Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The "C" word 

If "terrorism" can often be a word too hard to swallow - or, rather, spit out - by the media, the "Caliphate" is an ambition that dare not speak its name in a respectable discussion of "what do they want?" and "why do they hate us?"

In today's "Australian", Daniel Pipes again hammers in on jihadis' true objectives:
The Islamists who assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981 decorated their holding cages with banners proclaiming "The caliphate or death".

A biography of Abdullah Azzam, one of the most influential Islamist thinkers of recent times and an influence on Osama bin Laden, declares that his life "revolved around a single goal, namely the establishment of Allah's rule on earth" and restoring the caliphate.

Bin Laden spoke of ensuring that "the pious caliphate will start from Afghanistan". His chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also dreamed of re-establishing the caliphate, for then, he wrote, "history would make a new turn, God willing, in the opposite direction against the empire of the US and the world's Jewish government". Another al-Qa'ida leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, publishes a magazine that declares: "Due to the blessings of jihad, America's countdown has begun. It will declare defeat soon", to be followed by the creation of a caliphate.
The common reaction in the enlightened West is something along the lines of "Oh well, they're just saying that" or "Yeah, yeah, as if that's ever going to happen." Even after all the carnage of the twentieth century, large sections of our elites still have a problem conceptualizing totalitarianism and totalitarian objectives. Specific grievances are much easier to grasp conceptually and focus on - and they fit better with the Western no-nonsense problem-solving attitude: let's discuss it, negotiate on it, and fix it. That someone might actually want to take a mile instead of an inch is a concept difficult to comprehend. Why would anyone want to exercise a total dominion over me? Why not live and let live?

We've had similar problems in the past with Nazism and communism. It was all too easy to focus on specific grievances (the rights of German minorities living outside the borders, the punitive peace of Versailles, reparations in the former case; poverty and exploitation of the working class in the latter). Whether genuine or not, these could at least elicit some broad sympathy. It was easier, in any case, than facing up the stark reality that Nazi Germany didn't just want to become a normal sovereign state again but wanted to build an Aryan empire from the Atlantic to the Urals and then beyond, or that the Soviet Union didn't really care all that much about the well-being of the proletariat but was more interested in spreading the dictatorship f the party around the world.

And so, not surprisingly, today we all talk about Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as if solving these problems will make terrorism disappear. Bin Laden will not say to his followers, "OK, guys, well done - the foreign troops are out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Palestinians now have their own state - let's pack up and go. Who's up for some after-work drinks? It's on me." And he won't say that not only because Al Qaeda wants more than just the end of foreign occupation of Muslim lands and the Palestinian statehood (instead the Talibanization and the end of Israel respectively), but because the ultimate goal is the Caliphate - today the Middle East, tomorrow the world. This objective might seems too preposterous and too far-fetched, but just because we think the chance of it ever coming to fruition are very remote means nothing to the people who will be trying to make it happen.

Addressing any of the grievances might at best reduce the levels of sympathy or understanding that the jihadis enjoy in the Islamic world, but it won't eliminate jihadi terrorism because as long as the dream of the Caliphate holds sway, there will be enough people willing to blow up some infidels to achieve that dream.


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