JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to thank you all for joining us.
It is an honor to welcome back to this podium one of America's foremost political philosophers, Michael Walzer. Professor Walzer is known for many things, but what always stands out is the reflective way in which he writes about politics and his lucid prose, both of which are to be found in reading his most recent book, entitled The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions, which is also the subject of our discussion today.
For those of you who may not be as familiar with the development of national liberation movements, let me begin by noting that liberation movements were a worldwide phenomenon that began between the first two world wars, but grew to massive proportions after 1945. In essence, these were drives for self-determination. The aim: to free certain geographical territories and their populations from regimes considered suppressive or from foreign rule.
In The Paradox of Liberation, Professor Walzer explores this issue by studying three national liberation movements that emerged after World War II: India in 1947, Israel in 1948, and Algeria 15 years later. When liberated from foreign rule, these countries initially succeeded in producing independent secular states based on democratic ideals. However, in recent times, each has been sharply attacked by three completely different groups of militant religious revivalist movement: Hindu nationalists in India, militant Zionists in Israel, and Muslim extremists in Algeria.
The stated paradox, secular revolutions and religious counterrevolutions, is obvious. But if you consider the original intent of these national liberation movements as Professor Walzer has done, you will note, as he has, that the outcome—that is, "the moral and political culture of these states, their inner life so to speak, is not at all what their founders expected." To this end, Professor Walzer asks: Why have the leaders and militants of secular liberation movements not been able to consolidate their achievements and reproduce themselves in successive generations? Why did they end up betraying the secular democratic hopes that they originally inspired? Why have people turned to religion, and what makes politics and religion such a deadly combination?
With a growing resurgence of fundamentalist movements worldwide, this paradox of liberation and what transpired most certainly merits further investigation. Please join me in welcoming a giant of a philosopher, who, with original and insightful analysis, has done just that. Professor Walzer, thank you so much for joining us today.
MICHAEL WALZER: Thank you.
This book is not really a piece of political philosophy. It is an exercise in comparative politics. And I'm not a comparativist, but when you reach a certain age, you can do anything you want. It seemed to me that the best way of responding to the religious counterrevolutions around the world was to think comparatively.
This is my subject. Joanne has already described it to you. In the years after World War II, in India, Israel, and Algeria, three secular, leftish — different kinds of leftism, but all of them leftish—national liberation movements, the Indian National Congress, the Labor Zionists, and the National Liberation Front [FLN], each succeeded in establishing an independent state, a secular state, and roughly 25 to 30 years later, this state was challenged by a militant, politicized revivalist religion. Three different religions, three very different countries; roughly the same time schedule. So what happened to national liberation?
The challenge continues. Hindu nationalists are in power today in India, but they have not yet won a definitive victory over the Nehruvian secularists. Secularism is still established in the Indian constitution.
In Israel, the messianic Zionists of the secular movement will be an important part of Netanyahu's new government and a pernicious influence on it.
In Algeria, after a brutal civil war in the 1990s, the radical Islamists have been repressed, but certainly not defeated. They could probably win a genuinely free election even today.
The aging militants of national liberation—I haven't been to Algeria, but I have met the aging militants (they are my age) in India and Israel—they were surprised by the religious revival. They all believed that history was on their side. The academic theory of inevitable secularization was also a popular leftist theory. Listen to Nehru writing in The Discovery of India, his big book in1935 [Editor's note: written 1942-46, published in 1946]. I memorized these sentences. They are so extraordinary: "Some Hindus dream of a return to the Vedas. Some Muslims dream of an Islamic theocracy. These are idle fancies," Nehru wrote in 1935, "for there is only one-way traffic in history."
When David Ben-Gurion made his agreement with the ultra-Orthodox to exempt their kids from the military draft, he was sure that they were going to be like the Mennonites or the Amish in the United States.
But along with this confidence in secularization, the liberation militants were also actively hostile to the religion of their people. The liberation they had in mind was doubled: first, from the foreign oppressor, the British, the French, but also from the oppression of the Hindu, Jewish, Muslim religious traditions and from the old religious authorities, the holy men—always men in those days—the sages and scholars who had mostly accommodated to foreign rulers and who ruled, themselves, over the everyday life of the people.
