Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The New Cold War (3)

The New Cold War (3)
Religious Factors

Ali Asghar Kazemi
January 10, 2007


The new cold war is essentially engaged with religious-revolutionary “entities” that do not necessarily associate themselves with any particular state. Their main goal is to change the prevailing norms and status quo in current world order. With regard to the revolutionary aspect of these groups, contemporary social scientists have provided various explanations depending on the area of their expertise or research. On the whole, they seem to agree that certain social factors serve as source of human conflict leading to turmoil, upheaval and revolution. They are socio-economic discrepancies, the aggressive impulse resulting frustration, dissonance between the actual and the ideal, withdrawal and alienation from existing social structures …

Thus for example, the social and political development in traditional Iran, which otherwise simply meant the process of “Westernization” did not produce the necessary ground for a gradual evolution toward a modern democratic state. But it did produce a “cultural shock” to certain layers of the society deeply attached to the prevailing religious and traditional norms. In other words, what the ancien rĂ©gime wanted to achieve through rapid-but unbalanced- socio- economic and political development, in fact counter produced the desired effect.

A partial explanation for this failure, which led to what later became the Islamic fundamentalist revival, is that the economic boom of the seventies which provided the people with the necessary means to acquire without much thought or effort what they could purchase from the West. This dimension of development did not pose unbearable difficulties, but the missing part of the puzzle was the whole gamut of cultural, technical, political and bureaucratic gap along with other aspects of the development which could not be easily bought by money.

Almost three decades after the Islamic revolution in Iran, religion is still fueling social unrests and serves as a pretext to legitimizing the canalization of social forces toward perpetual hostilities against Western democratic values. In other parts of the world, it is being used by frustrated groups to embark upon unconventional and sometimes irrational actions such as acts of terror, in order to gain recognition and make their cause known. Terrorist actions in the Middle East, Africa, Central and South East Asia, Europe, and America are now ordinary events that occur every once and while.

State sponsored terrorism either to counter domestic dissensions or to intimidate and humiliate foreign countries, is also a dangerous development of the so-called low-level violence in international relations. There is no doubt that the support of terrorist activities, in whatever manner, by a state or group of states will further increase these latter’s capacity for violence, by encouraging recourses to such operations for the settlement of ethnic, political or religious differences.

Terrorists have already demonstrated that they can achieve disproportionately large effects in world order with a relatively small number and limited capacity for violence. They have caused widespread alarm, compelling governments with a clear preponderance of conventional military power to negotiate with them, to grant them concessions or simply to back down with humiliation.

Religious inspired terrorism has also helped certain colonial territories to fight against powerful countries for their liberation. In such case the freedom fighters or liberation movements sought justification for their operations viz the attainment of a legitimate cause. For example, the Algerian struggle for independence turned to terrorism, once the rebel armies were virtually beaten in the field by the French forces. It was only after recourse to such activities that French military might in Algeria came to its knees.

The Moslem Shiite Militia in South Lebanon pushed the Israelis out of their occupied land through harshest terrorist activities. Afghan Moslem Mujahedeens fought a superpower (USSR) through guerrilla warfare and terrorist operation in occupied Afghanistan. They caused most trouble to Moscow, as did North Vietnamese to the United States. In both cases the two superpowers have used all kinds of military means, short of nuclear weapons, in order to bring the freedom fighters to a situation to accept the status quo and to give up hope. The United States failed to achieve this objective then and is now striving to do the same in embattled Iraq.

Urban guerrilla warfare, low-level violence or mob actions directed by religious groups are dimensions of ideological conflicts and revolutionary theories which now manifest in form of domestic and international terrorism. Dissidents of tyrant leaders and dictatorial regimes find their voice heard and their cause achieved through what we call terrorism for sake of simplicity, but they consider it legitimate jihad or just struggle against the infidel enemies.

Religiously inspired terrors are understandably more ferocious and crueler than mere political violence or mob actions. When martyrdom is considered as a grace and blessing of God, a Moslem fanatical believer can easily risk his life in a suicidal attack in order to do damage to his ideological opponents.

The life in our modern societies is becoming more and more unbearable and people are becoming increasingly restless, feeling alienated and alternating between faith and doubt, hope and anxiety. The demand for social, economic and political change and expectation of a world different from the existing one, have caused people to look for alternatives. Religion is re-emerging as a source for hope, inspiration and salvation. At the same time a trend toward fundamentalism is clearly observable. People are losing faith in their political system and politicians; they are seeking refuge to religions in the pursuit of their cause.

The resurgence of the Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle-East whose participants preach total devotion and submission to the will of God, and negation of earthly materialism, is indeed a crucial development of our time which is capable of destabilizing the international system and the world order. Whether we can label the new emerging situation as a cold war, it is a simple question of definition. What is certain is that the world is experiencing an unprecedented challenge which could end up to disaster if not properly managed. /

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