Shadow Government

Shadow Government

After victory

by John A. Jackson

The late Ross Macdonald had a common theme for most of his mystery novels: the hidden sins of a past generation return to poison and kill in the present. Osama bin Laden, who writes his novels in innocent blood, seems to have a much longer memory. In the videotape he had released just as our air attacks started in Afghanistan, Bin Laden cited 80 years of Western or American domination of Islam, which time he said is drawing to a close.

What happened 80 years ago? The Ottoman caliphate ended. No entity since has had status to claim spiritual and political leadership over the entire Islamic world.

Bin Laden wants universal religious rule restored as part of a general Islamic rebirth.

But 80 years may be very little as his imagination runs.

On September 11, 1683, as the writer Christopher Hitchens notes in "The Nation" magazine, the Ottoman sultan's armies were driven back from the gates of Vienna. Military defeat ended forever Islam's thousand-year-long attempt to rule Europe.

One suspects Bin Laden and his followers remember that date, which the West by and large had forgotten.

(Last week I urged the Bush administration to present the American public with proof of Bin Laden's guilt in the September 11 attacks. The proof in fact did come before the bombing -- from British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Perhaps Britain is more of a democracy than the United States. So for the record I am convinced; I support the war fully, but I am not entirely satisfied with how we got there.)

This question occurred to me as I was reading some English history: where in the Western World do people still kill and die over religion? In Northern Ireland, where a historically oppressed and colonized minority clings to religion as the key to its identity, and nowhere else.

But in the Muslim world, fundamentalist Islam represents a challenge to governments from Algeria to the Philippines. Many nations-especially Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran-have regimes with extreme fundamentalist orientation. They have religious police; their courts enforce the law of the Koran.

Is it too much to see the roots of Bin Laden's hatred, and of his strength, in the dissolution of the Ottoman empire 80 years ago, as he apparently does?

Is it idle to retrace the West's overlordship of the Muslim world from Vienna until now?

Do we seek to perpetuate the sins of that overlordship, or to dissolve it?

War seldom is as simple to end as to begin. Waves of conflict begun with our Civil War, World War II, World War I, Vietnam, the Boer War, even the 1842 British defeat in Afghanistan all haunt us to this day.

By sending planes to bomb Bin Laden's encampments and his allies, the government has driven us deep into an alien history.

We know why we had to go there. Now we, too, will always remember September 11.

But what we must hear now, and what we have the deepest obligation to discuss and debate, is how our war will be conducted and what sort of victory we will have.

Those questions were not discussed during the Gulf War. Perhaps the senior George Bush did not trust us to discuss them. But the absence of clear goals then, the absence of democratic debate and resolution, has done much to poison the region's history since then.

If we want peace again, we shall have to earn it. And we will have to justify first to ourselves and then to a skeptical world, especially the long-aggrieved world of Islam, the blood we have begun to shed.

John A. Jackson may be reached at TomShadwell@cs.com. ER