Empires leave behind a mess when they leave. And that mess acts as the building blocks of a new empire. One empire falls and another rises in its place. It’s an old story and it is what we are seeing in the Middle East.
The Islamist resurgence was fed by the collapse of two world powers, the USSR and the US. The fall of the Soviet Union robbed the Arab Socialist dictatorships of their support. The last of these, Syria, is now under siege, by Sunni Islamist militias after becoming an Iranian Shiite puppet.
Egypt’s Sadat had made the move to the American camp early enough to avoid the fate of Syria or Iraq, but instead his successor, Mubarak, encountered the fate of the Shah of Iran. With the fall of Egypt, Syria is the last major Arab Socialist holdout, and if it falls, then the Middle East will have shifted decisively into the Salafi column.
Unlike the Soviet Union, the United States has not actually collapsed, but its international influence is completely gone. Bush was accused of many things, but impotence wasn’t one of them. Obama, however, gave the Taliban a premature victory with a pullout deadline, ineptly waffled over the Iranian and Arab protests, before eventually getting on board with the latter, and allowed the UK and French governments to drag him into a poorly conceived regime change operation in Libya.
The Palestine UN vote, China’s South China Sea aggression and Karzai’s growing belligerence were just more reminders that no one really cared what the United States thought anymore. America had ceased to matter internationally as a great power. It still dispensed money, but its government had become an inept tail being wagged by Europe and the United Nations.
The loss of American influence was felt most notably in the Middle East, where its former oil patrons took the opportunity to back a series of Salafi crusades, the political Islamist version of which was known as the Arab Spring. The rise of political Islamists in democratic elections was however only one component of a regional strategy that depended as much on armed militias as on the ballot box.
In Egypt, protests followed by elections were enough to allow the Salafis, a category that includes the Muslim Brotherhood, to take over. That was also true in Tunisia. In Libya, a new American client, the government put up a fight, little realizing that Obama wasn’t Putin, but a horrible mashup of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Henry Wallace. Instead of getting American backing, Gaddafi got American bombs, and the Islamist militias, armed and funded by Qatar with Obama’s blessing, got Libya. In Benghazi they repaid the help they received from Obama and Stevens by humiliating the former and murdering the latter.
In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood’s militias are racing the Al-Qaeda linked militias to the finish line in Damascus, while Western pundits prattle reassuringly about a moderate and secular Syrian opposition, which is as moderate and secular as Egypt’s Morsi.
The regional snapshot of the Arab Spring isn’t reform, but a land rush as secular governments affiliated with Russia and the United States fall, to be replaced by believers in an emerging Islamist Caliphate. The Arab Spring isn’t 1848; it’s 638, the Mohamedan expansion at the expense of the ailing Byzantine Empire, a rampage that eventually ended in the Islamization of the Middle East. For Salafis, this is their opportunity to Re-Islamize the Middle East under the full force of Islamic law.
The Muslim world does not keep time by European progressive calendars. It isn’t out to recreate the republican revolutions that secularized and nationalized Europe; rather it is trying to undo the secondhand European effects of those revolutions on the Middle East. The left is celebrating this as a triumph for anti-imperialism, but it’s just a matter of replacing one empire with another.
Muslim imperialism and colonialism were far more brutal and ruthless, as the Indians could tell you, and if the Salafis have their way, and they are having their way for the moment, it will be the beginning of a new wave of global conquests, with old sheiks using oil money from the decadent West to outfit militias of young men with top quality American and Russian weapons before sending them off to die, while they wait for news of the new caliphate and bed down with their eight wife.
This isn’t an entirely new game. Bin Laden was playing it for decades and Salafi crusaders have been fighting the Ottoman Empire and massacring Shiites for centuries. The notion of them extending their power into Cairo would have been absurd, but for the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the backlash from the efforts to modernize its former major cities which created a modernized Islamist movement inspired by Nazi politics and funded by Nazi money. A movement that we know as the Muslim Brotherhood. It took the Brotherhood a good 80 years, but they finally took Cairo.
The notion of the Salafis threatening the Middle East and the whole world would have been even more absurd if American oil companies hadn’t rewarded their tribal allies with inconceivable wealth while turning a blind eye to their ambitions. And the notion that the Salafi crusade would ever extend to Europe would have been even more absurd, if not for the jet plane and the liberal immigration policies of Socialist governments with aging populations looking for a tax base and a voting base.
