October 7th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

Bush Finally Got the Memo

Yesterday, the President gave the "why we're in Iraq" speech yet again, this time in front of the National Endowment for Democracy. It was pretty much the same speech that he's given several times a year for the last three years. But this time, there was one important change. As far as the mainstream media are concerned, it came completely out of the blue. It left them scratching their heads and going, "What?" Which says something about the times we live in; when the President finally tells the truth, he's not believed. Here's the relevant quote from Bush's speech, abridged for clarity:
Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of ... a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.
Since this is the first time most reporters have heard this argument, it left them scratching their heads and asking, "Where in the heck did that come from?" The answer: from Osama bin Laden, and other Islamist thinkers. Up until now, Bush has kept repeating a stupid idea of his own, that we're fighting the Islamists (to the extent that we're, you know, actually fighting them) because "they hate our freedoms." There was nothing you could find from any Islamist source to suggest that any of them give a rat's hindquarters about our freedoms. What they want, what they've always wanted, is the Ummah back.

In the Koran, the word ummah, meaning community, is used to mean "all Muslims," roughly the same way that Christians say that the church, the collective membership of all branches of Christianity, make up "the body of Christ." Later, through linguistic drift and sloppy usage, the phrase "the Ummah" (as opposed to any old ummah or community) came to mean something else: the extent of the territory ruled by Muslims, the boundary of the Islamic conquest. Using the term ummah to mean this lets them link imperial geographic boundaries with the pre-existing idea that when anybody (or presumably, any territory) leaves the ummah, it's an offense against Allah. So when Osama bin Laden came back from the successful US-backed jihad against the Marxist government of Afghanistan and found that he still wasn't happy, he went looking to form a philosophy to justify continuing the war, and this is what he found. The idea pre-dates him, of course. That's what the Arab League was founded for, the hope that a unified front of Islamic nations could reunite the former Islamic empire sort of the way that the European Union more-or-less unites Europe.

What happened to that vast pan-Islamic empire, and why isn't it around any more? The short answer is that they sided with the losing side both in World War I and in World War II. The conquering allied powers used this as an opportunity to play "divide and conquer." You see, when it comes to re-uniting the Ummah, the elephant in the living room that everybody is too polite to mention is that over the centuries, the Ummah has been ruled from Medina, from Baghdad, from Islamabad, and from Damascus. There never was an imperial caliph in Cairo, but for a lot of years, you could have made the case that Cairo was the center of the Islamic world. There were even a couple of years where you could have said the same thing about Toledo, Spain! So if we're going to re-unite the Islamic world, the issue of which city would be the capital is hardly a settled question. And the allied powers took advantage of that, by making sure that every past capital of the Islamic Ummah was in a separate country with its own economic interests, its own royal family, and its own army. That way the western powers could play them off against each other. It's worked, too, for the most part. Which has left them understandably annoyed, and even a little humiliated.

(Here's a good article on the philosophical/political argument to reunite the Ummah, that went around several years ago: "A Blueprint for the Ummah's Revival," which is itself a lengthy book review of what I gather to be the most popular English-language book on the subject, Ishtiyaque Danish's The Ummah, Pan-Islamism and Muslim Nation-States.)

Never mind the morality of "negotiating with terrorists." Every war ends in some kind of negotiation. Even in the case of unconditional surrenders, like Germany at the end of WWII, there still ends up being a treaty that, yes, is negotiated. The Islamists seek to unite the Ummah under some kind of overt theocracy; whether an "elected" theocracy like Iran or a monarchical theocracy like Saudi Arabia is a detail that their apologists have conveniently left to be settled at a later date, after the victory has been won. Now, even assuming that we were negotiating from a position of strength, assuming that we could feel confident that we'd ended the Islamist threat outside of the Ummah, that we could have peace between the Ummah and the rest of us (and that's a pretty big and pretty dubious assumption) ... what countries do they want? What boundary are they actually fighting for? Take a look at these standard reference maps: "The Arab-Muslim Empire," which shows the boundaries of the caliphate as of 750 CE, and "Expansion of the Ottoman Empire," which shows the extent of the Ummah at its greatest extent, in 1683 CE. What do they want? In addition to the states that you'd expect (Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Libya, Tunisa, Algeria, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan), there are a few in there that might startle you. The whole Balkans. Greece. Georgia and much of southern Russia. Armenia. And if you hadn't found a deal-breaker in there yet, try this one on for size: Spain.

We can almost certainly negotiate peace with individual Arab and Islamic states; for the most part, we already have. Although the US (and more so the UK and France) have profited greatly from the game of divide and conquer, we could probably even stand to see a reunited Islamic Caliphate, especially if that united Islamic/Arabic empire chose the Turkish/Pakistani model of government instead of Wahabbist (Saudi Arabia, etc.), Hezbollah (Iran), or Baathist (Syria) paradigms. (Although frankly, we got along just fine with the Baath Socialist Party states for quite a few years until the Bush family found themselves locked in a personal death struggle with Saddam Hussein and his family.) But if any nation advocates as a non-negotiable demand that we have to surrender Israel, the whole Balkans, and Spain to them, and that demand really is non-negotiable, and they either declare war or sponsor terrorist attacks on any of those states or their defenders with the intent of drawing them back into the Ummah, well, then, sooner or later there's going to be a war. (Although frankly, if they went with the Turkish model, and guaranteed freedom of worship and of conscience to all of the People of the Book, I wouldn't have any personal problem with negotiating away Israel, myself.)

I still say Iraq is the wrong war, the wrong enemy, the wrong time; that we overthrew a secular regime that wasn't sponsoring terrorist attacks against us (although the Israelis had a valid beef with them), while calling an increasingly Wahabbist state next door that's more-or-less openly defending Osama bin Laden our close ally in the War on Terror. But hey, at least Bush has finally figured out what the war is about. That's progress of a sort.