I should note that this second liberation was also supposed to be a liberation of women, who were, in each of these three religions, radically subordinated. Frantz Fanon, the leading intellectual of the Algerian Revolution, provides the best example in a number of his books. He writes, "The freedom of the Algerian people is now identified with woman's liberation, with her entry into history." Again, "In the movement [the FLN], the woman ceased to be a mere complement of the man. Indeed, it might be said that she pulled up her roots through her own exertions."
In the Algerian case, the liberation of women didn't last very long or reach very high. The FLN had its own glass ceiling. Still, women in the cities of Algeria gained new opportunities and new freedoms. This was true also—more true—of women in India and Israel.
The three religious revivals are driven in part—at least in part; I think in large part—by the fear of those liberated women, those self-uprooted liberated women. Of course, there are women among the revivalists, as all of you have read, women who apparently are comfortable with rigidly divided sex roles and with subordination to patriarchal authority. I don't understand that, and I'm not going to try to explain it. There are some easy explanations that I don't much like—false consciousness, brainwashing. Some good secularist student of politics has got to provide us with a better account of the women who are joining these religious movements.
But I do want to ask, more generally, what happened to liberation? Or, perhaps better—my deeper anxiety—what has happened to, what has gone wrong with the cultural reproduction of the secular left, the secular liberal and left? Or, again, how can we explain the persistence of the old religious culture? Actually, the religious zealots are something new—more modernist, more political, more ideological than anything in the tradition. But they feed off of the persistence of or the revival of traditional piety, which was, after all, the piety of most Hindus, most Jews—especially among the Sephardim, the Jews from North Africa and Mesopotamia—and most Muslims.
In a very important sense, the liberationists were, in each of these countries, at war with the people they wanted to liberate. That's the paradox of liberation and also, I should say, its ethical difficulty, because liberation was in all of these countries—most clearly in Algeria, but also in Israel and India—a top-down process.
My book is a defense of the liberationist project, but also a critique of its more radical versions. I can illustrate both the defense and the critique in the case I know best, the case of Zionism and Israel. I argue throughout for the similarity of the three cases. Although some early readers have questioned this, in India almost everyone I met welcomed the comparison with Israel, but hated the comparison with Algeria. One of my Yale University Press readers wondered if the Zionist case was comparable to the others, given the years of exile and the conflict with the Palestinians.
Actually, the Palestinians have gone through exactly the same process, but without achieving a state. A radically secular liberationist movement has been challenged by a religious revival. So the far left and radically secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—actually Popular Fronts (there was more than one) for the Liberation of Palestine—and also Fatah today are challenged by the revivalist militant Hamas.
Anyway, let me say something about the Zionist case. One of the central themes of Zionist agitation from the beginning was the negation of the exile, which meant not just ending the exile, but overcoming the mentality of the exile. Early Zionist writers were fiercely critical of that mentality, and the name of that mentality was Judaism. "The thousand-year-old hereditary disease" is what Herzl called it.
Some of these early Zionist writers sounded much like anti-Semites, as Orthodox opponents of Zionism were very quick to point out. Zionists, most of them, meant the Jewish state to be a nation-state, definitely not a religious state. Zionist intellectuals worked hard to distinguish the Jewish people from the Jewish religion, some of them even saying that there could, might one day be ethnic Jews who were religiously Buddhists, Muslims, or Christians. Except for the Buddhists, that has turned out to be a fantasy, but it was very distinctly a secular Zionist fantasy.
The religious revival in Israel provides a particularly clear case of what I think is happening in the other countries also. There are, on the one hand, the messianic Zionists of the settler movement, militant and modernist, unlike anything in the history of traditional or Orthodox Judaism. There is some resemblance to the 17th-century messianic movement centered around Shabbetai Zevi, but this time without an actual pretender messiah. On the other hand, there is the remarkable growth of ultra-Orthodox piety and practice.
I think the first feeds off of the second and that something similar is happening in India and Algeria also—a revival of traditional piety and alongside it, feeding off of it, modernist zealotry, both of them, I should say, totally unexpected by the liberationists.
What went wrong? That question reveals my own sympathies, but it is a question a lot of people are asking. Obviously, there are material and political factors different in each of the three countries, although you can see in all of them that after 25 or 30 years, the ruling party—the Indian National Congress, the Mapai in Israel, and the FLN—became complacent. The second generation was not as idealistic as the first. All three parties became corrupt, and, of course, the religious revivalists are righteous. Whatever else they are, they don't take bribes. So there are material and political factors.
