Monday, November 23, 2015

From the Crusades to Jihad: How will the world put Daesh down?

"If one looks back over the many U.S. interventions around the globe, one factor looms large. When Washington allied with a local force capable and viewed as legitimate, it succeeded. But without such locals, all the outside effort, aid, firepower and training can only do so much--whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria." Fareed Zacharia, Wash.Post, 10/1/15.

"It becomes increasingly easy to rationalize our actions in the name of expediency when facing difficult decision - to choose a path where the ends justify the means.  I want to ask you to challenge this philosophy.  I want to humbly suggest that you be the guardians of a more complicated truth: that the means are as important--and sometimes even more important--than the ends."  Beau Biden, words of wisdom

"What ISIS Really Wants," by Graeme Wood, Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 22, 2015
The Crusades have morphed into Jihad.  The same extremist scenario of the Middle Ages is playing itself out in the 21st century.  President Obama made the comparison at a prayer breakfast, and although he was attacked for it, I think he was right on.   It's an incredible, almost unthinkable, convergence of the past and the present. Holy Wars without end. Patriarchy run amok.

The same actors are still in the same game and in the same geographic locations.

Back then, around 1100, Catholic extremists responded to Pope Urban's call for a Crusade against Muslims, who at that time had taken over Syria, Jerusalem, the Christian Holy Land.

Today, we have Muslim extremists who invoke Jihad and apocalyptic prophesies to conquer Christians and infidels and hasten the return of the Caliphate and Sharia Law of medieval times. ISIS even uses medieval language from apocalyptic ideology written after Muhammad's death, boasting after the Paris attacks that "Allah granted victory and cast terror into the crusaders' hearts in their own homeland."    (See Liz Goodwin, "The Doomsday ideology of ISIS," Yahoo News, 23 Nov.2015)

Medieval crusaders wore metal amour, helmets and distinctive capes, rode horses, waved Crusader flags bearing a cross, carried swords and shields. They wrecked havoc on the landscape for 200 years.

Today's crusaders wear black balacavas, carry guns like AK-47s, wave black flags with Islamic symbols in white, use cell phones and social media, wear suicide vests, put home-made bombs in public places and on airplanes to blow up innocent victims.

The methods of war may be as different as the weapons du jour and the technology available, but the underlying philosophy is similar: The end justifies the means and by any means necessary to achieve the end.

It's an unbelievable twist of fate, from 12th-century crusaders to 21st-century jihadists, from Christian extremists to Muslim extremists. Violence and death in the name of God. Nothing learned from history.

The Christian Crusades went on for 200 years, basically until Christians and the Catholic Church itself tired of war.  The old enthusiasms began to die out. People longed for peace in their lifetime as the Middle Ages turned into the Renaissance.  They became less concerned about winning future salvation and more concerned about life in the present.

Is this what it will take to defeat the contemporary extremism devouring our planet? How will the world put down Daesh, Boko Harem, al-Qaeda and other extremist Jihadists?

History shows that extremism runs its course, but at a terribly high cost.  It shows that military solutions alone do not work, that they can "only do so much," as Fareed Zacharia reminds us.  Former secretary of defense Chuck Hegel says the same thing: "There is no military solution to this. We are up against an ideology...So we need to define more clearly what our political strategies are, as well as our military strategies. What are our priorities?"

Putin's pummeling of Syria with all his latest multibillion dollar war toys, joining the US, France and others in the violence, won't solve the problem of international terrorism.

Nor will Machiavellian subterfuge and cunning or John Stuart Mill's utilitiarian philosophy that "the end justifies the means," updated by Malcolm X to "by any means necessary."  I understand the impulse behind these views, especially the injustices that lead to this kind of thinking.

But I now see the danger. Beau Biden, shortly before his untimely death, said that "if the means are good, the end will be good."   I've been thinking alot about that. I think we need to move in that direction.

Violence begets violence, lessons from Vietnam, from Iraq, over the eons. Millions killed and maimed, billions wasted.  What do we see now? The more bombing, the more grassroots terrorism.  Terrorist cells proliferate, pop up here and there and everywhere to create death scenes for the daily news.  I fear for Washington, DC, an easy target for suicide bombers, in Metro stations, near monuments and memorials, along Pennsylvania Avenue.

"When will we ever learn?"  Pete Seeger asked, and Peter, Paul and Mary sang. "When will we ever learn."

Crusader historiography asks the same question.  Historian Steven Runciman, expressing the moral outrage of most Crusader scholars, wrote: "High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed....The Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance and destruction in the name of God."

So it is with the contemporary Jihad, all the bombs in the world, all the pummeling of Syria and Iraq, all the military efforts notwithstanding.  Can't we come up with a better way, a more tolerant and humane way to address the extremism of our age? Can the world come together around a common agenda and common purpose to defeat Daesh and the violent terrorism of our day? Can we develop some good means to achieve a good end?

Articles, a reminder of how George W. Bush prodded by Cheney, Rumsfeld and neocons, got us into Iraq, a total deadly and costly failure.  Bush himself has apologized for this disastrous decision.

Post a Comment

Brian Turner, Iraqi War Poet

Brian Turner by Kim Buchheit, Blue Flower Arts My Friend Alice, the master teacher and poet, will have me reading 'til the end of...