The Islamic Vortex (Part 1)

When confronted by large-scale — and thus complex – historical events, it is inevitable that attempts at understanding will be dominated by analogy. Even among experts, with access to abstract models of generic processes (‘revolution’, modernization, escalation, phase-change …), it is only through reference to concrete historical episodes that such intellectual tools acquire the richness necessary for successful application to actual world events. Even the most conceptually-refined historiographical language is honed for analogical usage. There is no ‘idea’ of ‘revolution’ truly separable from the examples of revolution provided by the historical record, and even if there was, it could have no use. Since history is rhythmic, but never exactly repetitive, such analogies can be more or less relevant, but only ever roughly suggestive. They are, in any case, unavoidable.

During the years immediately following 9/11, Western perceptions of the new global reality were controlled by analogy with World War II, and even those who rejected this template were locked into a negative relationship with it. If 9/11 was not Pearl Harbor, or anything like it, it remained necessary to say so, repeatedly, and to little immediate effect. The term ‘Islamofascism’ was inherited from this period, and its fading currency is significant (as we shall see).

On the Left, resistance to the WWII analogy was relatively frictionless, because it was already, from the moment of its inception, outweighed by an alternative analogy, drawn from Cold War ‘anti-imperialist’ revolution. Bin Laden could never be a new Hitler, to those who had already recognized him as a new Ho Chi Minh. On the Right, however, intricate ironies abounded. Those on the paleo-libertarian end of the political spectrum, who most vehemently denounced the ‘Axis of Evil’ as a cynical fabrication, were propelled by events into an accelerated rediscovery of the Old Right, and thus found themselves – quite self-consciously — reviving 1930s American isolationism. Through the very rejection of the (WWII) analogy, they found themselves confirming its rough historical message.

Is the West returning to the 1930s? That is another topic, although it can be noted that evidence in support of this analogy has accumulated over recent years at least  as rapidly as it has dissipated. To the extent that the ‘War on Terror’ is World War II revisited, however, it is only under the conditions of a profound counter-factual revision, in which the American Old Right was ultimately triumphant, and vindicated. The Islamic world simply lacks the military capability to serve as model fascists, posing a robust existential threat that feeds continuous escalation. America has not remotely approached a 1940s war economy in the new millennium, and there is nothing that any Islamic power — formal or informal — can do to stimulate this outcome. A few ragged, frustrating counter-insurgencies do not make a world war. For America, the War on Terror — in any sense that has analogical force — is over.

The opportunity thus exists to shelve the Western perspective on international affairs, a methodical step that tracks the concrete draw-down of interventionist commitment, and one that — by further irony — promises a far deeper comprehension of what current global events will mean for the West (down the road). The critical first point is this: the end of the ‘War on Terror’ is not the end of the war wracking the world of Islam, but something far closer to its beginning. If the Arabs, too, are returning to the 1930s, it is in a very different way, in accordance with a far more comprehensive structure of history.

Anybody who has been hanging out in Al Jazeera recently (and, right now, there’s no excuse not to), might have come across an extremely significant essay by Murtaza Hussain, entitled Iraq, Syria, and the death of the modern Middle East. Hussain has no doubts that a back-to-the-1930s moment is unfolding in Mesopotamia, or rather — the truly crucial insight — a back through the 1920s moment, with reverse time signature. The Middle East is not so much recapitulating history from the early 20th century, as undoing it, revisiting the origins of the Arab state system on a hardening, backwards trajectory:

The Sykes-Picot Agreement – which divided the Ottoman Empire after World War I and created the Middle East as we know it – is today violently breaking apart in front of the eyes of the world. The countries of Syria and Iraq; formerly unified Arab states formed after the defeat of their former Ottoman rulers, exist today only in name. In their place what appears most likely to come into existence – after the bloodshed subsides – are small, ethnically and religiously homogenous statelets: weak and easily manipulated, where their progenitors at their peaks were robustly independent powers.

Such states, divided upon sectarian lines, would be politically pliable, isolated and enfeebled, and thus utterly incapable of offering a meaningful defence against foreign interventionism in the region. Given the implications for the Middle East, where overt foreign aggression has been a consistent theme for decades, there is reason to believe that this state of affairs has been consciously engineered.