But I want to stress the difficulties of secularization. Here I think there are two answers to the question "What went wrong?" which may seem inconsistent but actually stand together: first, the fierceness and absolutism of the secular militants, the top-down quality of their work, and then the internal weakness of secular culture. The idea of radical newness nicely symbolizes the fierceness. There is an extraordinary literature in each of the countries about the "new Jew," the "new Algerian," the "new Indian." The militants of national liberation rejected everything that was old, everything which, according to them, made for weakness, passivity, fearfulness, and accommodation with foreign rulers. The traditional religion was the central culprit. Newness was identified with secular strength and vitality, with activism, self-confidence, and, above all, self-help.
There was also supposed to be a new culture that went with the new men and women. Remember the effort of the French revolutionaries to create a new culture, a new calendar—unfortunately, 10 days with only one day of rest, which wasn't very smart—a new calendar, civic oaths, the Festival of Reason, much, much more. But it didn't take, not in 1789 and not in 1848 either. It took French secularists 120 years before the definitive separation of church and state, which happened in France in 1905.
The liberationists did better culturally, I think—new holidays, new heroes, songs and dances, poetry, novels. It all worked pretty well for a generation or two, and then it didn't work, or didn't work well enough. It was all too thin, too artificial compared to the traditional religion.
One example which has struck me, not only in visiting Israel and India, but also here in the United States: The old religion marked the life cycle, providing occasions and ceremonies of celebration for the birth of a child, for the coming of age of a child, for marriage, and then it provided rituals of mourning for people dealing with the death of loved ones. The secularists didn't do well with any of these moments. Even people who have no religious faith continue to celebrate these occasions and look for religious rituals because there is no alternative. I don't mean that some of the secularists didn't try, but it just has not worked very well.
I remember my own experience here, the funeral of a Jewish atheist, leftist, where nobody knew what to say or when to cry. It doesn't work.
So in all of these countries, the familial practice of the traditional religion continued, even while secularism was triumphant in the political world.
I argue in the book for a liberationist engagement with the traditional religion. It would have to be a critical engagement, but it has to be an engagement. It can't be a negation. It can't be a denial. That seems to me a moral requirement and a democratic requirement if some kind of secular democratic culture is to be achieved. Let me give one example of that effort.
Consider the organization—I don't know if any of you have heard of it. It's quite a remarkable organized called Women Living Under Muslim Laws, WLUML. It's not a great acronym. Women Living Under Muslim Laws is an organization that is active across North Africa and also among the Muslim minority in India. (I should say that the Muslim minority is 120 million people.) WLUML is an activist organization. It's an alliance of both secular and religious Muslim women who search in religious texts for arguments against the gender hierarchy, and who find them, who then defend gender equality within the religion of their people.
Something similar has been going on in the Jewish world, where feminist scholars are producing some wonderful new readings of Biblical and Talmudic texts. A recent book, a quite wonderful book, by Uma Narayan called Dislocating Cultures argues for a similar effort among Hindu women.
Maybe this sort of thing wouldn't have worked early on. Maybe the first liberationists had to be absolute in their rejection of religion. But I think this kind of engagement may be the best way of responding now to the religious zealots.
Before I finish, I should tell you that there is a Marxist critique of any project like mine and of the original liberationist project. It's best represented by Perry Anderson, the founder of New Left Review and probably the leading British left intellectual for the past half-century.
In a series of articles in the London Review of Books he dealt with India, Israel, and Ireland. He poses very similar issues. He claims that national liberation was a mistake from the start and that the militants shouldn't be surprised—have no right to be surprised—at the strength of religious zealotry because the religious revival is a direct product of national liberation. Or better, "national liberation" is a contradiction in terms. It was never a leftist or a liberating project, because liberation can't be national. It is the nationalism of the militants that invites the fierceness of the religious revivalists. The two are really the same thing. They both depend on narrow chauvinist appeals to historical memories and tribal emotions to blood and soil. What true liberation requires is an internationalist movement, transcending all boundaries, bringing all the oppressed peoples and all the subaltern groups together.
