02 April 2002

The New World War

June 28, 1914 — Austrian Archduke Fanz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie are murdered by a member of a Serb nationalist group, who attempted to commit suicide to cover the connections behind his crime. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was one of four young men, who were equipped with pistols, bombs, and cyanide capsules by a terrorist group with connections to the Serbian government and army. Thus began the cascade of crises that became World War I, the War of European Monarchies against emerging Liberal Democracies.

December 7, 1941 — Japanese bombers strike the US Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in an attempt to deliver a blow so crippling that the US would not be able to interfere with Japan's territorial ambitions in Asia. In response, the United States enters the ongoing World War II, the War of Facism against the Liberal Democracies.

September 11, 2001 — Nineteen young men, sponsored by an Islamic terrorist group with connections to an Islamic Fundamentalist theocracy in Afganistan and an Islamic Fundamentalist sect in Saudi Arabia, hijack four aircraft over the United States. They fly two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, ultimately causing the buildings to collapse. A third plane is flown into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, the nation's capital. They crash the fourth plane into an open field in Pennsylvania when the passengers, who by then had found out the fate of the other aircraft via in-flight telephone calls to relatives, tried to retake control of the plane.

I mention these events one after the other to point up some obvious parallels. September 11, 2001 shares state sponsored terrorism with June 28, 1914, and a devastating sneak attack with December 7, 1941. But there is one more. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians threatens to become one of the cascade of crises that, like the events of 1914, leads the world into war.

We might be able to avoid a hot World War if we can achieve a peaceful "two-state" solution to the "Israel/Palestinian Problem." But we can no longer avoid a prolonged conflict similar to the Cold War of Communism against the Liberal Democracies, which I consider to have been World War III. The War of the Islamofacists (I thank Francis Fukuyama for the term) against the Liberal Democracies was begun by Ayatollah Khomeini, who won its first battle by overthrowing the Shah of Iran and establishing an Islamic Fundamentalist theocracy in that country. That victory, however well deserved, marked the return of militant Islam to the stage of world history, and it isn't going to leave until it plays itself out or is removed by someone else. World War IV is simmering upon us, trying to go from cold to hot.

However, making peace in the Middle East is likely to become possible only after both the Israelis and the Palestinians are exhausted by sufficiently intense and prolonged hostilities. After over 18 months of intifida, both sides want only to beat the other into some kind of submission. As horrible as it is to say this, it appears that not enough people have been maimed and killed for either side to want peace badly enough to forgive the other.

In other words, the prospects for keeping World War IV cold depend less on Israel and Palestine, and more on the good will of the wider Islamic World, the umma, in their terminology. I use this mystical term in the same way I would refer to the Christian World, fragmented as it is, as the Body of Christ. Both terms have a meaning that transcends the vagaries of culture, geography, and current events. If I may borrow a metaphor from Tolkien's Silmarillion, both terms point to themes in the music of world history. And Judaism has a similar term, Eternal Israel.

So the question for the umma, is whether the Islamofacists (totalitarian Facists like the Taliban and al-Quaeda who wrap themselves in culturally Islamic dress) are leading the Way to Truth, or are seducing their children into the Pit of Hell. I think of the lovely, soft-spoken teenaged girl, Ayat al-Akras, who blew herself up in front of an Israeli market in order to shame the young men of the umma into doing likewise. My first thought on hearing the news of this event went immediately to the words of Jesus Christ (known to Muslims as the Prophet Issa):

It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. — Luke 17:2 (NRSV)

Can terrorism really be the Will of "God, the Compassionate, the Merciful" (as God is so named in beginning of all but one of the 114 chapters of the Qur'an)? Or is there some better, higher way? My friend Bob Mantei maintains that if a few hundred Palestinians were to have sat on the Temple Mount and sung "We Shall Overcome," in Arabic, instead of making intifada, there would have been a Palestinian state a long time ago.

But the issue for the umma is larger and more serious than either the Palestinian situation, or even the prospect of a hot World War against the Liberal Democracies. Bernard Lewis pointed out recently that oil has been a curse, rather than a blessing, for world Islam. In order to consolidate their power, the House of Saud made a bargain with the Wahabbis, a facist Fundamentalist sect that is to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity. The result is that the Wahabbis have access to an effectively infinite supply of oil money, and have used it to set up or take over madrassahs (schools) all over the Islamic world, including many in the United States of America. For a comparison, Lewis invited his listeners to imagine the Klu Klux Klan having the funds to set up schools all over Christendom. A sect that, without access to money and power, would be marginalized and ignored even in its own country, Saudi Arabia, is hijacking Islam.