Hussain’s conviction of alien manipulation — however plausible or implausible it may seem — is itself a crucial part of the equation. The Arab world is being propelled backwards, out of political modernity, by forces of such consistent directionality and monumental implacability that they suggest conspiratorial or providential workings, against which resistance is futile. Raw history, in all of its nightmarish, occult compulsion, is exposed like a buried city, as the facile myths of collective, institutionalized agency are blasted away by the flood. A dismal century of second-hand lies is being ripped away, revealing something old and terrible beneath. Eventually, this cannot but matter, for everyone.

The World War II analogy was tightly bound to the (‘neoconservative’) project of democracy promotion. After all, the original Axis powers were all transformed, through military defeat, occupation, and political reconstruction, from fascist states into model democracies. Hussain’s vision is far more accurately applicable to the current process-in-motion, which does not climax in an affirmation of political modernity, but accelerates back through its comprehensive demolition. Global democracy will not easily or rapidly die in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’, but global democratization, or democracy promotion, assuredly will.

From the War on Terror to the Arab Spring, there is a shift in analogy of seismic consequence. It is no longer World War II that impinges forcefully on historical intuition, but rather the Thirty Years’  War, approached through momentous regression. The collapse of the Sykes-Picot order, when analogized, is an undoing of the Peace of Westphalia — and the international state system — by sectarian religious warfare without respect for borders or institutions of national self-determination. The conditions for democratizing  social progress are being ripped out at the level of their foundations. This was not what ‘internationalism’  was supposed to mean …

July 30, 2013admin 28 Comments »
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28 Responses to this entry

  • Jason Says:

    It’s true that the various analogies are motivated by the political self-interest of the partisans that employ them.

    But this also applies to “Spengler”. Spengler is a nationalist whose major concerns are Islam and Western nationalism (i.e. Western “ethno-nationalism”). He has advocated for both more aggressive military action and greater tolerance for military conflict in the Middle East. He has an interest in motivating the Thirty Years’ War analogy.

    Another view – perhaps it could be called the geopolitical or “realist” view – is that this is a proxy conflict between the US and Russia/China. This would be consistent with general suggestions of foreign involvement or manipulation. The obvious analogy here would be the Cold War. The extremist Sunni radicalism in the form of al-Qaida or other groups can be traced back to Afghanistan 1979 and the structure set up by Brzezinski between the CIA-Pak ISI-Saudis-MI6 which saw the mujahideen spring up and get financed by Saudi-controlled Islamic charities. It’s a network that is easily exportable and allows for destabilization of targeted regimes. They have a habit of popping up in all the opportune places like the Balkans or in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan shortly after those countries turn away from the USA. And using Muslims to pressure Russia’s “soft underbelly” or China’s western flanks and SE Asia to counter China’s “string of pearls” strategy is a strategy that can be used for decades to come.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I think you overestimate the efficiency of foreign manipulation, and underestimate the power of endogenous dynamics. Other than helping to makes life hell for the Russians in Afghanistan, I see little reason to attribute dazzling brilliance, coherence, or success to America’s strategy in the greater Middle East and Central Asia. Certainly, if China is the target, it simply isn’t working.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 30th, 2013 at 6:17 pm Reply | Quote
  • Contemplationist Says:

    So many words to say that “Fukuyama was wrong.”

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Saying that Fukuyama was wrong is an important step to take, but it only gets us to first base. (So — many more words to come.)

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 30th, 2013 at 7:25 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    Islamic radicals are rebels against the world order who would be easily crushed if the world order willed it. The correct analogy is probably to some kind of failed or weak state (the equivalent of our world order) that has widespread banditry and even rebellion in some peripheral or marginal areas.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    That’s a complex counter-factual to scan, because there is no world order.

    [Reply]

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    The world is at least as orderly and unified as many examples of historical weak states and failed states.

    There kinda is a world order, is what I’m saying.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    OK, I was glib. It’s a supremely interesting question actually. (My scale-free reaction topic was an attempt to get at it — it’s where I’d pick it up again, in the absence of clear external prompting.)

    Posted on July 30th, 2013 at 8:50 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jason Says:

    I don’t overestimate the efficiency of proxy activity. There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about proxy wars and activity. Proxy conflicts by their nature tend to be crude and senseless in terms of overall strategy, especially since proxy activity presupposes plausible deniability. And proxy conflicts and “endogenous dynamics”, whatever they might be, certainly aren’t mutually exclusive.