If that sounds a little old-fashioned to some of you, I think many liberal philosophers in this country and in Great Britain would make a similar argument, though in a different idiom. They would argue that liberation cannot be particularist in character, must be cosmopolitan and universalist, and that both nationalism and religion are too parochial to be genuinely liberating.
There is also a post-colonial critique, different from the Marxist one, which holds that both the secular state and the religious revival are similar creations of the colonial regime. But I have some difficulty here. I understand the jargon of the Marxists, but I can't always grasp the jargon of the post-colonialists. Amartya Sen has written that he reads them with a dictionary in his hand and still doesn't quite get it.
The Indian writer Ashis Nandy is better than the others, at least with his English prose. He defends a pre-colonial Hinduism which was fuzzy, pluralistic, pantheistic, anarchic, and generally incapable of sustaining anything like the zealotry of the Hindutva militants. Nehruvian secularism and Hindutva militancy, according to Nandy, are both colonialist productions imposed on ancient Indian culture by Indian imitators of the West.
So again, the elders of the Indian National Congress, like the old Labor Zionists or the old FLNers, shouldn't be surprised. The liberators were Westernizers who retained the structures, who shaped the civil service of a Western state, and so they invite their religious opponents to challenge them for control of the state. But this is a fight between similars.
The post-colonial writers are certainly right when they say that the liberationists were Westernizers. That's true of all of them. Nehru spent eight years in English schools, in England. Winston Churchill called him a communist, but he was a good Fabian socialist. Speaking to John Kenneth Galbraith late in his life, Nehru said that he was the last Englishman to rule in India.
David Ben-Gurion and all of his associates in Mapai were Central European social democrats.
The FLNers, not only Fanon, but many of the intellectuals of the movement, were Francophile Marxists. They hated the French occupation of Algeria, but they went to school with the French left.
But all of these people failed to naturalize the values of the European left in their own culture. That is, I think, the striking failure of the liberationist militants. They failed to find in their own culture texts, historical moments with which they could make their own values—that is, the values of independence, of individual liberty, of some version of equality, of feminist/gender equality—make these values coherent with the culture of their own people. That still seems to me a project worth thinking about and worth working on.
QUESTION: I'm Craig Charney, from Charney Research. We specialize in surveys in developing and crisis countries. We have worked in all three of the countries that you are writing about, in fact.
I have to admit, when I listened to your presentation, which I thought was terrific, the convergence of themes between right and left did make me think of the old Woody Allen joke about what would happen if you merged Dissent and Commentary. (Editor's note. Joke: "I heard that Commentary [right-wing magazine] and Dissent (left-wing magazine, edited by Dr. Walzer] had merged and formed Dysentery.)
But more specifically, the question in my mind was this: It seemed to me that when you talked about the liberation project as one that was essentially of the left, you were taking the liberationists' own rhetoric at face value. What's striking about all three of the cases you describe is that the national liberation movements swallowed up, encompassed, their societies, including all the contradictions of those societies, right and left, rich and poor, privileged classes and subordinate classes.
I remember from the days back when I was a Marxist that there was a critique to be had of this, which is essentially that these coalitions could not hold, that they would eventually fall apart under their own contradictions. In all three cases they did.
What I find striking about the groups that you identify as religious is that they also are all identified not just with the cultural right, but with the economic and political right—the Likud, the BJP [Indian People's Party], and, the thesis less well defined, but certainly the FLN is associated with state capitalism in Algeria.
The question is, to what extent is the religious issue that you are pointing to something that is actually an ideology or other association with what is a more fundamental economic and political conservative project?
MICHAEL WALZER: Yes, all of these movements were coalitions. They included both more radical and more conservative people. In the Indian case, Nehru's first justice minister, who wrote the constitution, Ambedkar, who was an untouchable lawyer, educated here in New York and in London, was quite far to the left of other members of the Indian National Congress.
In those early days, in each of these countries, because everybody believed in the inevitability of secularization, it looked as if the opposition to these three parties would come from the left—socialists and communists in India, Mapam, which was a left socialist party critical of the Mapainiks in Israel, and the people in the FLN, many of them Berbers, who were genuinely committed to a multi-party democracy and who very quickly after 1962 were either in exile or in prison. But that didn't happen. In none of these countries did a strong left opposition develop to the policies of the ruling parties. In each of these cases—but it took 25 years—the opposition came from a combination of right-wing political and religious figures.
