Ralph Peters has a column today that is sure to offend many people. That’s because it takes on the sacred scripture of multiculturalism: “Everybody is just like us.” Its title alerts the easily-offended: “Taliban From Outer Space.” He begins:
A fundamental reason why our intelligence agencies, military leaders and (above all) Washington pols can’t understand Afghanistan is that they don’t recognize that we’re dealing with alien life-forms.
Oh, the strange-minded aliens in question resemble us physically. We share a few common needs: We and the aliens are oxygen breathers who require food and water at frequent intervals. Our body casings feel heat or cold. We’re divided into two sexes (more or less). And we’re mortal.
But that’s about where the similarities end, analytically speaking.
Okay, he’s being deliberately provocative. But he makes a point we need to hear. Americans, including those in intelligence agencies, always proceed from the premise that our enemies are just like us. Peters has always disagreed.
I was an effective intelligence officer. Why? In junior high, I matured past the French Existentialists and started reading science fiction. The prose was often ragged, but the speculative frameworks offered a useful approach to analysis.
Begin with the view that all opponents are aliens from another cultural planet. Build your assessment from a blank slate. What do the alien collectives desire or fear? How do they perceive the galaxy? What are their unique weaknesses?
Right now our greatest military challenge is in Afghanistan. (This will be Obama’s quagmire, I predict.) So how should we think about our task there? Peters says:
Regarding Planet Afghanistan, we still hear the deadly cliché that “all human beings want the same basic things, such as better lives and greater opportunities for their children.” How does that apply to Afghan aliens who prefer their crude way of life and its merciless cults?
When girls and women are denied education or even health care and are executed by their own kin for minor infractions against the cult, how does that square with our insistence that all men want greater opportunities for the kids?
What about those Afghan parents who approve of or even encourage suicidal attacks by their sons? This not only confounds our value system, but defies biological reason.
His caveat will be ignored by his critics, I’m sure:
The point isn’t to argue that Afghans are inferior beings. It’s just that they’re irreconcilably different beings – more divergent from our behavioral norms than the weirdest crew member of the starship Enterprise.
And he concludes that the purpose of looking at Afghans as aliens from outer space is this:
This exercise is just meant to break our mental gridlock, to challenge our crippling assumption that we’re all merry brothers and sisters who just have to work through a few small understandings.
This is a “war of the worlds” in the cultural sense, a head-on collision between civilizations from different galaxies.
This way of looking at other cultures is, of course, extreme, and I doubt that Peters actually sees as little in common with Afghans as he indicates here. He is trying to shake us up, and a very useful goal that is. If I remember correctly, he thought the Iraqis were also so alien that it was useless to appeal to their longings for freedom, the principle that President Bush made a foundation of his foreign policy. The jury is still out on that one.
Peters’s “alien principle” is useful in looking at refugees. Our critics who post comments often take us to task for not realizing that refugees are people just like us who are in need; how can we not want to take them in? My answer is that they are just like us in being God’s children, “created equal” as the Declaration of Independence says. That doesn’t mean their values, beliefs and goals are just like ours.
Suppose someone in the State Department had looked at the Somali people in the way Peters recommends we look at the Afghans, starting from scratch, and asking:
Which actions of ours inflame the alien psyche? What will the alien willingly die for? What does the alien find inexplicable about us?
And then we could add some designed for refugees: How long will it take for the alien to adapt to such a strange environment? Does he want to adapt, or will he try to impose his culture on us? Are there mental or religious barriers to becoming American? If these questions were asked, and answered honestly, our refugee program would not look the way it does.
But if your religion is multiculturalism, you cannot ask these questions.