The Salafis, despite their feigned obsession with the purity of the desert, have piggybacked their conquests entirely on Western technologies and policies, from the wire transfer to the jet plane to the cell phone to liberal political correctness and Third Worldism. The Salafi crusades were never any match for 19th Century policies and weapons, except in the occasional brief conflict. But they are a match for 21st Century policies and the accompanying unwillingness to use the full force of modern weaponry on people that a century ago would have been considered bloody savages, but today are considered potential peace partners.
Declining empires want stability without war and they are willing to cut a deal with anyone on the way up who has a large enough army and will promise to keep the peace. In that way, the imperialism of the Post-American politician is a good deal like Eisenhower’s foreign policy. The difference is that a British Prime Minister in the 1930s or an American President in the 1950s picked their battles, while their contemporary successors allow their battles to pick them and then surrender preemptively.
Carter’s Green Belt strategy hoped to build a wall of Islamist governments to keep the Soviet Union out of the Middle East. The Soviet Union is dead but the Green Belt strategy has been revived by Obama in the hopes of using political Salafis willing to run for office to hold down the Salafist militias willing to kill everything that moves. It’s hard to imagine a more decadent strategy than trying to outsource your defense policy to the least evil of your enemies, but variations on that theme have been the American defense strategy since the Salafi terror attacks of September 11.
After a decade of trying to divide the Islamist sheep from the Islamist goats, feeding billions to Pakistan to fight terror, extraditing Gitmo terrorists to revolving door rehabilitation programs run by Saudi Arabia, setting up a Palestinian state, making nice to Muslim Brotherhood front groups at home and then setting up the Muslim Brotherhood with a few choice countries of their own in the Middle East; the United States is less secure than ever for trying to appease its way out of the Salafi crusade.
Handing over Egypt and Tunisia to the Islamists earned us a new wave of attacks on September 11, 2012. What handing over Syria to the Muslim Brotherhood will get us, assuming that “our” Salafis will even be able to beat out the other Salafis who want to skip elections and move straight to the hand-and-head-chopping and Christian genocide, can only be imagined.
But Western leaders have a long history of misreading the Muslim world by assuming that Muslim leaders want what good European and American liberals do. Instead Muslim leaders want the sort of things that even few European right wingers want anymore.
Understanding the Salafi crusades means imagining a society where Anders Behring Breivik wasn’t a deluded madman fantasizing about an international network of knights waiting to carry out acts of terror in a war to seize control of Europe and murder millions, but where he and his ideas were mainstream enough that billionaires would fund them and tens of thousands of young men would go to carry them out while television shows and preachers cheered them as martyrs.
Europeans, of course, shudder at the idea, but they have brought those tens of thousands of Breiviks into their own societies through Muslim immigration and Saudi and Iranian mosques. And they have turned over the Middle East to the sort of men who make Breivik look like a schoolboy.
One of the men pardoned by Morsi, the new Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, was Mostafa Hamza, the head of The Islamic Group, an organization that was responsible for the Luxor Massacre of foreign tourists. The Luxor Massacre consisted of an hour of torture, mutilation and murder that would have sickened even Breivik. But what is an incomprehensible atrocity to the Western mind is an act of courage and bravery to the Muslim mind. And it is on such atrocities that the Salafi crusades build their caliphate of blood and bone.
The Salafi crusades follow those rules and we saw them in action on September 11. We can see them in action in Nigeria where Boko Haram terrorists blow up churches and in Mali where Salafi fighters chop off the hands of thieves and give teenage girls 100 lashes for talking to boys on the street. We can see them in action in Aleppo where the bodies of tortured priests turn up and in Israel where their terrorists fire rockets from the shade of schools and hospitals.
The Salafi political victories, militia victories and terror attacks are all part of the same phenomenon, and it is about time that we confronted it for what it is. War is politics by other means and politics is war by other means. To the Salafis seizing power, by the bullet or the ballot, the one are one and the same so long as the road leads to the Islamic empire of the Caliphate. Obama’s forced decline of America has led to a new wave of Salafi conquests and the war for civilization has begun in earnest.
Originally published at Sultan Knish.