You're right that the religious parties—at least some of them—have a right-wing economic program. That's true in Israel. It's true not only of Likud, but also of the settler Zionists, but not true of the ultra-Orthodox, who believe in state help and state subsidy, at least for their own people. It's probably not true of the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, which probably would have advocated some version of Islamic socialism, which might or might not have turned into a state capitalism.
It is a mixed story. As I said, there are material and political factors in each of these countries. Independence did not bring universal prosperity, which is what many people naïvely expected. There were economic failures—some success stories, but also failures in each of these countries, which made possible a right-wing entrepreneurial-focused politics.
But I still find it very, very significant that the religious revival is able to pull so many people in. I think those of us who are not religious have got to try to understand why that is true. Right now it's Islamic zealotry that is in the headlines all over our press and media. But, in fact, the religious revival is a global phenomenon. We find not only Hindu nationalist militants, but we find marauding Buddhist monks—totally unexpected; we all thought of Buddhism as a religion of passivity and pacifism—Jewish zealots, Muslim zealots. The Christian fundamentalists are mild compared to all of these groups, but there is also a revival here.
We have to try to understand that. I think we have got to look for weaknesses in the secular culture.
I think your idea that secularism is really the god that failed is a very powerful idea, but I want to question one element of it. It seems to me that there are so many different definitions of secularism, even among the cases you have chosen. In India, which is the case I know best, secularism doesn't at all mean irreligion, and Nehru wasn't at all alone in fomenting the Indian revolution. He had Gandhi by his side. Secularism in India means not giving state advantages or state recognition to any of the various faiths.
I think what you are seeing in India now is a very interesting test, which India has not yet failed, of its version of the secular ideal. The fact that Modi, who is the nightmare of secularism, has so far been far more focused on secular issues, on national issues, and much less on the Hindu agenda may be because in the Indian political culture he recognizes that violating secularism actually would be politically bad for him. That's a supple form of secularism.
MICHAEL WALZER: I agree. I'm worried about Modi. Indian friends tell me that the work that is being done in the world of education is quite dangerous, because textbooks are being rewritten, and that's less visible than what we have seen him do so far. I'm also worried because of the example of Erdoğan in Turkey, who for some years paid homage to Turkish secularism. It took some time before he revealed his actual agenda.
But I do think that secularism has power in Israel and India. It has the support of the army in Algeria, as it once did in Turkey and still does in Egypt. So there is a democratic secular project, most visible in India and Israel, and there is an authoritarian secular project. I guess the classic example is Lenin in Russia.
An Indian friend once said to me, "Nehru was too much of a British liberal. What we needed was an Ataturk." But even Ataturk's work is not permanent.
But, yes, I agree. I think the achievement of Ambedkar, not only in the constitution, but in the civil law for Hindus, is something that will take a long time to unravel and I hope won't be unraveled.
QUESTION: I'm Helena Finn, a former U.S. diplomat. I spent years in Pakistan, in Israel, in Turkey. This was—thank you so much—fascinating.
I wanted to ask you whether there are other global factors. Turkey, for instance, is a post-mperial, not post-colonial society, but we see the same phenomenon, and even the return to orthodoxy in Russia, although other factors are involved there. I'm wondering whether, for instance, other factors such as demography, climate change. Certainly, as someone who spent a long time in Turkey, I do see the demographic influence on the return to religious devotion and religion in politics.
MICHAEL WALZER: Yes, I should have mentioned the demographic issue. In addition to the problem of cultural reproduction of the secular left, there is also the physical reproduction of the secular left, which has faltered rather badly compared to the physical reproduction of the religious.
I do think the phenomenon is global. I focused on these three countries because in these three countries there was—actually in India and Israel, and putatively in Algeria—a democratic secular effort which succeeded, at least for a while. These are also the three countries, so to speak, that I grew up with. I was coming to political consciousness during these years. I actually had views on what the French should and shouldn't do in Algeria in 1962. But the phenomenon is global. It affects places where the secularization was authoritarian and places where it was democratic.
The only case where the academic doctrine of inevitable secularization seems to be working, seems to be true, is Western Europe, where all the churchmen complain of declining attendance, declining interest in becoming clerics. But in the rest of the world, clearly not. I do think we—I'm a secular Jew—have to think about the internal weaknesses of secularism and the appeal of religion.
