It is astonishing that the debate in Western circles on what (or what not) to do about ISIS has seemed largely innocent of history and indifferent to the pattern of consistent futility and failure in the West’s efforts to impose its will on the non-Western world.
A new movement that claims to restore the lost power and glories of Islam, is actually the ultimate stage in the crisis that has afflicted the Arab Muslim civilization since its loss of unity in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the last political manifestation of a united Islam.
The rise of a radical popular movement demanding that a lost golden age be restored to a fragmented and culturally distraught society occurred at least twice in 19th-century China (the Taiping and Boxer rebellions) and in colonial India (the so-called Sepoy Mutiny) and Sudan (with the Mahdi Mohamed Ahmed, to take only the best known instances of such uprisings against imperial powers.
This is a modern phenomenon. In the West during the medieval Age of Religion the promised paradise was held to exist outside of time and would only be opened at the end of the dolor of earthly existence by the arrival of the Messiah. The Millennium marked the end of secular time, when human history would have run its course and the “Thousand Years” of heavenly reign begun—as promised in the Book of Revelation.
Marxism was the secular translation of that religious promise, promulgated by the new prophets: Marx himself, Engels, Mao Tse-tung. A secularized prophecy was necessary because God had been assassinated in the European Enlightenment.
On both sides, the Palestinian conflict has acquired the quality—to borrow the adjective contrived by Israeli politicians—of an “existential” struggle. Death to the loser.
Israel was eventually confirmed in its impulse to possess all of the Holy Land, at whatever cost to the Palestinians, initially dismissed in Israeli propaganda discourse as an insignificant body of wandering tribesmen.
In Bush’s government, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2008, “Democratic state-building is now an urgent component in our national interest” reflecting a “uniquely American realism” teaching that it is America’s job “to change the world,” and in its own image.
The two sides in this renewal of George W. Bush’s War Against Global Terror—Jews and Christians in the West and their Arab enemies—both consider themselves “people of the Book” and descendants of the Prophet Abraham. They have now become in their own minds actors in the apocalyptic destiny described in the Book of Revelation.
Many American Evangelical Protestants have convinced themselves that contemporary American foreign policy can only be understood in such a context.
Moreover, Washington’s conduct since 2001 has undermined or deliberately subverted institutions of international order to which, in the past, the United States was a leading contributor.
The codes of international justice and morality, developed in the Western community of nations since the 17th century, have when expedient been disregarded or rejected, with demands that the United States be exempted from the jurisdiction of international law and even from what until recently were accepted norms of international morality concerning human rights and national sovereignty.
An assimilation of modern totalitarian influences, values, and practices occurred in the United States after 2001, with state assassinations, selective drone killings, disregard of due process, torture, and permanent incarceration without trial justified by American leaders in their conduct of what has amounted to a war, not really of religions, as such, but between absolutisms, the one religious, and the other, ours, a political culture of extreme and solipsistic millenarian nationalism.
Americans have attempted to make themselves oligarchs of the modern Arab Islamic world, introducing invasions and wars whose actual effect has been to envenom an immense part of the Arabs of the Middle East and validate the vengeance they and their leaders have sought to inflict on us.
What the previous attempts accomplished was destruction and the generation of seething hatred of the United States in much of the Islamic world.
Washington has now appointed itself leader of still another and predictably unsuccessful military intervention, in which tens or hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, if this continues, may eventually die.