I was puffing my bike up another hill last weekend when I unhelpfully began to think about Europe’s Wars of Religion.
Starting after the reformation, this brutal episode in France’s history was a thirty year bloodbath* that gave ideological oomph to their ordinary wars of greed, rape, and plunder. Now they could do all those things to each other in the name of god, which was a perfect combination for your average European mercenary or conscript. The royalty of various provinces laid siege to each other over 30 years to prove whose god would reign over the land: A Christian god or a Christian god. They did this with wealth derived from land rent and soldiers conscripted from the same land. And a few knights from their personal courts. The flew against each other in a time when flags didn’t mean anything nationally, but meant a lot militarily.
The way the French, and the Europeans treated each other was not far removed from the way they treated the Americans upon meeting them around the same time. Might did in fact make right, even after the renaissance**
The violent history of Europe over religious matters continued before and after the Wars of Religion, culminating (?) in the mother of all pogroms in Germany in the 1940s. The mechanized and bureaucratic slaughter of millions for ideological and ethnic transgressions finally got the world’s attention, and bureaucratic and psychological mechanisms were installed to yoke the Germans to a legacy of shame. That they do not hold a monopoly on evil is evident from the still proud Turkish treatment of Armenians, the Cambodian treatment of its rich and educated, and the Rwandan treatment of the Tutsi by the Hutu.
France, in a repeat performance of ideological slaughter, reasoned their way into another bloodbath with their birth of democracy. Since aristocracy was dead, it stood to reason that all aristocrats and those holding vaguely aristocratic views should be dead as well. This was a prelude to Kampuchea, in some ways. This Reign of Terror was at the dawn of a terrible century for many, if you happened to live in a victim state of one of the European nations. Europe spent most of the next 200 years proving to the rest of the world just how hollow any effete calls of equality or the healing powers of capitalism were. Those were amenities for Europeans. Most of the residents, workers, and governments of Africa, Asia, and South America were subject to supplying the good life for European, nascent American, and local royal palettes.
All of these slaughters were done with the power of states over their people. Without the ability to tax, arrest, and execute, these genocides would not have gone past the rampage of a few violent crackpots. With the exception of the Rwandan and Turkish genocides, all were stopped by military means by neighboring countries after they had gone on too long. The Turkish and Rwandan genocides did not go on that long, and may have invited an invasion otherwise.
There are other, non-state movements that are equally violent that both invite confrontation but know that they will lose it in a typical show of arms. The states these revolutionary movements attempt to overthrow are too powerful, armed, and ruthless to simply engage in mere combat with. So the wise insurgent must be more cunning. With traps, disguises, and cover. This won us our independence in 1781, it won the Vietnamese theirs in 1975, and it is currently being used by the Islamic State to win theirs, for whatever it is worth.
When you attack people whose reason for coming together is your past attacks against them, you only strengthen their resolve to oppose you.. If a state does this, the will of the people can be split from the will of the state, crippling their ability to wage war. If a popular movement, like Daesh, or the Viet Cong does this, the will of those people need to be split from the will of their movement. They need to be offered a better alternative.
I laid out all that history in the beginning of this article to indicate the journey of ideological war and its horrors. Those fighting ideological wars never think they are in the wrong. If their enemy’s attack only reinforce their ideology, they will grow in appeal and recruitment.
We created Daesh by removing the civil government of Iraq in 2003-2006. While they first fled to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, their opposition to Iraq itself blossomed as we installed an overtly anti-Sunni government under our Shi’ite Nouri al-Maliki. We figured Hosni Mubarak had been pretty good for us in Egypt, so why not try the same sort of government in Iraq? All Daesh needed to do to recruit from the Sunnis of Northern Iraq was to point out how badly they had been treated since 2007.
Daesh got the military expertise of Iraq by 2007, and got our equipment that we had sold to Iraq by 2014.
Maybe we need to reconsider this as a military engagement.
Maybe the war of terror is not about attrition and atrocities, even though the rapes, executions and drone strikes are surely atrocious. Maybe the war of terror is really about ideology. Not just in a motivating way, but in a competitive way.
It is up to us to make the case that western capitalism, liberalism, or culture has something better than violent Jihad for the Daesh. They already need money to govern their territories. They already loot places like Palmyra for cash to afford food and weapons. What else appeals to them about the west? The west has done much to them before and since 2001. Would their will to fight vanish if the west did things for them instead?
The offer of capitalism is that we all have the right to make money, and be judged on its merits alone. The offer of Islam, or any other religion, is that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and can only be judged by her. This is not a trivial difference, but the march of civilization is people adapting their religious demands to the civilities of trade. Just read Deuteronomy some time.