For discussion: A very fundamental text by German sociologist Dirk Kaesler on the alleged failure of Western narratives in Afghanistan and since 9 11.
“Marx, Habermas and Popper were wrong, Max Weber a little What the fall of Afghanistan and the twentieth anniversary of „9/11“ mean
I’ve never been to Afghanistan. As it currently looks, I will probably not get there in this life. But that’s not what it is all about here. This is about the question of what sociologists say about the „Afghanistan case“ for the classification of classical sociological theories. To my mind it means that the Grand Narratives – or “Narratives” as they say today – of (at least) three Western white men have collapsed. And a fourth grand narrative doesn’t come out unscathed either. I am starting this text on the day that the newspapers are reporting that one of the Taliban co-founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has landed in Kandahar. The photos and reports show that the Taliban’s longtime „spokesman“, Zabihullah Mujahid, announced to Western media representatives at his press conference in Kabul that women in Afghanistan will also be allowed to work and study in the future – „within the framework of the Sharia“. And I’ll graduate on September 11, 2021.
Let’s make it short and sweet: The concerted attempt over the past (at least) twenty years to transform Afghanistan into a „modern“ Western-style state through „nation building“ has failed miserably. The unchecked march of the self-proclaimed holy warriors on their mopeds and Toyota trucks with Kalashnikovs in their hands and the complete withdrawal of “the West” from this country proves that at least three scholars were fundamentally wrong: Karl Marx, Karl Popper and Jürgen Habermas. And Max Weber’s Great Narrative is also under scrutiny.
The Great Narrative by private scholar and publicist Karl Marx had told millions that the goal of human history would be a classless society. The machinery of capitalism and the opium of religions, which befogged the reason of the people, would be defeated in a revolutionary way. Human reason will eventually lead to a peaceful „association of free people“. A beautiful tale!
The Great Narrative by the private scholar Max Weber had told millions of people that radicalized Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries, in search of earthly signs of their salvation from eternal damnation, had helped to create a cosmos of beliefs and behavior that was entirely gradually erected the enclosures of bondage and bondage of the human race all over the globe. Especially from that point in time, when the last remnants of the original religiosity had escaped from the institutions and the people who supported them as a result of the processes of secularization, “modern”, “rational”, “bourgeois” corporate capitalism would be its forever show a brutal face. The inseparable connection of this system of the capitalist order of economic life with the machines of the bureaucratic order that are emerging everywhere in all areas of life would together lead to the threat to the individual freedom of all people, if not their ultimate destruction. A dark tale!
The Grand Narrative by political philosopher Karl Popper, who was exiled from Austria, told millions of people that all people want to live in an “open society”, at least they should. Karl Popper outlined this concept in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945). Immediately under the impression of the totalitarian forms of government of fascism, national socialism and communism, Popper formulated his concept of a democratic society that is neither religiously nor ideologically fixed and strives for an egalitarian social structure. Popper firmly believed that all human beings should best live in such a society. A constructive narrative! The Great Narrative by university scholar Jürgen Habermas told millions of people that the rationalizing power of communicative understanding between people in deliberative democracies will create social orders that will differ from the „colonization of the social lifeworld“ through the purposeful-rational forms of organization of social life – above all capitalism and bureaucracy – will be liberated. A hopeful tale! All four of these master narratives were firmly convinced that there was “no herb” that could counteract the “Western” model of society, whether in the optimistic, pessimistic or constructive version. One day this „modern“ society will shape the societies of people all over the world. „The End of History“ by another white man, Francis Fukuyama, originally told the same story in 1989: The principles of liberalism, democracy and the market economy would finally prevail everywhere – at least „in the long run“!
