The final result after five centuries of attacks on and colonization of the different parts of the Islamic World was that by 1922 all of this world was under the control of Western European powers except for Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey. And even with regard to Iran, Russia occupied the northern part of the country in 1911 and the British occupied most of the western part during the First World War until 1921. And then as late as during the Second World War, Great Britain and the Soviet Union occupied Iran for several years until 1946. The establishment of the state of Israel, backed by Western European powers and the United States, in 1948 was, in the minds of Islamists, another flagrant example of an attack upon and seizure of Islamic territory. (Please note that I define the “Islamic World” as only those countries where the majority religion is Islam.)
The effect of this Western European onslaught has been traumatic for the inhabitants of the Islamic World. In Western colonies and protectorates they were at best second class citizens. They were, in effect, strangers in their own lands. Although they were by far the large majority of the population, they had no political voice; they had no political power. They were ruled for the benefit of their colonizers and “protectors”. As a result of the attacks, conquests, and colonization, the Islamic peoples, having no power in the external world, turned inward to their religion in order to affirm their identity and maintain their self-respect. The Western European powers did virtually nothing to transform them into Westernized citizens. There was no Islamic Renaissance or Reformation. Consequently, their social structures and their attitudes remained medieval.
Then, after the end of the Second World War, everything began to change. One after another the former colonies, protectorates, mandates, zones of influence liberated themselves from their Western European colonizers, protectors, mentors. And in 1962 Algeria became the last of the Islamic states to regain its full independence. But the trauma for the Islamic World did not end. One type of trauma was joined by another. And instead of the exterior forces of attacks and colonization and their demeaning effects, this new trauma has several and different aspects. They are within and without. By the time of their independence, all of the newly sovereign countries of the Islamic World, except Iran and Afghanistan, had been either colonies or protectorates of Western European powers or provinces of an Islamic empire. Some of them for several centuries; some of them for many centuries, some for less than a century. With no experience in governing themselves, with their political heritage rooted in tribal and provincial chiefs they all became monarchical or dictatorial states. Today, after more than fifty years of independence the citizens of these states are beginning to tire of the self-centeredness of such regimes and to look for others that can meet their expectations.
Independence thrust these medieval societies into the modern world. And they have been slowly transforming their medieval structures and attitudes in order to be a part of today’s world. This transformation has been both helped and hindered by the ineluctable Westernization of all the world’s cultures. Helped, in the sense that the governments of the Islamic World cannot prevent their citizens from learning how the rest of the world lives and thinks. This became manifest in the “Arab Spring” of 2011, even though the results achieved in progress toward modern societies and governments has not been appreciable. On the other hand, it demonstrates the powerful underlying social forces that want to join the modern world. In viewing the turmoil and tumult in the Islamic World today one must always keep in mind the difficult and repeated efforts that were needed by Western states to achieve effective and durable freedom and democratic governments. If one starts the British process with the Magna Carta of 1215, it took them six centuries to achieve a full democracy. We Americans were fortunate in that we could use the British efforts to establish our own from the beginning of the country’s independence. The French were not so fortunate. The First Republic lasted only seven years. It was followed by Napoleon until 1815, then by the restoration of the monarchy. This endured until 1848 when the Second Republic was declared, only to be terminated by Napoleon III in 1852. He, in turn, gave way to the Third Republic in 1870. The Third Republic endured until the 1940 conquest of France by Germany. In 1946 the Fourth Republic was established, only to give way in 1958 to the Fifth, which is still governing France today. It is obvious that the road to an enduring democratic government, even in the civilization that created the concept, is long and filled with potholes.
