The War of Ideas
Jihadism Against Democracy
By Walid Phares
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2007 Walid Phares
All rights reserved.
THE HISTORICAL DEBATES
The ideological confrontation between Jihadism and democracy has spread into a vast array of areas, from international relations to legal interpretations and mass movements. In the 1990s, most of these debates were developing unilaterally. The Islamic fundamentalist intellectuals and their academic sympathizers in the West were "revealing" to the world their views on international politics, views they claimed had been suppressed by colonialism and imperialism for more than a century. Western intellectuals, in their overwhelming majority, made significant efforts to legitimize the arguments of their counterparts from the East, instead of debating them or at least investigating them.
In subsequent chapters, I'll expand on the key players in these historical debates on both sides of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean and will make the case that the dominant debate was not inclusive of all trends and ideas. In fact, the exchange of ideas on world politics wasn't taking place on merely a one-way street, but on a one-lane street: the public in the West was denied an alternative explanation of trends on the other side of the world, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The intellectual spokespersons of the Arab and Muslim world on both sides of the international divide developed a single dominant paradigm, ignoring opposing views. As I will show later, these elites claimed that the sole crisis in the Middle East was the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that all other problems were caused by it and would find their way to resolution only with the end of the Palestinian-Israeli quagmire. But had this unilateral debate been characteristic of the Eastern sphere only, Western pluralist culture could have helped generate a greater multiplicity of opinions among the Greater Middle Eastern elites toward international matters in general and political culture in particular. The drama after the Cold War was that Western elites largely reflected the views of their dominant counterparts across the water, and sometimes even the specific interests of regimes east and south of the Mediterranean.
The post-9/11 ideological debates and the War of Ideas between democracies and jihadists and their allies are not new. They are familiar in concept, substance, and subject. Most of the theses advanced by leaders, politicians, and opinion makers in the West are in fact either a reference to what their predecessors came up with, decades if not centuries ago, or fragments of previously marginalized concepts by various influential figures and authors. Indeed, the strategy of "spreading democracy" in countries still ruled by dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, advocated by the Bush administration and gradually considered by some of its allies, is a natural extension, although in radically different contexts, of the American and French Revolutions and of Western liberal doctrines toward Eastern Europe, Latin America, and even Africa. The novelty, perhaps, of Washington's grand strategy after the New York and Washington massacres of 2001 was to apply this old doctrine to countries in a cultural zone that had been forbidden from debating democracy by their own ruling elites and their allies within the West. The ideas of democracy, separation of powers, identity, equal opportunity, rule of law, secularism, and justice for all have traveled in time from Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, and Enlightenment Europe to the League of Nations, the United Nations, and the Tribunal of the Hague. Other civilizations have reached democracy by their own different paths, via the same consensus of international principles: self-determination, liberty, and freedom for all humankind. These principles have been destined to be universal, not selective, even if historical circumstances impeded their implementation. The issue is one of essence, for the universality of these democratic principles is valid only if at every opportunity the international community works to expand them to reach more people.
Unfortunately, the story of the twentieth century was one of great exceptions—wars, genocides, and oppression. But fortunately, after every descent into cataclysmic bloodshed, such as World Wars I and II, the Soviet oppression, and the ethnic cleansings of the last quarter of the century, international principles still prevailed, recognizing the wounds of the victims, sometimes healing them but usually waiting for them to heal. Still, at least in the public declarations, foreign policies, and diplomatic announcements, democratic powers were unanimous that humans have rights inherent in their very nature. Whether these rights are respected or not, violated or protected, legislated or interpreted, at the end of the day, they are part of the constitution of the international society. The differences in putting them into practice come from how governments, organizations of states, political movements and parties, and economic interests perceive them and are willing to serve them. Contemporary world history has witnessed the recognition of these principles by stages and, despite raging conflicts, moved to shape them into documents. That is, until the jihadists began to wage war against democracies and against the ideas they had put forth for over two centuries.
To put it simply, the current War of Ideas is not introducing new ideologies and doctrines, but pitting against each other two forces with opposing world visions: democracies limping forward and jihadists rushing backward. The followers of fundamentalism, unlike their interlocutors across cultures, do not seek to integrate their views and values within the modern world; they reject the contemporary web of values and institutions. Instead, they propose, or in fact want to impose, a world of their own, wholly and holy, on the ashes of the current international society. Hence today's conflict of ideas is between the global consensus, reached by the international society, and the forces working to reverse or replace it. Between the mosaic of democracies and the panoply of Jihadism, the disagreement is philosophical, historical, and doctrinal: it is about how the world has functioned for centuries and how it should evolve. This debate bears on questions of war and peace, the clash or coexistence of civilizations, questions of nations and nationalism, and socioeconomics.
