Date: Mon 20 Oct 2003 - 08:44:01 GMT
THE LONGEST STRUGGLE
By RALPH PETERS
October 19, 2003 -- BETTER-ARMED and better-trained, a Western army "liberates" Arab territory. Divided among themselves, some Arabs cut deals with the invader, while hardliners resist the occupation. Assassins from a terrorist organization haunt - and hunt - local leaders. Sunnis and Shi'as compete for advantage. Long-suffering minorities wonder whether to welcome their liberators or distrust them. Divided between new powers and old, the Westerners squabble over issues of international law, political authority and trading privileges. Favored parties win economic concessions from the victors.
Having failed to block the advance of the invading army, the Turks
meddle in Arab affairs. And a portion of the soldiers in the conquering
army feel they've done what they came to do and want to come home.
No. The Middle East at the close of the 11th century, in the wake of the
The point is not to play clever games with history, but to stress that the
dilemmas of our own day are not exceptional or new. On the contrary,
our worthy destruction of Saddam's regime can be seen as part of
history's longest war: the battle for hegemony between Middle Eastern
and Western civilization.
We don't have to like the idea of such an endless conflict before
admitting its existence. Well-meant denials help no one, while hindering
understanding. The historical record shows that the conflict between
Islam and the (Judeo-) Christian West began in the middle of the
seventh century, as Muslim armies burst from the Arabian peninsula,
energized by a new vision, destroying or subjugating the Christian and
Jewish populations of the eastern Mediterranean.
The war never really stopped.
When Arabs complain of their victimization by the West, inevitably
citing the interlude of the Crusades, they neglect to mention that, within
a century of the birth of Islam, Muslim armies had swept across North
Africa, through Spain, and deep into France. In the process, Christian
communities that had shaped the faith were devoured.
To the north, the Arabs relentlessly pushed back the Orthodox Christian
empire of the Byzantines. Turkic tribes thrust westward, across the
Russian steppes and through the Balkans, establishing Islam's frontiers
in today's Hungary and Romania.
The combat hardly paused. And the tide slowly turned. Long weakened
by the West's internal rivalries, Byzantium fell in the middle of the 15th
century. But by the end of that century, the Moors had been expelled
from Spain. After a thousand years of defeats, the West's march to
Even so, a Turkish army besieged Vienna as late as 1683 - until
defeated by the valor of a Polish king. Russia fought fanatical Islamic
warriors throughout the 19th century - as Russia does again today. And
the Balkan wars that finally expelled the Turks in the early 20th century
were vastly more horrific than those of our own time.
The struggle did not stop. It only moved. With the age of European
imperialism, the conquests shifted in the other direction. The Islamic
world of the greater Middle East, proud of its tradition of conquest,
found its methods and values could not compete with modern,
mechanized, liberal societies. The Mahdi's horsemen fell to Maxim
The new debate in the Muslim world, begun 200 years ago and still
underway, is between those who seek to emulate the processes of the
West and those who advocate a return to religious rigor. Tragically, the
fanatics appear to be winning the tactical debate, which leads,
inevitably, to strategic defeat and further humiliation.
Now we face something unique in history: the collapse, before our eyes,
of the competitiveness and competence of a vast civilization, that of
Middle Eastern Islam. None of its cherished values - the subjugation of
women, religious intolerance, economic organization based on blood
ties - works anymore. The people of the Middle East simply can't
compete on their own terms. And the Arab world appears close to
A decade ago, that rarest of creatures, a courageous academic -
Samuel P. Huntington - advanced his theory of a "clash of civilizations."
His honesty met outrage from those for whom emotion and prejudice
trump facts. Yet all that Huntington really did was to note that the
emperor of political correctness wore no clothes.
Still, even Huntington fell short by suggesting that this clash of
civilizations was something new. Clashing is what civilizations do.
Especially monotheist civilizations, with their one-God, one-path-to-the-
truth, our-way-is-best convictions.
We should not be surprised at the current clash of civilizations. It would
be far more surprising if it were not occurring. Such conflict is the rule,
not the exception.
Of course, we would be fools to celebrate this clash, despite our own
triumphs. It would be better for all if the Middle East could regain its
moral and economic health. Cooperation is better than warfare. Peace
should be our ultimate goal.
But not peace at any price. And cooperation doesn't work unilaterally.
Our soldiers in Iraq aren't engaged in a religious crusade. But ours is,
undeniably, a cultural crusade, based upon our belief that the values of
our civilization, from human rights to popular sovereignty, are superior
to archaic forms of oppression. It's an old, old struggle, fought on post-
Today's Middle East has become a citadel of tyranny. And tyranny must
be fought without compromise. If that's a crusade, there's no reason to
Ralph Peters' new book is "Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and
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