QUESTION: First of all, thank you very much. John Hirsch.
You didn't talk about the United States. It would seem to me that almost all the points you are raising are relevant to what's happening in the United States. Religious liberty was supposedly one of the starting motives of the people who came here. Much, much later we put the words "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance—"nose under the tent" in a way, from that point of view. Now we have this huge rise of the religious right.
Do you want to sort of relate your themes to what's happening in this country?
MICHAEL WALZER: I want, first, to say something about what happened in this country. When I gave these lectures—the book comes out of the Stimson Lectures at Yale—half of the questions were not about India, Israel, or Algeria, but they were about the United States. People said, "Look, the United States had a revolution. We didn't call it a national liberation movement, but that's what it was. It was followed 25 years later by an extraordinary religious revival, the Second Great Awakening. So what is the American story?"
I have added a postscript in the book dealing with the American story, which is a defense of American exceptionalism. The Second Great Awakening didn't challenge the secular state; it reinforced the secularism of the early republic. I don't know how many of you actually understand the radicalism of American secularism in those early days. Let me tell you one story. It's a favorite story.
In 1810, the U.S. Congress voted that mail should be delivered seven days a week. This provoked a Sabbatarian agitation among the more established Protestant churches—Anglicans, Presbyterians, some Congregationalists. In 1829, the issue came back to Congress, and it was sent to the Senate Committee on Post Roads and Post Offices. The Senate committee was headed by an evangelical Baptist from Tennessee named Johnson, who brought a report back to the U.S. Senate saying that the United States government could not recognize a religious day of rest and mail had to be delivered seven days a week.
The report went on—it's really an astonishing document, and apparently quite popular, because this Senator Johnson became Van Buren's vice president some six, seven years later—the report went on to say: "All the world lives in religious bondage, but the fathers of the American republic designed a Constitution to free us from the bondage of religion, and that Constitution requires that mail be delivered seven days a week."
That law was not repealed until 1905, but it was eroded across the country locally. In fact, the most famous story of the Sabbatarian protests took place in Princeton, New Jersey, where a post office coach was stopped on Nassau Street on a Sunday and the driver of the coach was required to spend the night in Princeton and not resume his travels until Monday.
This incident is reported in all of the discussions. It's a wonderful story, and it does suggest that the evangelical Protestants of those days were very, very different from the evangelical Protestants of these days, because they were quite radical secularists—very, very religious, but absolutely committed to a secular state.
QUESTION: My name is Youssef Bahammi. I am here as a representative of, first of all, in politics, the Democratic Party as a precinct chair from Montgomery County in Ohio. I'm active in the Democratic Party here as well. I represent also the Halsten Enterprise as a program specialist.
Very interesting debates regarding the paradox of liberation. My question will be regarding the fact that if you are there with the idea that the neocolonialism has been created after World War II. I come back to the fact that countries have been getting their independence between the 1950s and the 1970s, and Tito and Gamal Abdel Nasser from Egypt agree with Nehru on that, that a third pole had to be created during these years of division in the world.
So my question is, do you read the fact that neocolonialism has been the result of basically the mixture of secularism with the impact of the past colonialism, which has created a problem of communication, and therefore it has made the dimension of differences and divided nationalism inside of each country bigger and bigger, the further we move forward in history, the further from the colonialism era?
MICHAEL WALZER: I think the story of the engagement of the colonial powers in the successor states is an important story, and a long and complicated story. The influence of the ex‑colonialists is sometimes pernicious, sometimes, as in Mali today with the French, I think, advantageous to the people of these countries.
But I don't think the religious revival is a response to neocolonialism. In the Algerian case, which is the one I have studied, the Islamic Salvation Front was a response to the radical secularism of the FLN and also the Westernizing politics of the FLN—actually, we should say the Easternizing, since they looked to Eastern Europe, not to Western Europe for their actual models of the economy. But they were, in that sense, not so different from French communists. The Islamic Salvation Front was a response to that, and not to the continuing influence of the French in the Algerian oil industry. I really don't think that was a significant factor.
In Nigeria today, where Western oil interests have certainly played an important and not always helpful role, I don't think Boko Haram is a response to those Western oil interests. I really think it is—it has religious roots. It is conditioned by the poverty, the economic failures in Northern Nigeria, but we have to understand it as a religious movement. [For more on Boko Haram, don't miss John Campbell's recent Carengie talk.]
