Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
The Arrogance of the Imperial Integral Mind
I need to post an opinion of one panel discussion at the recent ITC 2015. I hope this is a good place to do so. I’ve been carrying this anger and disappointment around with me since the conference but have been unable until now, due to family obligations, to get this down.
The name of the panel discussion was: An Integral Consideration of Radical Islam. The panel was made up of Steve McIntosh, the moderator, and Said Dawlabani, Marie Pace, and Miriam Gabriel was supposed to be on as well but dropped out due to a disagreement with the moderator. She was replaced by a gentleman known to the community whose name completely escapes me.
The gist of the discussion was centered on the notion that the reason that some Islamic people are driven to violent acts against Western targets is simply due to their lowly evolutionary station. It was explained that because these poor creatures are not yet high enough on the spiral color scale they are mistakenly moved to attack modernity itself in the form of European and American representatives. Mr. McIntosh told the audience that these young Islamic men are radicalized though a philosophical opposition to the world embraced by us modern people living above them in, shall we call it: the green zone. As the discussion moved on the rest of the panelists concurred from their own limited realm of experience.
It was at this point that a voice in my head remarked: “wait a minute, did I just hear an integral leader and his chosen panelists basically agree with George W. Bush as to why radical Islam attacks the West?” Yes, upon further reflection I have to say that I did. That’s right friends; the brain trust at the ITC 2015 is telling you that radical Islamic violence exists because “They hate our freedom!” If this doesn’t make you crazy you might want to brush up on the actual history of the Middle East.
Mr. Dawlabani, although Middle Eastern, is a Christian and expressed a barely vailed hatred of radical Islam in his suggestion that those he conceived as perpetrators would only learn through suffering. I’m paraphrasing here (I don’t remember his exact words) but he seemed to be telling us that the hammering of Islamic fundamentalists was the only way, he feared, to achieve their acquiescence to modernity. “Well, yeah,” I thought, “unrelenting violence and oppression certainly worked wonders on Native Americans.”
At no time was the century long exploitation of Middle Eastern peoples by the Europeans, principally the British Empire, and now the American imperial presence, ever mentioned. Not one word, not a breath. Some passing expression regarding some undisclosed bad behavior by the West was offered in a brief reference but this seemed only to dismiss this idea as not important in the great color scheme of things.
There are many reasons why this is the most narrow, uninformed, ignorant, and I must add: completely arrogant, position on our troubles with Islam that any educated person could possibly hold. I can only begin to address these reasons here. It’s not that the Spiral Dynamics assessment is completely wrong, it’s just that it is not at all the driving issue with Islamic violence. If philosophical disagreements could gave rise to such wide spread violence then we are long overdue for an Eskimo uprising. There are tribal and traditional cultures all over the world, when can we expect their attack? These should be pressing questions for those who adopt Mr. McIntosh’s view. The reality, of course, is that people rarely go to war over philosophy, and when they have this seems to have been a peculiar preoccupation of modernists, not tribalists or traditionalists . It is modern people who go nuts over whether you are a socialist or a capitalist or some such ideology. The Islamic invasions of the middle ages were not about spreading Islam, they were about wealth, power, and land. The spread of Islam was the result, not the cause, contrary to popular belief. The British Imperialists were fond of telling their people that they were conquering the world to “spread the light of civilization and the grace of Christian values” but the smart people knew that it was about wealth, power, and land. People need a moral story to tell themselves to expunge the greed and slaughter. Our moral story is: “they hate our freedom!” And like all the previous imperialist excuses, it’s bullshit.
The veteran CIA Middle East analyst, Michael Scheuer, in his book Imperial Hubris, Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, has stated categorically that the violent response of Islamic people is the direct result of “specific American foreign policy actions” and has nothing, what-so-ever, to do with any animosity to Western lifestyles, democracy, or Christianity (Dulles VI: Potomac Books, 2007). This is not an ivory tower intellectual saying this. This man lived in the Middle East for years and not only studied the history of the region but was privy to classified intelligence reports. He might just know a thing or two. This is not a minority opinion; it is overwhelmingly echoed by scholars of Middle Eastern affairs across the globe. It is the “they hate our freedom,” crowd that is the minority opinion but unfortunately the story that is most loudly trumpeted by the corporate media.
And what are those specific foreign policy actions? It would take an encyclopedia sized effort to encompass them but let’s just start with one little bit of history. In 1953 Teheran was one of the most sophisticated cities on Earth. It was a cosmopolitan, progressive center of culture and philosophy. Then the CIA with the help of British Intelligence decided that they didn’t like the recent efforts of the democratically elected president, Mohammed Mossadegh, to return oil resources to the control of his people from British Petroleum. So, they fomented a coup and replaced the president with the Shah who ran the country for the British and Americans by keeping his people in line with secret police and torcher chambers. By arresting and disappearing all the more progressive elements the only ones left to speak up were the clerics who could not be touched. When the Islamic revolution took place 25 years later the country was transformed into a radical anti-Western enclave. Can you blame them? This is one of many examples where Western imperialist meddling brought on radical Islam. This is largely the story of the Middle East whose curse it is to have lots of oil. In my paper submitted to the 2015 ITC you will find the story of how the CIA cultivated radical jihadists to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, another huge influence that resulted in a promotion of violent Islam.
