teacher's deskFuller, Graham E. A World Without Islam. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010
The central thesis of Fuller’s book is that even if Mohammed had never been born, or if the Islamic religion had never taken hold, the tensions in the Middle East would be very similar to what we see today. He refers a number of times to the Islamisization of the conflicts in the Middle East. More and more, the rhetoric of democracy against Islam is used to provide context for the wars, and more and more, the public is being encouraged to see Western intervention in the Middle East as a defense of Western democracy against a brutal, dangerous Islam.
Fuller begins by tracing the history that led to the current tensions in the Middle East. Many readers will find chapters like “The Third Rome and Russia: Russia inherits the Orthodox Legacy” or “Colonialism, Nationalism, Islam, and the Independence struggle” challenging; there are whole blocks of world history that we in the West typically didn’t even touch on in school. He makes a reasonable case for asserting that what we have often seen as religious wars were really geopolitical conflicts, sometimes taking on the shape of religious disputes because the combatants were of different religious persuasions. Fuller maintains that religion doesn’t start wars, but can exacerbate tensions and contribute to the context of disputes, can be harnessed as a means of diverting attention from the real motives of the combatants.
Religion will always be invoked wherever it can to galvanize the public and to justify major campaigns, battles, and wars, especially in monotheistic cultures. But the causes, campaigns, battles and wars are not about religion. Take away the religion, and there are still causes, campaigns, battles and wars (p.286).
Fuller opens the question of how terrorism is defined, viewed and responded to in the west. His argument that Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were acts of terrorism in exactly the same way as 9/11 was, is persuasive. The extreme escalation of terrorism via suicide bomber attacks on the symbols of power is, however, a recent development and in the West, the opinion that it is enabled by Islamic religious beliefs is widespread. Terrorism is the way in which a weaker combatant wages war against a stronger. Having no military force to match the one considered an oppressor, the weaker one resorts to terror, the infliction of fear through the mechanism of surreptitious sabotage. Not unlike Robin Hood. Fuller doesn’t excuse terrorism by any means, but his contention that we need to define terrorism in a global manner and apply it evenly to all occasions of dispute is timely.
Insurgency may be “illegal,” but it is the essence of human response to unjust conditions (p. 292).”
Fuller agrees with an opinion I’ve expressed on numerous occasions: 9/11 should have been treated as a criminal act rather than an act of war, as George W. Bush declared it to be shortly after the event.
Efforts to identify and stymie terrorist acts must be carried out through intelligence and police work; capture of terrorists should be the prerogative of international organizations or local countries, and not by the United States operating on an illegal extraterritorial extension of its sovereign rights to capture and assassinate individuals at will (p. 301).
It’s hardly necessary to add that Fuller sees the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and the closure of foreign military bases to be the first necessary steps in arriving at eventual peace in the Middle East. He considers the Israeli expansion and its displacement of Palestinians to be the most irritating barb in East/West relations, and advocates for the reversal of this expansion. Until this happens, the Arab/Muslim world will always be in a posture of defense against outside aggression, and it won’t be a consequence of religion, but of geography, politics and the right to defend oneself and one’s community against foreign aggression.
I remember a conversation with a man in Belfast during a tense period of “the troubles.” He said—in effect—that the Western media completely misunderstood the conflict in Ireland as being a Protestant-Catholic feud. He went on to say that it hinged completely on nationalist/loyalist grounds and had no reference to religious differences. In Northern Ireland, as in the Middle East, religion was used to further ends of both British loyalist and Irish nationalist’s goals.
That the Canadian and American governments should be putting a beneficial spin on the news of their activities in Afghanistan is understandable; much money and many lives have been invested in what is most certainly going to prove itself to have been a fool’s errand. There is no military solution to terrorism; it’s foundations must be found and addressed. The average Canadian, I observe, has a very poor grasp of the foundations of the Middle East conflicts and deals in platitudes, half-truths and herd wisdom. It’s time we all read and studied Fuller’s book.