Monday, July 31, 2006

Radical Islam and West

Sunday, Jul. 30, 2006
Actually, the Middle East Is Our Crisis Too
The war is now part of the global conflict between the U.S. and radical Islam

Something radically new is emerging in the Middle East: the century-old Arab-Israeli dispute has been transmuted from a nationalist to a religious war. And as a result, the Arab-Israeli wars are now merging into the global conflict between radical Islam and the West.

The transformation was swift in coming. Hamas' electoral landslide in Palestine just six months ago marked the political death of Yasser Arafat and the secular, vaguely socialist and entirely nationalist movement he represented. Hamas is fighting not to create a 23rd Arab state but, as its charter explains, to recover "an Islamic Waqf." Meaning? Territory claimed under the Islamic precept that "any land the Muslims have conquered by force ... during the times of [Islamic] conquests" more than a millennium ago belongs to Muslims forever because "the Muslims consecrated these lands to Muslim generations until the Day of Judgment."

In the first period of the Arab-Israeli dispute, Israel was at war with pan-Arabism, the idea of essential Arab unity across states and the rejection of any non-Arab state in their region. Pan-Arabism was humiliated by Israel's six-day victory in the 1967 war. The subsequent death of Egyptian President Nasser, who instigated that disaster, accelerated pan-Arabism's decline. Its final collapse occurred when its last great proponent, Saddam Hussein, was swept away in 2003. The successor Arab rulers no longer dream of a single Arab state and have grudgingly come to accept a small Jewish state in part of Palestine. Hence the peace treaties that Egypt and Jordan signed with Israel.

As pan-Arabism declined, pan-Islamism rose in its place. Hence Islamist Hizballah--client of Islamist Iran, ally of Islamist Hamas--provokes a war with Israel. Hizballah's motivation has nothing to do with Arab nationalism. Israel withdrew from every square meter of Lebanese territory six years ago. But legal obligation means nothing to Hizballah. Like Hamas and Iran, Hizballah views the destruction of Israel as a religious obligation.

Moreover, Hizballah times its attack on Israel to suit the needs of its Iranian patron, about to be subject to sanctions by the West for its nuclear ambitions. Those ambitions, in turn, are meant to serve Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's even larger Islamist vision of a cataclysmic showdown with the infidel West as a harbinger of the return of the 12th Imam and the End of Days.

But it gets more complicated still. The Iran-Hizballah-Hamas axis is not the only church of Islamism. Enter Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's No. 2, rushing to keep up with the mob, the mob that is now scandalously led by Persian and Shi'ite Iran. On behalf of Sunni and Arab al-Qaeda--just yesterday the champion of all things radically Muslim and anti-Western--al-Zawahiri last week issued a call for all Muslims to rise up against Israel.

Now Palestine was never at the top of al-Qaeda's list of grievances. In al-Qaeda's 1998 declaration of war on the U.S., Palestine is a distant third. But with Iran, through Hamas and Hizballah, having seized leadership of the jihad against the Jews, al-Qaeda could not stand by and allow its Islamist primacy to be eclipsed by the mullahs of Tehran.

To Western eyes, the spectacle is bizarre, not seen since the Catholic Church six centuries ago sported rival Popes, one in Rome, one in Avignon. Our only near contemporary experience of dueling churches occurred in the 1960s and '70s, when the Soviet Union and China competed for the title of most authentic communist and for the allegiance of client states and guerrilla groups around the world. On 9/11, al-Qaeda bestrode the world of radical Islam. Al-Zawahiri simply had to show up at the scene of the latest Arab-Israeli fighting lest Iran usurp al-Qaeda's hard-earned mantle.

For all their medieval trappings, these two sources of Islamic fervor now vying for possession of the newly transmuted Arab-Israeli dispute confirm the Bush Administration's view that, after a holiday from history in the 1990s, the global ideological struggles of the 20th century have been rejoined with a change only in the cast. In place of the ersatz Western religions of fascism and communism, radical Islam, bastard child of a real and great religion, has arisen. Led by two rival Vaticans, one in Tehran and the other cavebound on the Afghan-Pakistani border, it raises the banner of a militant religion that will not rest until, as al-Zawahiri pledged, Islam has retaken every piece of Waqf "from Spain to Iraq."

Yes, Spain--conquered by Islam in the 8th century, lost to Christianity in 1492. That's a long way from Haifa, from Lebanon, from Baghdad and even from Mecca. It's an even longer way from rationality, which is why the struggle against it will be long and painful, and enduringly surreal.

> More of Charles Krauthammer's columns can be found at


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