From Kabul to Paris
Michael Scheuer formerly of the CIA, who together with John O'Neil (his counterpart at the FBI and deceased at the WTC attack) was one of the pioneers at tracking the al-Qaeda in the 1990s writes in the Jamestown Foundation about how the resistance to the Karzai government is growing in Afghanistan. In an article at the Jamestown Foundation on Oct 17, Scheuer said: "From all observables, the Taliban insurgency is spreading from its deeply rooted base in southern and southeastern Afghanistan to provinces in the west and east." The main drivers of unrest are 1) the narrow political base of the Karzai government; 2) the traditional antipathy of Afghans to foreign presence, such as that supporting Karzai; 3) the lawlessness fueled by the opium crop; and 4) the fiasco in Pakistan. The Pakistani problem is most interesting because except for Bill Roggio, the troubles in Pakistan's west have largely been ignored by the press, maybe because they are not in Iraq.
The Afghan government and some Western officials have condemned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's peace deal with the Pashtun tribes in the country's Waziristan region as being intended to strengthen the Taliban. The reality, however, seems to be that Musharraf made the deal because his army's presence in the tribal lands had become unsustainable politically. In addition to suffering heavy casualties in fighting Pashtun tribes, the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Waziristan—heavier casualties than those sustained by the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan—the Pakistani army's "invasion" of the province smashed Islamabad's 50-year-old modus vivendi with the tribes to live-and-let-live and brought the area to the verge of civil war. In making peace, Musharraf did what he had to do by choosing to protect Pakistan's political stability and geographic integrity over continuing an armed intervention that threatened both and which would ultimately be feckless because of the U.S.-led coalition's failure to defeat the Taliban and control the Afghan countryside. There is no question that the Taliban is stronger because of the deal—if for no other reason than the safe haven it provided—but so is Pakistan's political stability, which was being undermined by the radicalizing impact that the army's incursion had on the country's powerful pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaeda religious parties
One of the side-effects of trouble in Pakistan is a possible danger to Britain, which has enjoyed "historical links" with the subcontinent. ABC News reported on Oct 20:
Security officials in Britain say the United Kingdom is now Al Qaeda's main global terrorism target. Officials are not talking publicly but they have spoken to some journalists in the UK, delivering the message that Britain is the main target for a resurgent Al Qaeda. Top security officials in Britain reportedly believe that Pakistan remains a crucial Al Qaeda base, despite efforts by the government there and US intelligence agencies. Because of the many social and historical links between Britain and Pakistan, there are supposedly many men born in the UK volunteering for attacks. Officials are quoted saying Al Qaeda sees the UK as a massive opportunity to cause loss of life and embarrassment to the authorities.
Just a few hours ago, Sky News published an interview with a Taliban commander in Pakistan who stated his intention to attack Europe. Iraq is mentioned — of course — but not as the casus belli, simply as another theater in a larger campaign.
A Taliban commander has told Sky News that the militants are for the first time plotting to attack Westerners in Britain and the rest of Europe. ... Referring to Tony Blair and George Bush, Mullah Amin said: "It's acceptable to kill ordinary people in Europe because these are the people who have voted in the Government. "They came to our home and attacked our women and children. "The ordinary people of these countries are behind this - so we will not spare them. We will kill them and laugh over them like they are killing us and laughing at us." He said Taliban fighters were learning from the Iraq insurgency in their use of remote-controlled bombs, landmines and suicide bombers. He said: "They are our best tactic."
And the casus belli isn't about Afghanistan the nation-state at all either; nobody is fighting for the political independence of a country in the Western sense. It about the clash between the sacred space of Islam with the secular space of Europe. Two-tour Afghan veteran British Army Major Jamie Loden wrote a 25,000 word master's thesis on "The Need For An Ideological Response To Islamic Extremism", described in an interview in the Guardian. Major Loden understood that there was a large element of infidel versus believer in the whole mix; that events in Helmand province and "Leicester and Bradford" were inextricably related.
