World War III?

(July 28, 2006)


Viewing the violence in Lebanon, which those on the scene tell us is much worse than the sanitized clips shown on US TV, we may well ask if World War III has already started.  Although it could be so -- indeed some say Sept. 11, 2001 was the real beginning -- I don't think we have quite reached that point.  What I see happening now is a final "choosing up sides" before the global mayhem begins in earnest.

       So just what are those sides?  Many, especially the radical Islamicists, see it as a clash of civilizations: Islamic versus the Jewish-Christian cabal that has invaded their territory.  Certain it must look like that to them.  The recent call by Dr. Zawahiri -- Osama bin Laden's strategy theorist -- to kill the infidel "crusaders" everywhere and to restore the Muslim empire from Iraq to Spain is a clear reference to long-past Islamic glory.  However, that Zawahiri curiously left Indonesia -- today the world's largest and most liberal Muslim nation -- out of his vision of a world-wide caliphate is telling.  What it tells me is that this is not so much a clash of civilizations as it is of eras on time or psychological mind-sets.

       Granted that all of us are "conservative" when it comes to protecting our own skins or pet interests.  But what most characterizes modern Western civilization is its liberal secularity.  We see individual freedom -- "libertas" in Latin -- as the paramount value, and have, one nation after another, repudiated the once close ties between Church and State that once characterized medieval civilization.  No doubt we have overdone it at times, confusing the institution of an official church with religion in general.

       But within the Islamic world, the ideal is completely different. The ideal Islamic nation is one where there is really should be no distinction between the two even if there is such, to some extent, in practice.  We see this particularly in Wahabist (Sunni) Saudi Arabia, and in Shiite-dominated Iran.  For these two radical sects, not only is the "Crusader" West the enemy, the more or less liberal or secular governments of Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and yes, Saddam's Iraq, have been seen as traitors to true Islam.  If there is any alliance between the Iranian backed Hezbollah shiities and Baathist Syria, it is only because, as they say in the Middle East, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" -- at least for the time being. 

       However, the fact that it really all boils down to a war between modern secular liberalism versus a radicalized religious conservatism should make us think twice before we launch out on any new "crusades" in defense of "Christian" civilization.  While there are some religious nuts, especially in the USA, who believe in bringing on a "Armaggdon" is just what the world needs (so that Christ can come a second time, such thinking, like Zawahiri's call for a restoration of medieval Islam, especially in this nuclear age, is a sure road to disaster.