OxBlog

Monday, May 08, 2006

# Posted 9:55 AM by Patrick Porter  

WAR FOR THE WORLD: As the First World War expanded to embroil populations from five continents, Alfred Baudrillart memorably exaggerated in his diary, 'The war is extending to the whole universe.'

Osama Bin Laden's ambitions are also global, more global than ever. In his most recent appeal, as Fareed Zakaria notes:
He has broadened his verbal attacks against the "Zionist-Crusaders" to include the United Nations and China. The latter he condemns because it "represents the Buddhists and Pagans of the world."
So China and the U.N. are in the frame. China, presumably, for warring against
Muslim Uighur militants in Xinjiang, but also because more broadly, Bin Laden sees China as a vector for paganism.

Of course, the complex nature of militant Islam is that it often does not operate as a vertically ordered, neat hierarchy with a clear command structure. From the UK to Bangladesh to Nigeria to Malaysia, small groups see the campaigns of terror waged by other groups around the world and try to emulate them, waging a war as a kind of worldwide conversation. Bin Laden reaches out to claim affinity with such groups, even if he hasn't directed their attacks.

But Bin Laden's targeting of China and the U.N. casts doubt on the core assumption of some commentators that the fundamental solution to defeating radical Islam and 'drain the swamp' of Islamic extremism is to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Radical Islam is bigger and more ambitious than that. Its ultimate complaint is not that countries support a certain war or a certain superpower, but that the world is full of infidels who must be overcome, with infidel laws that must be replaced by the laws of God. By definition, this agenda has no implicit geographical limitation.

So even the most utopian peace descending on Israel and Palestine would probably not satiate those who commit aggressions or support aggressions against Buddhists in China, Hindus in India or indeed Roman Catholics in East Timor, not to mention the many Muslims they also target for being heretics.

This is not to deny the need to find a political solution to the tragedies in the Middle East, establish Palestinian nationhood and peaceful co-existence between it and Israel. This is necessary in itself, as a just cause. But it will probably not surgically remove the threat to America's national security, nor indeed to anyone else's in the long run.

We should not delude ourselves that a peaceful settlement in the Middle East will appease the far more profound hatred, and more far-reaching imperialist objectives, that fuel terror groups.

One of the criticisms of Bush and his coalition partners is that they need to recognise more clearly that the world is 'complicated.' When it comes to complexity, this is a useful starting point - that the aims of radical Islam are not negotiable, nor easily placated.
(19) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
Much of sense here, as always. I have only one quibble with the post, and perhaps it is more to do with those who think of total, fundamental or single solutions to the power of Islamist fundamentalism as a social or political force in the Moslem world.

Whilst it is certainly true that the phenomenon of IF is not co-extensive with the Israeli-Palestinian question, so that a solution to the latter does not necessarily mean the neutering of the former, surely it is defensible to say that the conflict does provide an extremely resonant issue for those who would seek to use it.

There can be no doubt, of course, that someone as politically and historically paranoid as Bin Laden would find something else in the 'Western crusader' past to focus on, but at least part of the strategy to deal with him and his ilk must be to diminish the number of points he can call on to justify his ridiculous views, or at least those points which do have some mass appeal or resonance in the Moslem world.

In this sense, and for many other reasons as well, a solution to that conflict could serve both regional and global ends.
 
Hadrianus---

That is the densest bunch of persiflage I've seen in a long time.

In synopsis your position appears to be "Let's throw Israel out of the troika to slow the wolves down a bit and see if that works."

One should have higher principles than to ask the ultimate sacrifice from someone else.
 
Anonymous,

kudos on the use of persiflage; even greater pity, therefore, that your analysis isn't as stimulating.

Nowhere is it implied, in my post at least, that a solution to the conflict would cast Israel 'out of the troika'. A solution along the lines required even for a pragmatist's position can only be workable if it be acceptable both to the Israelis and to the Palestinians.

If you had considered my last paragraph, you would have realised that, though I was talking about analysing the conflict in accordance with the terms of reference implied by the original blog - i.e. the role of this issue in the 'war on terror' - there are many other reasons for finding a solution. But this struck me as so stunningly obvious that stating it at any greater length would be a serious insult to the intelligence of the reader.

Given the quality of your previous posts, that would of course be entirely unwarranted.
 
hadrianus, while I appreciate the clarification, I still think Anonymous has the better part of the argument. You're position seems to be that Israel-Palestine is a false issue, but we should treat it like a real issue because the people using it as a false issue claim it's real. If we resolve the issue, then they will have to claim something else as real. Seems farily harmless on its own, particularly considering that we should try to resolve this issue on it own merits anyway, but it raises the problem--what to do with the next false issue.

