I am not a political analyst nor am I a military strategist, but I do read a great deal of history in terms of both subjects. Therefore, as I observe global events over the past several years I am beginning to wonder how much most Americans understand what is behind these events and their headlines. It seems to me that most Americans, like most Westerners, tend to think in terms of their culture and experience rather than historical perspectives, so I thought some insight might be in order.
Africa is a mess and it has always been a mess. The African Natives are tribal, they have always been tribal and continue as tribes even today. When a Westerner looks at Africa he sees a continent made up of various countries, but these countries are creations of the European Imperial Powers and bear no relationship whatsoever to the historical tribal boundaries. The result has been off and on again conflict between tribes and countries dominated by various tribal strongmen. It is also worthwhile noting that while the Europeans capitalized on the slave trade, the reality is that trade was going on between various African Tribes and the Arab Muslims to the East before the Europeans came on to the scene. Furthermore this trade continued up until the 1960’s when it was “officially” banned by the Saudi Government but there is every reason to believe it continues even today.
The countries across North Africa, with the exception of Egypt and possibly Ethiopia are creations of the Imperial Powers. Most of these countries as well as those of the Middle East didn’t exist until France and England carved up the Ottoman Empire. It is worth noting that the Ottomans controlled all of what is now known as the Middle East, all of North Africa, Spain, (until the 15th Century), much of the Balkans, Turkey, and Persia. This Empire was larger than the Roman Empire and was Muslim, although Christians and Jews were permitted to live within the Empire. Although the Ottoman Empire was viewed as a political entity by the West, in reality it was a Theocracy dominated by various Emirs, Aga’s, and other Religious leaders, it was never a political organization as experienced in the West.
Then we have the problems associated with the Pacific Rim. China is technically a “communist” nation but in reality it is simply following the historical pattern of a strong central government. It used to be an Imperial Nation but the strength of the central government has always ebbed and flowed dominated now by warlords and then by a strongman. The difference between the old imperial system and the current “communist” system is virtually invisible. The same is true of India, which has historically been fragmented into small states until the British came. Since that time they have more or less been forged into a nation but they continue to teeter on the brink of re-fragmentation. The more interesting point here is that both China and Japan have considered Korea to be source of slaves, to be exploited by first one then the other. Koreans are looked down upon by both the Chinese and Japanese. Until the 1950’s Korea was an insignificant backwater and the incursion of the Chinese Communists have left us with North Korea, which is led by a central figure Kim Il Jong, who is bent and determined to establish himself as a major political figure. All of these are historical perspectives that seem to be lost on the public at large.
In this context Christendom includes Christians, Jews, Atheists, and all others who are not Muslim. Christendom is characterized by a series of nation states, some democratic and some not, but all easily distinguished by borders and some sense of national identity. With some minor exceptions these nation states fight each other over various issues, usually regarding territory or economics, but rarely over religion. While it is true that when the West was emerging from the dark ages religion and religious wars were fought,but these largely disappeared by the 1600”s. The result is that today the West is comprised of nation states whose governments have authority and can be relied upon to act with authority.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the flaw in how the West is approaching the war on terror. For the typical Westerner, wars are fought between nation states over territory, economics, or resources, but never over an abstraction like freedom or religion. Because of this ingrained idea, the West continues to perceive Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Syria, and virtually all of the “nations” of the Middle East and Africa as “nations” run by a central government. They attempt to negotiate with these entities and to sign treaties without recognizing that these governments are inherently weak and are not viewed by the Muslim population as being independent of Islam or speaking for them.
The reality is that the Muslims have been dedicated to erasing all people and religions and are not interested in establishing any government other than an Islamic one based on Shar’ia Law. They are not interested in educating their people other than in Islam so they have no interest in technology, economics, education, or any culture other than Islamic. They do not believe in freedom of any kind and are dedicated to enforcing their view of the world. Most recently Israel gave up land to the Palestinians in a futile effort to buy peace and left behind green houses, buildings, and infrastructure. The Muslims came in and promptly destroyed all of it and continued to use the land to attack Israel. The strategy of “Land for Peace” failed and it will continue to fail because the Muslims do not want to create a modern state but want to destroy everything that is not Islamic. They want to return to the seventh century and “pure Islam”.
It is widely recognized that Iran is behind most – if not all – of the terrorism today, but rather than taking the battle to the Iranians, the West continues to focus on the offending “countries” as if the government of these “countries” had any authority over the people.
Iraq has historically been the seat of the Caliphate and thus the heart of Islam. It has been the seat of Muslim art and culture and has historically had a highly educated population. However, Muslims in general are not a highly educated people but that seems to be more of a symptom than a root cause of the anger and instability that characterizes Islam today. In fact there are two sides to the Islamic issue. On the external side there is the anger aimed at the West that is being channeled through religious activism. On the surface this appears to be the continuing effort by Islam to convert the world and stamp out all other religions. But to a large extent, this is really a ploy being used by Islamic leaders to distract their people from the gross mismanagement of their only revenue source which is oil. In the classic strategy of demagogues these religious leaders are using the West and Christendom as scapegoats for the appalling conditions that exist in most Muslim countries and this represents the internal conflict that is raging throughout Islam.
Islam is actually divided into the Sunni and the Shi’ia and this schism goes back to the 8th Century and rests on the dispute over who was (is) the true successor to Mohammed. Throughout history the Sunni’s have been the minority, but also the dominant sect who have exploited and abused the Shi’ia. With the overthrow of Shah the Shi’ia became the dominant sect in Iran. Iraq was a Sunni nation and Hussein attacked Iran for many reasons, but certainly one was to re-establish the Sunni dominance. When Saddam was overthrown that unleashed the Shi’ia who are out for revenge. But beyond this mundane seeking of revenge, behind the scenes is a power struggle that is raging over the leadership of Islam – the Caliphate. Osama bin Laden was well on the way to becoming the Caliph but when he was forced into hiding his power began to wane and others are attempting to establish their right to the Caliphate by attacking the West and indirectly the Sunni’s or the Shi’ia depending on which sect they belong to. The West is caught in the middle of this power struggle and until that is resolved it is unlikely the Muslims will stablize.