WAR AND PEACE
For all the progress that has been made in the modern world in diplomacy, signing treaties and making collective agreements on resolving conflicts, social scientists have largely agreed on the impossibility of eradicating wars and collective violence without a full satisfaction of human societies. Indeed, theologians discount the establishment of world peace short of divine intervention. Therefore, what modern international society has been able to achieve is a consensus on the principle that wars are the exception that should be limited, restrained, and, when necessary, bound to humane rules. In sum, peace should be the constant objective, and war the unavoidable evil to be contained.
In the current international legal system, which includes the UN Charter and the subsequent documents related to peaceful relations among nations and governments, legitimate reasons to go to war involve clear concepts such as defense of the national soil, rebellion against a foreign military occupation, or intervention to salvage a civilian population under threat of massacre. It took centuries to reach the present stage of consensus on war and peace—still imperfect, however. Without delving into the entire history of international relations, we can review the development of peace as a universal concept, efforts to challenge the legitimacy of all wars, and measures to protect the victims of conflicts including prisoners and civilians and to establish security systems to stop aggressors who breach the laws of war.
It was the Romans who introduced a now familiar nuanced justification of wars: the search for peace. From republic to empire, Rome developed two new components to the equation. One was to seek peace as a national policy, but only as a result of military might: Si vis pacem para bellum (If you want peace, prepare for war). An old precursor to the modern realism of the West, this rationale at least spoke of peace as a preferred state, though it legitimized power as the sole foundation for it. But this first component was coupled with another, showing the deeper sense of early realism: the Pax Romana (peace of the Romans). This was an attempt to provide a somewhat secular motive for conquests, other than divine sanction. It is in the interest of the conquered to be conquered, because of the "peace" that will be installed. The Romans, followed by most other empires, including Arabs, Europeans, and Asians, rationalized the conquests of other nations and territories by devising a doctrine of "in the name of future peace, we are now bringing war and invasion to you." The aim obviously was to legitimize conquest and ultimately colonialism, but the notion of "ultimate peace" signified that peoples were increasingly attracted to a "state of peace," even at a high price. In the path of the Romans and the Byzantines, for example, the Arab armies of the Rashidun caliphs and the following Umayyad and Abbassid dynasties claimed they were bringing salaam (peace) to the conquered peoples of the Middle East, such as the Arameans, Copts, Berbers, and Persians. In many accounts, Arab classical historians said the invading armies of the Fatah were actually "liberators" freeing the oppressed societies outside Arabia. These armies kept "liberating" peoples, like the Romans had done before, until the "Arab Pax" reached the Pyrenees to the west and China to the east. Centuries later, Spanish conquistadors marched through the jungles and mountains of Central and South America, bringing "Iberian peace" to the Indians. So did the Anglo-Saxons and other Europeans in North America. The French added a new concept in the nineteenth century: La mission civilatrice, a special mission to "bring civilization" into North Africa. In other words, all these powers from antiquity to modern times invoked a state of peace that would be expanded in parallel with their colonial rule. And on top of sociopolitical values, religions often played a dominant role in justifying war and peace.
Before the main monotheist religions began to impact world history, almost all beliefs were used as incentives to territorial aggrandizement and overseas invasions. And even when polytheism receded in front of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Europe and parts of Africa and Asia, the "marching orders" of the monotheist religions continued to rely heavily on the divine. To ancient Hebrews, for example, the "marching order" was to head toward a specific land, Canaan, and seize it in the name of God. Christians received a wider marching order, to bring the "godly good news to all peoples." Islam went even further by following a more powerful marching order: to "bring all peoples under the word of Allah." Each one of these religious projects developed a different geopolitical history. An ancient Israel was established, with shrinking and expanding borders for centuries, with the Jewish religion as its soul, in war and peace. Christianity sought to separate the affairs of Caesar from those of God, rejecting violence among humans. Christian politics wasn't supposed to exist, let alone Christian wars. But Christian emperors and kings continued to clash as those before Jesus had. Islam expanded within Arabia and into the outside world as a result of major battles, with Fatah and jihad as the epicenter of the caliphates. In short, the divine remained involved in war and peace, regardless of how far and deep the theological, warlike orders from one religion against the other. Monotheist faiths and most other religions are part of the history of nations and civilizations, with their continuous conflicts. But with intellectual revolutions, enlightenment, political development, and reforms, a consensus emerged as the modern nation-state came into existence: more and more, political philosophies and cultures prescribed a more earthly source for the norms of conflicts, and the rationale for religious war slowly shrank. With the American and French Revolutions, British reforms, Italian-Vatican agreements, and the Russian Revolution, state and religion were separated, and theological regimes collapsed in the West. The last religious injunction for military action before the formation of the League of Nations was the Ottoman sultan's call for jihad against the Allies and in favor of the Central Powers during World War I. Indeed the call by the Ottoman sultan for state jihad in 1914 was the last before the fall of the sultanate in 1922.
