I was arguing with jim and Lisa in the comments section of the post below (about the Sydney hostage-taking incident) when a bunch of gunsels claiming to be card-carrying members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Paris Local 1104 shot up the offices of a French political magazine, killing 12 people.
I was arguing that jim and Lisa were doing our readership a disservice by conflating the actions of a single criminal with some sort of global Islamic conspiracy, doing the jihadis work for them, confusing the situation whilst adding to the generalized public fear and panic over the threat of jihadi violence. It was just that sort of fear and panic that led the United States public into supporting a pointless piece of filibustering in the Middle East, invading a secular dictatorship in pursuit of a violent religious sect and, in the process, setting up a geopolitical situation where a siderunner of that sect is now fielding an actual armed field force that controls the western portions of that now-sectarian dictatorship.
But the Paris shooting is just the kind of thing they were talking about; an act of violence designed and carried out by men because of their political beliefs about religion.
I do not and never have pretended that there are not those sorts of violent men coming out of political Islam.
My point was, and is, that using the violent acts of jihadis in the West to gin up some sort of generalized fear of "Islam" and the people who hold by it is both ridiculous and dangerous.
Ridiculous because religions are supposed to be about a mystical or spiritual way to approach living a "proper life"; you can't shoot that into someone with a bullet or bomb it into them. The jihadis WANT that to be the state of play between them and the West, because that's what they know; they are, typically, men bred in violent times in violent places, and violence is what they see as their strong point. Playing it their way strengthens them and weakens us.
Dangerous because it develops into a mindset that blurs the distinction between the jihadis and "everyone else". If a single criminal nutter can be a jihadi, well, who can't? If some random joker is really part of a vast jihadi conspiracy, why isn't the FBI wiretapping those gomers at the mosque down on Clark Street? Why shouldn't we go Full Malkin and intern all those allah-pesterers for The Duration?
This begs the question, though.
If we should be looking skeptically at the poseurs, what about the genuine article?
In her comment Lisa warns of the danger of violence emerging from "...the IS - IS fellow traveler pool..." to which I'd add the other militarized jihadi factions such as AQ, AQAP, the various mujeheddin factions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Libyan militias, outfits like Boko Haram in Nigeria...and those factions are violent and dangerous and, in many cases, carry grudges against the West. Grudges held by violent men aren't to be disregarded or taken lightly.
What can, or should, the West - that is, the nations of Western Europe and North America, since the old colonial powers and the U.S. are the primary target of these Islamic grudge-holders - do in response to these groups?
I'll propose, first, than we've tried one approach, punitive expeditionary violence, and the results seem to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of this approach. It can put a band-aid on the jihadi tumor but as the examples of Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria appear to show as often as not ends up in just metastasizing the damn thing into new forms in new places it wasn't before.
How about simply disengaging from the region? Walking away from the conflict?
My guess is that it would be difficult if not impossible. The well of hatred and feud is so deeply poisoned that the jihadis will continue their attacks, and even disengaging politically and militarily cannot wall-off the features of Western society that the jihadis hate and fear. It's said that the Soviet Union fell because no Russians wanted to wear Polish sneakers and listen to East German pop music. The jihadis do "hate us for our freedoms" but it is the freedom of our women to walk around in skimpy halter tops and our freedom to tell our pastors to fuck off out of our bedrooms (ironically, the very freedoms our OWN Christian "jihadis" hate and fear...) they hate.
Plus there's Israel and all that petroleum...sigh.
Okay. We're kinda stuck.
More selective violence of the Israeli targeted-assassination sort? That seems to have a sort of Darwinian effect; it can keep the jihadis from "boiling over" but it winnows out the stupid and the slow. Deconstruction the PLO simply replaced them with the deadlier enemies of Hamas and Hezbollah.
And it's well to recall that these jihadis didn't just come out of nowhere.
In 1945 the idea of "political Islam" seemed like the height of lunacy. All over the Islamic world secular governments were replacing the old colonial regimes. In fact the heartland of the current IS and AQ shenangains - Iraq and Syria - was largely run by "Baath" parties which were overtly and fiercely secular. The exemplar for the emerging Arab states was Turkey and the anticlericalism of the Young Turks.
But between the Western powers and Israel these secular states were shown up to their populations as either venal, weak, or both. Secular dictators were suborned with Western cash and weapons, or defeated by Israeli arms. The only groups that seemed to actually fight back effectively were the jihadis.
The U.S. and the West helped coddle a Saudi regime that nursed the Wahhabi madrassis that produced so many of these jihadi vipers. Charlie Wilson & Co. turned them loose on the Soviets which seemed like a damn fine idea at the time...and then cut them loose when the Soviets ran for cover.
So I'd add that, in a sense, we of the West - our governments, at least - helped make this mess. We should, at least, think about what we might do to help clean it up if that is possible...
It seems to me that the BEST answer to the jihadi problem would be the same thing that provided the solution to the Western Wars of Religion; indifference.
Think about it. For hundreds of years Europe was torn up by Protestants killing Catholics, Catholics killing Protestants and everybody killing Jews. Don't even get me started on atheists and witches...where you went to church (or whether you did..) was a killing matter in Europe for centuries. Google "Thirty Years War" sometime and read up on what it did to Germany.
And then we stopped.
Sure, some idiots still want to return to the Good Old Days when killing infidels for Baby Jesus got you into Heaven. But for most of us where our neighbors go to church - or whether they do - is a matter of massive indifference. The notion that someone is scarey because he might be Catholic and take orders from the Pope (as was said of JFK) seems ludicrous as the Blood Libel to us today. Outside of the Balkans (determined to be perverse as they have always been) religious skepticism, ignorance, indifference, and sloth is the rule in Western public life. It's considered rude outside the Issa household to parade your religiousity in public, let alone so much as upbraid anyone else for their infidelity.
So...can the West help inoculate the Islamic world with the vaccine of religious indifference? If so, how?
I'm not sure, myself, so I'm opening the floor to ideas here. What, if anything, can the West do to help the East lose their religion?