Tuesday, October 05, 2004

World War Three: A Short Introduction for the Perplexed

Just like in WW2, very few people today realize what is going on. If you read FDR's speech after Pearl Harbor, there is not one word in it about Germany or Nazis or Europe. The fact that this was a total war that would be waged around the globe had not sunk in yet. In fact it was not "WW2" until 1944. It was "the war in Europe".

Today we have the "War on Terror". Let's try to define this better. Who are we fighting? Who is attacking us?

It is not some abstract "terrorists", nor is it just Bin Laden or Al-Quaida.

We are at war with a global movement of people who believe that Islam - or their particular interpretation of it - should determine politics, law, and absolutely everything else about their societies. The technical term for these people is "islamists" (which is not the same as Muslims). They are a minority in most places, but they are a ruthless, fanatical, very well organized minority, and they work together.

They have been pushing to establish religious government across three continents: in Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Phillipines... In some of these countries they are already the government, in others they are insurgents or militia, and in yet other places (notably France and other EU countries) they are "refugees". If we were to do nothing, they would likely become the government in most of these countries, which would give them control over more than a billion people. That is obviously unacceptable.

The only way to see the scope of this conflict is with a map. It is extremely important to see this as a single conflict and not a series of unrelated skirmishes. Here is where we stand in late 2004:




The following islamist activities are mapped:
  • red dots - recruitment, funding, isolated terrorist attacks
  • thin red stripes - attempts to gain political power
  • thick red stripes - direct insurgency against a government or attack on majority ethnic group
  • red areas - training camps, primary bases of operations
The government colors are:
  • gray - neutrals
  • light green - U.S. friends of convenience, or coerced into an alliance
  • dark green - U.S. allies
  • red - islamist governments or islamist-friendly governments
Finally, the yellow flashes show major recent skirmishes.

Contries that have islamist governments: Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Bangladesh, Malaysia

Countries that have an islamist insurgency, at least in part of the country: Iraq, Afghanistan, Thailand, Philippines, Chechnya, Nigeria, parts of India

Countries that have an islamist political challenge: Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia

(by the way, I'd appreciate any corrections to this - some of the neutrals probably are not, and I am sure I have quite a few other particulars wrong, especially in Africa. I hope to make a second version of this that has links to news articles and a quick summary of the situation in each country)



This fight is not new: we have thwarted the islamists for a long time by supporting their opponents. In Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Phillipines and Indonesia we have, in some cases for decades, tried to support governments opposed to these people by a combination of diplomacy, covert action and military aid. The islamists correctly perceive us as the only power that can stop them now, and so they have been attacking us all along. This situation has just recently come to open war, but it has been heading that way since the tail end of the Cold War. In a sense, this conflict is the bastard child of the Cold War and a dozen small colonial wars: many of the battlegrounds and the actors are the same (although not on the same sides this time).

The sheer scope of the conflict is mind-boggling: it spans three continents and dozens of countries. This is the war we are in. It is not "the war in Iraq". It is World War Three, it started over a decade ago, and our side is going to win it. I hope this map helps convince anyone who thinks we can just sit this out: we can't.

You can also see from this map that very many people are on our side. While in many cases internal politics may prevent them from doing more than fighting the islamists to a stalemate on their own turf, they are allies nonetheless, and probably more comitted to the fight than we are. This is not a fight of the West against Islam - it is a fight for the soul of Islam, a fight between seventh-century and twentieth-cenury Islam, a fight that will be fought and won primarily by Moslems. Yet it is also a fight that we Americans are honor-bound to fight as well, both for our own long-term survival and for the progress of liberty in the world. This is no time for parochial isolationism, however comfortable it may be.