Saturday, September 12, 2009

Eight years on

I am not good at anniversaries of things I have been around for, so the 9/11 anniversary rather passed me by until I began to read lots of online anniversary posts. (Such as this one, which has good amateur footage with comments-as-it-happened.)

That Sep. 1 was the 70th anniversary of the German attack on Poland and Sep. 3 was the anniversary of the Anglo-French declaration of war on Germany I remembered, but not 9/11.

The war the Nazi (and then Soviet) attack on Poland initiated a World War that last six years. It was a "conventional" attack in the sense of 950,000 Polish defenders were overwhelmed by 1.5m German and 467,000 Soviet attackers seizing Poland's territory and dividing it between them. But it was also an ideological war, in that the ensuing World War became a three-way contest between Nazism, Leninism and liberal democratic capitalism for dominion over the human future. The war, in six years of struggle, eliminated Nazism as a contender leading to the Cold War between Leninism and liberal democratic capitalism that resulted in the defeat, through its own internal collapse, of Leninism. Which now exists only as pathetic states of hereditary rule (Cuba and North Korea) or a system of increasingly anachronistic rule over reborn-as-capitalist states (China, Vietnam, Laos).

Since Japan officially surrendered on Sep. 2 1945, the War known as World War II lasted almost precisely six years. Eight years after 9/11, NATO forces are still fighting in Afghanistan, Coalition forces are still providing security in Iraq.

By the end of World War II, Mussolini had been killed by partisans, Hitler had committed suicide and Hideki Tojo, after a failed suicide bid, was, like the other surviving Axis leaders, in custody awaiting trial and eventual execution. Osama bin Laden is notoriously still alive, almost certainly somewhere in the tribal areas of NW Pakistan.

On the other hand, the struggle against the jihadis is much smaller in scope of operations, in resources, in just about all ways, than World War II.
The term World War II is not very accurate. The Seven Years War was also a global war, in many ways more so than World War I in terms of where serious fighting took place, though not in the proportion of the World controlled by combatants.

The jihadi war is global in a way, in that the jihadis acknowledge no neutral territory, though attacks are concentrated where there are significant numbers of Muslims. Given the declared jihadi aim is to struggle for a world where the sovereignty of Allah is acknowledged everywhere, the concept of "neutrality", except as a temporary truce, is not part of their lexicon.

The jihadis resemble both of liberal democratic capitalism's great C20th opponents. The similarity because Islam and Bolshevism was noted by Bertrand Russell back in 1920:
Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam. ... Marx has taught that Communism is fatally predestined to come about; this produces a state of mind not unlike that of the early successors of Mahommet. ... Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world".
Both Islamism and Leninism share what Francois Furet called the revolutionary illusion:
Modern society … is characterised by a lack of politics in relation to the private, individual existence. It is blind to the idea of the common good, since the members of society, consumed with relativism, have their own individual ideas of the common good and modern society can conceive of it only in terms of a taste for well-being, which divides its members rather than unifying them and thus destroys the community supposedly constructed in its name. The revolutionary idea is the impossible attempt to circumvent that calamity.
They are also morally instrumentalist, universalist doctrines.

Still, the jihadis, despite being universalist when Nazism was explicitly not, more resemble Nazism than Leninism. They are atavistic, as any doctrine that says the peak of understanding of how to organise human social order was achieved in C7th Arabia must be. Nazism, with its blood-and-soil mystic militarism, was also atavistic: seeking to reverse the entire direction of Western civilisation, which was for land-and-violence as bases for wealth and power to retreat.

The jihadis, including Hamas and Hezbollah, are the contemporary analogues of fascism and Nazism: modernising revolts against modernity (seen as alien, anti-religious and Western), preaching an atavistic (and anti-traditionalist) form of Islam, promoting a cult of death and violence, engaged in brutality and murder; the rhetoric of violence backed up by deeds of violence—in Hezbollah’s case with a uniformed paramilitary, straight-armed salute and all. (Osama bin Laden even has the war veteran mystique working for him that both Mussolini and Hitler did.)

The consequences of the Nazi-Soviet attack on Poland are still unfolding: Russo-Polish relations and American-Polish relations are still profoundly influenced by it, for example.

Eight years after 9/11, the struggle with the jihadis still goes on. But, of course, that struggle well predated 9/11. Well before Sep. 9 2001 there was the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, the 1998 US Embassy bombings in East Africa, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. 9/11 did not start the conflict, it is just when the US and its allies really took notice.

