Conflicts of notions of freedom, order, and security in a globalized world (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
This series is a 2014 iteration of the draft of a presentation read at the 2012 Telos in Europe L'Aquila Conference -- The West: Its Legacy and Future (L'Aquila, Italy), September 7-9, 2012.
The events of "9/11" have brought into focus the fact that there is a significant group of persons on the planet implacably opposed to what the West currently represents. Almost for the first time in its history, America was savagely struck at its very heart, in what was immediately, and correctly, called a war. In subsequent years, jihadist attacks have occurred in various Western countries, notably, Great Britain, Spain, and now, Canada.
The events of "9/11" can highlight certain issues of security today. With the spread of technology around the planet, almost any faction with a grievance can command the resources that can do enormous damage to those that they seek to harm. If a faction is fanatical enough, it will consider the use of biological or nuclear weapons as entirely justified. If they could obtain biological or nuclear weapons, they would probably not hesitate in using them.
So it has been resolved by some Western leaders (with the support of at least some of their populations) that the most fanatical factions must be harried without quarter.
Some have argued that so-called root-causes such as poverty, or the dispossession of the Palestinian people, are the real reasons for this anti-Western extremism. Actually, most of the jihadis have come from comparative and sometimes even great affluence, which has only fed their sense of grievance. And the total destruction of Israel would only be one stage towards feeding ambitions that are, in the jihadist rhetoric, worldwide, and globally encompassing.
It could be argued that Israel today, despite its massive armed forces, is in an increasingly intractable position. Any concessions it makes are likely to only increase the contempt in which it is held among many Palestinians, among many others in the Middle East, and among a considerable number of Muslims worldwide. At the same time, Israel – although increasingly characterized by some in the Western media as a blowhard regime -- is probably temperamentally unwilling to undertake some truly draconian, punitive measures, and Western opinion is highly unlikely to allow it to do so. What would be the world's reaction if terrorists managed to detonate a nuclear bomb in Tel-Aviv? What would Israel's reaction be?
Given the rhetoric emanating from some quarters of the Iranian leadership, Israel is certainly justified to be concerned about the Iranian nuclear program.
Indeed, it can be seen that modern technology has intensified a sense of dire threat to world politics.
The West has entered the so-called war against terrorism with various advantages and disadvantages. For example, the superb space-based and electronic technology of the West allows for fairly tight monitoring of much of the planet's surface, and of electronic communications planet-wide. Its electronically-based weaponry makes it highly likely that it can soundly defeat any conventional army in the field.
However, many of the ideas prevalent in the West today tend to inhibit a successful prosecution of the war. The Western military effort is clearly hampered by the often debilitating impact of high casualties on the morale of the home societies (a situation much different from that of, for example, World War II), as well as by the imperative of not doing anything that would appear to be contrary to the rules of civilized war. The enemies of the West can act with total ruthlessness and callous disregard for lives (including their own), which could to some extent compensate for their lack of advanced technology.
There has also occurred something, which many would consider a highly disastrous misdeployment of Western strength, in the take-down of Saddam Hussein's Iraq – which some have seen as resulting in a veritable Sicilian Expedition. Getting bogged down in Afghanistan, chasing such chimeras as "democracy" – as opposed to launching a short, sharp punitive expedition – may also be seen as maladroit. Some have argued that we are seeing the emergence of what has been called quote Fourth Generation War – which conventional Western armies are not adept in fighting. It could also be argued that in fact, what could be seen as George W. Bush's blowhard and clumsy interventionism, has exponentially increased the problems faced by the West.
It has also been suggested that there may exist a situation somewhat analogous to that of the Roman Empire, where a tremendously wealthy and comparatively populous America is able to enroll only a comparatively small percentage of its population in the military, whereas in some other societies such as Afghanistan, virtually every capable male from the age of sixteen up to very old age, is a warrior. So even minor support for extremist factions in such societies may translate into considerable numbers of armed fighters. It should also be noted that the ratio of extremist Muslims to the general Muslim populations, is certainly comparable to the ratio of Bolsheviks in Tsarist Russia – and we should well remember what that tiny, fanatical faction was able to accomplish, when the circumstances turned in their favor. And America's military is itself gargantuan in size, compared to the armed forces of Canada, or those of some Western European countries.
Nevertheless, Canada, as a Western "middle power" may have a helpful role to play in the struggle, especially as America since 2009 has had a President who may be perceived as being somewhat ambivalent about understanding the threat of Islamism.
There are also many intrinsic aspects of Western societies today that may weaken them in regard to preventing possible terrorist attacks. Large sectors of Western societies are highly critical of the West -- from a multiculturalist direction -- as well as very strongly concerned about possible human rights and privacy abuses in the prosecution of the war against terror. The West also has fairly open borders, and large immigrant populations in which the terrorists can blend.
However, it is unlikely that there could be the imposition of very tight border controls, immigration-restriction, or what would be viewed as a massive curtailment of the civil liberties of immigrant populations, in the West today. Although the societal and security contexts may be considerably different – with differing strengths and weaknesses -- it could be argued that today, the West as a whole faces a dilemma similar to that faced by Israel.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.