Radical Islam and the clash of civilizations
The Biden administration will go to great lengths to downplay the significance of the debacle in Afghanistan. But no amount of wishful thinking and no number of meaningless creations like over-the-horizon capabilities will deny the reality that the loss of Afghanistan has implications for the conflict with radical Islam far beyond Afghanistan's geographic borders.
Culture is the primary context in which statecraft takes place. It is a concept that runs through the works of the late Professor Adda Bozeman, who understood that diplomats often talk past each other because the culture and linguistic context in which they operate mean different things.
To properly understand the meaning of the current catastrophe, it is necessary to ask the most fundamental question, which is not how is this playing in Peoria, but how is this playing throughout the Islamic world? The Biden administration can spin the collapse of Afghanistan endlessly, but no number of press conferences will change the perception within Islam of America's defeat.
We in the West believe in the triumph of an ineluctable future that will be a vast improvement over the past. When our progress toward that future is limited or regressive, we become impatient. In non-Western societies, however, it is not the future that is looked toward, but a golden past that needs to be resurrected.
Since centuries have elapsed without that resurrection, time is perceived differently. The rebirth of a golden past is inevitable. All that is required is to have faith and patience. Twenty years might seem like an endless war to Americans, but to Muslims, it is a grain of sand in the measure of time. If the Taliban had to resist another twenty years, if they had to sacrifice another generation to be rid of the infidels on their land, they would have done so.
For Islam, the choices are not the ones the Biden administration has articulated, a choice between leaving and a war without end. The choice is between resurrecting the golden age of Islam or ceding victory to the infidel. It is not a choice.
The American debacle has done nothing if it has not confirmed the theology of fundamentalist Islam. Patience, persistence, and faith will triumph over superior forces. In the Taliban's victory, other fundamentalist and terrorist groups have found inspiration. The ideology of radical Islam will permeate the Islamic world with renewed vigor.
Already thousands of jihadists are going to Afghanistan to become fighters. Afghanistan will be a training and logistics center for jihadi activities beyond its borders. Even the Iranian mullahs will be emboldened by the religious symbolism of the Taliban victory. Hamas and Hezb'allah have already sent their congratulations. In Pakistan, the Taliban victory was greeted with jubilation.
Radical Islam is an ideology that has persisted for centuries. As such, it has mollified the divisions of tribal societies and even races. It is an encompassing, transcendent ideology. Its strength is in its unquestioning obedience, the elimination of moral ambiguities, and the promise of a reward in the afterlife.
It does not eviscerate its history to examine sins real and imaginary. It does not promote divisions along racial and ethnic identities. Like all overarching ideologies, it promotes a sense of homogeneity and belonging.
We will win battles and wars, but radical Islam will not be extinguished. And the culture of the Islamic world will not yield to the Western notion of liberal democracy, even as the West itself struggles with its democratic inheritance. Under the surface of espoused liberalism exists a desire to embrace authoritarianism. Our colleges and universities, once the inheritors and transmitters of liberal culture, have become fiefdoms for repressed speech and identity politics.
Defeating radical Islam will take more than bullets, missiles, and technology. It remains to be seen, in the clash of civilizations, who will be the winner.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati.
Image: Public Domain.
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