Ian Buruma, Napoleon and U.S. imperialism
Posted to www.marxmail.org on March 19, 2004
When I was an undergraduate at Bard
College in the early 1960s, there
was about as much likelihood of a professor writing an op-ed piece in the NY Times
as there was of the school fielding a semifinalist entry in the NCAA basketball
Along with all the other transformations that ringmaster
Leon Botstein has wrought, it seems like a month
cannot go by without some Bard professor or another holding forth in the op-ed
pages. Ian Buruma, a Henry Luce journalism professor
at Bard (a little bit like being named the Henry Kissinger
peace studies professor), is the school's designated expert on the Moslem
problem. In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education I commented on a
while back, he took the Thomas Friedman position that "responsible"
Moslems be encouraged.
And a little help from the US
military certainly wouldn't hurt. In today's op-ed piece, he says, "Iraq
is so violent and chaotic now that it would be highly irresponsible to pull the
troops out." I realize that boneheadedness is an
occupational hazard of college teaching, but this statement is beyond laughable.
Anybody who is even the least bit familiar with the situation understands that U.S.
troops are the cause of the chaos in Iraq
today. Even when a particularly senseless suicide bombing takes place, the
victims call for the removal of U.S.
troops which they rightly interpret as the irritant behind such attacks.
Of some interest to students of history is Buruma's comparison of the U.S.'s
"revolutionary" intervention from above with
Napoleon's. He observes that "Napoleon was a despot and his Grande Armée could be brutal, to be sure, but his reforms were
mostly beneficial. Religious freedom was established, government efficiency
improved, and the Napoleonic legal code has served continental Europeans well
for two centuries."
To call this analogy strained would be overly generous.
Contrary to this interpretation, the overwhelming evidence is that the U.S.
backs authoritarian and anti-democratic forces throughout the Moslem world. Rather
than imposing separation of church and state and parliamentary democracy at the
point of a bayonet, it repeatedly backs the most feudalist elements--so long as
they are friendly to U.S.
Just one example should suffice. In 1945, FDR met with King
Abel-Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the modern Arabian kingdom that now
bears his family's name in order to cement the alliance that remains to this
day. As long as Saudi oil kept flowing, it didn't matter that women were
treated as subhuman. In March of 2002, when religious cops prevented
schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building in Mecca
because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, 15 died.