From the West, the Twilight
Big Ideas from all over. First, David Frum thinks the European Jihad is homegrown and self-inflicted. The more general way to phrase this thought -- and I will get to it in a moment -- is that Islamism is partly, but not wholly, a product of the same European self-hatred that created Communism.
Between 2001 and 2003, a French academic named Farhad Khosrokhavar interviewed terror detainees in French prisons, including 10 suspected members of al Qaeda and 4 other Islamic radicals. His interviews and commentary have now been published in a French book, Quand Al-Qaida Parle, "When al Qaeda Speaks." Khosrokhavar's research suggests that al Qaeda has something very different to say from what most of us would expect to hear.
- Europeans across the political spectrum share a belief that their comfortable lives have been jeopardized by an American-imposed "war on terror" that has radicalized their Muslim populations. Khosrokhavar's research suggests exactly the opposite conclusion: It is the failure of European societies to assimilate their Muslim migrants that creates a security threat for America.
- Here's the second conclusion: the French media play an astoundingly important - and incredibly irresponsible - part in stoking the anti-American and anti-Israel prejudices of French Muslims.
These ideas are particularly striking because the deadliest threat to the 16 regional heads of state scheduled to attend the ASEAN meeting in Manila comes from what may be a fusion group combining Communist and Islamist ideologies in the Philippines: the Rajah Soliman Revolutionary Movement (RSRM). It is the melding of the two ideological forces Frum thinks feed on each other. This group specializes in large explosive and VBIED devices and has been responsible for sinking an oceangoing ferry with great loss of civilian life. It should come as no surprise that the most recently captured RSRM leader was found in Tagkawayan, Quezon, a Communist rebel stronghold near where Left and the Islamists were observed exchaging military technology some years ago. The Manila Times Internet edition reported.
May 26, 2003 -- For several weeks early this year, the forests of Mount Banahaw in Sariaya, Quezon, provided refuge not only to the usual communist guerrillas but to some unlikely personalities: about 100 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The jungle rendezvous, which police intelligence officials said they confirmed from rebel contacts, brought together the country’s largest insurgent groups in an alliance that could presage more trouble to a country already struggling with serious law and order problems. “They came in groups, through various routes, at different times,” an intelligence officer said, describing how the Muslim separatists had traveled from their bases in Mindanao to trade fighting skills with their communist counterparts. ...
The MILF has superior knowledge of jungle warfare but would learn from the communist New People’s Army’s (NPA) vast experience in urban combat. They could trade contacts and networks and share jungle strongholds to confuse and evade government troops perpetually chasing them across Mindanao. “Whenever they attack us in Mindanao, it leaves the forces in Luzon and the Visayas vulnerable,” MILF vice chairman for military affairs, Al Haj Murad, told The Manila Times in a telephone interview. Murad cited an unwritten understanding with the NPA for diversions and sympathy attacks when the military steps up operations against the MILF.
It's dangerous to assume that the Communist and Islamist threats, at least in the Philippines, will remain separable forever. Little wonder then, that the Philippine Left has been trying to cancel the Visting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines by drumming up hysteria against the rape suspect Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, USMC even though US forces have been concentrating against Islamist forces and not the Communists. The Left's nourishment of Islamism may have deep historical roots. Niall Ferguson's piece in the Atlantic, "A War to End All Wars" (subscription only) argues that historical Europe and the Middle East were both a palette of conflicting tribal and ideological interests. The affinity between Marxism and Islamism, both religions in rebellion against the faiths and cultures from which they sprung, in form may spring from the fact that they share the same function. Karen Armstrong in her book, The Battle for God, about the rise of religious extremism in the 21st century observes that "Western materialism" and "fundamentalism" egg each other on. Ferguson provides the historical ground to support this speculation: the Middle East is essentially what Europe was, but a century delayed. In radical Islamism, Marxism may unconsciously see its youthful self. Ferguson writes:
Sixty years ago, Central and Eastern Europe was entering the final phase of a succession of wars and civil wars that originated with the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Before 1914, the Habsburg lands had been characterized by high levels of ethnic heterogeneity. Consequently, the transition from empire to the nation-states of the post-World War I era proved painful in the extreme. ... The aftermath of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire (also dealt its death blow during World War I) has taken a different, more protracted course. The Turks did not submit to the breakup of empire as readily as the Austrians. Having already murdered the Armenian Christians under the Young Turk regime, they expelled the Orthodox Greeks from Asia Minor and consolidated their Turkish nation-state (albeit retaining a substantial Kurdish minority, whose strivings for autonomy they ruthlessly crushed).
But the rest of what had been the Ottoman Empire did not immediately adopt the model of the nation-state, as Europe had done. Instead, the victors of the First World War established "mandates" (de facto colonies) in the losers' former possessions—Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria. Independence did not come to most of the Middle East until after 1945, and it was seldom accompanied by democracy (Israel being the exception). Instead the multiethnic states of the region were ruled by either feudal monarchs or fascist strongmen. And a new empire—which preferred to be known as a superpower—generally helped keep these rulers in place, and the region static, if only to hold another superpower at bay.
Only in our time, then, has the Middle East reached the political stage that Central and Eastern Europe reached after the First World War. Only now are countries like Iraq and Lebanon experimenting with democracy. The lesson of European history is that this experiment is a highly dangerous one, particularly at times of economic volatility and chronic insecurity, and particularly where tribes and peoples are mixed up geographically, both within and across borders. The minorities fear—with good reason—the tyranny of the majorities. People vote their ethnicity, not their pocketbook or ideology. And even before the votes are counted, the shooting begins.
An earlier post noted how both the former Yugoslavia and Iraq were the Western and Eastern bookends of the Ottoman Empire, both unnaturally preserved from the disintegration that visited the rest of it by the accession of strongmen like Marshall Tito and recently hanged Saddam Hussein. What Ferguson may insufficiently emphasizes in his Atlantic article is what the comparison between the pre-Great War Europe and the today's Middle East implies for the stakes of failing to manage this civilizational upheaval now shaking the Middle East. It was "some damned fool thing in the Balkans" which led to the Great War and the near-death of Western civilization. Policy makers who are indifferent to the outcomes in Iraq or who see it as an extension of domestic politics should ask themselves: what might be the price of some "damned fool thing in Tel Aviv", perhaps in the shape of an Iranian nuclear warhead upon our unshakable and Proud Tower?