October 31, 2014
A new caliphate taking shape
For the Herald
Lands ruled by Islam breeding ground for fanaticism
If the main threat to world peace came from Israel’s refusal to halt some housing projects, as Barack Obama, John Kerry, some European Union heavies and many others, among them Pope Francis, seem to think, Western leaders would have little to worry about, but unfortunately this is far from being the case. While Francis was doing his bit by praying, hugging rabbis and Muslim dignitaries, and planting olive trees, thousands of holy warriors were swooping on cities in Iraq, taking Mosul and advancing towards Baghdad, with the aim of setting up a caliphate in which anyone who dares to confront them is liable to be shot, beheaded or, if they are in a charitable mood, have their hands chopped off. Not surprisingly, much of the population of Mosul (half a million, according to onlookers), fled in panic. Most of the 35,000 Christians who had lived there ten years ago had already departed; the few that despite everything tried to stay left quickly as the Jihadists approached.
The geopolitical catastrophe that is taking place in most of the lands dominated by Islam cannot be blamed on the Jews, though conspiratorially minded anti-Semites can be relied upon to tell us that were it not for the “Zionist entity” everything would be fine. From a strategic point of view, some blame belongs to George Bush and Tony Blair who, by summarily removing a vicious dictator, put paid to a status quo that was already unravelling, and then made the mistake of assuming that, because most Iraqis apparently wanted to enjoy more democratic freedoms, they could leave them to if after a couple of years.
That was too optimistic. Building a new political culture from the ground up is a task that would require decades of patient colonial rule accompanied by a show of power so overwhelming that even the most determined rebel would be reluctant to challenge it. Seeing the North Americans had no desire to dig in for the long haul and told themselves that, with some encouragement, training and a great deal of money, the Iraqi army, and the Afghan one for that matter, would soon be in a position to defeat the Islamists, they left behind a seething cauldron, taking the lid with them. It has already spilled over.
Obama’s admirers say he has played his hand with consummate skill and that, in any event, the US has contrived to disengage itself from an ungovernable region it should never have attempted to help. The praise they heap on Obama is excessive. Perceptions count, and there can be no doubt that, in the eyes of the jihadists, war lords and tribal leaders who are celebrating what they think is the demise of Western influence, he comes across as a weak leader, prone to draw “red lines” and then rub them out, who would like nothing better than to busy himself with identity issues in his own country. As always happens when an imperial power is on the retreat, they are doing their best to make the most of an opportunity to carve out their own personal kingdoms.
Helping them is the understandable reluctance of Western leaders to do much more than wring their hands and say peace is better than war. Along with most North Americans and Europeans, they try to remain unmoved by the now routine carnage in Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and many other Muslim countries; the effort that would be needed to stop it is beyond them. Had the whole vast region erupted half a century or more ago, the impact on Western countries would have been limited to the economy, but since then large numbers of Muslims have settled in North America and Europe and some of them are far more interested in making the natives obey their own particular rules than in adopting those of their increasingly hostile hosts. Just how many legally European or North American jihadists are fighting in Syria and Iraq is anybody’s guess, but the threat they pose is being taken very seriously by the French and British, who fear they are in for a sharp increase in terrorist activity.
To make the situation facing Europe’s leaders even worse, they must find a way to cope with a growing torrent of, for the most part harmless, refugees who are fleeing the fighting in their homelands. Were there not so many of them, kind-hearted Europeans would let them in but, to the distress of Pope Francis and a rapidly shrinking progressive minority, that has ceased to be a plausible option. The horror that is driving Muslims from their own countries is making it harder for Europeans to keep the doors open. At most, they are prepared to donate money to help feed and shelter the millions who are, or soon will be, surviving in squalid refugee camps in the Middle East. The mood has changed so much that most Europeans now think it would have been better to leave Iraq in the hands of Saddam Hussein and his psychopathic sons.
For large numbers of strong-minded individuals, religious fanaticism offers an irresistible alternative to the free-and-easy, almost anything goes, culture of the relatively rich but in their view aimless West. Much as happened with fascism and communism, the extreme cruelty that characterizes militant Islam only makes it more appealing; any creed whose followers are given a licence to kill will find plenty of youthful recruits not only in economically backward societies but also in rich ones. That is why fiery Muslim preachers manage to convert to Islam so many malcontents, especially those that are doing time in jail, in North America and Europe. Few will have much interest in the finer points of Islamic theology, but many are eager to die for an often barely understood faith that gives their life a meaning they cannot find elsewhere.