The pathology of today's international politics brings us yet again to the middle-east, which in contemporary terms includes western Asia, the fulcrum being
IRAQ. Once again issues are spilling over into neighbouring states, not only into demonised
SYRIA and IRAN, but also 'friendly'
JORDAN, TURKEY, KUWAIT and let it be clearly understood
SAUDI ARABIA. Through all of these come the entry routes bringing fanatical volunteers for terrorism. Rather like the so-called 'underground railway' in the occupied countries of WWII, there are a chain of staging posts through all of these countries into and within Iraq, believed to be certain Sunni mosques, that aid and abet the passage of these young men, many on their way to their deaths.
It is unsurprising that virtually none of the actual suicide bombers in
IRAQ are themselves Iraqi. As we have often pointed out, Saddam loyalists prepared to fight against the new rulers of
IRAQ are not seeking certain death on behalf of the boss under whom they had enjoyed their piece of power. There is no illusion amongst them that a celestial paradise awaits those who immolate themselves in the cause of the secular Saddam. They fight hoping to survive, in some way to win back something of what they have lost - a measure of power, not to offer up their lives to the Takritis.
Instead it is the pan-Islamic 'us and them' contingent of young and foreign idealists who, just as in Soviet occupied
AFGHANISTAN, came to fight as though it was a re-run of the crusades. There is a difference. In the war against the Soviet occupiers, which of course their side won, they came armed and facilitated by the CIA as volunteer soldiers to fight a guerilla war, not primarily to become human bombs.
So volunteers painstakingly make their way by various routes to Iraq to in effect, blow themselves to what Christians used to aptly call 'Kingdom Come.' The statistics show that their sacrifice usually results in the death of a lot of fellow Moslems, men, women and children, because their high command seeks to demonstrate that the Americans and their Iraqi government cannot create 'normality'. It is reminiscent of the evil of Pol Pot in
CAMBODIA, who after some of the most brutal excesses of the last century, having been driven deep into the jungle, sent his troops out each night, seeding landmines in paddy fields and on peasant tracks to kill and maim ordinary people. The cold theory was that it must lower confidence in the government that had replaced him, and burden the administration by filling hospitals. The ghastly human damage is all too evident today.
Youthful self-sacrifice is not a new phenomenon. It was a mixture of desperation, traditional patriotic 'bushido' values, and no real expectation of surviving normal combat, that brought young Japanese pilots to volunteer to crash their explosive-laden planes into allied warships during WWII. Looked at objectively, almost as one can take a non-partisan look at the Spartans at Thermopolae with the distance in time, these kamikaze pilots may have been, as they are regarded now in Japan, fine young men making the supreme sacrifice. They too might have been pawns in a power game, but they were at least fighting other military with a 'war aim,' not destroying themselves to kill large numbers of hapless civilians.
Once recruited, the young jihadists have been inducted into the mystical notions of al Qaeda, whereby self-sacrificial death earns instant resurrection to a better place. It is not likely that any other religion could still sell this proposition to its followers. When Europe was called Christendom, instant salvation certainly was offered by the Christian hierarchy as a reward to crusaders, but that was eight centuries ago and there was also the lure of land and booty. It is hard to understand now why Moslem clerics, hopefully in their thousands, who are opposed to such meaningless death and the present violence, don't strike it down with a succession of fatwas, before all of the best of their idealistic youth is culled by a false prophet. Or is this a delusion and does their silence indicate support for the jihad?
The Iraqi dissidents can have no expectation of defeating the majority Shi-ites and Kurds, and it is feasible to see a politically negotiated end to the fighting. But this will not satisfy the foreign volunteers whose reasons for being there are not about restoring the Takriti clan to power, or the exact number of Sunni represented in the Iraq government, but to self-destruct, to pursue the mystical objective of 'defending Islam' in the way that their theological leaders explain it to them. So where are the imams who could condemn this monstrous waste of lives?
SAUDI ARABIA is the home of the Wahhabi sect named after a charismatic preacher of the 18th century. Very powerful there, like the Iranians they have spawned a greatly feared non-accountable religious police.
SYRIA remains the only sectarian Arab state where the Sunni, although the majority of the population, for thirty years as the Moslem Brotherhood have effectively been the underground opposition.
JORDAN is Sunni but with Israel and Palestinians for neighbours, they have their own engrossing problems closer to hand.
IRAN of course is the definitive Shi-ite state, a theocracy no less, but the Shia to Sunni, and vice-versa are merely heretics.
TURKEY is not Arab and is sectarian, but many of its people are Sunni of usually moderate attitudes. None of these has so far seemed likely to produce imams to lead a theological counter offensive, and perhaps they would regard it as too personally dangerous, which could be right. But on the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombing as recently as March 11th 2005, leaders of the Moslem community in
SPAIN DID issue a fatwa against Osama bin Laden, calling on imams throughout the Moslem world to condemn him in Friday prayers. Well done them, one might say, but are there not a billion Moslems and isn't the community in Spain rather small? Where then is the voice of World Islam to stop the haemorrhage from their own societies of young misled idealists?
For the larger part of the 20th century, the world was confronted with communism, a system that eventually imploded, as a rival to democracy. What is hard to come to terms with in the 21st century, is the renewed phenomenon of the power of religion - strident and muscular Judaism in Israel, resurgent Christianity exerting pivotal power in the USA, and militant Islam scaring the world. To non-believers, who must represent a significant portion of the world's population, it might appear that the root cause of the current confrontation with terrorism is religion itself. Take out the absolute certainties handed out by the priestcrafts of all religions, and the differences between contending parties seem capable of resolution. Politicians of course are not going to say such things as long as they hope to get elected, and even if it were as true as could be, that religions and their dubious certainties are at the root of current violence, it is somehow regarded as a disreputable position. Certainly it is threatening to the powerful religious forces that can still exert leverage on their national governments, not much less in some democracies it seems than in theocracies. But still, what if God does not exist? The question and its implications for our century do not go away.
It is said that the war aims of al Qaeda are to restore the caliphate - the spiritual and temporal ruler of all Sunni Moslems (with no prizes for guessing what candidate); to remove governments friendly to the west; and to implement sharia law. It is illuminating to consider that the national disaster that is the Republic of the
SUDAN could be an example for the world of what that might look like.
Clive Lindley Publisher - June 2005