The Whole Middle East Thing

I remember my first lessons on world affairs as early as the second and third grades. We had to cut articles out of the newspaper and talk about them. Dominant at that time, more than forty years ago, was strife in the Middle East – mainly between Israel and its neighboring states. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, foreign affairs remain centered in the cradle of civilization.middle east

Odds are that you’re disappointed in American Middle East policy. Me too. Do you ever wonder why this part of the world has been so problematic for so long? (Far longer than the years since Israel was established as a nation in the wake of WWII – Thomas Jefferson fought the Muslim Barbary Coast pirates in the early years of America’s nationhood, and Europe has been invaded repeatedly since the beginnings of Islam over a thousand years ago – the current one is far more clever than those of the past.)

There is one main problem that has plagued past, current, and judging by the discussion of the issue in the recent GOP debate, likely future administrations. The problem is that westerners cannot or will not clearly see the driving forces behind the ongoing conflicts.

Our myopia comes from at least two places: a failure to understand human nature and a lack of moral clarity. We often think of humans as rational beings. We aren’t. We are emotional beings with the capacity for reason. This distinction is important to understand the full spectrum of human behavior.

Morally, we have bought in to the concept that all religions, creeds, and cultures have equal standing. They do, in terms of an individual’s freedom to believe as he or she wishes. But they don’t, in terms of the social structure and dynamics that result from those beliefs. The failure to see this distinction makes it impossible to properly evaluate the motives of others and determine the most effective ways to resolve conflicts. In the case of the Middle East, we specifically lack understanding of the inevitable social and political consequences of the religion of Muhammad.

Much of the confusion comes from the inability to discern Islamism from Islam. Western pundits and leaders such as President Obama insist that “Islam is a religion of peace,” sometimes claiming that the word itself means peace. (It doesn’t; it more closely translates as “submission.”) The reality is that Muslims do not represent one homogeneous group, just as do neither Christians nor Jews nor Atheists, but rather hold a wide spectrum of beliefs. Some are westernized, meaning that they have found a way to follow their faith within the context of a modern society such as America that seeks to maximize individual liberty.

Others, such as those attracted to groups such as Hamas, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, ISIL, and the Muslim Brotherhood, do not fall into this category. They believe that all people must live under Sharia law, which supersedes all other law. Furthermore, they hold that they are commanded by Allah to actively pursue this end. This belief is known as Islamism. It is the motive force behind jihad and dawa (Islamist missionary strategy to change nations from within.)

For some reason, our leaders believe (or want us to believe) that Islamism represents a tiny fraction of the over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. The evidence contradicts this. Distinguishing Islamists from other Muslims is tricky, as poll results regarding beliefs vary. The best I can figure from the data is that out of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, maybe 200 to 500 million of them are truly Islamists. That, of course, is well sufficient to present real and present danger to all who disagree with them. Especially considering that among them are the leaders of nations such as Iran.

The inability to distinguish Islamists from other Muslims was behind the recent flap around Dr. Ben Carson’s comments on the topic. He very rationally explained that he did not believe that a Muslim who believed in the traditional tenets of the Koran would qualify to be President of the United States. He is factually correct, because the oath of office requires loyalty, first and foremost, to the U.S. Constitution. A traditional Muslim would be unable to comply. That his statement was viewed as controversial shows that our society is not currently capable of making this distinction; as a result to many it appeared as though he made a blanket “racist” statement about all Muslims. (There’s more going on underneath this, but we’ll have to save that for another time.)

To be fair, it’s a tough task to discern truth amidst the swirl of invective that comes from all sides. So how do we reasonably assess both the realities of the Islamist threat and the most effective policies to protect our people and our way of life?

Here are a few assertions that I offer for your consideration:

  1. Islamists are more numerous, and more powerful, than ever.
  2. The Islamist worldview is incompatible with the tenets of the U.S. Constitution and the American way of life.
  3. Islamists are serious about the destruction of western culture, specifically Israel and America.
  4. Islamists will continue their aggressions until they succeed or are forcefully prevented from doing so.
  5. Islamists represent a significant ongoing threat to Americans domestically.
  6. Islamists are fierce and dedicated, but far weaker than the full force of technologically advanced societies.

Maybe these appear obvious to you, or maybe they look like horse pucky. Presidential hopefuls Rand Paul, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton seem to believe that #’s 3-5 are not true.

Many in the west simply do not believe that Islamists mean what they say. They believe that Islamists are driven by the same motivators as anyone else.  Marie Harf, spokesperson for the Obama administration State Department said: “We need in the medium and longer term to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups, such as lack of opportunity for jobs.”

George W. Bush said that Iraqis were the same as everybody else, they want freedom. Maybe so. But their ideas of freedom differ from yours, Mr. President.

If some or all of my six assertions above are untrue, I suppose it is most reasonable to continue to withdraw from involvement in the Middle East. The geopolitical realities there are a big mess. The national boundaries currently in place in the region mean a whole lot more to governments than they do to the people who live there. The population of the region roughly divides out into three groups – Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Among these, Muslims are the vast majority. Within that group, they roughly divide into three – Sunni, Shia, and Kurd.

Many of the difficulties there are not just with Islamist intolerance of non-Muslims, but of Sunni and Shiite intolerance of one another. It is an ideological blend incompatible with domestic tranquility, and fleeting moments of peace are only upheld via the fists of strongmen such as Saddam Hussein (we saw what happens when that heavy hand is lifted.)

It is tempting to just leave the whole mess to them and let them sort it out. That may have been possible in the past. It isn’t any more. Why?

Technology.

Islamists didn’t develop or create the destructive technologies that they employ today. But they sure are willing to use them. From IED’s to beheading videos, they have learned how to conduct real and psychological warfare in the most effective ways.

We stand on the verge of the day when Islamists will possess nuclear weapons. Let me ask you this. If and when they get them, do you believe that will show the same restraint that current nuclear-armed governments have?

President Obama called ISIS (he always uses the term ISIL) the “JV squad.” That was before they had successfully established the first Caliphate in 85 years. The significance of this to the Islamist is difficult to overstate. They believe that it signals the beginning of the foretold “end times.” It represents the successful completion of step five of a seven step plan to fully establish Sharia law worldwide. Steps six and seven aren’t pretty. In fact, nuclear weapons would be quite handy to successfully complete those steps.

The nuclear deal with Iran is therefore particularly crucial. The Obama Administration is quite comfortable with arms-length inspections and trusting Iranian intentions and integrity. Are you?

Candidates such as Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham want to rearm and push the technological and therefore tactical and strategic military capabilities of the U.S. in order to play Wack-A-Mole with bad Islamic actors such as ISIS as they pop up. I’m unconvinced that this strategy will be successful.

It seems to me that the keys for solving Middle East problems lie with Middle Easterners. We need to support those Muslims who oppose Islamism. The problem? There doesn’t appear to be many of those around, at least not in power. Terrorist practices have been quite successful in intimidating all who might stand in opposition.

So here we are. We can’t ignore. We can’t invade. It’s quite a pickle. What do you believe we should do?

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