Are we to run ourselves ragged solving false issues just to force the other side to continually pick new false issues?
 
Tim,

thanks for the post, though I think you've misunderstood my position. Further clarification, therefore: the conflict is certainly not a false issue in any sense, but one in which the real needs of both Israelis and Palestinians may be met, with the concomitant bonus that it could also help destabilise the appeal of Islamist fundamentalism.

Remember that I was directing myself first and foremost to Patrick's original post - his point was that solving this issue won't stop the assault of IF (if I can use this acronym again). This is perfectly true. My position is that it can't hurt, as (aside from all the moral arguments in its favour) it will remove what seems to be a very powerful cause for public resentment in the Moslem world.

As for the 'false issue' question: different people will hold different opinions on this matter, as Tacitus much more pithily remarked, but one must surely concede that the ability of any issue to inflame public opinion must have something to do with its material and contemporary relevance. That is, the crusades would not have the same mass appeal for the Moslem world as a daily event like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does. The constant beaming through satellite television of live footage from that conflict is simply more immediate, and so more affecting.

Of course we will never remove all of IF's objections to Western culture or interference / influence (depending on your point of view), but what we can do is address those issues which are so deeply and powerfully held that they extend the minority appeal of IF into the masses. This is where the battle, at least partially, needs to be fought.

I hope this clarifies my position; I think your objections - if I have them aright, of course - are slightly different from Anon's (who seems to think that I wish to push an anti-Israeli agenda).
 
Tim,

thanks for the post, though I think you've misunderstood my position. Further clarification, therefore: the conflict is certainly not a false issue in any sense, but one in which the real needs of both Israelis and Palestinians may be met, with the concomitant bonus that it could also help destabilise the appeal of Islamist fundamentalism.

Remember that I was directing myself first and foremost to Patrick's original post - his point was that solving this issue won't stop the assault of IF (if I can use this acronym again). This is perfectly true. My position is that it can't hurt, as (aside from all the moral arguments in its favour) it will remove what seems to be a very powerful cause for public resentment in the Moslem world.

As for the 'false issue' question: different people will hold different opinions on this matter, as Tacitus much more pithily remarked, but one must surely concede that the ability of any issue to inflame public opinion must have something to do with its material and contemporary relevance. That is, the crusades would not have the same mass appeal for the Moslem world as a daily event like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does. The constant beaming through satellite television of live footage from that conflict is simply more immediate, and so more affecting.

Of course we will never remove all of IF's objections to Western culture or interference / influence (depending on your point of view), but what we can do is address those issues which are so deeply and powerfully held that they extend the minority appeal of IF into the masses. This is where the battle, at least partially, needs to be fought.

I hope this clarifies my position; I think your objections - if I have them aright, of course - are slightly different from Anon's (who seems to think that I wish to push an anti-Israeli agenda).
 
If the Israel-Palestine issue was primarily between those two parties, then there might---just might---be some sense in international efforts to bring the principals to the table in good faith. But Israel and Palestine are proxies in a larger struggle. There can be no solution to this "local" fight as long as one side is intent on destroying the other, and is supported in its delusional aim by the Arab oil autocrats and terrorist enablers of Saudi, Syria and so forth.

There is indeed a war of civilisations going on, though perhaps "war" misleads us. Civilisational struggles are long, complex, and only ever seen clearly from an historically distant standpoint. In fifty years the "local" flashpoint may be in Indonesia. In one hundred it may be once more in Spain. What is certain is that this struggle will never be resolved: the best that can be hoped for is an accomodation. For that to occur, fundamental changes on both sides will need to be nurtured. The immediate problem is that one civilisation would see accomodation as defeat, and the other has being sapped from the inside by its elite, who are capable of neither optimism nor pragmatism.
 
Hadrianus---

The fact that you can't seem to write a sentence or paragraph that can be understood by mortal man, leads one to try for clarification.

You've failed there as well. Your theory appears to be that we can appease an expansionist, murderous religion by somehow using some PR gestures: sacrifice Israel as the immediate example, but of course it's not limited to that.

1350 years of experience indicate that that isn't going to happen. How much more 'experimentation' would you like to conduct?

Try cutting your word count by 2/3s and really explain what you're proposing.
 
Anonymous,

I'll try to keep my sentence structure simple for you. Firstly, it is not a question of sacrificing Israel. Stop using such inflammatory rhetoric. Are the only choices, in your view, (a) the current circumstance of neverending violence or (b) the destruction of Israel? Where did you get this Manichaean worldview?

