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This war is not about terror, it's about Islam
By David Selbourne
THE war of the hour, we are told, is against "global terrorism". So
declared President Bush in his speech to Congress on September 20 and
Tony Blair in his oration to his Party Conference last week. It is
nothing of the sort.
The Soviet Union was once the evil empire challenging the West. Now it
is the resurgence, or insurgency, of Islam that looms over the
non-Islamic world. The momentum of the Islamic revival has been
gathering pace at least since the 1950s. Yet the West's justified fear
of this resurgence and a desire to avoid offence to the Islamic faith
have had our leaders treading on eggshells over the events of September
The hostile engagement between Islam and the West has not been in doubt
for years. Thus, when Baroness Thatcher reminds us that it was Muslims
who brought down the World Trade Centre, and Muslim spokesmen express
their outrage that anyone should relate the act to Muslims, it is hard
to know whether to laugh or weep.
Our very declaration of war - against the "global terror" - is itself
bogus. There is no war to declare. There has been a war on for decades.
It has included savage hostilities among Muslims (as within Algeria,
Lebanon, Iraq, and so on) but, more pertinently for us, between
Islamists and the West. Russia and China have been caught up in it too.
When President Bush announced his National Missile Defence Programme,
citing the risk of attack from "rogue states", it was not North Korea he
had in mind but those Islamic countries with nuclear, chemical and
biological weapons already acquired, or being acquired. Moreover, of the
seven nations on the State Departments list of terrorist nations, five
With New York skyscrapers turned to rubble and thousands dead, there
have been few boundaries, whether of territory or moral principle, of
method of combat or falsification of word, that have not been
transgressed on this battlefield. Yet taboo, a false tact and short-term
memory loss serve between them to cloud our knowledge of what is afoot.
US and British bombers patrol Iraqi airspace, Israeli forces carry out
assaults in Gaza and the West Bank, and President Clinton launched
missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan without the declaration of war.
There has been no need.
There have been many other wars since 1945 that have nothing to do with
Islam. But from the 1950s, and especially once the fall of Communism in
1989-1991 had freed the Muslim states of the Soviet bloc from their
straitjackets, Islam has taken the lead in anti-Western activity
politically, religiously and militarily. It has brandished guns in one
hand and sacred texts in another, demonising America, Zionism and
Christianity. But from an explicable desire not to include in our
objections "the good Muslim" - of whom there are millions - we avoid
saying what we know and fear.
Nevertheless, there are few areas in the world, from the Caucasus to
Kashmir, from the Moluccas to Manhattan, from Tunisia to Tanzania, that
have not suffered from the Islamic convulsion. In previous upsurges
Islam gained an empire from the Indus to the Pyrenees. It created the
aesthetic glories and sufferings of Islamic Spain, and brought the Turks
and their Ottoman Empire to the gates of Vienna.
Black-masked, flag-burning Islamist militants are hard to connect with
their predecessors who created the Alhambra in Granada or Seville's
Alcazar, and with the great Islamic philosophers of the Middle Ages, the
friends and intellectual peers of Christian and Jewish sages of those
times. The "good Muslim" may take his moral distance from hijackings,
inter-Muslim brutalities, the blowing-up of embassies, book-burning and
so on. But the fount of Islamic energy, of its destructiveness and high
aspiration, are the same as they have always been: the desire to protect
the purity of the Islamic faith and to vindicate its claim to be the
final revealed religion on earth.
Islamophobia has exacted a brutal toll in reprisal for Islamic violence.
This includes the shooting down by the US of an Iranian airliner in July
1998, the assassinations carried out by the Israelis, the savaging of
Muslim Chechnya by the Russians, the hangings of Islamists in Xinjiang
by the Chinese - still continuing - the coalition turkey-shoot of the
Iraqi army after its retreat from Kuwait and the near-genocide of
Muslims in Bosnia.
But then this is war, undeclared as may be. It has already taken a
bewildering variety of forms and struck in many places. In 1972, Israeli
athletes were murdered by Islamist militants at the Munich Olympics. The
attempt on the Pope's life was made by a Turk whose controllers remain
unknown. A Libyan plot brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in
December 1988. In February 1989, the Iranian fatwah against Salman
Rushdie was pronounced by Khomeini. In Sudan, Muslim sharia law was
introduced by the Islamist government in 1991 and civil war has raged
between Muslim north and Christian south ever since.
The upheavals provoked by the resurgence have taken millions of lives.
The Sudanese civil war and famine have led to some two million deaths.
The Biafran civil war in 1967 in Nigeria between the dominant Muslim
majority and Christian Ibo immigrants killed some one million people.
Even the largely unheard-of 1991 Tajikistan civil war, provoked by
Islamist secessionists, caused tens of thousands of dead.
In addition to the corpses in this war have been refugees, migrants, and
asylum seekers. Millions have fled the Islamic world; some
three-quarters of the world's migrants in the last decade are said to
have been Muslims. They have been variously escaping sharia law,
inter-Muslim conflict, economic chaos, Muslim-Christian violence and,
not least, anti-Muslim aggression. Escapees, victims, scapegoats,
malefactors and "sleepers" awaiting their moment, they signify that an
aroused and angered Islam is on the move.
For politicians simply to call all this "terror", and to promise to
extirpate it with precision strikes and the denial of funds is a folly.
As the equivocations of Saudi Arabia and a nuclear-armed Pakistan
reveal, the Islamic nations know that it is the resurgence of Islam not
"terrorism" which has prompted the West's call to action. These nations
cannot afford to support this call wholeheartedly, no more than can any
"good Muslim" spokesman in Britain, whatever Baroness Thatcher may
expect of them.
In every war, the first casualty is said to be truth. In this one, our
politicians have not even begun to admit to us what it is really about.
David Selbourne is author of The Principle of Duty: An Essay on the
Foundations of the Civic Order
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