Due to cloudy weather, the demands of woodcutting (winter is a-coming on) and the debilities of age, the Geek has been kicking back reading the news from around the world and generally coming to the conclusion that a large segment of the globe and its attendant population is going to hell in a bucket. And, the hand carrying the bucket is a collective one--the aggregate of the large and rapidly growing advocates of austere, political Islam. Not to put too fine a point on the knife of reality, the single largest problem resident in the global political order is not the economy, nor is it "global warming," not even American "arrogance" and "unilateralism."
The problem confronting all of us today, whether or not we like the idea, is simply Islam. Islam is the necessary and sufficient foundation of that most detestable phenomenon, austere political Islam. In both its violent and non-violent forms, political Islam, particularly the most common sort, the variety growing from the austere roots of Salifism, Wahhibism, and Deobondism, constitutes the single largest threat to international and national stability, order, and peace.
In all the hosannas ringing out during the days of the "Arab Spring," a simple and critical fact was ignored by the political and opinion molding elites in the US and the rest of the West. That seemingly willfully ignored ground truth was the power of austere political Islam to attract and mobilize adherents during periods of great political, social, and economic turbulence. Also ignored by all the applause makers of the West was the companion fact: As uncertainty increased due to the many, often violent changes in all aspects of life, the appeal of austere political Islam would necessarily grow.
Humans are genetically programmed to fear uncertainty, to be risk averse, to seek security in the storms of change. Islam, more than any other religion promises certainty, assures security--if only the rules of the faith are followed absolutely and completely. Islam also provides a roster of acceptable scapegoats upon whom blame can be foisted and whose persecution onto death is given positive sanction. The combination of rule based security and approved scapegoats affords a powerful appeal to austere Islam of the Salifist sort or of the Wahhibist variety.
The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt caught it perfectly in its slogan: Islam is the solution.
When fear or apprehension or anxiety or insecurity threaten, the bracing and strict requirements of austere Islam in its political expression do constitute the solution. The irrefutable fact that life under the rigor of austere Islam is unlivable in practice is no bar to the inherent appeal of the promise given by the faith. The equally irrefutable fact that Islam is inherently incompatible with modern economics, contemporary technology, or even the oft asserted "universal" rights of all humans is likewise no barrier to its attractiveness to people suddenly confronted with all enveloping upheaval.
We have seen the direct correlation between social and political tumult and the rise of austere political Islam in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, and, over the past nine months, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.
It is worth noting that ten and more years ago, Pakistan was peaceful. Back then, before George W. Bush presented the "with us or suffer the consequences" ultimatum to the government of Pakistan, sectarian violence was essentially unknown. Also a stranger to Pakistani life was the horrid specter of "honor killings." Also absent were suicide bombings. Even the FATA was relatively quiet. Karachi was not the political murder capital of Asia (or, to err on the side of accuracy, the world.)
The peace left never apparently to return with the influx of Taliban from Afghanistan. The ISI undoubtedly believed it could continue to exercise full operational control over Taliban, the Haqqani network, and all the other entities predicated on violent political Islam. ISI and the rest of the military and government committed an error in this belief. In justification stands the reality that the destruction of critical elements of traditional society and its polity which occurred in the wake of the Afghan invasion promoted an unexpectedly rapid growth in fear and uncertainty which resulted in an ever widening recruit pool for the advocates of austere violent political Islam. Events outpaced the capacity of ISI to control its monsters.
In the Big Three of the "Arab Spring," Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the organizations of austere political Islamists were not only the only groups ready to take advantage of the new situation. That was reasonably widely understood even if belittled here in the US and elsewhere in the West. What went by unnoticed was the automatic appeal of austere political Islam to the uprooted, the suddenly unmoored, the majority of the people living in all three countries.
Islam is the answer, the solution for those who crave certainty, security, a firm mooring in the new, white waters of "democratic change." Only austere political Islam pretends quick, easy, certain remedies for all the myriad ills resident in the gales of social, political, and economic change blowing through the high deserts and crowded cities of each and all of the Big Three. Not surprisingly, the Salifists, the Wahhibists, have gained the most support in record time.
Equally unsurprising has been the fast boost increase in "honor killings," and overt persecution of Christians, which has been seen with particular drama in Egypt. While most visible in the Land of the Pharaohs, these uniquely Islamic crimes have been occurring in Tunisia and Libya. (It is worth noting that fear of the same happening in Syria has motivated Christians and other sectarian minorities to side with the Baathist regime regardless of other considerations.)
In Libya, the values and imperatives of austere political Islam have been demonstrated in the persecution of sub-Saharan Africans. The rebels have averred repeatedly that the victims (if, indeed, there were any) had been Gaddafi "mercenaries." This excuse is fantasy. The vast majority of black Africans singled out for persecution were not fighters but simply guest workers, most of whom happened to be non-Muslim. This second consideration is non-trivial when assessing the basis of rebel behavior.
The groups advocating austere political Islam will be the new ruling class in each and every of the Big Three. The inevitable failure of the new regimes to address effectively the economic concerns of the citizenry will be met by charges of "infidel" or "Zionist" or "apostate" directed counter-revolutionary conspiracies. Blood will flow in attempts to quash dissent or divert attention. The afflicted countries will, like Pakistan, become less rather than more stable, less rather than more peaceful, less rather than more prosperous. Dissent and repression will lock in a mutual and deadly embrace.
As the societies grow less stable and life less secure, there will be an accelerating move to more austere, more inclusive forms of political Islam. Nothing else can be expected given that tumult and fear demand the anodyne of certainty--the only anodyne promised by Salfiism and the rest of the austere ilk. The predictable failure of Salifism and the rest to provide an effective cure will (as in Iran) result in more and more repression.
The search for outside sponsors of failure along with the religiously sanctioned need for scapegoats will have a high probability of resulting in war. War with Israel is highest on the list, but there can be other candidates as well--including Turkey which can be cast in the role of the model which failed or branded with interference in internal affairs given Ankara's search for Ottoman Empire 2.0. The mere fact that the combined armed forces of the Big Three even if augmented by other Arab or Muslim states will be defeated will be of no moment should the austere Islamists running the show see war as the only way to stay in power.
Looking at the Mideast or North Africa or Northwest Asia or almost anywhere austere political Islam has and is making headway provides no pleasure. Rather, it provokes a strong desire to engage in projectile vomiting.
Only ten years and a month ago, the world looked like a good place to enjoy life. Thanks to advocates of austere violent political Islam, that all changed. Worse, there is no way back to the good years before the Muslims of Osama bin Laden's world view forced the entire globe into Allah's bucket on the road to hell.