He talked to me about the radical thinker Sayyid Qutb, about shariah law, about the difference between Shia and Sunni jurisprudence. Having addressed Islamic extremism through the library and through the bullet, he believes that US and British strategy is wrong from the foundations up. "You can improve homeland security from a purely physical point of view, you can increase security at airports, but that isn't exactly addressing the issue. Yes, it's making terrorist attacks harder to conduct... It's not addressing the rationale for it."
The west had to give more support and publicity to Muslims who were trying to reform Islam from within, he said. The implications of extremism spread way beyond the Middle East. He talked of the notion of "sacred space", the notion that land conquered by Muslims in God's name must remain Muslim and, if lost, recovered. "That means Spain, bits of France... all over the place." Loden said there was a more risky interpretation of the sacred space doctrine which said that land where Muslims had a political majority was actually Muslim land. "So when you have the debate in Leicester and Bradford about separate education, separate areas of the town, you know, communities being allowed to apply their own law - then you are in fact going down a fairly dangerous path."
The idea of trying to "reform Islam" has been taken up by some of the most influential politicians in Britain. Home Secretary John Reid warned that the the UK risks losing the "battle of ideas" with al-Qa'eda.
The Government needed to do much more to win the "battle of ideas", Mr Reid said. The meeting came as ministers — including Jack Straw, Ruth Kelly and Phil Woolas — started to take a much more aggressive stance against radical Islam. Ministers have told The Sunday Telegraph that 30 terror plots are being investigated and that 1,500 young Muslims — many more than previously estimated — are suspects.
A key government weapon in the struggle to win hearts and minds is the decision to fund covertly an Islamic website appealing for moderation. A classic of New Labour terminology, it is called the Radical Middle Way. Government documents disclose that the site is "run as a grassroots initiative by Muslim organisations". However, it has "most of its financial backing from the Foreign Office and Home Office". The site uses video and podcasts to spread an "alternative message" to young Muslims. Some content is available through the iTunes website with no indication that it is effectively an arm of Government. Around 100,000 CDs promoting moderation have also been funded and distributed free to Muslim students as an "antidote", apparently, to the jihadist CDs circulated at universities and colleges.
The Sayyid Qutb cited by Major Loden was an Egyptian Islamic scholar who visited America in the late 1940s on a scholarship and was utterly repelled. He concluded that unless Islam fought the West, it would be destroyed. He anticipated Reid's program and rejected it; what is "reform" to Reid would be an assault in Qutb's eyes. Qutb's conclusions became the basis for al-Qaeda's belief in the global battle between Islam and the West, a process described in Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower. (BTW, Austin Bay and I interviewed Lawrence Wright for Pajamas Media and you can listen to the interview here) The situation in Afghanistan puts Iraq in its true perspective: it shrinks it to simply one battlefield in what has become a global war. Recently the UK Times described the growing realization that terrorism was already in the UK; already a component of the landscape in part due to the collision between the "sacred space" of Islam and the secular space of post-modern Europe. The solution advocated by some to the problem is to make the secularism mandatory. Religion was to be banned from public life altogether and tolerated only if it consented to be a harmless superstition, remembered on occasions like Halloween or Friday the 13th.
“Religion and politics is the issue of the next 50 years,” says the historian Michael Burleigh, author of the newly published Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al-Qaeda. “The closest parallel with the situation in Britain now would be the conflicts between Anglicans and Puritans over religious ‘enthusiasm’ in the 17th century.” ... The Church of England may be benign but its establishment encourages other, more extreme, religious groups to demand the same privileges, rights and favors of the state.
The only equitable answer, say the secularists, is to turn the way of France and America and cleanse public life of all contact with faith and superstition. ... Professor Richard Dawkins, champion of Darwinism, has been spurred by the rise of religious fundamentalists to write The God Delusion, an “attack on God in all his forms”. Dawkins wants to take religion not just out of the state but society — and his book has become a bestseller. “If this book works as I intend,” he writes in his preface, “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.” ...
The rise of Muslim populations in Europe cannot be ignored. A recent study in America showed that conservative minority religious groups tend to outbreed the primary population. Islam is set to form an ever-increasing part of the European religious mix. And, as Muslim extremism, it is challenging a culture that, in Britain, has been formed by pragmatism, custom and a certain quiet acceptance that some things are best left undiscussed. The multiple current crises are applying crushing pressure to the great British muddle. Hardline fundamentalists on both sides are busily constructing barricades. Hard questions are being asked of us all.