And they're doing it with our money. There is a commercial on American TV these days to the effect that if you buy drugs, you are supporting terrorists. The same is much more true if you buy oil or gasoline. Thus, part of winning World War IV for the Liberal Democracies may be using nuclear power to dissociate water into its elements and creating a hydrogen fuel cell economy. It is certainly less violent than unrestrained Global Warfare, it is certainly better for the environment than the status quo, and it has the advantage that, by drying up the money supply of the Islamofacists, it may help Islam win back its soul.

Now back to our parallels. World War II started because Europeans were short-sighted and provincial when it came to foreign affairs, and rather loathe to stand up to tyranny until it was too late. The same can be said of the present situation, in which it has become fashionable for the European Left to make common cause with the European Right in condemning Israel, but not the Palestinians in the current conflict. Beyond mere siding the the apparent underdog, they are trying to slough off their existential guilt for the Holocaust by comparing the Israeli devastation of a couple of city blocks in towns (not camps) like Jineen to the Nazi's systematic extermination of European Jewry and Yiddish culture. The comparison is false, as are those who embrace it. I do not to excuse the wantonly hateful acts of many Israeli soldiers and their superiors, but I do want to call the Europeans on their game. Since they live in Liberal Democracies, they are also targets in the War that the Islamofacists insist on having. And once again, the leadership to win the war must come from outside Europe, from the original Liberal Democracy, the US. This is due to European, rather than US exceptionalism — during most of the 20th Century, Europeans have proven themselves exceptionally bad at world affairs.

Hot or cold, World War IV has some themes in common with previous global conflicts, including the ancient conflict between Islam and Christendom. But one theme is coming to the forefront — so-called "asymetric warfare." If you feel that you must strike at an enemy whose strength is vastly superior to yours, what do you do? Historically, inferior forces have used various tactics and devices to "even the odds," ranging from George Washington's crossing of the Delaware to win the first significant victory of the American Revolution in a surprise attack, to the first use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war by the forces of Saddam Hussein. In this war, technology has become so powerful that individuals and small groups of people can wreak mass destruction on lightly defended targets — what the rest of us call civilians. Anthrax is not bulky, and can be smuggled at least as easily as illicit drugs. Radiological dispersal weapons can be made from nuclear reactor waste and ordinary explosives.

But, as in the attack of September 11, no material need be smuggled in at all. Like those aircraft, our own technologies can be used as weapons against us. Those involved in the manufacture, handling, transportation and use of any potentially dangerous materials, including gases and chemicals, need to be on their guard.

We had been counting on moral restraint to prevent such occurrences. Prior to September 11, passengers understood that if they did not interfere with the hijackers, they would eventually be released. That the passengers were of no interest to the hijackers other than as a distraction to flying fully fueled aircraft into large buildings full of unsuspecting people, was hitherto unthinkable. But the line has been crossed by our enemies, whose publicly stated goal is to kill as many Americans, Jews, Westerners and other designated enemies as possible, wherever they may be found. If this were the intention of a militarily superior force, no one would hesitate to call it genocide.

The mix of genocidal intent with religious fervor is not new — the Nazis did precisely that, even though they had to invent a pre-Christian pagan legend to achieve it. But the mix of genocidal intent, a hijacked established religion (Islam), and weapons and techniques of mass destruction is new, and leads naturally and insidiously to an ugliness that is sickening to contemplate. If a single person can cause the kill and maim hundreds or thousands, then what is the face of our enemy? Is it the delicate-looking woman wearing a long dress, her head covered by a white shawl, whom I saw walking into the supermarket? She looked neither right nor left, and wore her face like a mask — of determination to strike, or fear of the discrimination that will grow in Western societies as we struggle to respond to attacks from within our midst? If the Islamofacists choose to make this war widespread and intense, it will have a corrupting influence on all its participants, to the detriment of the very people whom the Islamofacists purport to respresent.

Of course, the other pathway for intensifying and widening the war is for the various predominately Islamic nations to try to engage the Liberal Democracies in open conflict, making this less a war of Islamofacists against the Liberal Democracies, and more a war of Islam against the West. That the Islamic nations would be militarily defeated seems almost certain, but their leadership would then pursue further legitimization of "asymetric response" which might then lead the West to try a new round of colonialism. This would only prepare the bitter ground for the seeds of World War V.

There is no way out now, only a way through the present war. We must all recognize it for what it is, and set our faces against totalitarianism and facism whether they take on Islamic or any other cultural trappings. The predominately Islamic countries need to develop legitimate democratic governments that are true to the predominately Islamic character of their peoples, but nevertheless grant full citizenship to non-Islamic peoples in their midsts. The Palestinians are now a nation that needs a state to protect it, but they must learn the discipline to co-exist with their neighbors. And those of us in the Liberal Democracies (including Israel) must stand firm in support of our core values, clinging to the Just War tradition (see Just War: an Exchange by George Weigel and Paul Griffiths in First Things) to guide us in our conduct of this conflict, and to the generosity of the Marshall Plan in cleaning up after its conclusion.