Secondly, it is ridiculous to claim that Islam is an 'expansionist, murderous religion'. Christianity has had expansionist and rather violent periods in its history, but it would be unutterably stupid to characterise it in this way. Or do you think that Moslems necessarily believe in the forced proselytisation of the entire world?

I suggest you increase your word count, because your ideas seem based on some frighteningly confused predicates. I'd like to see them stated.
 
Anonymous, I'm going to have to bail on you here. There's no sense getting insulting. Hadrianus, now I'm thinking that you're point is much more straight forward then I was thinking before, if I'm right--since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved in some fashion anyway, why not recognize all the possible benefits and take them into account when weighing our options and actions?

As regards IF, I do think that they believe in the forced prosi...prosytil...crap...conversion, or else execution. Thou shalt not suffer a heretic to live. The question is, is this necessarily a part of Islam? Which leads to: can we win the hearts and minds of moslems, all of them, and so stop the religiously motivated violence?

500 years ago, christianity could not suffer a heretic to live. But now we can--a long violent reformation taught us how to live together without violence. That's really what Islam needs--a long violent reformation. But in today's world, they're not getting one. Can they learn to abandon violence without first a period of excessive violence?

I don't know. A movement has come of age when it learns how to control the extremists within its own ranks. Ultimately, this is a problem for moderate muslims to address. Any final resolution of islamic extremism must come from them.
 
Tim,

we are very close to agreement here, I think. IF obviously believes in forced conversion. The important question is whether Moslems as a whole do. I think not. IF has a longer political history than we generally appreciate, but its (admittedly fluctuating) position on the margins of Moslem society is the thing which gives me the most hope. So, let's destabilise IF (even) further by alienating it from its potential power base.

(In fact, I was arguing considerably less than this - that Patrick was right to say that a solution to the conflict is not the only way to fight IF terrorism, but it is nonetheless one way to do so)

I'm not convinced entirely by the call for a reformation, as the doctrinal structures of the late 15th and early 16th century Western Church were more highly centralised than the rather doctrinally fragmented nature of contemporary Islam. In this respect, the processes would not be quite analogous. But it is a question worth considering.
 
While the Palestine question does provide some of the energy for Islamofascism, some of it comes from the very existence of Israel, and that sentiment cannot be extinguished by any peace settlement.

Second, Islamofascism, and its ally/rival, Arab despotism, exploit the Palestinian question and do their best to keep it unsettled. Vide Saddam's subsidies to Palestinian suicide bombers, Iran's use of Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, and a great deal more.

Furthermore, Palestinians live in the Arab cultural space. I do not believe it will be possible for Palestinians to arrive at peace with Israel while their cultural space is flooded with anti-Israel and anti-semitic poison from these regimes and groups.

Who, in today's Palestine, could disarm the rival terrorist militias, some of which are also 'security services'? Without that, how could there be peace? But how could Palestinians muster the will to do it while most of them are enthralled by Arab anti-zionist fantasies?
 
Hadrianus....

Ah...the second claim that I'm insulting you.

I'm pursuing a very simple objective here: what do you propose will be different having sacrificed Israel?

What do you actually propose to do?

So far you throw words out which ignore almost all history, recent and long term, and offer glittering generalities.

"Or do you think that Moslems necessarily believe in the forced proselytisation of the entire world?
"

That's what they say...and it's not proselytisation it's given the following options: "Conversion, slavery or death."

I suggest you learn some history rather than believing your dewey eyed "I'm so brilliant it will all come out differently."

But...first show us the bones of your 'brilliance', which you've so far utterly failed to do.
 
Hadrianus....

Ah...the second claim that I'm insulting you.

I'm pursuing a very simple objective here: what do you propose will be different having sacrificed Israel?

What do you actually propose to do?

So far you throw words out which ignore almost all history, recent and long term, and offer glittering generalities.


"Or do you think that Moslems necessarily believe in the forced proselytisation of the entire world?
"

That's what they say...and it's not proselytisation it's given the following options: "Conversion, slavery or death."

I suggest you learn some history rather than believing your dewey eyed "I'm so brilliant it will all come out differently."

But...first show us the bones of your 'brilliance', which you've so far utterly failed to do...
 
While you are certainly right that global Islamic terrorism is driven by a variety of motives, I remain convinced that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would do more than any single result to take the steam out of the jihadist movement. My impression from the smattering of studies I've read is that it remains by far the most important complaint and motivator in jihadist propaganda. I'm willing to be shown wrong by empirical data, but I would be surprised to learn that for jihadists in, say, Yemen or Saudi Arabia or Syria, the problems in Xinjian province provoke anything near the obession-level rage associated with the Palestinian issue.

