The real war in the world today is between fundamentalist zealots and those who believe in individual liberty. The fundamentalist zealots—Christian, Muslim, Jewish—know exactly what they are fighting for: an unforgiving dictatorship by their favored ideology. Most of the rest of the world’s population, many already dying, still do not even know what is happening.
Eight years after 9/11, it is high time Americans realized that the real threat to world peace–the real war that is now being fought–is, confusingly, “against extremism” (as the politicians have been telling us) except that the two sides are not exactly those claimed. Yes, of course, Islamic extremism stands on the global political battlefield against Western opponents but those Western “opponents” are its mirror image. Both take the literal interpretation of ancient texts as their basic guide to expectations about the future. Both base their behavior not on logic but on faith. Both therefore take positions immune to rational debate and find it self-evident that violence in defense of their preferences is justifiable.
In their own words:
the United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West… a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ.—fundamentalist Protestant pastor John Hagee
The rest of us–the vast majority of the populations of Islamic and Western societies, the folks who spend most of their time living their lives, believe in working out differences peacefully, and feel no need to control the whole world in order to live satisfying lives—are caught in the middle. On 9/11, it was Americans who suffered. In July 2006, it was the people of southern Lebanon and Beirut who suffered. In August 2008 it was Pakistanis in Bajaur. In December 2008 as well as for two years before and ever since, it has been the people of Gaza. But more and more, it will be all of us.
Indeed, it already is “all of us” in many ways, some subtle and slow-moving but nonetheless costly. In Pakistan, for example, for the whole past generation since military dictator Zia ul-Haq decided to exploit Islamic radicalism to shore up his power back in the days of the campaign against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Army-Islamic radical alliance both weakened democracy and exacerbated tensions with India. In an analogous manner, the people of Israel have seen the rise of the Israeli garrison state led by Zionists determined to pursue ethnic cleansing and a Greater Israel policy both undermine Israeli democracy and endanger their security. In both cases, the result has been to come dangerously close to the nuclear abyss.
It is important to realize that the above mentioned characteristics shared by extremists in both camps are not details but the essence of the danger that fundamentalist extremists pose to global peace. Fundamentalists need not be extremist nor need extremists be fundamentalist, but when a mythological past is taken literally by those who also are eager to employ extreme methods to achieve their goals, one has a self-feeding danger of a particularly virulent kind. Faith rather than reason as the basis for belief inclines one to discount disconfirmatory evidence and to focus on confirmatory evidence, leading to ever stronger evidence regardless of what the evidence actually shows.
It is precisely the existence of these two fundamentalist extremist camps at the same historical moment that creates the danger and a struggle severe enough to merit the term “war” because each side feeds off the other in a double cycle very difficult to control. First, as mentioned above, each side independently filters evidence through its lens of faith, misinterpreting everything as proof of its own infallibility. Second, each side radicalizes the other. With Side A asserting that Side B represents “the devil,” any hostile act is seen as proof of the opponent’s evil intent and any conciliatory act is seen as a trick. Opinion based on faith rather than analysis twists reality. The cycles interact, every action inflaming passions all around.
The Christian-Muslim-Jewish fundamentalist battle today is even further enflamed by cynical politicians who exploit the naïve attitudes of the true believers to achieve their own entirely worldly goals: the Israeli expansionist using the threat of war with Iran to cement Israel’s 60-year-long campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestine; the American neo-conservative exploiting the fear of terrorism to pursue dreams of an “American century” powered by U.S. military control over global hydrocarbon resources; the Arab dictator exploiting the Salafis to retain power; the Iranian neo-con IRGC officer colluding with Shi’ite Twelvers waiting for the Mahdi to return and bring the “end of days” but dreaming of Cyrus the Great. The longer the battle of fundamentalisms continues, the more it gets wrapped up in nationalism, totally confusing most moderates on both sides, almost none of whom have knowledge about either side to understand what war is really being fought.
The real war is certainly not the West against Islam. It is not the West against Islamic extremism. It is not even Western fundamentalist extremism against Islamic fundamentalist extremism. The real war is those who want peace and progress against the forces of fundamentalist extremism who seek a final solution, be it a global caliphate, the return of the Mahdi, or the “end of days.”