Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What were you reading when you were 18?

I'm reading the excellent Rules for Radicals, by Saul Alinsky (highly recommended). In the introduction he talks about how when he was growing up all writings about how to transform society are written by communists, and quotes Supreme Court Justice William Douglas:

"On trips to Asia I often asked men in their thirties and forties what they read when they were eighteen. They usually answered 'Karl Marx', and when I asked them why, they replied, 'We were under colonial rule, seeking a way out. We wanted our independence. To get it we had to make a revolution. The only books on revolution were published by communists'. These men almost invariably had repudiated communism as a political cult, retaining, however, a tinge of socialism. As I talked with them, I came to realise the great opportunities we missed when we became preoccupied in fighting communism with bombs and with dollars, rather than with ideas of revolution, of freedom, of justice."

Someone who is growing up in Sudan, in Egypt, in Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or Indonesia today is unlikely to be reading Karl Marx. But they are just as likely to be seeking independence and to see the way of getting it as through revolution, and most of them will seek it through radical Islamism. And these will be the leaders across the Islamic world of the next ten and twenty years.

It doesn't have to be this way. We could start fighting Islamism with ideas of revolution, of freedom, of justice, and the internet makes it easier than ever before to spread and debate ideas. But rather than presenting the choice as a clash of civilisations, the alternative needs to be one which will appeal to idealistic 18 year olds who have no time either for American imperialism or for the people who run their country.

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