I would also suggest that, from a methodological perspective, understanding the causal roots of Islamic terrorism requires that we not pay undue attention to the writings of Mr. Bin Laden. No doubt Bin Laden's words are circulated widely among jihadists, along with the writings and speeches of dozens of other figures. But you yourself note that contemporary militant Islam is a loose movement of similar-thinking, locally acting fellow travelers. I suspect that most are motivated primarily by "local" problems - jihadists in the former Russian republics have a different agenda than jihadists in the Middle East. And both differ from jihadists in China or South Asia.

While I do take very seriously the continuing threat of terrorism, I'm afraid I have trouble taking seriously the gravity of the Islamist "imperialist" agenda - such as it is. Islamism seems to be a contracting movement, and one that was never as grave a threat as some hyterics would suggest. And if the Bin Laden statement is even authentic, it shows that far from being a brilliant mastermind, he has a weak grasp of geoploitics. A more subtle thinker would be finding ways of driving wedges between the great powers, not uniting them against a common Islamist enemy.
 
Anonymous,

I have not claimed that you're insulting me; someone called Tim made that claim. Indeed, the language of your most recent offering shows how unwarranted such a charge would be. You really should try to read the posts before commenting.

"They do." Differentiate, dear boy. Who's 'they'? A majority of the Moslems in the world, or just the IFs? Or is there no difference in your mind? Stop hurling out slogans and cheap banter. You only look silly. Engage with the debate, as Tim and Rich and Dan have done. Until you make some arguments, there is no point responding to you.

Rich makes some very valid points about how difficult peace will be to attain, and Dan's analysis seems - unlike much here - actually to be grounded in some substantive research. I think he's entirely right to be suspicious of the 'imperialist hysteria'. The point here, Dan, as I take it, is that IF seems always on the brink of self-destruction and discrediting within the Moslem world. Let's push it over that brink, by removing - or at least be seen attempting to remove - the issue which gives them their greatest appeal. Have I apprehended your arguments correctly?
 
Some really interesting thoughts here. Hadrianus's argument, with which I broadly agree, certainly doesn't mean sacrificing Israel in the interests of our own security (whether real or illusory). Bush and Blair both argue that the war in Iraq is right in principle while simultaneously enhancing our security in the world. Right or wrong, the same logic permits the argument that a settlement in Israel is good both intrinsically and strategically. The suggestion that we might focus our diplomatic efforts on one conflict rather than another, because our own security is bound up in it, is neither a betrayal nor unique to the Middle East.

This takes us back to Patrick's original question, whether 'draining the swamp' would make an appreciable difference in the war on terror. Would it pacify Al-Quaida? No, clearly not. Bin Laden's demands are non-negotiable and are not susceptible to discussion. But the issue is not so much Bin Laden as the people who find his ideas attractive and his analysis plausible. In this respect, satisfying legitimate grievances and delegitimising Bin Laden's account of the West may diminish his support among those who would not otherwise care about the Ottoman Caliphate and the rest of his medieval demands.

One final point - it's not my area, but I'm unconvinced by the argument that Islam would benefit from a Reformation in the manner of the West. I'm a Protestant myself, but it strikes me that the immediate effect of the European Reformation was a sharp rise in fundamentalism and religious conflict. To those who know more than I do - weren't the more relaxed inter-denominational relations of the present day rather a product of the less taut religious politics of the C18th and C19th?

Salient (NOT the anonymous above).
 
Cheers, Salient. An appropriate blogger name.

On the Reformation question, I suppose that Tim (who proposed the analogy) would argue that the violence and destruction of that phenomenon was a necessary precursor to the release of (specifically) religious tensions in the 18th and 19th centuries, i.e. eventually by weakening the political power of the Christian church(es).

Again, what do early modern historians (which I'm not) think of this? There must be some of you out there.
 
One can blame whom one wishes.

But the Palestinians themselves---those they vote for, and those who do the voting---who do not believe that reaching an agreement with Israel is in the Palestinian interest. In fact, the opposite.

Which is precisely why the hostilities have continued and will continue to continue.

This in spite of the best arguments of all those many logicians and humanists, who seem not to have noticed that the Palestinians continue to receive extraordinary amounts of economic aid and pity for all their suffering, anguish and despair while Israel receives the lion's share of the blame.

And who in their right mind would wish to change that marvelous situation? Which were it to continue to continue will--must--lead to Israel's disappearance.

Of course, Israel could help out everyone quite nicely by agreeing to disappear, in the interest of world peace and exposing IF for what it really is.
 
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