While I’m obviously not a fan of Bush and his underlings (I’d go so far as to say they’re the worst and most despicable administration to have polluted the hallowed halls of the White House in over a century), I do not have a problem taking a part from the whole, occasionally admiring the diamond in the rough who is Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
My perception of Rice is sort of akin to Michael Corleone in the first Godfather film–an intelligent, well-meaning, good natured, fairly honest human being who simply and unfortunately, and with skewed fore-knowledge, managed to get caught up in the underworld of his fathers’ crime syndicate even though he was timidly reluctant to do so. Right or wrong, he became swept up in the nefarious turmoil of his family business because of a sincere desire to protect his father from harm. Michael is an unapologetic character, but that does not make him unsympathetic. On the contrary, his initial inclination to remain outside of the Corleone clans’ chosen vocation makes him an entirely sympathetic individual of quality who willingly made sacrifices that would haunt him for the rest of his days.
Similarly and unfortunately Condoleezza Rice was simply drawn into the wrong crowd–the bad kids on the block. The respect I might have had for her had she not been a major participant in the Bush administration would be, I’m sure, much higher than it is today–you’re judged by the quality of your friends.
Still, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad for her while she sat in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, understandably receiving a deserved pummeling on Iraqi policy and the President’s scheme to deploy 20,000 additional troops into the midst of the Sunni / Shi’a civil war (totally discounting our own state senator, the ridiculously out-of-touch simpleton, Barbara Boxer who managed to place the entirety of her leg in her mouth when addressing Rice by making the comment, “Now the issue is, who pays the price? Who pays the price? I’m not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So, who pays the price? The American military and their families. And I just want to bring us back to that fact.” Wow, Boxer! Way to retrogress the feminist movement to the dark ages.)
Condoleezza Rice is an exceptionally intelligent and talented person. She’s a classically trained pianist, having played with the likes of famed Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Mustafa Fuzer Nawi. Fluent in Russian, she also speaks German, French, and Spanish. She received her Ph.D in political science from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University Of Denver, Colorado.
Rice was hired for her first academic position by Stanford University as an Assistant Professor in Political Science (1981–1987). She was granted tenure and promoted, first to Associate Professor (1987–1993), and then (she was off-campus from 1989–1991) to Provost, the chief budget and academic officer of the university (1993–2000), and full Professor (1993–present). In addition to being the first female and first minority to hold the position of Provost at Stanford, Rice was the youngest Provost in Stanford’s history. She was also named a Senior Fellow of the Institute for International Studies, and a Senior Fellow (by courtesy) of the Hoover Institution. She was a specialist on the former Soviet Union and gave lectures on the subject for the Berkeley-Stanford joint program led by UC Berkeley Professor George Breslauer in the mid-1980s.
To say Rice is a highly educated, intelligent person would be an understatement. But a high degree of intelligence is not all-pervasive. The Secretary of State, along with Bush and his minions as well as much of the general populace of the United States and the world, simply have very little understanding of Islam, the Qur’an, Muslims, and the Middle-east. Of course, I’m not an expert on the subject either, but I understand what she does not–the continued rift and subsequent and inevitable violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites benefits non-Muslims throughout the world by fueling divisive chaos and disorganization between two separate and dangerous religiopolitical theocratic sects bent on brutal imperialistic expansionism.
My understanding of Islam is in it’s infancy. Fitzgerald’s is not.
The Secretary of State recently stated that the Middle East will have to “overcome” the tendency to see things in Sunni-Shi’a terms. There are two things wrong with the statement of Condoleeza Rice.
The first is the o’erweening, history-ignoring idea that Sunni-Shi’a rivalries and hostilities can “be overcome.” The Sunni-Shi’a split long ago transcended the initial quarrel over succession. Now there are differences in the organization of the Shi’a and Sunni variants of Islam: in organization (the power of the Shi’a ayatollahs and other Shi’a clergy has nothing similar in Sunni Islam); in ritual (the Shi’a Ashoura, with its emphasis on self-flagellation); and practice (the Shi’a shrines and visits to those shrines, so offensive to austere Sunnis, especially to the most austere of all, the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia).
The belief that somehow deeply-held beliefs and attitudes can be “overcome” seems to approach all this as if it were a question of civil rights in the South. One of the silliest and most harmful aspects of American governments is the belief that many things are susceptible of change, or of change that will come quickly. “Let’s have self-determination now” or “Let’s end poverty the way Jeffery Sachs says we can” or “Let’s just get right in there and reform Islam.” A blend of naivete, ignorance, and arrogance, which yields a most unappetizing brew.
The second thing wrong with Rice’s statement is that apparently she cannot conceive of why this Sunni-Shi’a split is a good thing for Infidels. She cannot conceive of why chaos and confusion and endless hostility between the two main branches or sects of Islam is something to be exploited, not to be deplored. It appears that American governments want always to take the side of this or that plausible group of Muslims. First, it was the Shi’a in exile who managed to woo and win so many in the American government with their tales of WMD (Chalabi and his group), and others who confidently predicted that once the Americans “liberated” Iraq they would be greeted, those Americans, with an outpouring of joy and presumably permanent gratitude that “would make the liberation of Kabul look like a funeral procession.” It would cost, according to Wolfowitz and others, nothing like what it cost to maintain those sanctions — possibly a few tens of billions of dollars. And then it would be over. A “cakewalk,” wrote Kenneth Adelman (sometime purveyor of Shakespeare to corporations so that the tycoons and tycoonettes can apply “Shakespeare to the business world).
Many have in this farce, on all sides, in the government, and in the press, been weighted and found wanting.
Meanwhile, there’s something just over here, freshly scribbled on this wall, that I’d like to show our rulers and our pundits:
“Mene, mene, tekel upharsin.”
Do you think they’ll be able to make it out?
Yet Rice is not the worst. She is far superior to others who preceded her. If she invites comparison with two former and still nattering-away National Security Advisers, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, Condoleeza Rice only gains by the comparison. But that should not be the point of comparison. She, and all others in the government, should be spending their days and nights studying Islam, studying not only the texts — Qur’an, Hadith, Sira — but how those texts are naturally received by, not all, but almost all, Muslims, and figure out on what side the textual authority lies. They should learn about taqiyya. They should learn about the history of Islamic conquest and about the subjugation of non-Muslims — which is not only a matter of history, but can be seen today in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia (where the non-Muslims are to found only among the expatriate wage-slaves). They must learn what is so misleading about the phrase “moderate Muslim” — misleading and unhelpful. They must learn to detect the plausible from the true, to discover the smyler with the knyf under his cloke, as Chaucer emblemized the figure of Treachery he found in Boccaccio, well in advance.
They must learn to understand it all, and to understand not only the texts and the history, but the other attitudes that naturally arise in Islam: aggression, violence, inability to compromise, susceptibility to the most primitive conspiracy theories, blaming of non-Muslims for all the ills that should rightly be attributed to Islam but of course cannot be, and so on.
These are the things she, and so many others, including all of the would-be Presidents now eagerly seeking our support, must learn. Now, not in five or ten years. Now.