Karl Marx, Max Weber and Karl Popper no longer have a chance to revise their narratives. We can no longer ask them how they would explain why more and more people currently do not want exactly the kind of society they had imagined for themselves and their children. I don’t know how Jürgen Habermas sees Islamism, this virulent competitor to the Western model. In any case, Francis Fukuyama himself admitted that the end of (Western) history obviously met with considerable resistance: “Democracy’s only real competitor in the realm of ideas today is radical Islamism. Indeed, one of the world’s most dangerous nation-states today is Iran, run by extremist Shiite mullahs. (Francis Fukuyama: They can only go so far. In: The Washington Post, August 24, 2008.) This judgmental classification of political Islam as “most dangerous” alone misjudges its completely and radically different perspective. Political Islamism, for its part, classifies the Western principles of liberalism, democracy and capitalism as “most dangerous” and therefore fights them with all their might. As we can see at the moment, not so much in Iran, but all the more impressively in Afghanistan. The example of Afghanistan shows very clearly that an Islamic society, which is made up of a number of very diverse societies, cannot become a “Western “ Society can be shaped. And certainly not from outside and through military force. Because most people don’t want that!
The (still) Chancellor Angela Merkel understood this much more quickly, at least said so than many other political leaders. With regard to Afghanistan, she said that the German mission had “failed” overall and that in future “the goals of such missions would have to be narrowed down”. In any case, “proselytizing” and colonization – with the Bible or with drones, with Coca Cola, McDonald or Volkswagen – should finally come to an end. As the American soldier put it in one of the countless TV reports about the people who had fled in the country where he and his comrades had been heavily armored for so many years: „They got a taste of freedom.“ And Similarly, Chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz was heard to say about the people in Afghanistan on the television program „Triell“ on August 29, 2021: „We showed them a bit of democracy.“ wanted to taste “freedom” or whether they even wanted to have “a little bit of democracy” like ours. We, i.e. „the West“, firmly assumed that all people on this planet want to have the same „wealth“ as „we“. That doesn’t seem to be true. Because German politics in recent decades has had no other idea, according to which all people want to live in a society that is just as open, democratic, liberal and capitalist as ours, but in which religious belief must be a private matter, it was only logical to postulate that „Germany would also be defended on the Hindu Kush“, as Peter Struck announced as Defense Minister. 59 soldiers of the Bundeswehr, who did not come back alive, were ordered to Afghanistan for this performance by the German Bundestag. The current state of affairs with “Western values” of humanity and the fight for the freedom of societies and individuals can also be easily seen from the current willingness of European countries to take in refugees, including those from Afghanistan.
The grand narrative of the modernization and civilization of all human societies based on the “Western” model needs to be revised. Max Weber’s narrative comes off best, as he saw less in a bright future of the victory of rationalization and more in the loss of individual freedom. What he probably couldn’t imagine, however, was that there could be people and societies who would fiercely and violently resist this supposedly unstoppable, „fateful“ path of development. People who just don’t want to live the way the great tales of the occident proclaimed. As a sociologist, I would just like to say that Western history has played and still has a not inconsiderable part in passing on this powerful narrative: anyone who tries to trace the “long way to the West” in two volumes and the history of the West in four volumes is also telling about the Western way to democracy and freedom. And all too often it doesn’t mention that capitalism and non-religious beliefs are also part of it. The events of September 11, 2001 might well have served as an opportunity to reflect fundamentally on how “the West” should respond to this all-out attack on both a gigantic display of capitalism’s superiority and the US military’s command center. It was sheer unimaginativeness to switch the „Western“ military machines to retaliation, at best garnished with the construction of schools for girls and drinking water systems. Today, twenty years later, the realization is dawning on many that the radical failure of the military overreaction revealed the weaknesses of the „Western“ model rather than its strengths. It is time to consider alternatives that are not shaped by the narratives of Western sociological and historical master storytellers.
Global Review comment: The text does not see the failure in such details as false warfare, wrong individual political decisions by NATO in Afghanistan, but much more fundamentally in the Western ideology that democracy and modernity can be exported or will spread as historical global general laws or world trends. Dr. Kaesler also sees Islam, or rather Islamism, and Iran and Afghanistan as the most threatening states. This is interesting as Islamism started with the Islamist revolution in Iran against the Shah and also the emergence of the Islamists in Afghanistan as a reaction to the encroachment of modernity. Although one could also cite the storming of the mosque in Mecca in Saudi Arabia by Islamists at the same time, or the emergence of Islamism as early as 1928 with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood under Hassan El Banna and their spread in the Arab MENA region, i.e. much earlier. But those are historical details. Was it due to modernity or was it more due to the value-driven universalistic democratization narratives of the West?