Since it was the 1991 Gulf War which led to the al-Qaeda declaration of jihad against the US and Americans, there were many senses in which Iraq was "unfinished business", intertwined with the anti-jihadi struggle. One of the most obvious consequences of the consequences of 9/11 (the NATO attack on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Coalition attack on Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq) is that the jihadis went back to doing what they do most—killing fellow Muslims. The first jihadi aim is to get control of the ummah, of Islam. If one wants to understand the conflict in Iraq after the Coalition occupation, the Algerian Civil War provides a revealing comparison about the jihadis. Just as the jihadi aim of universal acknowledgment of the sovereignty of Allah admits to no neutral nations, the jihadi way of prosecuting their war admits to no distinctions between military and civilians as targets.

The jihadis (with the very partial exception of Sudan) control no state. They do have "statelets": Gaza, Hezbollah, the tribal areas of NW Pakistan. They use modern technology but their technology (as is that of Islam-the-civilisation generally) is entirely derivative. They have reach within the ummah—given that the only part of their package not sanctioned by Islamic orthodoxy is suicide bombing (and even that appeals to the warrior-martyrdom element in Islam). It is precisely because rejection of liberal democracy (with its sovereignty of people, female-equality, gay-equality, religious freedom and equality) offers Islamic clerics a rejectionist "gatekeeping" role in Islamic communities that jihadi and jihadi-friendly thinking continues to have institutional support within Muslim communities.

The jihadi program is profoundly unappealing to most folk, including most Muslims: in Afghanistan, polls suggest the Taliban only has about 6% support. In Iraq, al-Qaeda was defeated when Sunnis defected, appalled by its homicidal oppressiveness. What the jihadis have going for them is homicidally intense belief and the divisions of their enemies. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, finding a reasonably decent way of self-governance that can cope with modernity remains deeply problematic, though currently more so in Afghanistan. (As, of course, it is across Middle-Eastern Islam.)

In the West, domestic politics are more important in all senses. First, because the jihadis are just not that big a threat, (though an Iranian nuclear weapon could change that) and secondly because the jihadi phenomenon is so often understood through domestic framings. Whether the "anti-imperialist" Left insisting on its broken-record of Blame The West First or crass anti-Muslim/"anything goes to defend our own" tribal patriotism. The collapse of fertility in many European countries provides a longer-term factor which probably encourages jihadi confidence and both reflects and reinforces a lack of European self-confidence.

This is certainly not anything like the Crisis of the Third Century, let alone the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. But the struggle against the jihadis will go on, part of the larger issues of how does Islam cope with modernity and what happens if Europe continues to have significant areas of demographic collapse. (Though the collapse in fertility in Iran suggests that the issue may be even more complicated.)

One thing we can be sure of, NATO abandoning Afghanistan would not end the struggle, though it would embolden the jihadis enormously and greatly weaken the West’s ability to attract allies within the Muslim world. Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt provides an excellent illustrative example of the pressures in current circumstances (via Michael J Totten): how much worse would they be if the West simply abandoned Afghanistan?

In many ways, this is a battle of revolutions. The jihadis want their own versions of the Iranian Revolution, again and again and again. The US is, in effect, trying to export its Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan, just as the British previously attempted to export the Glorious Revolution to both places.

Lebanon, the venue of so many people’s proxy wars, is where this dynamic is played out:
but the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon has yet to defeat the Iranian Revolution in Lebanon.
All part of the biggest curse of all in the Middle East, the perennial lack of stable rulership that is anything other than a form of predatory autocracy and the strategies that go with that:
The essence of Syria’s strategy is the destabilization of its surroundings to increase its own regional leverage. Yet this cuts in many contradictory ways. Iran cannot be happy with the prospect of a sectarian war in Iraq; Syria’s efforts in Iraq are also alienating the United States at a time when the Obama administration has engaged Bashar Assad to bring about a change in his regime’s behavior; Egypt is fed up with Syria’s and Iran’s encouragement of Hamas’ intransigence, which has neutralized Egypt’s role in inter-Palestinian reconciliation talks; Saudi Arabia and Egypt are unhappy with Syria’s obstructionism in Lebanon; and both Syria and Iran are eying each other with quiet suspicion to see which of them might open a full-scale dialogue with the United States before the other does.
Around and around we go. This is a struggle we cannot walk away from, it will just follow us home. As it did on September 11 2001.

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