There is much buzz about the recent defeats and ‘successes’ of ISIS. They are pulling back from a city here, lost a battle there, and some important leadership is killed in an air strike. On the other hand they’ve succeeded in shooting down an air plane, slaughtered civilians in public areas, and generally engaged in expected terrorist action. The only truth is to these victories is this: ISIS is a convenient banner for militants to rally toward so we can efficiently kill them, they are not the end-all Middle Eastern evil. The fact remains that the very conditions which generate militant Islam are not being addressed so we will never stop it.
If we were to someday deliver a crushing defeat to ISIS, kill its leaders, or hell, slaughter every single one of their troops; the only difference in tomorrow would be that attacks in the name of Islam would not have the ISIS stamp on it. The poor middle easterner’s jihad against the accursed infidel will continue in perpetuity, whether they have a banner to fly above it or not.
We all live in this delusion that if we somehow just destroy all these existing ‘bad’ people that the remaining commoners/clerics/radical wealthy will rally and establish a West friendly state. We then all hold hands and sing in harmony.
I find the very idea that a rural middle easterner would even consider Western forms of government practice (secular legal system, open elections, liberal cultural acceptance, etc.) to be ridiculous. You cannot ‘convince’ or ‘convert’ a 40 year old farmer of anything. Their beliefs and ideology are directly tied to their own upbringing and experience. I am reminded of a very telling quote I found in a BBC news article. This is the quote
“Arif Mohamady, in his late 20s, is angry and frustrated. ‘There are no jobs here, no security and lots of corruption. I’d rather live in an infidel country,’ he said.
‘In 2007 my father was killed in a suicide bombing. My mother and brother were killed by the Taliban. I know it’s a dangerous journey but I’d rather die on the way than stay in Afghanistan.’ “
The phrase “I’d rather live in an infidel country” I think speaks volumes about how middle easterners see the West. It is a vessel to be used for survival and nothing more. A farmer doesn’t have any love for his cow, he milks it until it’s dry, then slaughters for beef before it withers. Europe is not a paradise or a utopia these people flee to in order to ‘convert’ to western sensibilities. Their desires are entirely utilitarian and it is our great task is to convert these people to our way of life before it’s too late. This is an area where Europe has clearly failed.
Slaughter is Easy, Conversion Takes Effort
Ideological conversion takes generations within a very special set of environmental circumstances, it cannot be done with weapons and it cannot be done in years. And even if you do set up the environment correctly, the result is never what you anticipate. It’s like herding cats, they always go in some unforeseen direction. What forces people to change their beliefs is completely eradicating the way in which they relate to their world. That is, how they get food, shelter, water, and engage in social activity. You give people long life and a fat belly to go path A, and force them to endure starvation, illness, and death through path B. Much of the Middle East is going through this ‘westernization’ transition (mainly in densely populated urban centers), but it isn’t like they are enjoying it.
People fight tooth and nail to maintain their ideological perspective on the world. They will die before they listen to a foreigner attempt to teach them about their way of life. Existing status quos get altered (down with clerics/dictators and up with our urban capitalists) through internal conflict and struggle. Those struggles are a common trend throughout history, as everyone has an opinion on their vision of what the future holds. In societies where these visions are incredibly disjoint we have serious conflict. Otherwise we have elections/democratic separatist movements. In disjoint societies only those with the most guns get to decide.
But our future of the Middle East will never be the one we envision, where they convert to OUR system. Instead the future of the Middle East will be a mixture. They will combine only those Western elements that they must in order to maintain food, shelter, and water with maximum ease. Like evolution, pieces of the organism which are not a net negative (but still retain no utilitarian purpose) will remain. This is assuming of course that the West maintains its dominance long enough to ‘convert’ the Middle East. With the emergence of non-western power that vision is under threat.
Forever we will have our domestic religious freedom fighter. Continually fighting for that ancient infusion of religion and state.
We Are Not A Utopia
As a westerner I want my world view to dominate. But western world views will not convince a poor starving 13 year old boy that he should continue to starve rather than attend a religious training camp (with guaranteed food and shelter, a pretty sweet package). I cannot move my way of life and give it to him. It is not possible.
Western world views will not stop urban Muslims from leaving their urban utopia in search of ultimate purpose in their life, perhaps of a spiritual nature which is entirely alien to our secular sensibilities. Since we have been raised to view our public life in a secular fashion and our religious life in a personal fashion, it is unfathomable that someone should choose both a religious public and personal life.
The only benefit of having this ISIS conflict is that it makes it easier for westerners to slaughter our terrorist enemies in a field of combat we have extreme advantages in (conventional war). If/when ISIS falls, the old battles will begin anew, enemies we cannot name and movements we lose track of will spring forth.
There are a couple ways of stopping this.
1. Circumvent all forms of fixed natural resource wealth from the region (stop buying their oil/ore/farming things) in order to force their urban centers to engage in western business. Then wait 200 years for the transition away from killing the west to occur. They still will not become western but our subway stations will remain safe.
2. Engage in attrition. Kill each other to the point where their side is so weak and maimed that it cannot possibly care about resistance any longer.
3. Invent our way out of ‘lesser’ earthlings grasp. Still waiting on that singularity guys.
Of course my vision is more cynical. We all will change. Through conflict, discussion, internet rage, news ramble, and dinner table discussion we slowly warp our views toward a more unified vision of our future for the human race. Our way of life is not the ‘truth’. Other nations are not ‘progressing’ to ‘catch up’ to our way of life. There are plenty of pathways to the future once you start questioning what that future should be. In the short term, the society which yields the best guns will be the “utopia” everyone strives toward.