Needed – War Against Jihadists
Originally published in The Financial Post, Jan 18, 2013
Two years ago, before President Obama and other Western leaders gave their blessing to the Arab Spring by calling for the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the Middle East was ruled mostly by secular dictators who made nice to the West while ruthlessly suppressing jihadists. Today, the Middle East is increasingly being ruled by jihadists who hate the West, plot to target Western facilities and take Western hostages, and have an ever-growing land base from which to operate. How’s that working out for us?
The secular state of Mali in the central Sahara is the latest domino to totter, thanks to NATO countries such as France, the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. — the very same countries that are now scrambling to save it. Mali’s undoing began last year when the West short-sightedly decided to overthrow a de facto ally, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was helping the West combat al-Qaeda abroad while he suppressed it at home.
Gaddafi’s overthrow and the anarchy that followed created a free-for-all in the country’s vast arms depots, soon emptied to enable terrorists throughout the Middle East and beyond. Gaddafi’s overthrow unleashed more than arms, however — it also unleashed thousands of Malian rebels living in Libya, members of the Tuareg tribe to whom Gaddafi had provided refuge and who then fought with him against the NATO invaders.
These Tuareg fighters, forced to flee Libya after their patron was deposed, went back to their home country fully armed, where they joined in al Qaeda’s quest to take over Mali. Now the French find they are fighting the same Tuareg in Mali that they fought in Libya.
To add to the ironies, and the witlessness of the West’s Arab experts, the U.S. trained and armed some 1500 Tuaregs and other tribesmen to fight al-Qaeda, not realizing they would switch sides and fight with al-Qaeda against the Mali government and against the West.
The Western nations now fear that the entire Saharan belt — spanning the breadth of Africa — may fall to the jihadists who, no longer contained by Arab dictators, will have acquired vast new lands and endless potential to plan and launch attacks on Western targets.
Much of the north coast of Africa has already become jihadi or jihadi-friendly with secular governments having been overthrown in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. In North Africa, only Morocco and Algeria, site of this week’s deadly hostage taking, remain hostile to jihadi takeovers. East of Africa, the jihadists are waging war against a secular tyrant who to date has been their match in ruthlessness — Syria’s Assad. Should he fall, and possibly before, the next domino to fall could be the pro-Western monarchy of Jordan.
The West glaring miscalculated in thinking largely tribal societies could peacefully and instantly morph into live-and-let-live democracies friendly to the West. It has done the peoples of those countries no favour.
Since the Arab Spring, some 100,000 have died in the violence, 60,000 in Syria alone. At least 600,000 have fled their countries, more than 100,000 of them Christian Copts in Egypt who foresee no co-existence with jihadists. Along with the death and destruction comes disease, hunger and economic suffering — the citizens in all of the affected countries, including the newly democratized ones, had higher incomes under the secular dictatorships.
The West needs to understand that it is at war with a jihadi ideology, waged by strong-willed adherents convinced — with good reason — that they are winning with the help of Allah against weak-willed appeasement-oriented infidels. They will continue to win until the West sees the struggle in ideological terms. Ideologues can’t permanently be bought off; they can’t ever be reasoned with; they can’t easily be defended against, not in a world of global investments and international tourism. They can only be defeated.
Many in the West, citing past British and Russian defeats in Afghanistan as examples, believe that victory would take decades, if victory against jihadists waging holy war is possible at all. This misreads history.
Jihadi warriors for a millennium and a half have waged holy war against other Muslims and non-Muslims alike — this is nothing new. Jihadists have also won and lost their share of battles, and when they have lost they have then accepted defeat.
Some eruptions aside, the Turks maintained peace against enemies who had waged jihad for decades and centuries at a time, as have colonial powers before and after World War I. And until the Arab Spring, secular Muslim dictators throughout the Middle East have effectively neutralized jihadists, who often do not represent mainstream Muslim thinking.
The West can defeat today’s jihadists more easily than it has defeated them in the past — they have not become appreciably more militarily capable than the jihadists of old while the West has. But to win what may in future be seen as the Third World War, the West will need to enlist its friends, even when they are distasteful secular dictators such as Mubarak and Gaddafi. To win the Second World War against the Fascists, after all, the West didn’t flinch at joining forces with the communist Soviet Union.