I want to say something. You didn't raise the question directly, but you raised it implicitly. There is this argument that the root cause of religious radicalism is imperialism or poverty. The difficulty with that is that poverty, oppression, discrimination is the root cause of many, many different things. It's the root cause of leftist political movements. It's the root cause of criminal gangs. If you think of the French suburbs, it's the root cause of pathetic or not so pathetic efforts at assimilation, trying to look French, to talk French.
It's the root cause of everything that is happening, or at least it's one of the key conditions. But when you ask what, specifically, is causing leftist agitation or criminal gangs or assimilation or religious zealotry, you have to introduce other factors between the imperialism/poverty/ discrimination/oppression and these effects. Root-cause analysis, I think, doesn't actually help us in figuring out why now religious zealotry is coming out of places where classical Western sociology would expect left-wing politics.
QUESTION: Michael, just a quick question. Project forward. Do you think there will be a counter-reaction to the description you have now of revivalism? History is full of movements and counter-movements. Do you see this as a line going forward for another 100 years? If not, what would cause a reversal?
MICHAEL WALZER: I do think that these phenomena do burn themselves out. Religious revivals in the United States—the Second Great Awakening was more or less asleep again 30, 40 years after the 1820s. It fed into the abolitionist movement in important ways. But these religious movements, like ideological movements, do reach a fever pitch and then go into some kind of decline. It's important, I think, that they be opposed. Sometimes the opposition has to be forceful, but it also has to be ideological.
I recently published an article in Dissent magazine called "Islamism and the Left," which is a critique of leftist apologists for Islamic radicalism. I think the ideological wars are an important part of countering the effect of religious zealotry.
On the other hand, the Christian Crusades, which began at the end of the 11th century, lasted 100 years, 150 years. Of course, most Christians were not crusaders, just as most Muslims are not jihadi militants. Most Christians listened to sermons telling them to march to Jerusalem and then went home.
It's important that the zealots are always a minority. But they are right now activist. Their fervor obviously has some kind of appeal, much wider than the appeal of our liberal, left, secular, democratic—whatever we are—ideologies.
QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.
Your paradox is very striking, but if we look at reality, if we take a march to Jerusalem, for example, the secularists in their original conception of Israel, a Jewish state, established the Jewish holidays of the Bible—the New Year and the harvest festivals and so forth. They taught the Bible in the secular schools. It was a national phenomenon. Even today, there is a whole spectrum of interpretations, so that not all Orthodox are way-right and fanatical. There are the modern Orthodox, who do serve in the army. There are just different interpretations.
Furthermore, there is the role of the universities.
This is the question: Can't you accept, won't you accept that there are variations and gradations, and also the role of the universities in reaching them?
MICHAEL WALZER: Yes, I think it's important to recognize the entanglements of religion and politics, which the liberationists were eager to disentangle. The Jewish holidays were reinterpreted as national rather than religious holidays. Passover, which we are still in the middle of, was the celebration of national liberation. Hanukkah was the celebration of religious freedom. These were not the way Orthodox Jews thought about these holidays. If you read the Haggadah, there is nothing about national liberation. There is divine deliverance. That is the story.
The secular militants worked very, very hard to create a secular version of Jewish culture. It would have been easier if we had a different word for the religion and the people. Think of how easy it is to discuss Norway and Lutheranism. Lutheranism is the established church in Norway, but we have no difficulty saying that Norway is a national state and Lutheranism is the religion of most Norwegians. But the word "Jewish" refers both to a people and a religion. In 2,000 years of statelessness, the entanglements grew so close that it was really a major, major project to disentangle the religion from the ethnicity. Obviously, it didn't entirely work, because anyone who actually reads the history of the Maccabean Revolt will realize that the Maccabees were more like the Taliban than like the American Civil Liberties Union. But we all grew up with the Maccabees as defenders of religious freedom.
I do want to say, the religious zealots are not the only religious people. That's why I talked about the women of WLUML, who are, most of them, pious Muslims, but committed to a new version of Islam and working very, very hard to create it. It's true in all these countries that there are religionists of very different stripes.
JOANNE MYERS: I want to thank you so much. It was really a privilege having you with us this morning.