The shameful self-destruction of the West

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I’ve read a lot of quotes from Western leaders claiming the Taliban’s rapid reconquest of Afghanistan came as some sort of surprise to them. 

Here in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “We misjudged the development.” Her foreign minister Heiko Maas added, “All of us – the federal government, intelligence services, the international community – misjudged the situation.”

Claiming it was all a mistake — that they really believed the Afghan army would fight off the Taliban — is a self-serving attempt to distance themselves from the outrage sparked by videos of desperate people falling to their deaths after clinging to the landing gear of departing American aircraft. 

Military and intelligence services have been predicting this outcome for months. 

Unfortunately, the West has become too preoccupied with its own self-destruction to do much of anything about it.

While Western university students are being taught that the countries which gave them the opportunity to spend four years on campuses that are the most tolerant, open places in human history are in fact oppressive hellholes of ‘systemic racism’, capitalist exploitation and rampant homophobia, newly educated women, journalists and translators in Afghanistan are waiting for the inevitable sound of boots in the hallway, and a barbaric death at the hands of 8th century theocrats.

The scenes of desperation at Kabul’s airport as terrified citizens mobbed departing aircraft must have come as a shock to those who are convinced our countries are bastions of oppressive white supremacy. But the Afghans who lived under the previous Taliban theocracy know what actual oppression is.

And where is Canada in all this? 

My country fought in Afghanistan, too. We sent our soldiers to spill their blood on foreign soil, and made promises to our Afghan allies that we were working together to create a more tolerant world.

Our leaders should be in the House of Commons holding urgent debates about the growing humanitarian crisis the abrupt withdrawal of American troops has created. We should be talking about how we can help the people who worked with us, and how we can bring them to Canada.

Instead, parliament has been dissolved so Justin Trudeau can hold a pointless vanity election two years early, during a pandemic, spending an estimated $610 million dollars in taxpayer funds at a time of severe economic stress.

Trudeau has become known for six things: smug virtue signalling, corruption scandals, historically unprecedented levels of spending unshackled by parliamentary oversight, grovelling apologies, a fetish for blackface, and insisting that Canada is committing genocide — right now — against its indigenous peoples while refusing to condemn the actual genocide China is conducting against the Uyghurs.

I spent a month traveling through Xinjiang on my own twenty years ago. The horrible treatment being meted out to the Uyghurs back then was just a cruel but inefficient fraction of the technological dystopia Xi Jinping’s regime has turned against them now.

Canada has its flaws, like any nation. But traveling to more than 80 countries has taught me to appreciate what the founders of our country built, and what those who came before us achieved. 

I’ve seen what repression looks like in North Korea, Syria, Burma and China. And I’ve traveled through countries impoverished by decades of Marxism, like Nicaragua, Cuba, Laos, and Mongolia. Canada was regarded as a bastion of hope in such places, and a country in which to build a new life.

But Mr. Trudeau is deeply ashamed of our country. When asked which country he admires most, he said, “There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China. Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime.”

Far from expressing moral outrage at a regime that punishes criticism with economic retaliation, Trudeau is oddly enamoured of it. 

And now, rather than face inconvenient questions every afternoon in the House of Commons like his predecessors, the prime minister who has racked up unprecedented levels of debt while governing from a tent on the lawn of Rideau Cottage like some sort of Ottoman pasha is hoping to turn his parliamentary minority into a majority so he can ram through the ‘Great Reset’ he knows is best for all of us.

That utopian phrase appears alongside ‘Build Back Better’, a vague term which showed up in the speeches of nearly every Western leader simultaneously. Unfortunately, utopias have a way of turning inevitably into their opposite. 

Justin Trudeau is the hollow fruit of the system we created. 

Our society is obsessed with imaginary problems of our own invention. 

We’re busy purging science of biological gender, and creating bubble-wrapped ‘safe spaces’ to coddle the fragile individuals we’ve created so they can pat themselves on the back for buying fair trade coffee and saving the planet by going vegan.

The professors who once defended the Soviet Union long after the truth emerged about Stalin’s Russia and the astronomical body count racked up by Maoist China have turned our universities into bastions of ideological indoctrination, churning out blinded true believers who take their poisonous ‘critical theory’ into every government agency, cultural institution, and corporation they can infect, transforming stable institutions into parodies of common sense.

We’re busy ‘decolonizing’ mathematics, and teaching ‘other ways of knowing’ because rigorous logic is somehow a tool of white supremacy. Meanwhile, China, India and other rival economies are churning out the engineers and scientists who will inherit the world that we’re retreating from into a toxic realm of make belief.

Is this what we’ve done with the legacy passed down to us from the Greeks and Romans, and all those writers and thinkers who came before us? This pathetic narcissism?

If that’s what we’ve become, then we don’t deserve to be taken seriously. 

When Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, the West scolded Russia and applied economic sanctions — and eventually accepted the new geographical reality that they weren’t willing to do anything about.

When Bashar al-Assad crossed Obama’s ‘red line’ in Syria and gassed his own people, nothing happened.

And now the abrupt abandonment of Afghanistan has reduced America and allied countries to pleading with the Taliban for the safe release of their citizens. As for the Afghans who believed in our promises, we’ve left them behind to fend for themselves.

It isn’t as though we don’t know what will happen to them. We saw what the Taliban was before.

The result of this massive policy failure is a resurgent Islamist caliphate armed with abandoned American military hardware, and a new safe haven for violent extremism on the borders of an unstable nuclear power. 

Twenty years ago, the Taliban sheltered al-Qaeda, whose training camps became “a university of terror” for foreign jihadists. Will the country form a new base for a scattered but undefeated IS after the fall of their self-described caliphate in war torn Syria and Iraq?

We can expect another surge of terrorist attacks in Western cities, especially in Europe, where stabbing sprees and car attacks by religious extremists are greeted with the same sense of resignation as another school shooting in America.

This shameful shambles of a withdrawal has also sent a strong message to an increasingly belligerent China, Russia and Iran that the West has lost the will to fight for its allies. 

The threat level to Taiwan just increased considerably as a result of it. 

When China finally sets out to recapture its errant ‘province’, the West can be relied on to huff and puff and then back down. The response to growing Chinese aggression is likely to be a nuclear armed Japan and South Korea, no longer willing to rely on the American security umbrella, something we would have considered unthinkable ten or twenty years ago.

How far down the path of self-destruction will we go before pulling out of our deliberate nosedive?

Will the sane take back our institutions, and create some new, life-affirming iteration of the universities free of the vapid rage of grievance studies departments? Or will we continue to send our young people to be indoctrinated in asylums run by their own crazed inmates while undermining their future with crippling levels of debt?

Has the West abdicated its aspirations for global leadership? Will I live out my remaining years in a world increasingly dominated by the People’s Republic of China?

Are we living through what historians will look back on as another ‘fall of Rome’, to be followed by a centuries long dark age?

The post-WWII world that our parents and grandparents built ended with the Cold War years of my childhood. But the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked a turning point none of us was aware of at the time.

Far from ushering in the global embrace of liberal democracy, it planted the seeds of a new, more turbulent multipolar world of rival nation states that has more in common with the late 19th century than it does with the last 50 years of the twenty-first.

As the philosopher John Gray wrote last month, China and Russia are dominated by ideas that came from Western sources, “Not those of liberalism as traditionally understood, but mixtures of fascism, communism and integral nationalism.” 

“What the West confronts is not the threatening advance of alien civilisations but its own dark shadows.”

Unfortunately, we can’t cope with the dark shadows of the 20th century while we’re obsessed with acting out narcissistic adolescent fantasies on the national stage.

This latest shambolic retreat of the Western powers has reminded me that now is a good time to reread Thomas Hobbes.

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Columnist at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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Ryan Murdock

Author of Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Columnist at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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