Middle Israel: Can the 2010s be happy?

Middle Israel Can the 2

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December 31, 2009 12:33

 
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The 1910s arrived amid great promise: China abolished slavery, German universities admitted women, 122,000 Brits owned telephones and Andrew Carnegie established the International Peace Endowment, whose president won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912 - a gesture of respect for the steel baron's belief that stronger international law would eliminate war. No wonder, then, that on New Year's Eve 1910 no one suspected that a world war with 10 million casualties was well on its way. On the contrary, serious people were convinced that the more history proceeded chronologically, the more it would progress morally. This decade, too, began with practically no one expecting what it had in store - except of course Osama bin Laden. Back then, with the Soviet Union dead and much of the former East Bloc well on its way to NATO, one was compelled to suspect that progress - the assumption that humanity consistently learns from its mistakes, perfects itself and bequeaths to its children a better world than it inherited from its parents - is valid after all. Well, it isn't. Even if they didn't predict 9/11, some understood already during the merry 1990s that the world remained full of bad guys and that the West's victory had yet to prove deep and durable. The rest understood this after the subsequent decade's religious terror and economic meltdown. Understandably, then, a counter-progressive mood has now taken root, a pervasive sense of pessimism that whatever the enlightened world does, it will remain on the defensive - politically, militarily, economically and culturally. And as if to spite the last Western optimists, the decade's last moments were conquered by another terror attempt at an airplane, ironically one that took off in Amsterdam and landed in Detroit - the former being the city where Erasmus preached humanism and Spinoza confronted clericalism, and the latter where the conveyor belt was invented and the motorcar was mass-produced. What an anticlimax. What a mockery of progress; what a celebration of reaction, benightedness and despair; the route whose opposite ends are defined by Western civilization's emancipation of the spirit, liberation of the body, cultivation of criticism and conquest of the horizon, was now raided by Islamism's triumphalist angels of death and their quest to rewind history back to the Middle Ages, to restore ordinary people to a feudal serfdom and re-narrow their horizons so they never again fly airplanes, climb skyscrapers or indeed look beyond a priestly ignoramus's high pulpit and low brow. Surely, then, this must mean that the 2010s will be every bit as dispiriting, disheartening and disillusioning as the 2000s, right? Wrong. PROGRESS AND enlightenment, though related, are not the same thing; the former is the belief that mankind's improvement is predestined, while the latter is the idea that mankind will improve provided the knowledgeable educate the ignorant. The previous century challenged philosopher Georg Hegel's belief that history has a destination, as it was producing more and more freedom. There is great comfort in the idea of social progress, Jewish versions of which were developed by thinkers Nachman Krochmal and A.I. Kook, but two world wars left it with few followers. But then the fall of communism once again generated a kind of Hegelian euphoria, and then the outgoing decade's setbacks made that euphoria a distant memory. So what are we in for now? Is there any chance at all that the 2010s be less like the 2000s and more like the 1990s? Well, there is. In terms of sheer probability, it is good to recall that the 1980s dawned between Iran's conquest by Khomeini, Afghanistan's invasion by the Red Army and Poland's takeover by a junta. Anyone who in those days would have suggested that the decade would end with the Berlin Wall fallen, communism dead and Nicolai Ceausescu executed by a kangaroo court would have been considered mental. Similarly, in 1810, when Napoleon's success was at its peak, no one could predict that the 1810s would be recalled for Napoleon's demise and the subsequent emergence of a monarchic peace that would dominate Europe for a century. The 2010s, therefore, might also yet prove happier than we currently feel. But for that to materialize the forces of light will have to do more than sit back and wait for the nightly news to slowly unveil the decade; they will have to resolve to shape it. PARADOXICALLY, both al-Qaida and Hegel assumed God shapes history. We don't. Yes, we do believe in God and realize he may well be behind any historic event. However, like Zionism's founding fathers Middle Israelis have learned that God's interference must never be assumed; on the contrary, if we don't set out to shape history, someone else will. That, in fact, is what happened in the 2000s. And so, whether our ideas spread or retreat in the 2010s will depend on the forces of enlightenment no less than on their enemies. In the elapsing decade, Islamism appeared more determined than previously assumed, but it has since lost its most valuable asset - the element of surprise. During the 2000s the developed world has learned to expect Islamism to strike anywhere, from China to Argentina, and to stop at nothing - from beheading an American journalist as it did in 2004, a Polish geologist as it did in 2009 and a Canadian prime minister as it planned to do in 2006, to slaying 191 train passengers in Madrid as it did in 2004, 202 vacationers in Bali as it did in 2002, and 186 schoolchildren in Russia as it did in 2004. Each of these constituted a gain for Islamism and a setback for progress. However, a decade on, the world is increasingly defiant: Technically it is more vigilant, as a Dutch passenger last week demonstrated, and spiritually - the more Islamism murders, the more it is resented, and the more a Muslim counterrevolution becomes likely. One way or another, eventually it will arrive, very likely where it all began - in Iran - and very possibly during the 2010s. And then, when finally deep in history's dustbin alongside fascism, communism, Stalinism and Maoism, we will be able to wonder whether the decade's defining event, Islamism's downfall, was man's doing, or God's predestination. www.MiddleIsrael.com

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