A good year for the forces of dark­ness

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

2006ended much as it be­gan: with war, ter­ror­ism, blood­shed and moral con­fu­sion. From Afghanistan to Iraq to So­ma­lia in the Horn of Africa, war­fare con­tin­ues be­tween reg­u­lar mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ments and ir­reg­u­lar rad­i­cal Is­lamist forces (which range from straight-out ter­ror­ist groups to private mili­tias, death squads, war lords and crim­i­nal el­e­ments).

In the Horn of Africa, his­tor­i­cally Chris­tian Ethiopia has de­clared war — not on the So­mali gov­ern­ment with which it is al­lied — but against the Coun­cil of Is­lamic Courts, an Is­lamist en­tity in So­ma­lia with prob­a­ble al Qaeda con­nec­tions that as­pires to gov­ern — per­haps a la the Tal­iban. As of Dec. 26, the Ethiopian at­tack with tanks, he­li­copters and fighter jets is ad­vanc­ing “de­ci­sively” on all fronts.

But just as Amer­i­can mil­i­tary forces moved de­ci­sively in Iraq in 2003 only to face ris­ing ir­reg­u­lar op­po­si­tion, we prob­a­bly have not heard the last of the Ethiopian-So­mali con­flict — which could en­flame the en­tire Horn and en­vi­rons from Su­dan to Eritrea, Dji­bouti, Kenya and Tan­za­nia — as well as So­ma­lia and Ethiopia. Ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press, some ob­servers be­lieve that the Horn is be­ing tar­geted as the third front (af­ter Iraq and Afghanistan) “in mil­i­tant Is­lam’s war against the West.” On the ter­ror­ist front, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported on Christ­mas Eve from Lon­don that: “Is­lamic mil­i­tants want to at­tack the Chan­nel Tun­nel be­tween Eng­land and France dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son, a Bri­tish news­pa­per said Sun­day, cit­ing French and U.S. se­cu­rity sources. The Ob­server said the French for­eign intelligence ser­vice, DGSE, warned the French gov­ern­ment of the threat in a Dec. 19 re­port af­ter a tip-off from the CIA.

The news­pa­per cited uniden­ti­fied French of­fi­cials as say­ing the plot was be­ing di­rected from Pak­istan and in­volved mil­i­tants in west­ern Europe, pos­si­bly Bri­tons of Pak­istani de­scent [. . .] The news­pa­per fur­ther said that mil­i­tants with links to al Qaeda were plot­ting a wave of at­tacks on an uniden­ti­fied Euro­pean coun­try, with the plot planned and run from Syria and Iraq [. . .] Bri­tish of­fi­cials warned Fri­day that there is a high threat of an at­tempted ter­ror­ist at­tack over the Christ­mas and New Year pe­riod [. . .]”

Of course, ru­mors of ter­ror­ist at­tacks have be­come the back­ground noise of our times — to such an ex­tent that they are largely dis­counted by most of the pub­lic. Also in that back­ground noise of civic life is the grow­ing as­sertive­ness of many Mus­lims in the West. The year 2006 be­gan with the Dan­ish car­toon publi­ca­tions, the al­leged blas­phemy of which drove vi­o­lent Mus­lim demon­stra­tions around the world. Later in the year Pope Bene­dict’s lec­ture on rea­son, vi­o­lence, Is­lam and the West also gen­er­ated world­wide vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions by some Mus­lims — in­clud­ing the mur­der of a Chris­tian nun.

The year also saw the provoca­tive acts of the “fly­ing imams,” which was used by var­i­ous Amer­i­can Mus­lim “civil rights” ad­vo­cates to try to per­suade air­lines and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials to avoid chal­lenge Mus­lims whose con­duct would nat­u­rally arouse sus­pi­cion and fear. Were th­ese as­ser­tions le­git­i­mate ex­pres­sions of con­cern for un­fair treat­ment of Mus­lims, or are they part of a cal­cu­lated cam- paign of in­tim­i­dat­ing both our gov­ern­ment and the pub­lic into ex­empt­ing Mus­lims from nor­mal and le­git­i­mate law en­force­ment scru­tiny? And if the lat­ter — to what end? This fall, an ar­ti­cle in a schol­arly mil­i­tary jour­nal an­a­lyzed the doc­trine be­hind the in­crease in Amer­i­can spe­cial forces troops to about 50,000 cur­rently to­ward a tar­get of about 65,000 troops. This un­prece­dented in­crease in spe­cial forces is premised, pointed out the au­thor, on the prob­a­ble need to fight rad­i­cal Mus­lim ter­ror­ists in rough coun­try such as — but not lim­ited to — Afghanistan, Iraq and So­ma­lia. But the bur­den of the ar­gu­ment is the as­sess­ment that the spe­cial forces buildup was premised on the as­sump­tion that such places would be where ter­ror­ists would as­sem­ble and work. How­ever, as the ar­ti­cle pointed out, there is in­creas­ing ev­i­dence that the ter­ror­ists are also likely to as­sem­ble in the ur­ban cities of Europe — a ter­rain in which we would need dif­fer­ent fight­ing (and le­gal and diplo­matic) tac­tics which would re­quire ei­ther re-trained spe­cial forces or other mil­i­tary/intelligence/law en­force­ment-type Amer­i­can forces and doc­trines.

Let me em­pha­size, to my knowl­edge it is not cur­rently Amer­i­can mil­i­tary doc­trine to plan and train for Euro­pean ur­ban war­fare be­tween Amer­i­can and Is­lamist ter­ror­ist forces. But se­ri­ous schol­ars and an­a­lysts are be­gin­ning to won­der whether it should be. Of course spe­cial­ists have to think about even re­mote con­tin­gen­cies. Whether such a con­tin­gency is re­mote, nonex­is­tent or likely is at this point spec­u­la­tive.

In­deed, there is lit­tle about the threat from rad­i­cal Is­lam that is not spec­u­la­tive. Those of us who find the darker po­ten­tial­i­ties suf­fi­ciently plau­si­ble to re­quire ac­tive Amer­i­can and West­ern prepa­ra­tion are con­sid­ered alarmists by those who ex­pect the fu­ture to vary only by de­gree from the present state of rel­a­tive in­ter-civ­i­liza­tional peace. I hope they are right.

But as we come to the end of the dif­fi­cult year 2006, noth­ing has emerged to re­fute th­ese darker fears and, in fact, ev­i­dence — ad­mit­tedly am­bigu­ous — con­tin­ues to as­sem­ble to sup­port them. Cer­tainly from Iraq and Afghanistan to Africa, Europe and Amer­ica, 2006 was a good year for the forces that may be out to de­stroy our way of life.

Tony Blank­ley is edi­to­rial page ed­i­tor of The Times. He can be reached via e-mail at tblank­ley@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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