’ the canonical Orthodox Church doctrine. To be sure, the Orthodox churches in America break down by national origin; it is difficult to foresee that changing soon.

    In any case, the main weaknesses of the Orthodox church – of excessive ethnonationalistic identity and of a tendency towards caesaropapism, are on display here, but interestingly in Russia and her claimed hinterlands in particular. There is no such revisionist tension with, say, the Greek Orthodox church, though it retains its own historical grievances and aversion to secular postmodern liberalism.

  • Anthony

    “But what do the two have in common?” Peter Berger, may I add that they also share a basis framed by an ideology (an idealistic end premised on the conception of the greater good for…) Both share an infinite good promised to true believers with concomitant rationale to dismiss via genocide or brutality the outsider/opponent – “Genocidal Murders and Ordinary Thuggery” indeed.

  • Arik Elman

    Ah, those “internationally recognized borders”, the perennial bugbear of the status-quo powers everywhere… What the Sikes-Picot lines have to do with the sectarian and tribal realities? Why is the IS’s dream of uniting all Sunni Arabs under a black banner (by a very Islamic methods, despite Mr. Berger’s reservations) is less legitimate that the accidental lines drawn by long-dead Brits and Frenchmen?

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    The fall of the secular Left’s delegitimization of the Iraq War as a Capitalist war for oil is the flipside of the rise of the legitimization of Putin’s geopolitical gangsterism by an appeal to an ersatz Orthodox Christianity and the rise of an artificial Islamic State legitimated by Sunni Salafist Islam and funded by Saudi Arabia.

    This secular delegitimation was made credible by a plausibility structure or conspiracy theory of a war for oil involving a demonized Dick Cheney and Halliburton, which was cognitively powerful enough to get President Obama elected during his first term on an anti-war platform. There have always been conspiracy theories but in a monist state it was often apparent that monarch held the seat of power and thus was behind most wars. A pluralist Capitalist state, however, breeds Marxist like anti-Capitalist conspiracy theories that are very plausible to alienated cognitive elites.

    As I opined in a comment to last week’s Peter Berger blog post, pluralism inclines toward conspiracy theories as neat, plausible explanations for wars that ignore the many competing layers of meaning of such events. Secular cognitive elites who may abjure religious fundamentalism crave their own sort of simplistic paranoid certainty about the cause of wars.

    Such anti-Capitalist conspiracy theories are what Peter Berger calls “recipe knowledge” – they offer just enough knowledge to be able to get educated persons through essential transactions in life with their reference group of the Knowledge Class. Recipe knowledge often breeds clichés (“Bush lied, people died”). And conspiracy theories and clichés have an elective affinity with modernity and pluralism. Some clichés are deadly.

    Peter Berger writes in the forward of Uwe Siemon-Netto’s book The Fabricated Luther: The Rise and Fall of the Shirer Myth, that clichés have a tendency “to benefit those who understand Christianity in terms of an agenda of political utopianism. In recent times this has been an agenda of the Left.”

    Siemon-Netto and Berger are referring to the “Luther cliché,” which is the notion that all Lutherans were closet Nazis who couldn’t be trusted during World War II. Berger states: “…the repudiation of Lutheranism served to legitimate the participation of Christians in the utopian project of Marxism in general and of the Marxist regime in Germany in particular.”

    Ergo, if wars need legitimations pulling out of wars also need delegitimations and re-entering failed wars required re-legitimations.

    The secular Left’s repudiation of the Iraq War has served to indirectly legitimize the rise of Sunni Salafism. The rise of ISIS has exposed the fall of secular Left’s Anti-Capitalist delegitimation of the Iraq War.

    The Left perceived that the U.S. was provoked by the Saudis and others by 9/11 to intervene in an internecine war between Muslim factions or suffer more domestic terrorist attacks. Of course, the Iraq War was more than an internecine religious war; it was also of geopolitical interest to the U.S. to not allow Iranian revolutionary Islamicism to grab hegemonic rule over the Middle East.

    The adolescent Left thus was mistaken that it could just pull out of such a mercenary war and let Muslims fight their own battles. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s cousin Hans Christoph von Hase said of the moral predicament facing Lutheran Germans under Nazism: “The greatest fool is he who believes that one can avoid war and destruction by pacifying godless people…”

    The question remains in the U.S., how do we re-legitimize another war in Iraq? Possibly never before has the man in the street been expected to sort out such a bewildering set of events: our “allies” provoking us by 9/11 to fight a mercenary war for them and vaguely threatening to do so again if we do not re-intervene; naively pulling our military out of Iraq; eventual beheadings and genocides apparently choreographed and funded by the Saudis to elicit U.S. re-involvement in the war; Muslims killing Muslims; clicheogenic journalists telling us more clichés to make sense of what is going on; Black residents in Ferguson, Missouri acting out nearly on cue to divert attention from a failing presidency only to find themselves victims of their own provocations and self fulfilling prophecies; Saudis beheading 3 Islamic terrorists recently but that was 5 less than the number the Saudi government itself beheaded in August; and so on ad infinitum. Cliches fill an absence of knowledge or sometimes a well-kept secret about what is going on.

    How shall we judge the U.S.’s own leaders who have taken political credit for the prior withdrawal of troops from Iraq? Certainly our leaders must know that Saudi Arabia and others are behind the rise of ISIS must as much as the U.S. may be.

    In Germany during WWII, Marianne –Krahmer recalls how distressed her father (anti-Nazi martyr Carl Goerdeler) was over the spinelessness of senior public officials to National Socialism (Nazism):

    “My father used to say that these men possess an “Informations-vorsprung”, a head start on information, which should have compelled them to denounce the criminal character of the National Socialist regime. He considered their opportunism a disgusting violation of the German civil service tradition to resist evil ordinances. He deemed it the duty of senior officials to see to it that the state does not fall into the hands of gangsters.”

    The political Left currently in power also possess a head start on the information and moral complexities of the Iraq War that most Americans don’t have. But that hasn’t provided any clarity of moral perception of the situation at hand today of Christians having to flee Syria or face beheadings.

    How does the political Left “re-legitimize” a war that they delegitimized? And how does one act responsibly in such a contrived moral trap? A clue resides with children and other innocents being slaughtered for whatever reasons. That is a damnable act that must be stopped even if it is a pre-arranged provocation. There is no relativizing such a spectacle of suffering and death.

    The spectacle of beheaded innocents demands a response no matter how anomic and messy the reasons and the prosecution of the war both may be. As Berger might say, the intuitive perception of the atrocities of the war does not require a just cause theory of the war, clichés of either the Left or Right, conspiracy theories, or ideological social movements, but merely a clear perception of evil.

    Following Machiavelli, Max Weber and Reinhold Niebuhr, in such morally messy situations Berger has reminded us to “get our hands dirty” and not be concerned with the purity of our motives or the notion that one can withdraw from moral traps without even worse consequences.

    Pres. Obama’s “favorite philosopher” is liberal Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. What the U.S. needs at the moment is the sort of Moral Realism that theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called for to “get one’s hands dirty” but without the Anti-Capitalism of Niebuhr that President Obama embraces. Such Moral Realism would also be cliche-less.

    • doc feelgood

      your are a deluded fanatic

  • doc feelgood

    Russia has always been an religious-imperialistic country since the old days of Ivan the terrible. Putin is following the czarist colonial politics of conquest of asian siberia.

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