Charles Moore is best known as a columnist and former editor of the Daily Telegraph. He is also the chairman of the Policy Exchange (Britain’s equivalent to the ‘Project for the New American Century). It is likely that his views inform those within the Conservative-led Coalition government, including some senior members of the government.
In a piece written for his regular column Mr Moore reviewed US President Barack Obama’s speech at Westminster Hall. It is this review that prompted the question: is he a ‘Jihadist’? Not a ‘Jihadist’ in the sense of someone who supports the Jihad of Muslims to liberate their land from foreign military occupation. But rather in a metaphorical sense, of someone who adopts the view that military power can be used to propagate their values across the world.
It would be inaccurate to compare Mr Moore’s apparently militaristic views to Jihad in the Way of Allah. The latter is a complex subject with many detailed and nuanced rules that cannot be abandoned simply for the sake of expediency. These rules would never have sanctioned a Hiroshima or Nagasaki; the Napalm bombing of villages in Vietnam; and the treatment of prisoners of war (or ‘enemy combatants’ as Donald Rumsfeld preferred) we have seen in the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.
But in his article Mr Moore does advocate an almost permanent need for military intervention in a manner that no politician could get away with in today’s war-wearied West.
He starts by tracing President Obama’s political journey from his acceptance speech in Chicago – where Obama said the “true strength of our nation” came “not by the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals” – through to his Cairo speech, which was complementary about Islam – ending with his much harder edged speech at Westminster.
Mr Moore seems pleased that President Obama has travelled some distance from his ‘left wing’ views blaming European colonialism for today’s troubles, as he puts it. Yet, he appears unconvinced that Mr Obama’s eloquent rhetoric matches his own vision. ‘Is Mr Obama a brilliant example of Anglo-American civilisation’s ability to reinvent itself,’ he asked, ‘or is he a figure of its silver age, providing a poetic commentary on its decline?’
He says that Obama got it wrong in Chicago at the outset of his Presidency when he said America’s strength was in its ideals not its wealth and arms. ‘The history of imperium’ argues Mr Moore, ‘is that money and arms and ideals are all related. You run out of one, and you find it harder to sustain the others.’
Retired General Sir Richard Dannatt seems to agree with Mr Moore in this regard. He has often propagated a ‘values’-driven military objective to the occupation of Afghanistan; not so much as to convert the Afghans to Western values, but to prevent the rise of Islamic values in the region. However in a recent BBC interview General Dannatt acknowledged the need to stabilise the economy as a precursor to military expenditure and as a condition for an activist, military backed foreign policy.
But Mr Moore goes further and seems to hold the view that Western ideals, the ones Mr Obama champions (in theory at any rate), require wealth and force as a necessary condition to propagate them successfully.
Aside from this being tantamount to an admission of weakness in the aforementioned ‘ideals’, one could argue that until this point Mr Moore believes that military force is a valid, even necessary, means to carry one’s values to the world. Hence the question in the title of this piece. But Mr Moore is unlikely to agree with the Islamic injunction that governs rules of Jihad that there must “be no compulsion in ‘deen ‘ ” (‘deen’ is an Arabic term meaning ‘way of life’ that includes religions or other beliefs including political views) because he seems to suggest that without compulsion the ideals on their own don’t have the punch to leave their mark permanently.
However, Mr Moore is no ‘Jihadist’. He goes well beyond championing the spread of ideals or values to see the world a better place.
He is, it seems to me, an unashamed Imperialist.
He analysed Obama’s view that the rise of the BRICs is no threat if they adopt Capitalism, in other words – ‘our’ ideals, first rehearsing the Obama argument: ‘The non-European world gets richer and freer by embracing Western values, and the West no longer has to be nasty to anyone.’ He then refutes this vision saying ‘ if America and Britain export only values and leave the dirtier stuff to others, what happens if the rising powers decide that, now they’ve got the guns and the money, they don’t need our values?’
His conclusion seems to be that ‘we’ (Britain and America) need the guns and money EITHER because ‘they’ (the Chinese, Africans and other people) can’t be trusted with these ideals; OR, more likely, because Mr Moore recognises that adoption of these Capitalist values, and acquiring arms and wealth, would make ‘them’ the more powerful, and eventually they could become the leading nations that would exploit and oppress other as much as their predecessors (in terms of wealth and might) did.