The history of the CIA is littered with what the agency terms “blowback,” which is simply what happens when your machinations turn around and bite you in the ass. What we are experiencing with Islamic violence has two major sources that legions of scholars point to: blowback from British and American manipulations and Israel. The creation of the state of Israel, however you may stand on the issue, is broadly considered the main driver of Islamic animosity to the West. This issue is constantly referred to as “complicated.” (At the ITC we had an excellent one man performance that was all about this perceived complication.) The problem is that this is really only the view from the Israeli supporter side, from the Palestinian side it’s not complicated at all. First they had a country and now they don’t. What’s complicated about that? There’s nothing complicated about it when an Israeli bulldozer drives through your house? What’s complicated about being starved to death in Gaza? What’s complicated about a drone firing a missile into your wedding party and killing your whole family in Afghanistan or Iraq? Is it complicated when the Western stooge running your government throws you in prison and pulls off your finger nails for whispering the truth? This, Mr. McIntosh, is what creates jihadist fighters, not philosophy issues. They would have no argument with modernity if modernity hadn’t discovered oil and come calling to murder, manipulate, and dispossess them. The only confrontation with modernity I can see is when a sophisticated jet fighter launches an attack on a herding village lacking electricity and running water. That’s when modernity really makes an impression.
Here’s the topper: I had a discussion with Miriam Gabriel at a soirée the evening after the panel discussion she was supposed to be a part of. She explained to me that as a person of Egyptian heritage she had taken exception to the one sided nature of the planned panel discussion by Steve McIntosh. When she attempted to explain the plight of Islamic people in a phone conversation she was accused by him of being “an Isis supporter.” This is when she declined the honor of being a part of the smear job against her people.
Is this where we’re at in the Integral movement? Really? It’s embarrassing to claim association with such a movement when people seen as respected voices express such terrible ignorance.
Reading list for the historically impaired:
Islamaphobia and the Politics of Empire. By Deepa Kumar
A Century of War, Anglo-American Oil Politics. By: F. William Engdahl
The Road to 911. By: Peter Dale Scott
Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. By Chalmers Johnson
This is exactly why I can no longer abide this type of color-coded so-called integralism.
Thank you Eric. This is an important perspective that needs to be heard. I did not attend that panel, so cannot comment on it.
However, the "they hate our freedoms" argument seems so simple-minded, so easily disproven with just a little bit of expanded perspective taking and opening oneself to information that is so readily available... your anger and disappointment is understandable.
Some insightful responses to this at Facefuck:
Bonnitta: "Something I want to point out here, is the question of whether McIntosh et al violated an AQAL/iSD tenet in their argument, or is it possible that a "good meta-theory" can be used to shore up the wrong side of an argument? This is something that Bhaskar pointed out -- that "good people" will employ IT to make "good reasonable judgments" and others will employ IT to make "bad reasonable judgments." This, in my opinion is why we need sound critique of our theories. We can be less partial AND wrong, or alternately, more partial and right, because moral judgment depends on adequate participation (with concrete universals) not with "higher" synthetic reasoning. This is a serious category error that pervades IT, and was reinforced in Ken's keynote (higher means more truth, more right, more goodness, more love). I for one do not think this is a trivial error. I think it points right to the core of something rotten in IT."
John Davis: "In other words, Bonnie, you got to have heart. And that is what is rmissing about IT. It leaves out the heart and the gut, leading to the worst kind of head tripping. Meaning making is relational, affective, and cognition emerges out of that somatic state of affairs. If you really walk in another persons shoes and imagine that you would do anything different from them then you have not yet really walked in their shoes. Most of IT meta-analysis such as desribed above is Neo Liberal orthodoxy, a tendency to delete and distort whatever doesnt fit and avoid the cognitive dissonance by transcending and includiing. So they can plant thier IT flag wherever they want. A profound lack of imagination."
Also Visser linked to Harris' classic response to McIntosh.
I think Bonnitta is right that there is a link between this sort of right wing age old western arrogance within IT and the business that Ken talked about with the "higher = gooder" ethic. It seemed to me from private discussions at ITC 2015 that a political split is occurring within the movement. I'm wondering what we can do to encourage this. Perhaps a conference where these things can really be debated. The panel discussion that Bonnitta was on regarding the Integral support of corporate power was a step in the right direction.
Hooray, so happy to read your post, Eric. Totally aligned. Cf my comment on the discussion about your ITC paper, about heads emerging from sand, perhaps, at long last! So some of us who actually do read history, both official and unofficial versions, from a variety of sources, can come out our closet (if we chose to be in it) and point out the frequent naivete of so much political and economic discussion among Integral circles.
More power to ya!