After watching events unravel in Paris earlier today, the common Muslim sentiment seemed to be: we are victims, too.
Think of the “Muslim world war” happening throughout the Islamic-majority countries of the Middle East right now. Who is murdering whom? As we saw yesterday in Beirut, Lebanon, the casualties in this war are overwhelmingly Muslim. The unspoken reality is that the world only pays attention to this ongoing tragedy when the explosions and gunfire strike close to home.
An Ideal Far Deeper than Extremism
The beginnings of the current conflict have roots that grow deeper and spread farther back in time than American President George W. Bush’s utter failure to reconstruct Iraq after the second American invasion of 2003.
What is ravaging the Middle East right now is obviously deeper than ISIS. It has become commonplace over the last year to observe that we are witnessing the collapse of the post-Ottoman order—that the “lines in the sand” conjured in 1916 by the British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot are being blown to dust.
We haven’t reckoned with how the insurgents perceive that process. ISIS has religious, psychological, and technological faces. But in some fundamental respects it is an anti-colonial movement that takes as its reference point Islam’s pre-colonial conception of power—an Islamic state, a Sunni caliphate. Even if ISIS is crushed, this idea of “our caliphate” is likely to persist, and return.
In other words, the problem of Islamist extremism cannot be sufficiently packaged into retroactive anti-Bush propaganda. It would also be unwise to heap blame solely upon President Obama’s administration for mishandling the transitional government and practically ignoring the extremist threat.
As we’ve seen in the aftermath of both Bush-led wars, however, heavy-handed foreign intervention will not lead to lasting peace in Iraq — or, for that matter, Iran and Syria (intentionally leaving out mention of Israel versus Palestine).
Medieval versus Modern
If the medieval “fundamentalist” faction is to reconcile with its more tolerant “moderate” counterpart, Islam may undergo a kind of self-destructive reformation similar to that experienced by Europe and Asia between the first and second world wars.
To heal itself, Islam may have no choice but to destroy its current incarnation first.
In order to avoid that fate, extremists are currently using terrorism to goad and galvanize “the West” (i.e. Europe and the United States) into becoming a monolithic army against them. This would lead the citizens of those countries to ostracize and target Muslims as a single stereotypical group. If “Islam” becomes synonymous with bloodthirsty extremism, Muslims would have no choice but to be profiled, criminalized and persecuted, or to join with their extremist brethren and fight for their rights as a unified Islamist entity.
World War Islam
Here is where science fiction comes in.
– what if, as we saw today, the Parisian people stand as a model for all of Europe and the rest of the non-Muslim world? What if the extremists fail in polarizing the populations of Western countries?
– what if, in the next decade or so, moderate Muslims — who have been so viciously victimized by extremists — finally decide to take up arms, give their lives for the sake of a better world and mount a counteroffensive?
We could witness the first Muslim World War.
What’s most enticing about this idea — fictionally speaking — is the underlying moral quandry: both sides believe that their moral authority comes directly from God. Moderate Muslims always say “the extremists do not represent ‘real’ Islam.” Yet, the extremists say the same about moderates. There is no way to placate either side by consulting scripture, because the scripture itself contains self-contradictory verbiage that can be construed to support either side. Such is the case in most major religions, thereby widening the question to encompass violent fundamentalist undercurrents of all kinds.
When it becomes clear that moderate and fundamentalist interpretations cannot coexist (i.e. one will pursue a genocidal crusade against the other), who decides right from wrong when the time comes for inevitable bloodshed?
Plotline: a young American Marine officer of Iranian-Lebanese ancestry leads her Allied combat unit in the final days of the War. Mostly moderate Muslims of varying ethnicities and nationalities, they will face the fiercest foe of all: desperate, war-hardened extremists in Iraq who gladly fight until their dying breath.
Will the moderate Allied unit succumb to an “ends justify means” efficiency that breeds merciless war machines? How else can they defeat those who embrace an ethos of medieval savagery using mid-21st century weaponry? Can the young officer rise to the challenge while maintaining her humanity and that of her comrades in a ferocious fight to the death?