After the crushing defeat of the Third Reich by the Allies, occupied West Germany adopted a democratic form of government in 1949, but it was not until after the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990 that Germany regained its full sovereignty. Germany, therefore, has only sixty-five years of democracy under its belt (except for the fourteen brief and troubled years of the Weimar Republic). Its enduring stability cannot be compared to that of the United States or Great Britain. Today, in the Islamic World only Turkey has anything resembling a durable democratic government. The newly democratic government of Tunisia is too new to enable one to predict that it will endure, particularly when one considers the anti-democratic forces at play in the Islamic World. Even the democratic government of Turkey, created by force and imposed on the Turkish people by Kemal Atatürk, seems to be sliding into an Islamic reactionary mode. The government of Pakistan, although nominally democratic, is extremely fragile. Its governance bounced back and forth between elected heads of government and leaders of military coups until 2008. It now has a democratic form of government, but its durability cannot be predicted.
Islamic tradition and history are not favorable to the concepts of human rights, individual liberty, and democracy. Yet, the force of Western culture is so powerful that these concepts are beginning to invade and transform traditional Islamic culture. The “Arab Spring of 2011 is a strong, recent example. The manifestations in Bahrein, severely suppressed, are another. The initial demonstrations against the Assad regime in Syria were still another. Even the defiance of a few Saudi women in driving a car is another. These Westernizing forces will continue to act on the populations of the Islamic World; they will undoubtedly become stronger. But their effects will lead to violence, to bloodshed, to imprisonments, to deaths. We in the Western World should not be surprised by this. No significant social change has ever been achieved without violence, bloodshed, and death. Think of the American Revolution. Think of the French Revolution. Think of the war against the Third Reich. Think of the war against imperialist Japan. Both these latter have resulted in democratic governments that have endured already for more than half a century and that would not have come into existence without war.
The Islamic World is being subjected to powerful contrary external and internal forces. It is inevitable that these forces will express themselves in violence. It is also inevitable that the Islamic World will be in turmoil and tumult for most of the rest of this century and very possibly longer, until one set of the forces triumphs. We have already discussed the initial effects of Westernization. These will continue to become more powerful as more and more inhabitants of the Islamic World become more and more Westernized. The process will be, however, long and often painful.
On the other hand, the Westernization of the Islamic World has also hindered its transformation, because. it has created strong reactionary forces that want to reject the modern world as exemplified by the West. These reactionary forces are highly visible. They take essentially two forms. One is international terrorism. This is not a particularly dangerous form of anti-Westernization, although it is vicious and cruel in its willingness and efforts to kill innocent Westerners and destroy property. The other form is internal conflict. This is manifest in almost all the countries of the Islamic World. There are strong elements in Islamic society that reject the modern Westernized world. They came out of the trauma of conquest and colonization with the desire to remain fundamentalist Muslims. Their religion carried them through the dark centuries and they cannot accept a different mind set. And like all religious fanatics, whether they be Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, Buddhist, Confucianist, Muslim, etc., they feel a powerful impulse to make others follow their religious beliefs. There are the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan; there are the Salafist Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Emirates; there are the Sunni creators of the Islamic State (ISIS). Just like the Catholics during the religious wars of the XVIth and XVIIth centuries against the Protestants, and before that in the XIIIth century against the Cathars in the Albigensian Crusade, and again during the Inquisition. These fanatics are quite willing to tear the Islamic World apart in order to achieve their fundamentalist goals. The struggle between them and the less fundamentalist, more moderate Muslims who yearn to leave medievalism behind has only just begun.
Another external destabilizing force on the Islamic World is the existence of the state of Israel. In the aftermath of the Second World War, as the heretofore colonized or “protectorized” Islamic states were gaining their independence, there came, in the view of the Islamic World, a new Western attack against the people and territory of an Islamic state. This attack led to territorial conquest and the expulsion of the large majority of the Muslim inhabitants. It led to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which endures even today, more than sixty years later. That this conflict still continues is primarily the fault of the United States government. Its policy during this time has been openly favorable to the Israelis. It has essentially treated the Palestinians about the way the French government today treats Roumanian Gypsies. It wishes they would simply go away. This, of course, is not a policy that will resolve the issues arising from the existence of Israel. Nor will it improve United States governmental relations with the Islamic World. Admittedly, the government has been subjected over the years to intense pro-Israeli lobbying; manifestly, it has been manipulated by successive Israeli governments, including the present Netanyahu government. No American president since 1948 has faced the basic issues at stake. The accords under the Carter and Clinton administrations were band aids, not cures. The results for the American people have been disastrous. First, the failure to resolve the conflict created Muslim international terrorism. Today, there are other significant factors motivating it, but the failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict kicked it off. Second, the prestige, the reputation, and the credibility of the United States government in the Islamic World have significantly diminished because of the conflict.
A third factor destabilizing the Islamic World was the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. As well as today, the air attacks against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan fostered the development or rejuvenation of reactionary, religiously fanatic, and anti-Western forces. These long and costly invasions ended, or are ending, with no beneficial results. Iraq is still a war torn country, its people undergoing terrorist bombings daily, its sectarian government incapable of meeting the challenges facing it. The same is true for Afghanistan. Today’s air attacks are seen by the Islamic World as another attack against it. The tactical advantages that these attacks may achieve must be matched against the strategic disadvantages that they create. Air attacks cannot engender a military victory. That can only be done by troops on the ground. Unfortunately, thus far, the Iraqi Army has shown a predisposition to flight rather than fight. It may be that if and when ISIS attempts to invade the Shia part of Iraq, the Army, composed primarily of Shia, may fight. It remains to be seen. In the meantime, once again, as in Vietnam, we are attempting to hold up governments that do not have the wholehearted support of their people. The United States government does not seem capable of learning that military intervention is useless unless a country’s people are fully supportive of their government and that an outsider cannot impose a government on other peoples and thus gain their support. On the other hand, our military interventions bring death and destruction to these people. And they tend to radicalize with anti-Western feelings a significant part of the population.
There are also powerful internal forces that are ripping the fabric of Islamic society. The first of these is the cleavage between the Shia and Sunni. This, of course, has existed for centuries. However, until President Bush misguidedly decided to invade Iraq and Afghanistan this split in the Islamic religion had little to no significance for the American people and little to no geopolitical significance. Today that has changed. It is estimated that of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world somewhere between 75% and 90% are Sunni. The remaining religious tendencies are divided between the Shia with their strongholds in Iraq and Iran, the Salafist Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Emirates, and the Sufis, found mostly in North Africa. The present warfare in Iraq is essentially a religious war between Sunnis and Shia. It is not the sort of warfare we Westerners have engaged in since the end of our religious wars. The Western world passed through this traumatic experience some centuries ago. It is little wonder that today in an Islam trying to move into the modern era there should be religious wars. It is a major error not to recognize this. And it would be a greater error on the part of Western countries to believe that their military intervention could resolve such wars.
The other important internal force splitting the Islamic World is the desire of an uncounted and uncountable number of its inhabitants to become a part of the world after decades and even centuries of political and social isolation. And since the world is becoming more and more inevitably Westernized, it means that these inhabitants of the Islamic World are ready to accept Western culture. This does not mean foreswearing tenets of their religion that do not conflict with a Westernized culture. For example, wearing head scarves. On the other hand, it means freedom for women to pursue an education, to drive cars, to have a career outside the home, etc. It means renouncing Sharia law to the extent that that law conflicts with Western legal concepts.
The struggle among all these forces acting upon the inhabitants of the Islamic World in the XXIst century will continue for decades and very likely through the century. Their struggles will surge back and forth, sometimes one force seeming to become dominant, only to lose out to a different force. These struggles will be bitter, they will involve violence, destruction, bloodshed, and death. They will range from demonstrations to police suppression to armed conflict to imprisonments to torture to property destruction to deaths. The Western World has already been there, but we tend to forget the struggles that forged modern Western Civilization.
The question is how should the Western World interact with the Islamic World in the decades ahead and what can the Western World do to help its transition. I shall limit my discussion to what the United States can and should do. As the most powerful representative of the Western World and the only one that can project its power across the globe, this choice is, I believe, appropriate. Nonetheless, the other nations of the world can and should adopt the same policies in order to enhance the chance that the extreme turbulence in the Islamic World will reach a successful conclusion for all of the peoples on this earth.
The first, and probably the most critical, policy to be adopted is to end all military intervention in the internal strife of the Islamic World. Our current air strikes are a pro forma intervention, not meant to be decisive. And the American people are not willing to marshal and deploy the military means necessary to be decisive. The hundreds of thousands of American military deployed to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan were insufficient to be decisive. Decisive intervention in the Islamic internecine struggles would undoubtedly entail re-initiating compulsory military service (perhaps this time for both males and females), the quadrupling, perhaps quintupling, the size of the armed forces, a multi-decade occupation of a country or countries with a hostile population. I am confident that the American people do not desire such extreme sacrifices in order to intervene in warfare internal to the Islamic World.
It is important to recognize that Syria, regardless of its government, is not a threat to the United States, nor to the Western World. The same is true of Iraq. The same is true of Afghanistan. The same is true of all of the nations in the Islamic World. Their geopolitical reach beyond their own world does not exist. Nor is Muslim international terrorism a geopolitical factor. It cannot overturn governments; it cannot conquer and occupy territory outside its own world. It can kill; it can destroy, but only locally. The West needs to continue to fight such terrorism, as well as its own internal types of terrorism, but this cannot be done effectively through the use of massive military force.
The air strikes in Iraq and Syria should be terminated. All U.S. troops should be withdrawn as promptly as possible from Afghanistan. All military and naval bases situated in the Islamic World should be closed. In other words, the U.S. military footprint in this world should be reduced to none, except as explained below. Why? United States military presence and activity create more Islamic hostility than they achieve militarily. It also fosters a radicalization of the Islamic movements. And even among the general Islamic population our military presence and activity are viewed unfavorably. The war which pits ISIS against the Iraqi government, against the Kurds, against the Assad regime, against the other forces fighting to overthrow the Assad regime is an internal affair of the Islamic World. Just as the French resented the intervention of the European powers to attempt to reverse their Revolution, just as we would have resented the intervention of a European power in our Civil War, Muslims tend to resent our interference, except possibly for the minority who are interested in maintaining their powers and privileges by our support.
Our military interventions in the Islamic World have wreaked havoc, have destroyed the political equilibrium, have killed and wounded tens of thousands of uninvolved civilians. To an objective observer it must seem astounding to the point of absurdity that the U.S. is willing to engage itself militarily in the Islamic World in order to save it from Islamic tendencies of which the U.S. government disapproves, whereas the U.S. government in the past sat quietly observing the massacres in Rwanda and in the Republic of the Congo, and in the Darfur region of Sudan without so much as the blink of an eye, the raising of an eyebrow, the furrowing of the brow.. As it also did during the massacres of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. And as it is doing today with regard to the massacres perpetrated by the Boko Haram movement in Nigeria. On the one hand, there appears to be an element of racism in picking whom we will help and whom we will not help. On the other hand, there is definitely a misjudgment of the geopolitical factors in the various situations. Leaving Saddam Hussein in place was not a geopolitical risk. Allowing the Taliban to retake control of Afghanistan is not a geopolitical risk. This latter is a strong possibility upon the departure of the U.S. military, since the government created by the United States is not strongly supported by the population and has been notoriously corrupt. The creation of an ISIS caliphate is not a geopolitical risk. The retention of power by Bashar al-Assad, if it occurs, is not a geopolitical risk.
United States foreign policy for decades, certainly since the end of the Cold War, has been inconsistent, even incoherent, except for its blatant support of Israel against the Palestinians. The U.S. government needs critically in today’s chaotic world to formulate a coherent foreign policy consistent with the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This, however, is a subject beyond the scope of the present article.
The United States must continue to fight forcefully against international terrorism, which primarily involves Muslims. Conventional military intervention is not a useful tool. Air strikes are ineffective against international terrorist groups. Masses of troops are ineffective against terrorists. Combating terrorists, whether domestic or international, requires first and foremost the best intelligence possible. There are three aspects to good intelligence. First, aggressive collection. (I hasten to mention that “aggressive” does not mean violating the rights of American citizens or those of other countries by the collection of data on their telephone calls, emails, etc. regardless of whether a secret FICA court has approved it.) Second, sound analysis. In the past, this aspect has been deficient, even corrupted. Third, wide dissemination to all agencies and organizations concerned. This must then be followed by the expedient utilization of a force capable of thwarting, and preferably, eliminating the terrorists discovered by the intelligence. This force, depending upon the geographical location and other circumstances, political, social, and international, could come from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. military Special Forces, drones, etc. However, the use of drones must be severely monitored. The killing of innocent civilians by misguided drone attacks must never occur. “Collateral” damage from drones, just as from air strikes, falls into the realm of military intervention and beyond the domain of a legitimate attack against terrorists.
Above all, the United States government needs to reach out to the inhabitants of the Islamic World. There are many millions of them who are amenable to, not only contact with the Western World, but to learning more about Western culture and mores. This is a role for the United States Foreign Service. We need to help discreetly the Islamic World in its tumultuous efforts to take its place in the modern world. It is imperative that the inhabitants of the Islamic World see us other than as militarists. As became apparent during the “Arab Spring” and subsequently by the demonstrations in Bahrein and the creation of an elected secular government in Tunisia, and by the earlier harshly repressed demonstrations in Teheran, there is a widespread hunger to move out of the rigid social and political structures of medieval Islam toward the individual freedoms of the West. This must be nurtured. But discreetly. The “hard sell” will assuredly fail. The citizens of the Islamic World must not feel that they are being pushed to adopt new ways of living, but must feel that they themselves are adopting them by expanding their world view. It is a delicate and laborious task requiring great tact and patience. Our embassy and consular personnel in Islamic countries need strong consistent guidance from the Department of State. They definitely need to be able to speak and read the language of the country in which they are located. It is hardly possible to establish empathy through an interpreter. Such reaching out is the surest way to slowly motivate the citizens of Islamic countries to move their social and political structures and methods permanently into the XXIst century. But it must be a sustained effort and a conscientious one, not to be deterred by short term setbacks. Embassy and consular personnel should be encouraged to engage with Muslims, to entertain them in their homes, to visit schools and universities for conferences, etc.
There are a host of means for reaching out beyond the very effective one-on-one relationships. The Department of State could establish English language libraries in major cities. Authors and teachers could be invited to speak, even go on lecture tours. American universities could be encouraged (even subsidized) to establish campuses in Islamic countries. Student exchange programs could be organized. Visits by businessmen and women (especially women) could be set up. Islamic business men and women could visit businesses in the United States. All with the sincere purpose to aid the inhabitants of the Islamic World to become citizens of the XXIst century world. All the cultures of the world are ceding to Westernization. Islam is fighting harder against it than any other culture. Yet there does exist, as events have shown, a desire to begin the process of changing the culture of Islam. There are radical forces opposing this transformation and are using brutal means to squelch it. But the yearning is there. The United States needs to cultivate it. The United States needs to cease acts that arouse hostility in Muslims.
I have already discussed the destabilizing effects on the Islamic World of encroaching Westernization and Western military intervention. The third, and probably the most powerful, destabilizing external force, is the continuing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. This 60-year old conflict must be resolved. On the one hand, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian state must be terminated and a recognized Palestinian state must be created. On the other hand, the nations of the Islamic World must recognize Israel as a legitimate state. The responsibility for the failure to end the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict rests primarily with the successive administrations of the United States government since 1948. The United States government has been blatantly biased in favor of the Israelis. It has failed to use the means available to it to bring the two parties to the negotiating table to develop a firm and durable structure for the co-existence of the two states. Successive Israeli governments have manipulated the United States government to take positions in its favor. The United States government has willingly allowed itself to be so used. The Israeli government is progressively taking over the West Bank by building more and more settlements. The United States protests have been feeble and hollow. Until the United States government obliges the two parties to agree to an equitable arrangement of their separate sovereignties, their conflict will be an open bleeding wound in the corpus of the Islamic World. It will continue to radicalize certain elements of this world and render extremely difficult for Islam and the rest of the world to find a peaceful equilibrium.
The United States government needs to demonstrate that it considers the Palestinians’ claims to their territory as valid as the Israelis’ claims to their territory. The major problem is whose territory is whose. The United States government needs to demonstrate that it is committed to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Israel and Palestine must be willing to compromise or be obliged to compromise. And the United States must be willing to use its “clout” on each of the parties to develop and affirm the compromises. The three major issues that must be solved by compromise are Gaza, Jerusalem, and the settlements. The United States must be willing to propose solutions to these issues that are equitable, if the parties do not. The United States must be willing to use its economic power to force an agreement. As long as there is no agreement, international terrorism will remain a threat. Once there is one and once most of the other Islamic governments have recognized Israel, this threat will undoubtedly diminish and in conjunction with the other measures proposed international terrorism will virtually be eliminated. But Muslim terrorism will continue to exercise its savagery within the Islamic World until all of its internal issues have been settled.
A major action on the part of the United States to achieve a much-needed improvement in its credibility in the Islamic World would be for the United States government to recognize the Palestinian West Bank as a sovereign Palestinian state, even before the beginning of negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Additionally, the United States government should promptly re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran. The practice of severing diplomatic relations, except in the case of war between the countries concerned, is an anachronism. It serves no useful purpose. In fact, it hinders the resolution of problems. It’s like a child sulking in his bedroom because his parents won’t let him do something. It is precisely when there are problems between two countries that diplomatic relations need to remain in place in order to continue a dialog to solve them. No one objected to our continuing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union during all the Cold War. And the Soviet Union was a far greater threat to our security than Iran could ever hope to be.
Military aid to countries of the Islamic World that are not actually engaged in armed conflict should be carefully scrutinized. The governing criterion should be whether or not a country is threatened militarily by any other country. For example, Egypt is not threatened by any of its neighbors; the military aid we have been lavishing on its armed forces serves primarily to oppress its own citizens. The same is true for Saudi Arabia. Israel is not threatened by any of its neighbors. The military aid that we furnish is used to occupy the West Bank and to kill thousands of people in successive invasions of the Gaza Strip. (Although Israel is not an Islamic country, it exists in the middle of the Islamic World and its future is forcibly tied to the future of this world.) Military aid should certainly be furnished to the adversary that we favor in any present or future conflict, exception made in the case of the present Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And if we do not favor either adversary in an actual or potential conflict, we should not furnish military aid to either. A case in point would be Pakistan and India.
The Islamic World is in tumult today and is likely to remain in that state for many decades, possibly through the end of the century. It is subject to external and internal forces which are pushing it in contrary directions. The tumult is being expressed in violence and bloodshed. This will undoubtedly continue until the Islamic World resolves its conflicts. Nations outside the Islamic World can only use indirect means to assist the Muslims trapped between the forces of medievalism and modernism, between fundamentalists and moderates. The use of direct means would work to the benefit of the medievalists and fundamentalists, would further radicalize them, and would generate a mute hostility in the majority of the inhabitants of the Islamic World regardless of any predisposition toward Westernizing Islamic culture. Western military intervention would only aggravate the problems facing the Islamic World. Can the Western World accept this, realize that it cannot solve the problems, and turn to patient and peaceful means to aid the inhabitants of the Islamic World to achieve an end to their internal religious and political strife and to become a constructive part of the global culture?
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