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Norman Spinrad

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New York, NY 10011

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by Norman Spinrad

The latest major incident in the so-called "War on Terror" has elicited the
usual empty breast-beating about staying the course to defeat nihilistic
death-loving terrorists, but as usual little or nothing on what the political
goals of the "extremist Islamic terrorists" really are and therefore what this
war is really about.
This is not a "war against terror" or a "war against terrorists." Terrorism
is a tactic, not a political goal, and these terrorists do have political goals,
and what is more they have more or less openly stated them.
This war has been going on for a thousand years. Only the tactics have
changed. The terrorists have a deep and powerful philosophical, theological,
and political difference with what is variously called "the West,"
"Christianity," "the Crusaders," and yes "Democracy," and while most of the
Umma, the "Moslem World," may indeed deplore the tactics applied, support
for the goals themselves is wide and long-standing therein.
Democracy and the Islamic concept of legitimate rule are inherently
incompatible. It's time that the democracies faced up to the fact that an
"Islamic Republic" is a contradiction in terms. The jihadis certainly have.
Abu Musab al Zarkawi himself has stated this in no uncertain terms. The
sole "Islamic Republic" on the planet, Iran, where the theocratic
establishment is legally empowered to decide who may and who may not
run for office in a democratic election and to over-rule the President and the
Parliament has demonstrated this over a long period of time.
The root concept of democracy is that a government's legitimacy derives
from the consent of the governed and the election of its officers and
representatives by one form of choice by its citizens or another, and that
laws, or even constitutions, may be changed or amended by some form of
popular will.
But in the Islamic concept of governmental legitimacy, legitimacy
derives from adherence to the Koran, the final, immutable Word of Allah, as
revealed and dictated to Mohammed. And the Koran therefore cannot be
amended or superceded or changed by any secular democratic process.
That is why Zarkawi and those who believe as he does, whether they
approve of his tactics or not, are against "democracy" itself. According to
this quite sincere and widespread belief, only an Islamic government is
legitimate in the eyes of Allah, and democracy itself, where the ultimate
authority to write, amend, and change laws and constitutions resides in the
governed, where the popular will can over-ride the strictures of the Koran, is
an open door to apostasy.
There can be democratic states with overwhelmingly or majority Muslim
populations like Indonesia and Malaysia and even a democratic state that
chooses at any given time to adopt Sharia as its legal code, but a state that
bases its legitimacy on the Koran rather than the consent of the governed as
expressed in an electoral process cannot be a true republic or a democracy.
This is what the so-called "War on Terror" is really about--two widely
and sincerely held but incompatible beliefs in the very nature of legitimate
governance itself. And given acceptance of the core Islamic postulate, the
Islamic concept of legitimacy is just as rigorously legitimate as the
democratic one.
So this is a Jihad in the strictest Islamic terms, and a jihad does not
necessarily have to involve a clash of arms, only a battle of ideas, ideals, and
beliefs; a pacifist jihadi is not necessarily a contradiction in terms.
And when George W. Bush declares that his goal is to transform the
Middle East into a series of democratic states, what Muslims hear is a
declaration of a Western Holy War against the Islamic concept of a
legitimate state, a Christian "crusade"--a word that Bush himself has thrown
around promiscuously to dire consequences--against the Koran, against the
Word of Allah itself.
A Holy War to justify imperialist conquest that goes back to the original
Crusades, the Christian occupation of Jerusalem and the establishment of a
Christian enclave state in what is now Lebanon and parts of Syria.
What is more, the Islamic concept of governmental legitimacy is not
that of a series of completely sovereign Islamic nation states, but that of an
overall government of the Umma, the Muslim community; a theocratic
Caliphate something like Medieval Europe, where Kings themselves were
vassals of the Pope, the ultimate authority, both religious and political, as
God's spokesman on Earth, from whom all legitimacy flowed.
And this was more or less the situation which pertained during the
Golden Age of Islam, which Osama bin Laden and others openly not only
seek to restore, but in their theoretical fantasies wish to see extended over
the entire world.
This is the political goal of the enemy.
And the "terrorists have a stepwise strategy to realize it:
First, eject the American military from Saudi Arabia, already
accomplished, leaving the Saudi royal family to its own military and security
resources, and by extension drive American forces and influence from the
Middle East entire, giving them a freer hand to overthrow individual
governments and replace them with Islamic rule.
Second, or simultaneously, overthrow the Saudi and Pakistani
governments, replacing the former with an Islamic government of their own
and setting up a Pakistani government controlled by sympathetic elements of
the military and the intelligence apparatus, of which there are plenty, as
witness no less than eleven attempts to assassinate the current military
dictator Pervez Musharraf.
