The attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York in 2001 is widely considered as one of the most pivotal events at the turn of the century. It has been a major consideration for recent strategic, security, economic and political issues. There has been number of books and research that has focused on developing insights and determining the impact of the attacks. These efforts indicate not only the interest in the issue but also the variety of opinions and perspectives on the issue.
There is a suggestion that thought there has been an abundance of literature regarding the issue it does not mean that the issue has been exhausted or even sufficient. His opinion is based on his assessment that much of the literature regarding it has not been able to accommodate the disparities between Western and Middle Eastern perspectives. The implication is that there is a need to update perspectives on the issue to respond to both historical and developing enmity that leads to violent attacks against nations, cultural groups or even ideologies.
Summary John Brenkman’s 2007 book “The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thoughts since September 11”, is one of the books that is trying to analyze the impact implication of the World Trade Center attacks not only to the parties directly involved but to democracy, politics and security. His discussion links the event into the context of war history, politics as well a globalization and terrorism (1-3).
The introduction of the book discusses the development of political in the context of war and aggression: he discusses the seemingly ironic relationship of war and democracy, pointing out that democratic institution can be often associated with military or political action to control or suppress the public within or outside the state (9-14). He also brings to a humanistic level political philosophies developed by Hobbes and Kant (4-5).
These highlight the lack of congruence between philosophy and actual experience which the attributes to personal and strategic motivations. In the succeeding chapter of the book, Brenkman illustrated the dynamics of power, personal prerogatives and motivations and culture in the establishment of policies and measures of governance. Citing Max Weber in attributing these variances to “politician’s subjectivity”, the implication is that though policies may seem to be uniform or at least similar, analysis of these reveals that they motivated individually (25).
He uses the invasion on Iraq in pursuit of Al Qaeda to illustrate this idea (104-105). He points out that the decision to do so, as well as the continued presence of troops in the country support the objective to reign in international terrorism. However, he also points out that it also involves power and military dynamics to establish that such actions will reserve retribution (43-49). This reinforces the status of the United States as a world power and therefore deters future attacks (69-74).
Later chapters of the book seek to discuss undercurrent issues that developed from the September 11 attacks. The bulk of discussion focuses on the valuation of various philosophical perspectives, in particular the inconsistencies in political and security policies. He considers these maneuverings as a consequence of the need to maintain international alliances as a security and economic measure (135-139). He also considers the changing dynamics in international organizations that is challenging traditional geographic alliances (118-119).
His assessment is that the real impacts of the world Trade Center attacks are yet to be fully revealed and that there is a high degree of uncertainty in the future which will require new strategies in mediation and diplomacy (177-179). Review The book covers a wide range of topics and perspectives from the author and a number of philosophers and theorists. This implies the author’s significant effort and respect of insights regarding the topic but also can prove to be challenging for readers.
This may be motivated by the author’s desire to establish the historical context of the issue and the subsequent response to it. One thing that is made clear through Brenkman’s discussions is that there is a need to understand that the “War on Terror” is not just about responding terrorism but also a means of enforcing political objectives. Areas of Concern For Brenkman, politics is to be considered in context of individuals’ relationship with the state. Though this opinion is with its merits, valuation of the modes and impacts of such relationships are difficult to quantify.
Furthermore, there is n assumption that the public has a high degree of participation and impact in the determination and development of policies. However, considering the diminishing level of participation in governance, evidenced by electoral turnout is the United States, this can prove to be challenging. Furthermore, succeeding discussions on the Afghanistan and Iraq War will eventually displace the role of civil democracy in the interest of interventionism which in turn challenges the independence of states and freedom considered cornerstones of democracy (181-185).
Throughout the book, there are a number of valid insights but a great deal effort is required of readers to develop a comprehension of the Brenkman’s complete thesis. For example, he initially highlights that the primary duty of the state is to its people but will eventually suggest the predominance of ethical and moral standards (53-56; 126-129). The problem is that his definition of the latter is very abstract and subjective: thus, justification of a state’s actions will similarly be fluid compromising evaluation of policies as well as the definition of stakeholders and responsibilities.
