Read any newspaper or turn on any news broadcast and you’re bound to encounter stories of Islamic radicals fighting, killing and threatening each other – and just about everyone else.
In Somalia, jihadists, with the support of al-Qaida, have clashed with troops loyal to the country’s internationally recognized interim government and now threaten neighboring Ethiopia with all-out war.
Nearby in Darfur, Muslim militiamen called janjaweed are waging genocide against black Christian and animist villagers – apparently with the consent of the Sudanese government.
Shiite and Sunni militias, each claiming to represent true Islam, keep slaughtering each other in Iraq.
Hezbollah (“Party of God”) seeks to destroy democracy in Lebanon by provoking Israel, which it is sworn to eliminate.
On the West Bank, Hamas and Fatah have taken a timeout from their attacks on Israel to murder each other and innocent bystanders.
The Iranian Shiite theocracy – when not hosting Holocaust deniers or sending terrorists into Iraq – issues serial pledges to finish off Israel.
The shaky Pakistani leadership pleads that it can neither target Osama bin Laden nor stop Taliban jihadists hiding out in the remote regions of Pakistan from streaming back into Afghanistan.
In Europe, opera producers, novelists, cartoonists and filmmakers are increasingly circumspect out of fear of death threats from Islamists.
While each conflict is unique and rooted in its own history, the common thread – radical Islam – is obvious. It’s thus worth asking why this violent, intolerant strain of Islam has taken hold in so many unstable places – and at this particular time.
The ascent of radical Islam is, perhaps, the natural culmination of a century’s worth of failed political systems in Muslim countries that were driven by morally bankrupt ideologies, led by cruel dictators, or both.
In the 1930s, German-style fascism appealed to Arabs in Palestine and Egypt. Soviet-style communism had sympathetic governments in Afghanistan, Algeria and Yemen. Baathism took hold in Syria and Iraq. The secular Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser promised a new pan-Arabism that would do away with colonial borders that divided “the Arab nation.” Then there is the more pragmatic authoritarianism that survives in Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Libya or in the petrol-monarchies in the Gulf.
Radical Islam may be as totalitarian and as morally bankrupt as any of these past or mostly defunct “isms,” but its current appeal isn’t hard to figure out. Unlike fascism or communism, radical Islam is locally grown, and not plagued by charges of foreign contamination. Indeed, Islamists claim to wage jihad against the modernism and globalization of the outside, mostly Westernized world. Such a message resonates in stagnant, impoverished Muslim countries.
Of course, while the people of the region may be poor, the Islamist movement isn’t. Huge oil profits filter throughout the Muslim world, allowing Islamists to act on their rhetoric. In today’s world, militias can easily acquire everything from shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles to rocket-propelled grenades. With such weapons, and on their own turf, Islamists can nullify billion-dollar Western jets and tanks.
There is still another reason for the rise of Islamists: They sense a new hesitation in the West. We appear to them paralyzed over oil prices and supplies and fears of terrorism. And so they have also waged a brilliant propaganda war, adopting the role of victims of Western colonialism, imperialism and racism. In turn, much of the world seems to tolerate their ruthlessness in stifling freedom, oppressing women and killing nonbelievers.
So how, aside from killing jihadist terrorists, can we defend ourselves against the insidious spread of radical Islam? Here are a few starting suggestions:
Bluntly identify radical Islam as fascistic – without worrying whether some Muslims take offense when we will talk honestly about the extremists in their midst.
At the same time, keep encouraging consensual governments in the Middle East and beyond that could offer people security and prosperity, while distancing ourselves from illegitimate dictators, especially in Syria and Iran, that promote terrorists.
Establish that no more autocracies in the Middle East and Asia will be allowed to get the bomb.
Seek energy independence that would collapse the world price of oil, curbing petrodollar subsidies for terrorists and our own appeasement of their benefactors.
Appreciate the history and traditions of a unique Western civilization to remind the world that we have nothing to apologize for but rather much good to offer to others.
Finally, keep confident in a war in which our will and morale are every bit as important as our overwhelming military strength. The jihadists claim that we are weak spiritually, but our past global ideological enemies – Nazism, fascism, militarism and communism – all failed. And so will they.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of “A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.” You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org..