According to this thinking, the Church of England cannot be benign enough to escape its fundamental guilt. Guilty while kneeling. But part of the problem is that the discussion is not wholly objective. Secularism itself has at least once in this century taken on the trappings of a religion. Karen Armstrong, quoted in the 5th page of the UK Times article, notes this explicitly: "There have been five major missionary movements in the world — Christianity, Marxism, Islam, Buddhism and secularism. Secularism can be as lethal as any religion. Our society is very secular but, in the Middle East, where modernism is new, secularism is seen as lethal and invasive." Sayyid Qutb would probably agree. Al-Qaeda's ideology was precisely a Muslim response to the perceived menace of secularism during its heyday in the late 1940s. Proposals by European "intellectuals" to banish Christianity and Islam would probably founder on the objection that the priests of one sect — namely Marxism and secularism — should not have the right to outlaw the votaries of other rites. In other words, any solution to remove "belief" from public life is itself be founded on a normative belief. But embracing this contradiction is easier than to accept the alternative proposition that politics and society have historically been not only about systems of belief but about the dominance of one system of belief over another. That all wars are ultimately wars of religion. Viewed in this way, the debate over banishing "religion" in Britain is really the old one of avoidance versus confrontation in another guise. We twist and turn in an effort to avoid the War, but attempts to define the War out of existence may ultimately be unsuccessful.
It is the awareness of the potentially bottomless nature of the conflict, not only in Afghanistan but throughout Europe, that has driven public officialdom into the unprecedented use of euphemism. It talks about the danger in hushed tones in the hopes that it will go away. For example, civil unrest threatens Paris, according to the Telegraph but the mysterious insurgents cannot be identified as anything other than "youths".
A gang of youths forced passengers off a bus in a Paris suburb yesterday before setting it alight and then stoning fire fighters. The attack - which happened in broad daylight on Sunday - is the latest in a string of similar disturbances in housing estates surrounding the French capital. They come amid rising tensions as the anniversary approaches of widespread rioting and car torching that forced France to declare a state of emergency last October. ...
Police chief Jean-Francois Papineau said the bus attack in the southern suburb of Grigny, in the Essonne region, was “a planned ambush”. He said: “The bus was forced to stop at a road block at around 2pm. “Two youths then entered the back of the bus to clear passengers before dousing it with petrol and setting it on fire.” The blaze gutted the bus and spread to four parked cars. M. Papineau said around 60 youths were involved in the attack. One was arrested. There were no injuries. Earlier in the day there had been sporadic fighting between young men and gendarmes in the area.
After Sayyid Qutb was scandalized by Harry Truman's America he was later brutalized by Gamal Abdel Nasser's prisons. It may have been the low cut dresses of American women that first planted the seed which was to grow into al-Qaeda's ideology but it was the blood shed by Marxist torturers that watered it. Qutb and later Osama bin Laden saw Marxism and secularism as agencies of the Devil; but to destroy them it was first necessary to destroy the world's system administrator: the USA. One of the real ironies of the War on Terror is that the most hated targets of al-Qaeda, the culturally liberal — the gays, feminists, entertainers, civil libertarians, artists and novelists — are its most vocal critics. It is only slowly dawning on al-Qaeda's pet hates that the Global Jihad is exactly about them and their whole belief system. Salman Rushdie knows it; Sayyid Qutb knew it. Some parts of Europe are beginning to know it; most will never admit it even to the second the blade is drawn across their throats. But the second greatest irony that the surviving non-Muslim believers in Europe — the Christians, Buddhists and Jews — have not only had to bear the intellectual brunt of defending liberalism up to now, but are now being asked to give up the public profession of their own faith in order to preserve it.
This essay began in Afghanistan and finished up in Paris. It is only right. All consciousness lives on the edge of the ocean of faith and of doubt. We can flee from Iraq, but perhaps we can never fly from ourselves. Our hearts shall never rest until it rests or flees — from Thee.