Another point that proves to be problematic is Brenkman’s characterization of the Islamic or Middle Eastern conflict as a “’geo-civil war” (21). Considering that both invasions to Afghanistan and Iraq are considered to be based on the objective of eliminating Al Qaeda and its supporters, there seems to be discrepancy in Brenkman’s evaluation of the justification of the action. He considers the former to be justified because it is a direct response to the September 11 attacks but the invasion of Iraq is not justified because it caused international conflict.
There is also an emphasis on the culture as a source of conflict, supporting Samuel P. Huntington’s premise of a “clash of civilizations” (35). Brenkman contends that the difficulty in the region stems from cultural reasons that in turn influence the territorial and political contentions in the region. At the same time, he repeatedly cites the need to understand cultural differences are often superficial and enmity associated with it often are more dependent of the politics of power.
In effect, there is a lack of cohesion in the treatise presented by Brenkman that belies the significance of the insights he develops regarding the Iraq War, Al Qaeda, terrorism and statehood. Selling Points Brenkman’s books challenges readers to evaluate what constitutes political thought and how they are subject to individual motivations and in turn affect policies. He encourages the textual analysis of policies and political statements and states that accepting them at face value leaves the bulk of their impact from scrutiny.
He also points out that the contradictions in policies are not just based on difference in states’ motivations but are also reflected in the treatise of leading philosophers and experts in the field. Understanding these differences will allow not only a better understanding of today’s political affairs but also the aspirations behind them. If this perspective is to be taken, then the perceived lack of cohesion in the book is not so much as a fault on the side of Brenkman but rather the nature of existing political though and practice.
Thus, the lack of cohesion in the book can not be attributed solely to the author but is merely reflective of the contradictions that exist in political thought and practice. Another selling point for the book is that though it is exhaustive, there is no effort to convince readers of the author’s opinion. The aim of any persuasive effort on the part of Brenkman is the need to resolve reality and philosophy and apply it in developing insights to political issues.
One aspect that he emphasizes is the power of legitimization of policies. He points out that regardless of the congruence of policies to political philosophy, ethics, morality or any another strategic objective, establishing legitimacy of the policy is critical in deterring censure and retaliation (46). Brenkman points out that the reasons behind the interest in the Middle East goes beyond the existence of threats but also because of economics, international security and politics, thus the geo-political characterization.
He then points out that the urgency in developing peace and development for the region needs to recognize the cultural issues that have developed, thus considering cultural differences as both a influencing and affecting conflicts (166-168). He then applies this rationale in his evaluation of the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The invasion of Afghanistan is legitimate because it was a direct action to the September 11 attacks but the invasion of Iraq has questionable legitimacy since it is not a stronghold of Al Qaeda. He says that the President George W.
Bush’s “claim of defending or ex- tending freedom to his policies” is an effort to exercise action against Saddam Hussein who has been his father’s, former President George Bush Sr. , political enemy (103-105; 137-139). Thus, on further analysis, there is still a consistency in Brenkman’s treatise. The most critical of the sights that can be developed from Brenkman’s book is the need for individual states to define themselves while also making an effort to establish universal principle in policies among nations and to allow other nations to do the same (191-198).
In his suggestion to use time tested philosophical perspective, regardless if they are contradictory or not, instead that of current political leaders, readers will be able to develop a better understanding of issues. He points out that it is inevitable that issue be colored with opinions and personal motivations and thus the need to analyze issues objectively and multi-laterally. Conclusion In reading Brenkman’s book, there should not be an assumption that the author is giving his opinion or passing judgment on the issue.
To be able to appreciate the book, there should be instead a presumption that the book is a discussion or investigation of the issue. One of the challenges in developing any culturally related competency is that inherently, anything that is different from our own background or perspective will resist understanding. However, as Brenkman pointed, with a little genuine effort, it is enough to develop intimate insights on the undercurrent motivations behind political decisions and relationships.
Taken individually, there are undeniably times that Brenkman seems to contradict himself and his interpretations of the philosophies and thought regarding the September 11 attacks and the subsequent response to them. Though this raised a desire for a amore streamlined opinion on the issue, review and re-readings of the books allowed for the realization that the contradictions are what prompts readers to analyze the issues academically. Thus, if for this reason alone, Brenkman deserves commendation. Work Cited Brenkman, John (2007). The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thought Since September 11. Princeton University Press
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