World War III will definitely not be a clash between capitalism and communism, but between Islam and the West. It will not be a large-scale conflict, but a cold war with regional conflicts and terrorist attacks like the one in Paris, which can drag on for years, a low intensity war. Future historians will have to reach an agreement as to whether it started on 9/11, 3/11 (Madrid, 2004), 7/7 (London, 2005) or last Wednesday. This latest attack against Charlie Hebdo was not simply the work of two lone wolves; it was an all-out military operation. And, unfortunately, by the looks of it, it would appear that it will not be the last one.
After all, there has always been friction between Islam and the West. They are, and have been, like two tectonic plaques. It now feels like a long time ago, but it is perhaps worth remembering the battles of Poitiers (732), Constantinople (1453), Granada (1492) and Lepanto (1571). Vienna, in the heart of Europe, was twice besieged by the Ottoman Empire over a 150-year period: in 1529 and, again, in 1683.
If, as they say, history repeats itself, we may be facing a new expansionist period by radical Islam. After all, and unlike Al-Qaeda, Daesh has managed to carve out a large chunk of territory. And, in Nigeria, Boko Haram is also pursuing the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Nigeria is not just another country: it is the most populous nation in Africa.
Of course, the West has also played a role in the clash of civilisations. In one of the opening scenes in Robin Hood (2010), the Ridley Scott remake, King Richard the Lionheart, shortly before his death, asks Russell Crowe the following question during the siege of the castle of Chalus (1199), France:
- "What do you think of my crusade? Will God be pleased with my sacrifice?
- No, He will not.
- Why do you say that?
- Because of the Acre slaughter, sire. You made us crowd together 2,500 muslim men, women and children; the young woman at my feet, hands bound, looked at me, and there was no fear in her eyes. Neither was there anger. Just compassion. She knew that when the command was given and the steel struck their necks, we would become unholy. All of us. Unholy."
The West has, in addition, made a number of mistakes. With the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, the USA failed to capitalise on the worldwide wave of sympathy (also in Arab countries), in the aftermath of 9/11. Abu Ghraib and other episodes were the finishing stroke.
If the Charlie Hebdo massacre is not an example of the clash of civilisations as described by Samuel Huntington, then what is? The same applies to the journalists beheaded by ISIS. Or the kidnapping of 200 girls at the hands of Boko Haram. Or the attack against a shopping mall in Nairobi (Kenya) in September 2013. Or the Taliban attacks against Karachi International Airport (Pakistan) in June last year. Terror has become global.
And yet, one of our problems here in Europe is political correctness. Those of us who for years have been warning against Islam (or, at least, against a certain side of Islam), are immediately branded as racists, xenophobes, and islamophobes.
Funnily enough, the vast majority of official statements I have come across denouncing the Charlie Hebdo massacre, most of them from media outlets, advocated “freedom of expression” or “the right to information”, but not one dared to refer to islamist terrorism. All this in spite of the fact that the terrorists shot their guns whilst crying ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) and claimed they wanted to “avenge the Prophet” before killing twelve people in cold blood and wounding another eleven. Upon leaving, just before getting into their car, they were still shouting ‘We have avenged Prophet Muhammad, we have avenged Prophet Muhammad.’
It goes without saying that not all muslims are terrorists, of course, but all islamic terrorists are muslims. We have a problem with mosques and imams (or with some mosques and imams) and our governments’ approach so far has been to turn a blind eye.
One only needs to read sura At-Taubah (Repentance): “Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise. They fight in the cause of Allah, so they kill and are killed. [It is] a true promise [binding] upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur'an. And who is truer to his covenant than Allah? So rejoice in your transaction which you have contracted. And it is that which is the great attainment.” (Q’ran, 9:111) (Link: http://quran.com/9/110-116). Granted, there are similar passages in the Bible, such as the well-known “eye for an eye”, but they are nowhere near as influential in the West as the Q’ran is in islamic societies.
In addition, terrorist attacks used to occur in such remote countries as Afghanistan or Pakistan. They now happen in the heart of Europe, or just at its threshold: ISIS is holding its ground at Kobane in spite of the fact that this city, right next to the Turkish border, has been bombed for 100 days already.
To make a bad situation worse, the Arab Spring has further de-stabilised the entire south Mediterranean region. In fact, Tunisia is the only country that has initiated a democratisation process. The rest of countries remain immobile, as is the case with Morocco; they have become true dictatorships, either secular or religious, such as Egypt, or downright failed or failing states, such as Libya.
In addition to the already-mentioned political correctness, Europe has an additional problem, as it is financially falling apart; with the financial crisis now entering its eighth year, this has had a very significant impact on national armies. The UK spends 2.49% of its GDP on defence; France, 1.89%; Italy, 1.7%; Spain, 0.6%. After two world wars (which were, in fact, civil wars), armies are not exactly popular in Europe.
Whatever the case, World War III will not be a conventional war anyway, not even a cold war. The rules of engagement which we will see (and suffer) henceforth are not even mentioned in the classic works by Clausewitz or Sun-tzu. Daesh and Boko Haram, like Al-Qaeda before them, have shown that they know how to spread terror. They even have a means for doing so that would have been Goebbels’ wet dream: the internet and information technology.
At the end of the day, the photo taken last Sunday showing all European leaders at the forefront of the Paris march also comes to show the West’s inability to face up to this new threat.
All in all, our only consolation is that, thanks to our technological superiority, this is a war that, fortunately, we cannot lose but, unfortunately, we cannot win either. There are about 1,600 million muslims in the world (Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s figures). If only 1% of these became radicals, that would amount to 16 million jihadists. Not one country in the world has ever had an army with 16 million soldiers, many of whom, incidentally, are living comfortably in their host countries.
Xavier Rius, journalist.
Director of Barcelona-based online newspaper e-notícies.