Finally, a talk show host, Chris Matthews, is asking his guests whether Al Qaeda has become a diffuse threat. The thought that comes to mind is that we are playing reverse whackamole with Muslim extremists. Instead of us beating them down in one place, only to have them pop up somewhere else, what is happening is that they are not getting beaten down, and are luring us ever onward. We send more troops to a place with a heavy Al Qaeda or Taliban presence, and while we’re fighting there, cousins beckon us from another place. This is not the usual whackamole, in which similar situations that each other. We are faced with an ever-expanding situation which is controlled by the other side.
Right now, we’re officially involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, semi-officially involved in Pakistan, and half-involved in Somalia. But we’re being lured into Yemen, the Palestinian problem is far from resolved, and the other “stans”, where pipe lines are involved, are in turmoil. The struggle with Islam confronts Russia, China and India on their home turfs, while the United States worries about border security.
We’re used to thinking in terms of the situation that existed during the Cold War The two halves of Europe, one under Russian control, the other being at risk, and two small countries in Asia (Korea and Vietnam) that were described as dominos, the loss of one imperiling an endless series of others. Now we’re playing a game with no boundaries, as countries unravel across the globe.
The lure of terror to fix problems as disparate as hunger and control of oil touches not just the Asiatic stans but the Muslim countries of Africa. Latin America is about the only part of the world where Islam is not an issue, yet we prolong the Cold War there with Venezuela and Cuba.
Instead of allowing ourselves to be drawn first into one crisis then another, we should think about how we could remain secure in a world divided by two conflicting views of life: One believes that God wants a modicum of equality between men, and between humans and the environment. The other believes that men should compete for wealth locally and for the world’s resources across the globe. Although presented as an ideological problem, it involves two dif-ferent views of ethics.
As presented by Alastair Crooke in Resistance: The Essence of the Islamic Struggle , the two ways of viewing the world can be traced to the Enlightenment. According to a Shi’a cleric quoted at length by Crooke, the Protestant reformation involved nothing less than a deliberate move away from communally-oriented Catholicism, toward a personal relationship with God that encouraged indivi-dualism and the desire for goods, to be met by the nascent industrial revolution.
The outstanding feature of Islam is that it is about community, known as the umma . It abhors a society based on ever more individual satisfactions, to the detriment of community. The rift began before the wars for oil, but military actions undertaken in pursuit of the raw material that keeps our over-consuming societies running could only exacerbate that cultural conflict.
As the most powerful country in the world throws ever more money, arms and men at the problem, groups of determined individuals use technology to thwart our materialist aims.
The thousands of Muslims across the globe who do not appreciate our way of life from an ethical standpoint are not likely to turn on their brethren who take up arms to oppose its encroachments. We could end up having to dispatch troops or special ops to every Muslim-majority country, for as long as the crusades. Bin Laden’s scheme to weaken us by forcing us to fight first in Iraq then in Afghanistan, has taken on a life of its own: we are being sucked dry by small groups of determined men.
Aside from the need for oil, we consider it barbaric that Muslim women are forced to wear the veil or the hijab, or worse, the burka. We do not send our sons to die for them, but the existence of customs so at odds with modernity give us what can be taken as a moral cover. Our TV hosts do not bring on their shows liberated, secular Western women who agree that even in a modern society, it is repugnant to see sex turned into a vulgar commercial display. Muslim men may be allowed to have several wives, but too many Western women, perhaps, have accepted as proof of their liberation the transformation of lascivious belly dancing dancing into raunchy clowning.
Alas, husbands of women who enjoy watching other women in vulgar representations of their sexuality are increasingly joining right-wing militias for the purpose of pursuing the few American Muslims who support the worldwide struggle for community in which all women would be treated as objects in a different way, one which, while not creating commercial wealth, enshrines far and wide what we call machismo.
If the pundits would only bring the discussion down from military and intelligence heights, we could explore the issues that drive educated men from good families to want to destroy us.