Once in control of the Saudi oil revenues, these can be used to buy not
only nuclear warheads but delivery systems from an allied and impoverished
Pakistan . They will then control a dominating portion of the West's oil
supply (and the oil can always be sold to China instead) and they will have
their own nuclear umbrella against American invasion, under which they can
dominate the Middle East and proceed to establish their new Caliphate.
Collaterally, another goal is to discredit democracy as a system of
government in the eyes of the Umma, in Africa, where Islam vies with
Christianity, in the Third World in general, economically disadvantaged by
the democratic West's "globalization," and even in Europe, particularly in
France and to a lesser extent in Germany, where there are large Muslim
populations who see themselves as second class citizens.
Further, After 9/11, Osama bin Laden openly declared that one of the
major goals of the attack was to erode the civil liberties and political
freedoms that made American democracy an admired model in so much of
the world despite the predatory economic policies of its multinational
corporations through "globalization" and the World Trade Organization and
the International Monetary Fund. To convert the United States into the
political "Great Satan" it had not truly been before.
Gorbachev declared that he would do a terrible thing to America. He
would deprive it of an enemy. Bin Laden did something worse. He made
the United States the enemy of much of the world.
In this his staunchest ally, witting or not, has been George W. Bush.
Civil liberties are being curtailed in the name of security against
terrorism and the American people by and large are accepting this. The
invasion and subsequent quagmire war in Iraq have isolated America to a
large extent on a governmental level, and to an even greater extent among
the populaces of Europe, and most of the rest of the world. Surely George
W. Bush is the most hated and feared political leader on the planet, and the
United States the most feared and hated nation.
Moreover, as long as the war in Iraq drags on, the United States is
rendered effectively powerless to intervene militarily elsewhere, even if its
vital interests are at stake, for instance should a coup turn Saudi Arabia into
an enemy Islamic state with a stranglehold on its oil supply. The American
public will not accept a draft, the Army and the National Guard and the
reserves are failing to recruit sufficient volunteers, and the United States
military is already being forced to alter its doctrine requiring readiness to
fight two wars at the same time because it simply cannot raise the forces
necessary to do so.
Thus, whatever they may say, the jihadi terrorists in Iraq are not trying to
drive the American forces out. As opposed to the Baath revanchist terrorists,
they like things the way they are just fine. And since the Americans tie their
departure to turning things over to an Iraqi army and security force capable
of standing against them on their own, they have altered their tactics to
concentrate on killing Iraqi soldiers, police, security forces, trainees, and
potential recruits to see to it that this cannot happen.
This is a war against democracy, the western way of life, secularism, the
concept of multicultural states, and the 21st century itself, waged not by
incoherent death-loving nihilists (though such gunfodder may be
employed)but by an enemy with sincerely held theocratic political beliefs, a
stepwise political strategy and very clear tactical thinking, waged against a
clueless American administration which displays no understanding of the
true nature of its enemy or its overall strategy and has therefore handed it
and continues to hand it a series of tactical victories.
Can there even be a strategy that can hope to definitively defeat such an
enemy? Perhaps not. This is a jihad that has gone on in one form or another
for a thousand years and it is doubtful whether the hard-core terrorist
believers can ever be completely eliminated and will never accept final
The best that can be hoped for is to attenuate the conflict towards a
vanishing point which can never quite be reached. In the real world, this
could be an acceptable outcome. The situation in Ulster, with Catholic
minority seeking union with Ireland and a Protestant majority that refuses
such a union that would reduce it to a minority may be inherently
unresolvable, but the Irish Republic Army and the Unionist terrorists have
lost their popular support for terrorist acts, Sri Lanka may be moving in the
same direction, and where terrorism failed to achieve its political goal in
South Africa it was achieved by Nelson Mandela and Willem De Klerk
without what had seemed like the inevitable bloodbath.
The democratic west needs its De Klerk and Islam needs its Mandela.
The former is presently nowhere in evidence, but could arise through the
democratic process exercised by an enlightened electorate. Neither is the
latter, but while it seems unlikely that such a figure could arise through the
largely non-existent democratic processes in the Islamic world, the example
of Anwar Sadat, who came to power by other means, concluding at least a
cold peace with the least likely Israeli leader, Menachim Begin, at least gives
cause for hope.
Begin did nothing to create his "Arab Mandela," far from it, but
enlightened democratic leadership could take steps to nurture the emergence
of a "Madhi of Peace."
