October 25, 2014
We are bad at long-term planning. It is not natural for Americans to think much beyond the next business quarter, election, or war strategy. Unlike Europe, we have no long history or artifacts such as cathedrals, nor memories of endless warfare. For this reason, and because we have a president who is by nature allergic to “stupid conflicts,” an equally allergic public is asking about an end game to this protracted war against terrorism.
The longest-term policy that we once had was almost a fluke: the policy of containment: western alliances against Soviet Union takeovers in a war that remained for the most part cold. Had it not been cold, we would all be dead by now because a nuclear conflict was always a possibility. We lucked out and the Soviet Union collapsed of its own weight.
Instead of finding the ”end of history” as Francis Fukuyama famously declared, believing that the global order was such that no new major conflicts could possibly emerge, we have been plunged into a new long-term war that we even have trouble naming. We call it the war against terror, the war against extremism, the Iraq or Afghan wars, but carefully avoid calling it what it really is: an ideological war between liberal world order (our gift to the planet) and a religion that has not changed since the 12th century until its re-emergence as a marriage of literal theology with fascism.
It is a continuation of the ideological struggles we faced in World War II and the Cold War. But in those cases, we were fighting against nation states (actually, empires). We could give names to these wars. But we are reluctant to identify our current struggles as a war against Islam, although this is what it is. And it is even more significantly a war within Islam.
This is as much a war against an ideology as were our wars against Nazism and Communism. We are not fighting against all people who claim Islam as their faith, but we (and many liberal Muslims) are at war with this newest face of primitive totalitarianism.
Islam has not had a badly needed reformation that could make its practices compatible with the modern liberal democracies of the west. Until this happens, warfare will continue for a long time. Fortunately for us, these medieval throwbacks cannot produce serious weapons of war, which leaves them more a deadly nuisance than a deadly force.
A comparable long war in history was the Religious Wars in Europe (16th -18th centuries), which killed more people than the Black Plague. It ended when the Catholics and Protestants accepted mutual tolerance and, ultimately, abandoned religious fanaticism for the modern age of reason. The modern world began with replacing the bad old order with political, religious, and scientific freedoms.
One other protracted war also resembles the present one: the anarchist wars against the world's political order. From the mid-19th century until World War I, anarchists set about assassinating world leaders, ranging from the Russian Tsar to President McKinley in the US. When they assassinated the Austrian crown prince and his wife, the horrific World War I broke out, setting the pattern for global war for the rest of the century. But it did end.
The war with Islam will end when several things happen: humiliating and relentless defeat on the battlefield (already happening); ending the lax liberties of Western democracies that permitted the radicalization of its immigrant Muslims; expelling and taking away citizenship of those leaving to fight jihad; and most important of all, a rebellion among Muslims themselves in favor of either reforming their religion or abandoning it altogether.
The west has a duty too. We need to revisit what our values are. When “anything goes,” a society has no reason for existing; it is without culture and only interested in short-term pleasures. We are better than that. We are far better than what the likes of ISIS can offer. Today many Muslims themselves know this. (Check out the last US war with Islam: Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates.)
Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law. You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.