As Richard Haas pointed out in his latest Foreign Affairs article, Hedley Bull argued in his seminal book that there are perennial tensions between forces of order and forces of disorder. Reinhold Nieburh pointed the very same dichotomy by calling them children of light and children of darkness. When you look at today’s world, one of the source of disorder (forces of disorder or children of darkness) is jihadist ideology. My question today is whether the ideological war against jihadism is really a struggle within Islam, which has to be waged simply by Muslims, or is it a broader war in which outsiders (the West, first and foremost the USA) has responsibility and role.
Let me start with a small clarification. I would prefer to call them jihadist or violent extremist rather than radical Islamist, because I find this labeling more “politically correct” (but see for instance this discussion or this one. Obama has also refused to call the battle with terrorism in the Middle East a war against radical Islam). Moreover, it is actually irrelevant what we call them since they are simply terrorists to anyone. I used the phrase “anyone” deliberately because in general one’s terrorists are freedom fighters for others. However, when we talked about jihadist, except very tiny minority they are terrorist for almost everyone.
For a matter of fact, jihadist ideology is really one of the greatest dangers to the order and peace, especially order and peace in Middle East. Yet, almost every single “radical” form of ideology, belief or any religion is dangerous and extremism is not just a Muslim phenomena but rather it can be found in almost every single type of ideology or religion. In this sense, neither Judaism or Christianity nor other traditional from of religion such as Buddhism or Hinduism are totally free from extremism. What makes jihadist extremism different from the other types of extremism is simply two folds: i) They deliberately and widely uses terrorists acts and violence without any borders and limitations; ii) They are perceived as one of the greatest challenges by many (not just by Western but also by many Muslim countries).
But when it comes to the fight against jihadist ideology, the biggest question is whose fight is it. Should it be waged within Islam, and by Muslims, in particular Arabs, or should it be taken care of by a greater coalition including Western countries and especially the Americans? According to Fareed Zakaria, this is a fight inside of Islam, and the US must stay out of it as much as it can. Further he argues, by quoting Graeme Wood, the jihadist would like to draw America into the fight, which is a wrong fight, against a wrong enemy, at a wrong time. Contrary to this, the others argue that the war on jihadism is a global fight, and we should fight back to defend our values and freedom (remember, we are all Charlie). To me, the fact lies between these two clusters of views. First of all, we need to identify whose responsible from this mess, whose fault it is, who has created it at the first place? Remember, Jihadist ideology and Islamist extremism goes back, if not goes much earlier, to the late 1980s when Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the US support for Islamist fighter there were a case (see this). Later Iraq invasion, war on terror and Afghan war, Syrian crisis, Libya Crisis, pouring not just Western finance and weapons, but foreign fighters in these areas, all created this mess at the first place. For instance Jefferey Sachs points out that:
“We in the West hate to acknowledge – and most refuse to believe – that our leaders have been flagrantly wasteful of Muslim lives for a century now, in countless wars and military encounters instigated by overwhelming Western power. What is the message to Muslims of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003? More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians – a very conservative estimate – died in a war that was based on utterly false pretenses. The US has never apologized, much less even recognized the civilian slaughter. Or consider Syria, where an estimated 200,000 Syrians have recently died, 3.7 million have fled the country, and 7.6 million have been internally displaced in a civil war that was stoked in no small part by the US, Saudi Arabia, and other allied powers. Since 2011, the CIA and US allies have poured in weapons, finance, and training in an attempt to topple President Bashar al-Assad. For the US and its allies, the war is little more than a proxy battle to weaken Assad’s patrons, Iran and Russia. Yet Syrian civilians are the cannon fodder. Long before there was Islamist terrorism in the West, the United Kingdom, France, and the US relied on diplomatic chicanery and launched coups, wars, and covert operations in the Middle East to assert and maintain Western political control over the region. Historians know this sordid story, but most Westerners do not.”
Thus, the first point is simple and straight: the West and the US, first and foremost, are not responsible from the whole mess in the Middle East, (since Arab governments, dictators shares the blame vastly) but they are absolutely responsible from the quick spread of jihadist ideology. Now, they cannot just turn around and walk away from it by arguing that this is a fight inside of Islam. But this fight has not be fought to defend the West (or Western values), but defend the humanity (pure and simple) against these heinous criminals as a responsibility to protect without using further rhetoric of war on Islam or producing blasphemy of Islam as if liberty is proportional to the quantity of blasphemy it produces. Majority of Muslims just desire the very same thing what others desire in other places in the world: live in peace and educate and raise their kids in safe and healthy, which means they just want “order.” To protect the order from forces of disorder, everyone has a role and responsibility.