The Islamist challenge
Of all the many atrocities committed recently by Islam’s holy warriors, none has provoked more outrage than the capturing by Boko Haram of almost 300 schoolgirls to be sex slaves, sold off to men who want an extra wife or, if they are very lucky, to be used as bargaining counters. Even those crucifixions of Christians in Syria than moved Pope Francis to tears had less of an impact. Barack Obama and David Cameron said they were absolutely appalled and, after a bit of arm-twisting, got Nigeria’s hapless president Goodluck Jonathan to agree to let them help; rumour has it that the SAS is on the way and that US drones could soon be flying above the forests where Boko Haram has its hideouts. France and China also said they would lend a hand. And in social networks the world over, people demanded that the jihadists “bring back our girls”.
Does this mean that, at long last, the leaders of the world’s most powerful countries have come to the conclusion that Islamist militancy is a threat they would be well advised to take seriously? Perhaps. Barely a week before Boko Haram struck, Tony Blair surprised just about everybody by saying the US and Europe should overlook the nastiness in the Ukraine and ally themselves with Russia and China to confront the Islamists.
Tony has a point. For decades now Russia, and more recently China, have been troubled by Islamist attacks to which they have responded in their usual forthright fashion, but Western countries seem to be more interested in appeasing the jihadists by addressing their alleged grievances than in wiping them out, as previous generations would surely have done.
Their easygoing approach has proved counterproductive. Far from persuading the Islamists that the infidels respect them and so should be left alone, it has encouraged them to redouble their efforts. Quite reasonably, they think that people who ask themselves what they have done wrong when in London a holy warrior tries to behead an off-duty British soldier with a meat-cleaver, and smile benignly when street demonstrators say they will do the same to anyone who in their view insults their prophet, make a temptingly soft target.
The late political scientist Samuel Huntington offended many when, twenty years ago, he pointed out that the Islamic world’s “borders are bloody”. They always have been though, for a while, the West’s military superiority was so flagrant that the expansionist urge that has characterized Islam since its inception in the early 7th century AD seemed to have spent itself. Such an assumption was premature. Islam is by nature an imperialistic proselytizing creed whose more fervent adherents offer unbelievers the choice between joining an elite by becoming obedient Moslems, and, if they decline, total submission, which for the rebellious has traditionally meant death. Until disciplined and well-equipped European armies arrived on the scene, Islam looked unstoppable. Now, after a relatively short but extremely violent interval, many influential Europeans and North Americans have decided that “hard power” is useless so, once again, Islamists who dream of world conquest are on the march.
Boko Haram is just one of the many ruthless groups who sense that the time has come to renew the old offensive against those who cower in what they call the “house of war”, Dar al-Harb, the “house of submission”, Dar al-Islam, being the supposedly safer edifice inhabited by strict Moslems. Others that are equally brutal are at work in the Middle East driving out Christians or the wrong kind of Moslem, plus the few remaining believers in a variety of ancient cults, in the Caucasus, where they are fighting the Russians, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the far west of China, and much of the northern half of Africa.
Nigeria is split between an increasingly Islamic north, where Boko Haram is running amok, and a largely Christian south, as indeed are other African countries, so it is entirely possible that we shall soon see a blood-drenched sectarian frontier stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. In the Central African Republic, improvised Christian militias are already chasing out the Islamists and their apparently peaceful coreligionists after having been subjected to too many attacks. Much the same could happen in Nigeria should Jonathan’s government fail to defeat Boko Haram.
Many Westerners are reluctant to consider militant Islam a threat comparable to those once posed by Nazism, Fascism and Communism. This is in part attributable to a thoroughly understandable desire to see everyone live together happily in a climate of mutual tolerance, but it also reflects the widespread feeling that people from technologically backward societies are somehow incapable of mounting a genuine challenge to Western supremacy. If they try to do so, it must be because of the crimes that were perpetrated by their old colonial masters, the arrogance of current Western rulers or abject poverty in a world overflowing with consumer goods.
Such attempts to locate the “root causes” of what is happening have led nowhere. Islamists interpret history through their own eyes. According to their scriptures, Moslems are the best of men and it is their duty to make sure everybody understands what to them is a self-evident truth. This being the case, they will continue their offensive, or counter-offensive, until their enemies make it clear that the century and a half of non-Islamic hegemony was not just a passing phase but the way things are always going to be. Boko Haram, like the pious killers who are at work in so many places between the Philippines in the East and parts of Africa in the West, are doing their utmost to make that day comes nearer.