I do not believe that Mr Moore is an imperialist in the mold that believed in the inherent racial superiority of Europeans (and their offshoot nations) – although this sort did exist more commonly in the age of empire. However, his portrayal of others in the most extreme terms implying they are unfit to be trusted with wealth and power while at the same time suggesting that Britain and America benignly and altruistically executed their leadership, does leave itself open to this interpretation.
Far more likely than believing that the Chinese, Brazilians etc are incapable of being wholly and permanently ‘civilised’ by his values is his realisation that these values, in fact, civilise no one. Rather, they breed violence and oppression in the name of wealth, commerce and might.
What he failed to mention is that the values borne in the European enlightenment are dominated by economics – hence the name, Capitalism. Everything is very nice, but can be sacrificed the alter of profit and power when necessary. When values and interests collide, interests come first.
There has never been a direct connection between the freeing of markets domestically and the colonialism that accompanied opening new markets, and the political openness, tolerance, human rights that Mr Obama spoke of. This did not occur under the East India Company; this has not occurred in China; it has not occurred in the Gulf States, where there is a thriving trade in all manner of financial nonsense.
If this is what President Obama, Mr Cameron and the G8 wish for the Arab Spring, it will not create better conditions for the people. It will merely create the Arab equivalent of Putins and Deripaskas.
So, it would seem Mr Moore’s realisation – not expressed openly – is that if other countries adopt ‘our ideals’ they will become like ‘us’ – only more powerful. Then ‘we’ will suffer the consequences of Capitalist values at ‘their’ hands, unless ‘we’ retain the power to defend our interests.
This would be a recognition that these values are not benign; and also a view that we are returning to a multi-polar world and a new age of empires; and that is no recipe for global peace and harmony.
Yet his argument decrying this outcome is riddled with double standards.
He says: ‘China devotes its international energies not to human rights (which it detests), but to grabbing raw materials and securing trade routes. African dictators love China, because it sets no ethical conditions on its dealings with them.’ But since when did Britain and the United States, the originators and upholders of these ideals, shun Gulf Arab tyrants because of their human rights records? How much of the British Empire’s history in India, the Middle East and Africa was primarily about ‘grabbing raw materials and securing trade routes’?
‘While the British and Americans die in Afghanistan,’ he writes passionately ‘the Chinese enrich themselves and President Karzai’s associates by extracting copper there.’ Certainly they do. But probably less than Halliburton has enriched itself.
Moreover, try switching ‘Libyans’ for ‘British and Americans’, ‘Europeans’ for ‘Chinese’ and ‘oil’ for ‘copper’ – and see if the sentence makes sense. Indeed, apply this logic to the Iran-Iraq war, Congo, Sudan etc to see just how Mr Moore’s passion blinds him to the real world as it is, not as he sees it in his island story.
This blindness is no more apparent than when he cites, in support of his argument, none other than Benjamin Netanyahu addressing both houses of Congress. ‘There are 300 million Arabs in the Middle East, said Mr Netanyahu, and the only ones with full democratic rights are the one million who are citizens of Israel’. He omits that previously the so-called ‘moderate’ opposition to the so-called ‘hawkish’ Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni, threatened these Arabs with ‘full democratic rights’ with expulsion from the ‘Jewish State’ if a Palestinian state were formed.
Such omissions and double standards from Mr Moore would be laughable if it weren’t so likely that his opinion weren’t shared by policy makers.
Other serious commentators profoundly disagree with this view, calling less for less warmongering in the West. Simon Jenkins has argued that this causes resentment in the Muslim world, rarely brings the promised outcomes declared at the outset and is based on an exaggerated security threat. Max Hastings argues more pragmatically, that Britain should not keep fighting wars it is not resourced to do. So the Imperialist view does not go unquestioned.
Still, people like Charles Moore should be taken seriously because his views are likely quite representative of some of what Cameron, Osborne and Fox think but cannot say openly since it would be deeply unpopular with a war-weary electorate who do not trust the motives of politicians and are conscious of the tight economic situation. Such views need to be brought to the table openly so that they can be scrutinised and challenged, and so Mr Moore should be applauded for his timely piece that reminds us that for all its pretensions otherwise the West still has plenty of un-reconstructed imperialists.
Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain.