READING TIME: 10 MINUTES
Recent events that resulted in the death of two young men may have been a product of lunacy. Lunacy certainly had a part to play, lunacy founded on a chemical imbalance or lunacy induced by dogma or perhaps some combination of the two. There has been a long-standing human condition, some have beliefs when others disagree, people get to die – and who better to incite to action but a person affected by illness. If only we could begin in some way to accept other’s truths to be as valid as our own. The reality is, however, that there are people who are unwilling to accept any truth but their own, so as a result, they seek to recruit young men (mostly) to do their bidding; it has always been thus. The question is then, what to do, acquiesce to other’s beliefs in the interests of civility OR fight.
We are faced with a brutal reality in the Middle East, a reality that is a product of competing civilisations. I, for one, am eternally grateful for Islam – Islam that had life modalities that exceeded “our” own hundreds of years ago. The reality is though, that we – Christendom and Islam – have found conflict for hundreds of years. We have arrived where we are as a product of European adventurism in the Middle East, or at least, the west’s desire to dominate the region. Christendom's desire to dominate the region, is founded in large measure, I believe, out of well-founded fear – it is quite recently that Islam’s ladders were on the walls of Naples.
The fact is, we, Europeans, have in many ways sowed the seeds of discontent, we have left the young families wanting, and all the while piping Life Styles of the Rich and Famous into their living rooms via modern media. The clear discrepancy between our living standards, the historical triumph of Islam, the historical “parity” of civilisations in contrast with the present disparity – have conspired to build a pan-Islam resentment of the “West”. We need to go to Islam with an access ticket to prosperity in one hand and a missile in the other and hope we all choose wisely. In Canada we live a privileged life, while we incur angst scouring consumer reports to find out the safest SUV to buy, Islam is incurring carnage – children pay. This disparity in human existence will find balance one day, we would do well to manage it, rather than have it manage us.
We need to confront “extremism” from a position of strength, we need to clearly exert our position – we need to be at once the bridge builder and the quintessential warrior. We need to remember that the only means by which to confront extremism in Islam, is from a position of strength, it worked in the cold war, and it will work again. There can be no weak-kneed appeasement, only a clearly stated intention with a consistent and undiminished pursuit of that intention. Islam has seen the west deploy “might”, effect some devastation and then leave. Afghanistan is a classic example, the West wanted to add water and stir to arrive at a solution, the reconstruction of a nation is a multi-decade affair, we broached the endeavour between USA election cycles – we are paying the price.
Causation & Walking mile in Islam’s Moccasins
The grievances that drive the extremism in Islam are generations deep and correctly founded when contemplating Islam as theocratic “peers” rather than adversaries. It is difficult to understand the collective pain that ensued at the fall of the Ottoman Empire, 1000 years of “supremacy” fell into disarray. I had an opportunity once to speak to a young Sudanese Islamic man, he relayed a story about his grandfather. His grandfather was an Islamic Scholar, an eminent man in his own right – in his own country. The British were occupying Sudan and the appointed British official had occasion to visit this young man’s grandfather place of work – the University. As the preeminent scholar, the young man’s grandfather was selected to “greet” the British official, upon meeting the British official a gust of wind came and blew the British Official’s hat off, the British Official ordered the young man’s grandfather to go get it. This represented a gross offence to the young man’s grandfather – of course. The young man and his family came into possession of a deep resentment of the West as a product of what happened that day. This was an event that was more or less, trivial, trivial in the context of the death and mayhem that has transpired of late – the resentment from that event has lasted in excess of 3 generations. The moral of this story is that we have bred discontent by being content with systematised regional disparity.
The League of Nations Europeans “divvied” up the Middle East, in doing so the cleaved Nation States, Kurdistan and the Pashtun nations are two of note. This cleavage alone is causing discord; these nations existed as the Nation States for thousands of years, they evolved out of the land, the commerce that could occur there and the cultures the came to be. We are feeling the pain now for our willingness to simply draw lines on a map to get agreement – raw territory considered – the technocratic approach to settlement, nary an anthropologist insight.
We had a cold war, remember, the spectre of the two titans facing off met the end of humanity, so rather than risk that happening, we had fifty years of proxy wars. The Middle East was proxy war central, one shudders at the human toll this took. This is in no way criticism of the West’s desire to prevail, we needed to win, this is a grim acknowledgement that in doing what was required, innocent paid, as is often the case – and it is understandable how one would be radicalized in the environment that emerged from the realities in the Middle East with the cold war realities playing such prominent role.
The Middle East has oil, the lifeblood of our world economy. Afghanistan, still untamed as a pipeline corridor for the Baltic oil and gas reserves to the lucrative and massive Pakistani and Indian markets – First Russia then the West. People often say “it’s all about oil”, as though oil is a trivial thing with profit as the sole consideration – stability relies on commerce, commerce is dependent on oil. People understand the stakes are high with oil, in commerce, in profit – and so oil makes the Middle East a target for power brokers.
Where we've failed in a most grievous way, is to use our might to facilitate our interests at the expense of local populations – when the opportunity has always existed to be generous. We must attach the profit incentive of oil to the local populace so that the wellbeing of children is accelerated as it gets caught in the generalised vortex of accent. I have a bleeding heart for the world’s innocent, most certainly, but this suggestion is bore of pragmatism, everyone likes to prosper, and prosperous people are normally peaceful people.
The people of Abraham have jealous gods at play and competing prophets, we have a metaphysical dog fight occurring and prophets at odds, make no mistake, that for many, this is in no way the rational pursuit of profit and territory, but rather the fight for theological unification and or the preservation of theological mass to then effect dominance in the application of religion. It is curious that the only pacifists in the people of Abraham are the ones holding sway at the moment, no thanks to pacifism. Christ, as a portion of our psychological construct, a truly gentle man who fell prey to persecution, has effected an archetype in the mind of Christendom that has vigilance for Christendom’s collective persecution and persecution’s prevention at the top of mind. There is no more dangerous dog than a fearful dog, there is no more powerful motivator than the fear of loss, there is powerful historical fact to trigger this concern in Christendom. It may be in part rational to conclude, that this has driven our actions and to a degree effected the marginalisation of many in Islam in an irrational or extreme way.
To what degree is contemplating causality valuable, it is valuable to the point that it informs the appropriate interface with Islam. Islam has erred, Islam has been guilty of radicalising people – certainly, Islam has demonstrated the desire to dominate us in the West. We need to examine our part in this conflict and take responsibility for our actions – it is only from this point that we can understand the interests of Islam, our interests and forge a future together – the world is just too small now for regionalized civilizations – we are one big troubled family now, we need to start functioning.
The Way Forward
It is the irony of peace that it must be earned with war, the sum total of human existence has found war as our constant companion, our most ugly constant. Peace exists where there is hegemony, it is the configuration of that hegemony that determines the length and breadth of the peace. Presently, the West holds hegemony, at the fall of the wall it was unparalleled, however, of late it is eroding. We need to be strong in NATO, relentless in response to aggression – but most importantly we need to realise how much of a marathon this is, and in doing so, us military action as a short-term measure to contain wrongful action as opposed to seeing it as the solution.
In Afghanistan, constructive military intervention ended at the bombing of the caves, direct military intervention by Western forces on the ground was bad strategy looking for outcome in a time horizon conceived by military men, rather than by a truthful perusal at history.
You can subdue people, you can take territory – for a time – but human will - will always find it’s way to the surface because human will travels in meams from one generation to another. Like the young man I spoke to about his grandfather, lore builds cultural and over time the wrongs perceived gain mass rather than diminish. There is a cultural inertia in Islam to “get a little back”. The leader of ISIS is emblematic of this reality, he is a genius with a PHD in theology, how can someone who has such insight and time thinking embark on a mission as he has. By what means has ISIS massed, the means I believe has as a component our neglect of the innocent. Money gives power, Christendom has been reluctant to give its old foe power – TRUST is wanting; the outcome here has been people in poverty and general marginalisation, while often, sitting amidst a sea of oil going somewhere else, benefiting someone else. When there is a disparity between living standards, resentment and extremism thrive, when tummies are growling – this is doubly true.
There needs to be a cultural imperative in actors in these regions to seed prosperity. Presently, it is often the case commerce rewards government and ignores people. The oil majors and other actors need only do one simple thing, to provide in a direct way to the people, a portion of royalties paid the government. This could be achieved either through negotiating a portion at the table with government or budgeting funds as a part of operations, to fund the population – a very small investment would garner a great deal of goodwill. It is the reality that in order to get the government you want, you have to circumvent government and provision influence to people. The broader and more diverse the influence, the more stable society becomes over time.
Winston Churchill understood war, understood humanity and the interplay between the two – his advice was “it is better to jaw jaw jaw than to war war war”. Jawing has been left wanting, at least the kind that directs a meaningful outcome. We have permitted the jaws of extremist Islam to remain wagging in a void of a meaningful counter measure. Even in the midst of media, a society soaked in media every minute of every day; we have failed to harness this resource effectively in swaying the Islamic World toward meaningful coexistence with us.
We were in Afghanistan in a very financially taxing way – in lives spent and in money spent, “with boots on the ground”, for in excess of a decade. After bombing of the caves, what incremental benefit accrued to our interests? In fairness, there is a marginal benefit, but any gains are tentative at best. The primary driving factor in developing a policy toward Afghanistan was TIME, we in effect “pulled out the stops” in funding militarily action chasing a “timely” solution. What eroded public support for the mission, the death of our soldiers – “our” being NATO personnel?
If we had accepted 50 years for our management horizon, how might we have proceeded? We would have eliminated immediate threat, military intervention required here. Then what, would we have put boots on the ground, people in the middle of an insurgency, why? Let me posit my solution, a solution that is actionable today, as relevant as it has ever been – a solution, most importantly, that would have prevented the death and injury of our young people, a solution that would have placed risk where risk must be, with the beneficiaries of action.
We need do one thing, to build a vanguard in Islam that is aware of the value of secularism; that understands that secularism is the umbrella under which we all can live, that secularism is in no way the absence of theology but a place where all can thrive. Contemplate please, the time, the logistics, resources, life and the nearly trillion dollars spent, that went into our action in Afghanistan to date, hold those costs in mind when contemplating my suggested course of action – my solution draws from the success of Japanese industrialization, focus on effectiveness and let time take care of itself and draws from the success in Turkey where leadership enshrined, under the strength of the military, a secular imperative.
I offer as a solution to recruit to a boarding school environment youth and remunerate them, at as early an age as is ethical, perhaps age 12,. Recruitment would take place from every corner of the country. The facilities would have a campus feel, it is as important for people to experience the quality of life as it is to learn about it, having had it, the desire to maintain it is stronger. The curriculum would be theological, political and militarily based. Attendance would be perhaps 8 years in duration and attendance would be constant – save visits home if possible. This is would be a rigorous proposition for these youths, rigor required given their present fate.
I offer this should be pursued with military discipline and intensity, at the close of a decade, graduates would number in the thousands – perhaps twenty thousand or more. This is an education mega project founded on the premise that knowledge rules, that proper education enlightens and that the innate good in people can only be actuated absent indoctrination and in a place of independence.
There are challenges in the actuation of this proposal, the outcomes here at worse are some educated young people, by far better than dead and injured young people. The best outcome would be in fifty years the seeds of reason will have taken hold, and a government, Islamic, that understands us and secularism would be present. Give me a trillion, I get it done.
Here is the reality we face if we persist with greed, ineptitude and ineffectiveness – the people of Islam will come here, angry, to avenge generations of perceived injustice. I quake at the prospect of my generation’s failure leaving my grandchildren’s blood in its wake. Look at the carnage and discord in Islam now, it can come to us in the future. Islam’s children are paying for our indifference, for the indifference of their leadership and for a history of human disregard. There is an alternate reality for us all, to deploy resources there to fight for reason and prosperity for the people of Islam, as their solution is our solution.
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