We must not leave Afghanistan yetThe West cannot defeat radical Islam if it abandons Afghans and Pakistanis prematurely by michael nazir-ali
Not since the demise of Marxism has the world been faced with a comprehensive political, social and economic ideology determined, by force if necessary, to achieve hegemony over large parts of the world. I mean, of course, the rise of radical Islam, in its various manifestations, with its claim to be the only authentic interpretation of the religion. I am aware that there are many Muslims who reject such an interpretation of their faith and, indeed, there are secular forces in the Muslim world prepared to resist such programmatic extremism. We should not, however, underestimate Islamism’s capacity for disruption and destruction and its desire to remake the world in its own image.
In the face of such an ideology, the international community must not lose its nerve. Any withdrawal from a political, military and even intellectual engagement will be seen by the Islamists as capitulation. Instead of leading to containment, it will only encourage even greater attempts at the expansion of power and influence of movements connected with this ideology. This has already caused and will continue to cause immense suffering to those who do not fit in with an Islamist worldview, including minorities of various kinds, emancipated women and Muslims with views different from those of the extremists. The independence of nations, the autonomy of communities, traditional devotional practices (such as those associated with Sufism) and “deviations” from the prescribed orthodoxy will all be threatened, even with regard to their very existence.
It is true that this ideology, and the movements associated with it, thrive on the grievances, sometimes genuine, which Muslims have, whether in Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya or the Balkans. Let there be no mistake, however, that the ideology exists not because of such grievances, but because of particular interpretations of Islam and what follows from them. There is a desire to purify the Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam) of all infidel influence and corruption. This means that the role of women must be greatly restricted, that non-Muslims must accept the inferior status of dhimmi (rather than that of fellow-citizens), if they are to survive at all and that even Muslim males must behave according to the dictates of the guardians of the ideology. The non-Muslim world (Dar al-Harb, the House of War) must be brought within the ideologues’ sphere of influence, whether through persuasion, accommodation by others of the extremists’ agenda or the fear of armed conflict.
The jihad, for these ideologies, cannot have the meaning of selfdefence which so many moderates claim for it. It must extend not only to the recovery of the “Muslim lands” of Palestine, India, the Iberian peninsula, parts of the Far East and Central Asia and, indeed, many areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, but further than that, so that either through the dawa (the invitation to accept this version of Islam) or political and military means, more and more of the Dar al-Harb will become the Dar al-Islam. The fact that many Muslims do not share these aspirations, and may reject them, should not blind us to the reality that these Islamist ideologies do have them and are prepared to act on them.
The West’s (particularly Britain’s and America’s) involvement in Afghanistan (and to some extent also in Iraq) must be seen in the light of what has been said above. There should be no facile optimism that al-Qaeda has been disabled and no longer poses a credible threat to Western or other countries. It is perfectly possible, given the right conditions, for al-Qaeda to resume being a potent force. It is also the case that the ideology associated with this movement is producing mutant groups such as al-Shabab in Somalia.
Any abandonment of Afghanistan, at this stage, will create exactly the kind of chaos in which these movements flourish. It will bring about the conditions where the Taliban and its even worse allies will, once again, not only return the country to the darkest night, but also remove any incentive for Pakistan to engage with its own extremist groups, at least in the border areas. Al-Qaeda and its allies will recover their safe haven where they can regroup and plan whatever further atrocities they have in mind. Even in other parts of Pakistan, those extremist groups which were created by elements in the Pakistani military’s intelligence services to infiltrate Indian-held Kashmir will see this as an opportunity to consolidate themselves and to engage in activities not only against India but more widely, and, indeed, against the still-fragile democratic Pakistani government. Not only will al-Qaeda seek to attack Western and other targets but fresh oxygen will be given to those groups training people for terrorist activity in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is well known that their training and activity is not limited to South and Central Asia but that they are very capable of exporting extremism and terrorism by radicalising vulnerable young Western Muslims and using them in their own countries. It has been shown beyond doubt that Britain is particularly exposed in this matter.
It is vital that Western people begin to appreciate that in a globalised and highly mobile world, their interests are not confined to their territorial borders and that “minding their doorsteps” is not enough. In today’s world, it would be foolish to be “a little Englander” or a “Monroe American”. Western interests have to be defended globally. Usually, this happens diplomatically and through negotiation, whether political or commercial. From time to time, however, the protection of Western interests acquires a “defence” or “military” dimension. It is true that through alliances, agreements and treaties enemies can sometimes be deterred and interests protected. Only occasionally will the defence of such interests require armed intervention. When it is required, however, there should be no flinching from the focused effort, expenditure and, indeed, sacrifice which may be needed.
In the past, the Christian just war tradition provided the moral criteria as to whether a conventional inter-state conflict was justified or not. Now that most such conflicts are likely to be nonconventional and will be undertaken to prevent genocide, to frustrate the attempts of terrorists to perpetrate atrocities or to provide regional security, can this tradition still provide the necessary criteria? I believe it can. It can certainly ask whether the intention is right and whether armed action is being considered as a last resort. For example, is the intention to remove palpable evil or merely to promote the extension of one’s advantage over others? Is there proper authority? This could be international authority, such as that of the UN, or a widely-based regional alliance or, indeed, it could be the authority of a nation-state, acting in self-defence, to repel or to pre-empt an attack on it. What about proper proportionality? This is much more difficult to judge: will the evil caused by the intervention exceed the evil it is seeking to remove? Here judgments need to be made not only about the immediate evil being caused but also the scale of possible harm, if the evil is left unchecked.
Similarly, in the conduct of hostilities questions about the protection of non-combatants, about proportionality and the treat-
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