Islam has no final authority, no Pope to issue a fatwah against terrorist
tactics religiously binding on all sects and factions. But there are many
mullahs, ayatollahs, and other Islamic authorities who could issue such
fatwahs, and if enough of them could be persuaded to do so, the terrorist
hard-liners could be reduced to apostate pariahs within the Umma no longer
able to swim like fish in the sea of the people even though popular support
for their political goal might remain.
Initially this would probably have to begin outside the Middle East.
Indonesia is the most populous country and despite the overwhelming
Muslim majority there is little popular support for Islamic terrorism, not
much more for the establishment of an Islamic state, and multiculturalism is
the official ideology. A similar if more precarious balance exists in
In Europe, where twenty million Muslims are a culturally suspect
minority, fatwahs at least proclaiming that multicultural democratic societies
are not against Islam and the Koran might be enthusiastically welcomed
provided that there was a quid pro quo by the Christian and secular majority.
And that is the key. An acceptance of co-existence between the Islamic
concept of governmental legitimacy and the democratic concept must arise
from within the Umma, and given the nature of Islamic, this can only
happen via the collectively weight of fatwahs issued by diverse authorities in
diverse lands.
To encourage this, to foment it if you will, the democracies must not
only address the grievances of Muslims, but demonstrate the practical
advantages of democracy and legally protected civil liberties over theocratic
rule in their multicultural societies and in general to the self-interest of
individual Muslims.
Indonesia and Malaysia show the way, and Europe must follow suit to
demonstrate both a greater welcoming acceptance of the elements of the
Umma within multicultural European societies and the economic and civil
advantages of living as Muslims in advanced and relatively prosperous
democratic states over life in backward Islamic societies that deny the
realties of the 21s century itself.
Even under its presently benighted leadership, the United States is
further advanced that Europe along this road. The American Constitution
forbids the governmental establishment religion, but it protects "the free
exercise thereof." American secular public schools do not forbid the
wearing of yarmulkes, crosses, or Islamic dress; such expressions of
religious affiliation are protected by law. Surely France can follow this
example and accept the wearing of the foulard in its own multicultural
secular schools.
And indeed even under Bush, multiculturalism is a cornerstone of the
national ideology, as it has been for a hundred years, more or less,
strengthened perhaps even to a fault in recent years, a glaring contrast to the
assimilationism prevalent in all too many European states, some of whom
even have established specific Christian sects as the official state religion.
An enlightened European Union would do well to adopt the clause of the
American Constitution and legally prohibit the establishment of a religion by
its member states and legally protect the free practice of all religions within
its boundaries.
On the political level, French, British, and particularly German
championing of Turkish entry into the European Union would be a
transformational beau jeste, a statement that Europe's Muslims are not a
suspect minority on a Christian continent but a welcome addition to the great
community of democratic European states.
But the United States must take the first giant step. Bush's verbal
championing of democracy in the Middle East would be all well and good if
it did not come from the mouth of "the Great Satan" doing business as usual
with monarchical and secular local despots and 135,000 troops occupying an
Arab state. But as such it is worse than hollow, it discredits democracy itself
in the eyes of the Arab masses, and not without a certain justification. If
Mohammed was the Messenger delivering the Word of Allah, an American
President under such conditions as the Messenger of Democracy has about
as much credibility as Bill Clinton preaching the virtues of chastity to the
teenagers of America.
It is highly unlikely that the leopard in the White House is about to
change his spots, so it is up to the Democratic opposition to screw up its
courage as it failed to do in the last election, face the true nature of the
conflict, explain it in clear terms to the American people, demonstrate faith
in the outcome of the enlightened democratic process America presumes to
defend and promise to do the following if elected:
Announce a schedule for withdrawal from Iraq, based not on an arbitrary
timetable, but on events--once the Iraqis write their own constitution and
hold an election under it and install a government, the American troops will
withdraw in a rapid and orderly fashion and with victory and honor.
The first stated goal, after all, was to remove weapons of mass
destruction. There weren't any. Mission accomplished.
The first back-up goal, after all, was to overthrow the government of
Saddam Hussein. Mission accomplished.
The final goal was to install a legitimate Iraqi government elected under
a constitution written by Iraqis. In the real world, bases might be retained in
Iraq, or in the Emirates, but once that mission is accomplished, the United
States can, should, and must declare victory, which can truly and honorably
do, and go home.
Islam needs its Mandela.
America needs its Gorbachev.
To do a terrible thing to Bin Laden and the terrorist jihadis by depriving
them of their self-created paramount enemy.
Only one force on Earth can slay their Great Satan .
For the honor of the American people, in the name of democracy, in the
name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, only America can make it so.