Monday, March 28, 2011

Libya and Life

There is a shooting war in Libya, and the United States is somehow involved in the whole thing.

This is about all I know. I know that Qaddafi is not a "good guy," but I know absolutely nothing about the people who oppose him, and what complicated set of motives drives them. The President tells us that the "Libyan people" (who, I have heard, are a collection of mutually hostile tribes) want "freedom." Description lags terribly behind reality in the 21st century, I fear. What does "freedom" mean? We have not answered that question yet, in the last two hundred or so years that Western Civilization has been playing around with it. We have seen it manipulated by forces hostile to human dignity, so that the last two centuries of "freedom" have been the bloodiest in the history of the human race.

Now new forces are rising in the world, or, rather, old forces in new forms. What is it that they want?

In January and February, the secular West enjoyed the thrill of watching peaceful people take to the streets and demand freedom. They brought down a thirty year dictatorship in Egypt. And the genuine desire for freedom was palpable in those first days. But freedom is more than a dizzying experience of possibility; it is the capacity to adhere to something--to a proposal for life. Does the secular West have a proposal for life? As far as I can tell, it consists largely in material prosperity, ubiquitous entertainment, sexual licence, and the accumulation of information as a kind of distraction for the human mind.

This proposal does not engender the kind of vigorous personalities that can persevere in the long task of building a new national identity. So its not surprising that when preliminary elections were held in Egypt a couple of weeks ago, 70% of the people voted according to another kind of proposal--the one promoted with the strong backing of the Muslim Brotherhood--to set an election schedule that would favor the interests of Islamic organizations.

What is Islam? I am trying to find out, and that will be the subject of future blogs, no doubt. But I can say this much: it is a serious proposal. It engages the deep dynamics of man. It is not frivolity.

The drama in Libya moves in this same realm. And we have entered into the shooting, to protect innocent lives and (more importantly?) "our own interests," in a way that effectively supports one group against another in a war whose real motivations we know nothing about. I am sure of this much: Libya is part of the rise of Islam in the 21st century, and Islam is setting itself up as a serious rival to the secular Western proposal.

Do we have something better to offer? Of course we do. The West has lost contact with its foundation. But we must do more than remember it, allude to it, or try to piece back together elements of its ethical and cultural tradition. We have to discover it anew, at its source.