At long last the Western world is waking up to the fact that it faces a real and present danger - nothing less than a determined assault on its very existence. Appeasement is not a practical option. This is an enemy fired up by religious zeal, utterly committed to its unacceptable purposes and not susceptible to discussion or negotiation. In short, as much as liberal opinion in the civilized world may flinch from the prospect, there is a battle to be fought and won. On Wednesday, September 3 – coincidentally 75 years to the day after Britain declared war on Nazi Germany – US President Obama said: “Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL [the self-styled Islamic State(IS)].”
For his part, UK prime minister David Cameron has vowed that IS will "be squeezed out of existence". His remarks, made to a packed House of Commons, appeared to be preparing the ground for a broad coalition to drive out IS, following a formal invitation from the Iraqi government. At last week’s NATO summit in Wales, US Secretary of State John Kerry pulled together a coalition made up of Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark, along with Australia, to do just that, however long it takes.
It has certainly taken a long time for the penny to drop, but now the foe has been identified – exemplified by the so-called Islamic State, currently spreading across northern Iraq and Syria, but far from the enemy’s only manifestation. Old inhibitions among the politically correct about being dubbed Islamophobic, are rapidly being replaced by an acknowledgement of the distinction that must be drawn between Islam and Islamist.
Islamist extremists are scattered across the world in a great variety of organizations and groupings. To mention but a few there is Boko Haram (meaning “Western education is sin”) active in the north of Nigeria; Al-Shabaab, centred in Somalia, but active in Kenya and across east Africa; Al-Qaida, now headed by the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, and active in a variety of countries including Algeria, northern Mali, and Yemen; the Al-Nusra Front, an official offshoot of al-Qaida and one of Syria's main rebel groups, though at loggerheads with IS; the Ansar al-Sharia organizations in Tunisia and Libya; Hezbollah in Lebanon, now fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria; and, of course, Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose goal is the destruction of the state of Israel.
Not all see eye-to-eye on all issues, but all are united in their loathing of the West, its democracy, its way of life, and its values. All are determined to undermine and eventually destroy it, spread their concept of extremist Islam back across what was once the Muslim caliphate, and then beyond it and, if they can, subject the world to their version of Sharia law.
The founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 was a reaction to the formal abolition of the Ottoman caliphate by Kemal Ataturk in 1924. The Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, declared: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”
The process of infiltrating Europe, as a precursor to destroying it from within, is well under way. Political author Lorenzo Vidino has demonstrated how, since the early 1960s, Muslim Brotherhood members and sympathisers have “moved to Europe and slowly but steadily established a wide and well-organised network of mosques, charities and Islamic organisations”. The Brotherhood has active branches in the US, the UK, Germany, France and numerous other European countries. This systematic penetration into Europe of extreme Islamist notions expounded by extremist clerics, explains in large measure how young Muslims across the continent have been indoctrinated to the extent of volunteering to undertake suicide terrorist attacks and of flocking to join the ranks of IS in Iraq and Syria. It explains, to the evident dismay of both President Obama and prime minister David Cameron, how it is that a young British-born Muslim has apparently beheaded, on video, two American journalists, and threatened to do the same to a third, this time a Briton.
It is not only in Europe that civilized values are under attack. On September 4, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced a new branch intent on bringing its holy war to India and South-East Asia. He announced that Islamist militants in India had been united under one commander, pledging allegiance to Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban leader. It would, he said, "liberate Muslim lands" and "revive its caliphate". Zawahiri’s support for a caliphate under Mullah Omar affirms his rejection of the global caliphate proclaimed by IS. The split between al-Qaida and its offshoot, IS, is complete.
The emergence of modern international terrorism, practised so assiduously by Islamist extremists, is directly connected with the Arab-Israel conflict. In particular, the outcome of the Six Day War in June 1967 led Palestinian leaders to realize that the Arab world was unable to defeat Israel militarily. So in the late-1960s the belief developed within Arab nationalist movements that terrorism could be effective in reaching political goals. Radical Palestinians took advantage of modern communication and transportation systems to internationalize their struggle. They, and the Islamist extremists who followed, launched a series of hijackings, kidnappings, bombings, shootings and spectacular onslaughts against Western targets, as in New York on September 11, 2001.
These ruthless and indiscriminate terrorist methods, refined by ever more sophisticated techniques, have characterised the activities of those extreme Islamists who have taken the fight into the Western world. The same methods are used by Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Gaza strip, in their more limited vendetta against the very existence of the state of Israel. Despite their differences, which are many, Hamas, like the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, IS, and the other jihadi groupings, have the identical overall aim – the eventual triumph of their particular extreme version of Islam over the values of the West, which they despise.
It is in this sense that, for the past forty years, Israel has been in the vanguard of the fight against the forces that would undermine, tear down, and replace the open, democratic way of life that the vast majority in the Western world cherish. But realization comes slowly. Yes, the inhuman slaughter of the two journalists seems to have stiffened the resolve of some Western leaders to bring down IS. Yet the US, unhappy at Egyptian President al-Sisi’s clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, has apparently been pressurizing the new Egyptian administration to allow Islamists to participate in the political process.
“The Americans,” said the former Egyptian foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, in a television interview on August 31, “have not appropriately learned the lessons of dealing with terrorism.”
It is a lesson that President Obama, the leader of the Western world, will simply have to learn.
Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 7 September 2014:
Published in the Eurasia Review, 6 September 2014: