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Most of you will recall learning about the infamous Salem Witch Trials in elementary school. You may also have read or have seen Arthur Miller's landmark 1953 play, 'The Crucible'. He dramatised the 1692 event in one of his many and ultimately successful efforts to blunt, then end, McCarthyism.
What you may not know about the 1692 Massachusetts phenomenon--and a central aspect of the real historical event that the play doesn't take into account--is that every single accuser of witches at Salem was a member of the old, established farming class and every single person accused of witchcraft (and then hanged or stoned to death) was a member of the new commercial class whose livelihoods were increasingly more modern, dependent on trans-Atlantic trade. The fit is, as I say, 100%. The hero of 'The Crucible', John Proctor, is a tavern keeper whose stock-in-trade and ancillary ventures, all depended on overseas commerce.
Why do I think of this today? In fact, I think of this every time Al Quaeda is prominent in the news, and that's pretty much every day. Here's why.
The war within Islam (and against the West) is a war rooted in the religious/ideological hate that reactionary Muslims have for co-religionists who have made, from their point of view, a deal with the devil. The witchcraft of Western-facing, trans-oceanic commerce-embracing nations such as Dubai, elements within the Saud family...all Muslim nations increasingly willing to do business with the capitalist west...is, for the Mullah Omars and Osama bin Ladens not very different from the defections from traditional agrarian-based religious culture that the Salem witch-accusers so despised in 1692 America. Among the differences, of course, is that the Salem insanity never breached the village gates and reactionary Muslim madness is global (although not 'globalist'). They gave up gallows and rocks long since.
What does this lead me to think? It leads me to an irony as a lot in history does.
The irony is that the best long-term strategy to end the current evil's power to harm is not just to kill Al Quaeda but to continue to bring into the ongoing global capitalist enterprise those Muslim states who have already seen the benefits of joining and to bring in other states as well, even the poorer ones. They prosper as their middle classes are created and sustained. I am not making the old argument that says Foreign Aid = Loyal Friends. Everyone knows that's nonsense.
I am arguing that to the extent that the West can bring more Muslim nations into the circle of Western Capitalism in robust and not exploitative ways, wherein those nations see real long-term gains for their societies as a likely outcome, we'll win. We'll win because we have what the hundreds of millions of the very poor want, a sense of future. As that happens, Al Quaeda's nihilistic witch-hunting will be increasingly turned on by other Muslims (and, of course, that has already begun). In the meantime we still need airport scanners and we still need to kill as many in Al Quaeda's leadership as we can.
Follow-up: The New Jersey Senate voted 20-14 against gay marriage yesterday. Five states have now made gay marriage legal. My sense is that the state-by-state approach may well not be worth pursuing but that a court challenge centered on the 14th Amendment's Equal protection Clause just may be. The lawyers who squared off in 2000's Bush v. Gore, Ted Olsen and David Bois, have joined forces in this direction.