NB: Over the past several days, the events at the Montserrat volcano have dominated my focus, but I have continued to think about the 1 Chron 12:32 "understanding our times" series. Here, I therefore put up some further food for thought.
For those wishing to do an in-depth analysis of the global spiritual-geostrategic situation posed by militant Islamism, Peter Wehner's sobering analysis at Real Clear Politics is hard to beat; whatever points of disagreement one may have with his argument.
Key excerpts, giving us a taste of the riches in store for the patient reader:
President Bush has said that the war against global jihadism is more than a military conflict; it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. We are still in the early years of the struggle. The civilized world will either rise to the challenge and prevail against this latest form of barbarism, or grief and death will visit us and other innocents on a massive scale.
Given the stakes involved in this war and how little is known, even now, about what is at the core of this conflict, it is worth reviewing in some detail the nature of our enemy - including disaggregating who they are (Shia and Sunni extremists), what they believe and why they believe it, and the implications of that for America and the West . . . . The enemy we face is not Islam per se; rather, we face a global network of extremists who are driven by a twisted vision of Islam [of course, they argue that they are the true folowers of Islam's founder, and not without some justification]. These jihadists are certainly a minority within Islam [generally estimated at ~ 10%, which yields in excess of 100 millions, more than the total of committed Nazis and Communists of C20 combined] -- but they exist, they are dangerous and resolute, in some places they are ascendant . . . .
"Across the Middle East Shias and Sunnis have often rallied around the same political causes and even fought together in the same trenches," Professor Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival, has written. But he also points out that "followers of each sect are divided by language, ethnicity, geography, and class. There are also disagreements within each group over politics, theology, and religious law..." Professor Nasr points out that "[a]nti-Shiism is embedded in the ideology of Sunni militancy that has risen to prominence across the region in the last decade." . . . .
Shiites believe that the Twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi, is merely hidden from view and will one day return from his "occultation" to rid the world of evil. Legitimate Islamic rule can only be re-established with the Mahdi's return because, in the Shiite view, the imams possessed secret knowledge, passed by each to his successor, vital to guiding the community . . . . Shia have historically been politically quiescent, with "[the return of the Mahdi] remaining in practice merely a sanctifying tenet for the submissive acceptance of the status quo."
In more recent times, however -- and in particular in Iran under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- the martyrdom of Hussein at Karbala in 680 has been used to catalyze political action. Ayatollah Khomeini embraced a view that Hussein was compelled to resist an unpopular, unjust and impious government and that his martyrdom serves as a call to rebellion for all Muslims in building an Islamic state . . . .
Professor Noah Feldman of New York University points out, "Recently, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, contributed to renewed focus on the mahdi, by saying publicly that the mission of the Islamic revolution in Iran is to pave the way for the mahdi's return..."
Sunni radicals hold a very different eschatological view. "For all his talk of the war between civilizations," Professor Noah Feldman has written:
"bin Laden has never spoken of the end of days. For him, the battle between the Muslims and the infidels is part of earthly human life, and has indeed been with us since the days of the Prophet himself. The war intensifies and lessens with time, but it is not something that occurs out of time or with the expectation that time itself will stop. Bin Laden and his sympathizers want to re-establish the caliphate and rule the Muslim world, but unlike some earlier revivalist movements within Sunni Islam, they do not declare their leader as the mahdi, or guided one, whose appearance will usher in a golden age of justice and peace to be followed by the Day of Judgment. From this perspective, the utter destruction of civilization would be a mistake, not the fulfillment of a divine plan."
Many Sunnis, then, look toward the rise of a new caliphate; Shia, on the other hand, are looking for the rule of the returned imam -- with the extremist strain within Shia believing they can hasten the return of the twelfth imam by cleansing the world of what they believe to be evil in their midst . . . .
In Islam's first few centuries of existence, it was a dominant and expanding force in the world [a history of unrepented-of imperialism we are prone to forget or may be simply ignorant of], sweeping across lands in the modern-day Middle East, North Africa, Spain, and elsewhere. During its Golden Age -- which spanned from the eighth to the 13th century -- Islam was the philosophical, educational, and scientific center of the world. [The Chinese may dispute that . . .] The Ottoman Empire reached the peak of its power in the 16th century. Islam then began to recede as a political force. In the 17th century, for example, advancing Muslims were defeated at the gates of Vienna, the last time an Islamic army threatened the heart of Europe. And for radicals like bin Laden, a milestone event and historic humiliation came when the Ottoman Empire crumbled at the end of World War I.
This is significant because for many Muslims, the proper order of life in this world is for them to rule and for the "infidels" to be ruled over. The end of the Ottoman Empire was deeply disorienting. Then, in 1923-24 came the establishment of modern, secular Turkey under Kemal Ataturk -- and the abolishment of the caliphate.
Osama bin Laden and his militant Sunni followers seek to reverse all that. Bin Laden sees himself as the new caliph; he has referred to himself as the "commander of the faithful." He is seeking to unify all of Islam -- and resume a jihad against the unbelievers.
According to Mary Habeck of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University:
"Jihadis thus neither recognize national boundaries within the Islamic lands nor do they believe that the coming Islamic state, when it is created, should have permanent borders with the unbelievers. The recognition of such boundaries would end the expansion of Islam and stop offensive jihad, both of which are transgressions against the laws of God that command jihad to last until Judgment Day or until the entire earth is under the rule of Islamic law."
Al Qaeda and its terrorist allies are waging their war on several continents. They have killed innocent people in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Far East, and the United States. They will try to overthrow governments and seize power where they can -- and where they cannot, they will attempt to inflict fear and destruction by disrupting settled ways of life. They will employ every weapon they can: assassinations, car bombs, airplanes, and, if they can secure them, biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.
The theocratic and totalitarian ideology that characterizes al Qaeda makes typical negotiations impossible. "Anyone who stands in the way of our struggle is our enemy and target of the swords," said Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the late leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Osama bin Laden put it this way: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."
In short, we see the outlines of an intransigent, religiously motivated, global conquest ideology, in part at least -- here I think we can challenge Wehner based on some of the recent notes made by Joel Richardson (which apply to Sunnis as well as Shias) -- further motivated by a global conquest eschatology as described.
We cannot deal with this effectively by imagining that we can bury our heads int he sand and hope the storm will pass, or by so focussing on our real and imagined flaws [as the comments on the crisis in Montserrat so sharply expose . . .) and the wider historic, as yet unfinished sins of the West, that we become paralysed in the face of a global, existential threat.
Later, let us explore the background a bit more, then look at some of the key flash-points, DV. END