But the disappearance of direct religious wars from world politics and of religious influence from the making of wars in the early twentieth century didn't stop nationalist and social ideologies from producing conflicts that were just as destructive, reaching higher levels of technological violence. In World War I, millions died for the sake of nationalism, but democracies emerged victorious. World War II witnessed Nazism and Fascism obliterating tens of millions of men and women before being defeated again by the forces of transatlantic democracies and their Soviet ally. A third global conflict resumed between Western democracies and the Communist bloc but did not end with a world war. The nuclear dilemma on both sides prevented mutually assured destruction. Although regional wars across the planet have taken place in subsequent decades, from the Middle East to South Asia, a belief in international peace has unified diplomatic claims on all continents, at least in theory. Since 1954, the United Nations—at least in principle—has elevated peace to a worldwide political philosophy. Under the United Nations, peace keeping and peace building received vast endorsement, albeit depending on state interest. But during the Cold War, the threat of destructive ideological wars persisted. Pro-Soviet forces and their allies often took to the battlefield to conduct wars against the "enemies" of the proletariat. From Vietnam, Cambodia, and the crushing of East Europe's popular uprisings to international Soviet-inspired terrorism, state Communism appeared to be the last threat to democracies. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of Moscow's Soviet establishment in 1991, world peace was supposed to have been reinforced. Without the nuclear duel between the United States and the USSR, the Cold War ended. On a planetary scale, it was thought that no global movement aimed seriously at world domination, or at least intended to reestablish a past empire. War obviously hadn't been eradicated, however, as nationalism, ethnic strife, and other tensions persisted across the continents. The two Yugoslav conflicts, the Rwandan genocide, Sudan's civil war, and a score of local violent conflicts proved that.
But democracies felt they had the upper hand in the 1990s and began to prepare for what they thought would be an advanced international peace process, with mechanisms and teeth. At the United Nations, the traditional Soviet veto was gone; Communist China didn't choose to replace the older Communist brother in world affairs but to secure its economic dominance first, learning from Moscow's mistakes. Multinational forces, mostly put together by an expanding NATO, seemed to be efficient in Bosnia and Kosovo. The Rwandan disaster, apparently, only encouraged the United Nations and Western powers to put more effort into preempting future catastrophes. And it appeared that the Arab-Israeli conflict could be contained by a Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Regional crises and local violence were thriving still, but the international community seemed able to close in on the renegades, though not without difficulties. South Africa was emancipated, Germany was reunified, East Timor was granted independence, and all former republics of the Soviet Union were recognized. In conclusion, the 1990s projected democracies as the long-term victors of a very bloody twentieth century.
This view of the world was enhanced by the fact that after the demise of the Soviet threat, there were no significant forces on the world stage challenging the very essence of international law or of the political philosophy hailed by Western democracies and their allies around the world. Even when governments, regimes, and organizations collided and fought against each other, they all referred to the same set of ideas and principles. Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was tried in The Hague for "crimes against humanity," as were militia leaders from Africa. Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) disagreed on many items but referred to the same charter of the United Nations. Anti-Americans, antiglobalists, pro–free marketers, nationalists, secessionists, opposing political parties in Western democracies, transitional regimes in the former Soviet Union, Scandinavian social democracies, Japanese political parties, Arab and Third World dictatorships, regardless of the degree of democratization within one or the other system, referred to one higher set of ideals and overarching principles in international relations, of which they all claimed to be part. Liberal democracies such as Canada and New Zealand and oppressive regimes such as Zaire and Burma all knew the worldwide standards of respect for human rights, but applied them differently. In short, the international community seemed to have become a large basket of various governments and regimes, with a set of ideas about war and peace recognized in theory but practiced dramatically differently.
In this setting of the early 1990s, liberal democracies felt they were leaders in a unified vision of a world hoping for international peace, though there were obvious failures in reaching it. Unfortunately for these democracies, they were wrong in their assessment. For there were players on the world stage who not only disputed the leadership role of the advanced democracies in international relations, but also rejected the very system of values upon which modern society had based its advances. These were the jihadists. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The War of Ideas by Walid Phares. Copyright © 2007 Walid Phares. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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