The first step is to acknowledge the warlike intent of the challenge currently facing the world.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s disturbing painting “The Blind Leading the Blind” is a metaphor for the succession of mistakes in Western policies since the 2004 Madrid train bombings. The blind man acting as guide, in our case George Bush Jr., falls into more of a mire than a hole, and behind him fall successive strategies of one kind or another. Some failed by falling in with the Islamophobic crusade; others were deluded by a belief in an idealized image of Islam, shrouded in the ceremony and rhetoric of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. And then there were those intellectuals who, in the name of a well-intentioned rejection of Islamophobia, opted for a head-in-the-sand policy, convinced that Islamic terrorism was no more than a reaction to Western imperialism and could have no connection with ideas engendered as long ago as the 7th century.
In 2004, some took it one step further. In the belief that everybody’s a good guy, they proclaimed that all doctrines lead to harmony. At the conclusion of a solemn symposium held in Barcelona*, the illusion should have been shattered when the grand finale was an interpretation of the Negro spiritual “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”; Joshua, far from sowing peace, was responsible for the wholesale massacre of the inhabitants of Jericho once the walls were down. Ten years on, reality is now being tilted in the opposite direction in an effort to prove that all religions — Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity — embrace violence. More willful blindness and a specious argument, since calls to brotherhood in the Muslim faith always refer to fellow believers, a battle to the death being strictly reserved for non-believers. The distinction between the recipients of violence and non-violence is very clear. Nothing similar exists in either Buddhist teachings or the Christian Gospels.
The Shariah Government Goes Further than Regulating Social Life
So why the old and the new smokescreens? Perhaps because a yearning for reassurance has come into play. As Umberto Eco has described, our present situation is a disagreeable one. We are under threat from a clearly defined aggressor that is omnipresent, untraceable and underpinned by a solid base of religious doctrine. The degree of uncertainty has a tranquilizing effect. Consider those experts who refused to see that the 2012 Manhattan bomb plot clearly followed the pattern of lone-wolf terrorism conceived by al-Qaida sympathizer Mustafa Setmariam. Now, logically, Setmariam’s theories have been revived to provide a rationale for the failed plot.
Over a decade has been lost, during which we have failed to learn from the mistakes of the great chaos-meister Bush, who combined his crimes against humanity — the cause of so many thousands of deaths since his misleading of the U.N. — with the careless stupidity of destroying a state and putting nothing in its place. There was also the failure to acknowledge that trying to establish democratic institutions in a Muslim nation and religious hornet’s nest like Iraq, accustomed to authoritarian rule, was always doomed to failure. Nor was Obama exactly a class act, pulling out U.S. troops without so much as a backward glance, disregarding the immediate consequences and finally being overwhelmed by the rapid expansion of the Islamic State. The Islamologists failed to see it coming. Then history repeated itself in Libya, the outcome of which is well known. In the final account, Afghanistan has turned out to be the lesser evil, and not by chance, but because of the security pact agreed upon with tribal leaders. The story of Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to Tehran, who would describe Khomeini to the then president as “Gandhi-like,” seems to be perpetually repeating itself. The blind are still leading the blind.
Against this background, the taking root of the Islamic State group has been a decisive step in making jihad the protagonist of this unique world war declared on Western powers. The war is endorsed by the Quran in its calls for struggle to achieve the prevalence of the true faith throughout the world (Verses 8.39 and 2.193). To any radical Muslim, therefore, the image of al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State group occupies a role similar to that of the Soviet state after the October Revolution. What was an unattainable dream has become a reality. The Islamic State group’s unilaterally-declared caliphate has its capital at Raqqa in Syria and aggressively publicizes its operations in explicit detail, with reports issued out of its own media office illustrating Shariah law being rigorously applied.
Over a Decade Has Been Lost to the Careless Stupidity of Destroying a State and Putting Nothing in its Place
Ibn Taymiyya, known to orthodox Sunni Muslims, including bin Laden, as Sheikh al-Islam**, devised the perfect social order seven hundred years ago. Shariah law determines the government's actions, imposes strict regulation of traditional practices and is upheld by a police force that competes to ensure that, in Raqqa, the public is “encouraged to follow the commandments and prevented from indulging in what is forbidden." Nothing escapes its vigilance, from a too-short niqab to an infringement of Ramadan. It is a dying breed of totalitarianism, a counterpart to the months of jihadism in Mali depicted by filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako in Timbuktu. The absence of individual rights can offend our sensibilities: One report shows the crucifixion of a delinquent (delinquent read Christian) in Raqqa, for example, or the blowing up of Shiite mosques. Such scenes in the eyes of radical Muslims, far from causing aversion, provide greater incentives to sign up to jihad. The report shows adolescents yelling like men possessed, calling for the death of the infidels and the destruction of the West. Jihadism means a radical dehumanization of society.
The Shariah government of al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State group is not content to obsessively regulate the social life of its own people; it must also project its image abroad through jihad, sending out authentic jihadi metastases. Most recently, manifestations have been seen in Libya and in Boko Haram’s campaign of terror in Nigeria. And spearheading the movement, according to Setmariam’s “global jihad,” are the commandos and lone wolves who practice a selective terrorism designed to create a generalized feeling of insecurity in Europe. Verse 8.60 of the Quran commands striking terror into the enemy of Allah. What terror could be more horrifying than that inspired by the beheading of Egyptian Copts, of Western hostages, and the Charlie Hebdo executions? In the West, the mood is one of horror and impotence.
On an international level, just how should we respond to this new challenge? Certainly, by acknowledging its warlike intent, and taking action in response to each outbreak, without excluding military action (Mali, for example). Above all, prevent it from growing, employing policies of positive action and avoiding the creation of power vacuums at all costs. We must never forget the distinction between Islam and jihadism and fall under the sway of reactionary xenophobes like Marine Le Pen or Italian Lega Nord leader Salvini.
* Translator’s Note: The Parliament of the World’s Religions.
** Translator’s Note: The honorific title given to an Islamic scholar with the highest authority on religious issues.