Agent: Stop, Ma’am, or I will be forced to treat you as a threat.
Victoria: Where, exactly, is the threat?
—Thomas Mitchell as the Lone Agent and Helen Mirren as Victoria in RED
I hate to have to keep talking about the Islamists, and you may be wondering why I’ve been devoting so much time in this space to a handful of crackpots severing the occasional head in a desert on the other side of the planet. If that were it, I wouldn’t. But when you examine the thing you begin to see that there’s lot more to it, and it is in fact a serious threat not just to Western journalists, but to Western existence.
We are told that the issue isn’t with Muslims in general, and that violent extremism is confined to a very tiny minority. We are told that this is a regional problem, something to be contained and managed. But, as Andrew McCarthy pointed out in an excellent piece in National Review Online, we have to come to grips with the fact that this is not a matter of small separate clashes with ISIS in Iraq, Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Sudan, or al Qaeda wherever the hell they are. There is no meaningful distinction between these groups, and we have to understand that rather than discrete, isolated conflicts, these are in fact multiple fronts in a single war being waged by a group that, whatever their internal differences, is united in ideological purpose: eradication of Western civilization and the establishment of a unified global caliphate.
To understand why this is so serious, let’s explore some numbers.
I have previously discussed data on global Muslim attitudes collected by the Pew Research Center. In a report published last year, we saw that in most places surveyed, substantial-to-overwhelming majorities of Muslims favor making sharia the law of the land. In many places, more than half not only want sharia, but they want it applied to non-Muslims as well as Muslims. Some places surveyed showed majorities approaching a staggering 90% favor extreme penalties like beating and amputation for theft, stoning for adultery, and death for apostasy. Significant numbers view suicide bombing and other violence as at least sometimes OK to defend Islam: Palestinian Territories 40%; Afghanistan 39%; Egypt 29%; Bangladesh 26%; Malaysia 18%; Jordan & Turkey 15%; Pakistan 13%. Even in the U.S., that number is 20%.
Although perhaps not the majority viewpoint, this data suggests there is a large chunk of the global Muslim population that holds attitudes consistent with, if not sympathetic to, the ideology of the “extreme” Islamists. And that’s even before we realize that Pew excluded many of the, let’s say, more enthusiastically Islamic countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Algeria, and Yemen. I wonder why? Of course it’s only conjecture on my part, but my guess is a survey including those countries would tilt the scales just a bit further towards a more ISIS-like set of beliefs.
What does this mean for an ideologically-based war against Western civilization?
Of the 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet today, there is some subset that to some degree or another supports the ideology and even the tactics of Islamist groups like ISIS. It is difficult to quantify that number, in no small part because fear of persecution or adherence to the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya (which permits a Muslim to lie in order to protect Islam or other Muslims) may skew the results away from what might be called “extremism.” I think the Pew data suggest a considerably higher number, but let’s say for discussion purposes it’s 10%. That means the Islamist “population,” if you will, numbers 160 million people and growing.
Let me put that number in perspective.
The population of Nazi Germany in 1939 was about 70 million, or less than half the size of our discussion assumption of today’s Islamist population. The combined population of Germany, Italy, and Japan at the outbreak of World War II was 186 million, or just a little bigger than the Islamist population today. In more modern terms, according to The Economist 2013 Pocket World in Figures, an Islamist population of 160 million is larger than Russia (140 million) and just a little smaller than the combined present populations of Germany, France, and the U.K. (about 207 million), and large and growing chunks of all four are Muslim in their own right.
This is not something we can just dismiss. Now, you might argue that the comparison to the Axis powers is inappropriate because the Islamists do not hold the same technological parity with the West that the Axis did, and you’d have a bit of a point. I would counter, however, that the decisive difference any technology gap might make against the Islamists is rapidly shrinking as Iran moves ever closer to going nuclear, and as we continue to supply the Islamists with sophisticated weaponry, whether by giving F-16s to an Egypt that may or may not be able to shake off the Muslim Brotherhood, giving armored personnel carriers and RPGs to an Iraqi army that abandons them as they flee before advancing ISIS forces, or by abandoning materiel ourselves because we deem it too expensive to ship back as we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.
But there are also a pair of practical differences that to a large extent render the technology issue irrelevant in assessing the Islamist threat. One is a matter of geography, or more to the point, lack thereof. In World War II, you knew where—in an existential sense—the enemy was. To fight the Germans, you had to go to Europe and push them back to Germany. But the Islamists—and I think this is a lot of why we find it so hard to perceive this as a single war with multiple fronts instead of several isolated and unrelated skirmishes—know no geopolitical identity. They are not bound by nationality, but by ideology, which means it is impossible to know where they are—again, in an existential sense—in order to fight them. They are both everywhere and nowhere, and the ramifications of that are frightening, because it means they are not just in Gaza and Raqqa, but they’re also in our own backyard.
The second is a matter of psychology (or psychosis). War is always brutal; there are always atrocities, and innocents are always killed. But your basic German soldier in World War II did not want to die, and he didn’t really want to kill you. Chances are he had no interest in whether Hitler conquered Europe or the world, and what he wanted most was just to go home to his farm. The Islamists, however, are an essentially all-volunteer force of true believers. If they’re fighting, it’s likely because they want to be there, and they want to advance the agenda of jihad towards a global caliphate that swallows Western civilization. More importantly, they really, honestly, in-their-heart-of-hearts-down-to-their-DNA don’t care who gets killed in the process. If it kills you, that’s fine. If it kills them, that’s equally fine; what’s even better is if they can get themselves killed while in the process of killing you. They don’t even care if their own children get killed—the internet is filled with videos of elementary age kids extolling the virtues of martydom.
Repeat after me, class: They. Do. Not. Care.
This is the nature of the threat we face; it’s real, and it’s bigger than we imagine. Whether we like it or not, this is an enemy that wants to destroy us, whether by conversion or the sword. It is an enemy you cannot identify on a map; you can’t march into its capital city and claim victory. It is an enemy that wears no uniforms; it draws no distinction on our side or its own between soldiers and civilians. And it is an enemy that places no value on human life, not even their own; this means there is no compromise to be reached, because we have nothing they want except our submission or death.
You cannot negotiate with such an enemy. Nor can you contain it. Nor is it enough to (temporarily) “degrade” it, whatever that means.
You have to kill it. It’s the only thing they understand.