(Fourth essay of a series.)
In Mirror, Mirror: Why Americans Don’t Understand the Threat of Jihadism, What al-Qaeda Wants and The Mirage of Moderate Islam, I have described Islam as a warlike and bloody religion subject to periodic fits of violent fundamentalist revival. I have analyzed the roots of Islamic terror in the Koranic duty of jihad, and elucidated Osama bin Laden’s goal as nothing less than the destruction of the West and the establishment of a global Islamic theocracy. I have analyzed the reason Americans have trouble comprehending the scope of the threat. Now I’ll explain why diplomacy is not a path toards a solution.
The Western tradition of diplomacy, which originated from the “balance of power” model for coexisting nation-states in Renaissance Europe, stigmatizes the use of arms as an admission of failure and elevates good-faith negotiation as a virtue of the strong. Westerners think of a plurality of nation-states with conflicting interests as the natural and right way of the world, and Western diplomacy is themed around compromise as a way of allowing the members of that plurality to continue in more or less peaceful coexistence.
Arab cultures (and the Arabized cultures of the rest of the Islamic world) are very different. The Western idea of a plurality of nation-states is considered iniquitous, a sign that men have turned away from Allah. Islam promotes a world united under a single Caliph with absolute authority in both secular and religious matters.
Further, Arabs respect strength in war. Several features of the Islamic worldview — including fatalism and the belief that Allah guides the arm of conquerors — reinforce this. Extending an olive branch or seeking compromise, on the other hand, is read as a sign of weakness, inviting more pressure and more attacks.
Applying the assumptions of Western diplomacy to Islamic-world conflicts, therefore, tends to have perverse results. The utter failure of diplomacy in the Israeli/Palestinan conflict is a perfect example. Yasser Arafat and his followers interpreted every Israeli compromise not as a sign of virtue requiring a reciprocal response, but as a sign that that their terror campaign was working. As the Israelis conceded more and more legitimacy to Palestinian political objectives, the terror
actually intensified in pitch.
The U.S.’s refusal to negotiate with the Taliban for anything less than the unconditional surrender of Osama bin Laden, by contrast, seemed harsh to apostles of the Western diplomatic tradition but was exactly correct in terms of Islamic psychology. Backing a clear, hard-line position with the threat of force actually gave the U.S. a moral advantage it had lacked when our policy was seen as weak and vacillating. The expected furor of the “Arab street” never materialized.
Diplomacy or negotiation are in any case of very limited use in curbing state terrorism and no use in curbing non-state terrorism. For the forseeable future, the U.S.’s capability to project military power into Third World terrorist havens will be so much greater than that of other members of any imaginable coalition of allies that having a military alliance at all will be almost pointless. Diplomacy need therefore be aimed only at preventing military opposition by nearby nation-states.
Third parties who urge `diplomatic’ solutions to problems like Iraqi, Iranian, and Saudi Arabian sponsorship of al-Qaeda should be ignored. In the Islamic cultural context, force and the threat of force stand some chance of obtaining useful results. Talk does not.
(To be continued…)