What about the next narrative, that democracies don’t wage wars on each other? Or are authoritarian systems per se designed for external expansion and war, like Putin’s Novozrussija, Eurasia and the pushing back of the USA with China from Europe and the Indo-Pacific? The next narrative: Democracies do not wage wars against each other. Only authoritarian systems against democratic systems. All Western storytellers tell that, even such realists as Henry Kissinger, but the only one who questions this assumption is the offensive realism of John Mearsheimer, who sees all states in the sense of the anarchist need for security only as great powers and can imagine that an economically strong, democratic China or Russia could very well wage a war against another democratic great power like the USA, both then with the best democratic arguments as to who should be the democratic world power. A more hypothetical consideration but worth mentioning.
Now Russia and China want to try to get Iran, Erdogan, Turkey and Afghanistan into the SCO – without demands for democracy, human rights, women’s rights or LQBTIQA genderism. So, what is considered realpolitik and interest-driven. Afghanistan in particular will show whether the Chinese narrative of mutual material, economic prosperity without human righst and democracy through the Silk Road will inspire the Taliban differently than the West and whether the Washington Consensus will now be followed by a Beijing Consensus as in the Samarkand Declaration, especially since China certainly did not illicitly share the experience Great Britain, the Soviet Union or the USA/NATO and intervene militarilly– as it even couldn´t intervene at the moment due to lacking military power projection. But perhaps the Taiban also see the Chinese as too Western, Weberically rational, materialistic , modern and disenchanted with Islamist values. It remains to be seen whether there is a Chinese variant of modernism that could function as a successor to the Western modernist narrative with the Taliban. Whereby the Taiban are again the cruder form of Islamism and are only topped by the Islamic State. There is also the question of what triggers these backlashes. But are we talking about modernity or democracy? Is an authoritarian system that also is capitalist, technologically rational, administratively bureaucratic and has scientific research, perhaps even conservative values, not modernity? No western modernity? Is only democracy modern? And how did the repeated setbacks and backlashes occur after reforms? Was it just a misimplementation of capitalist economic and political reforms under Yeltsin, Gaidar and Jeffrey Sachs in Russia that led to the backlash under Putin, or in China the one-man dictatorship under Xi? Was it a consequence of neoliberalism? Is neoliberalism the same as modernity? Are such peoples simply not democratizable and will they always remain genetically and traditionally „Asian despotism“ or „Russian soul“? And would Dr. Kaesler change his steep theses again if Putin was overthrown and a democratic president in Russia gets elected? But do Putin and Xi still belong to modernity, since they also have capitalism and technology, or is modernity Popper´s democratic and open society? This is also an important distinction, especially since there are many female students in Iran, while the Taliban want to keep girls out of school and do not allow women in public spaces.In addition, Dr. Kaesler does not mention such backlashes as Trump, Orban, Kaczynski, Le Pen, Giorgia Meloni, etc. in the western camp but is limited to Islamism and specifically to Iran and Afghanistan. Aren´t the Western right winged parties and fascists also products of democratic globalism, its democratic expansion by war of choices, neoliberalism and financial crisis and the mentioned philosophers? The mass protests in Iran could one day overthrow the mullahs‘ regime and lead to democracy, provided they didn’t degenerate into a new civil war and a new Syria. The Arab spring was not just a CIA operation, but originated from the wish of young people and also other parts of the Arab people to get rid of their dictators and get access to the Western modernity, even democracy and human rights. However, it was brutally suppressed and there were not only democratic forces at work, but als Islamists and Muslimbrothers who took up the arms. At least such a change would then come from within and would not be attempted to be imposed from outside by a Western military intervention like Afghanistan or by means of the reckless and criminal Iraq war of 2003 (which Dr. Kaesler does not mention at all).
Reading recommendation: Manifesto of the Left Counterjihad
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