Friday, July 15, 2005


Most everyone is familiar with the environments and events that led to the emergence of Communism and Nazism. These two forms of totalitarianism challenged Western liberal democracy in the 20th century. Islamism, another totalitarian system, confronts us today. Johann Hari looks at its roots:
For more than 60 years, Britain and America created, armed and funded tyrants across Muslim lands in exchange for access to oil and for co-operation in the Cold War. Whenever there were shoots of democracy or Islamic reformation - like the election of Mossadeq in 1951 in Iran - our governments destroyed them. Any wannabe democrats were swiftly tortured and killed. Generations of Arab democrats - their Garibaldis, Jeffersons or Chartists - were lost to history.

In this warped environment, an undemocratic opposition movement was born. The Middle East was turned into a petri dish for the virus of Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalism. Since democracy was not an option, this austere form of Islam grew in popularity as the only alternative outlet for rage at the obvious corruption of Western proxy rulers. It is a simple philosophy, expressed eloquently by every radical Islamist I have met.

Wahhabis are obsessed with purity. They believe in complete unquestioning subjection to Sharia law, which is the one and eternal source of morality. They believe that reason and democracy are evil sources of "Westoxification", bent on weakening the True Muslims. Every other form of Islam - those practised by most Muslims - are to them as disgusting as Christianity, Judaism or atheism. Although this ideology was born in the Middle East, it has spread across the world, to Indonesia, Chechnya and now - it seems - Yorkshire.

It is tempting to assume that a movement born in reaction to injustice must be just. It is tempting to project your own concerns - your desire for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, or for a free Chechnya, or for an end to poverty in the Arab world - on to the bombers. When I sat opposite an Islamic Jihad suicide-bomber in Gaza, I wanted to imagine he was angry about the same things as me. But then he explained that gays and Jews should all be killed, that poverty is a good thing because it makes people more "spiritually pure", and that all women should be shrouded in burkas for life.

We have been here before. In a situation of terrible injustice, a totalitarian movement has been born with goals of its own. Nazism was born in the stunned and cruel humiliation of the Versailles Treaty. Marxist-Leninism was born in the torture chambers of Tsarism and it became its mirror-image. Each created their own set of monstrous injustices to replace the last.

Nobody should now doubt that Islamism is totalitarian. Talk to its followers: they are admirably candid. They seek absolute control of individuals, even if they do not share their beliefs, in order to subject them to a 9th-century code of ethics. Realise their concerns are not your concerns; they have a logic of their own and it was in place before the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The reasoning of the perpetrators is explained in the 2001 book Knights Under the Prophet's Banner by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the man Bin Laden describes as his "mentor". Into the 1990s, the Islamists became frustrated that they could not rally the "Muslim masses" to overthrow their local tyrants. So they decided to strike the "big enemy" - Western states - to re-energise Wahhabi jihadism and precipitate revolutions throughout the Middle East.

So Islamism is more a response to the decisions of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt than of Bush and Blair. Last Thursday was not the price for Afghanistan and Iraq; it was the price of decades of trading oil for tyranny without any regard to the consequences. These recent wars may have been useful propaganda tools for the jihadists, but saying they were their primary motivations does not match the evidence.
(Via Donklephant).