    I think you overestimate the power of endogenous dynamics, or at least certain biased explanations of the endogenous dynamics. Spengler’s harebrained spin reminds of his equally tortured take on the death of the West.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Proxy conflicts are extremely complicated, because they depend on foreign military forces (regular or irregular) doing what you want. Usually, the alignment of interests this requires is limited, temporary, patchy, and unreliable.
    The ARVN in the late 1960s passed on so much American equipment to the communists that during its boost-phase the Viet Cong standardized on US ammunition.
    US proxies in Afghanistan ended up demolishing lower Manhattan.
    US proxies in central America created a media fiasco and huge propaganda gains for leftist governments.
    China is, if anything, even less competent at his stuff than the US (it has basically zero allies in the world).
    Russia is probably best at it — with what gains exactly?

    In the end, it is locals who exploit foreign manipulators, not the other way around. They know what they want, they understand what is going on, money and weapons mean more to them, and their strategies are more consistent. Nowhere is this truer than with Islamic radicalism, which taps foreign powers for resources, which are used to build more Islamic radicalism. All other outcomes are transient, ambiguous, and pregnant with ‘blow-back’.

    [Reply]

    Doug Reply:

    “Russia is probably best at it — with what gains exactly?”

    Russia has extensive geopolitical and diplomatic clout that extend far beyond its level of economic development and size. Consider that Brail has a larger economy than Russia, yet try to imagine a world where the former has one iota the international power of the latter. The Russians are consulted, or at least considered, on every major international decision. Not to mention the regional pull they have in Europe, the wealthiest continent in the world.

    Their uniquely realistic approach to geopolitics allows them to punch way above their weight. Considering that they derive these benefits mostly from a network of well-run intelligence agencies that comprise fewer employees than the United States Post Office, I’d say the benefits are well worth the cost.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    OK, but that kind of displaces the question: What’s the advantage of a regime that ‘punches above its weight’? Doesn’t that amount to diverting resources from domestic economic development and squandering them on international status-seeking? It’s not obvious to me why that’s desirable. If I was a Brazilian, I don’t think I’d be suffering from Russia-envy.

    Chevalier de Johnstone Reply:

    But of course there is a World order. There simply is no world Order. It is a managerial system without managers, which recruits its own faceless technicians to fill square holes with square pegs. Nobody has to tell them where the square pegs go, they just put them there.

    That there is a World order is quite obvious. To give two examples:

    1) Say you are in rural Sichuan and you offer a stranger a refreshing glass of chicha, a drink sometimes made by chewing on corn meal and catalyzing with saliva. What is the likely reaction of your Sichuanren acquaintance to your kind offer of a beverage?

    OK, now suppose you offer them a nice cool bottle of Coca-Cola. Note that a) While there is a chance the chicha has human spit in it, neither you nor your acquaintance has any clue whatsoever what actually goes into Coke (it’s a secret) and b) a culture quite close to China’s, Japan, has a long history of making alcoholic beverages out of chewed grains (rice).

    2) How many places, with how many people, from how many different backgrounds, can you go in the world and, producing a paper from say the CDC or an Ivy research lab, that says that a drug has been proven safe and effective in double-blind trials, convince the people to take a shot of said drug to cure the appropriate ailment?

    OK, now how many places, etc. can you go and say that you had a spiritual vision that a random biological compound is safe and effective, and convince people to try injecting it?

    Of course some people think Coke is nasty and don’t mind a little clean spit in their alcohol, and some people don’t trust drug companies but will shoot up monkey turds in solution, or refuse to partake of any kind of material medicine at all, preferring to trust in the power of prayer. But are they normal? No. Thus we see that the order of the world is quite evident. That there is no cackling mastermind sitting in a tower giving the orders doesn’t mean that there is no order to be seen.

    [Reply]

    Chevalier de Johnstone Reply:

    This was misplaced and ought to have been in response to the discussion with Lesser Bull, above.

    Chevalier de Johnstone Reply:

    Or I could have just linked to Jim Kalb’s commentary on the universal “public order”.

    http://www.intercollegiatereview.com/index.php/2013/07/25/out-of-the-antiworld/

    Chevalier de Johnstone Reply:

    This is an excellent point. I’d like to see more concrete evidence, but as a matter of logical conjecture, that local authorities have a lot more say over how foreign resources are used locally than the scattered, spread-out foreign resource-managers have a say in how locals use their resources, seems an obviously logical claim.

    I think this claim differs, however, from claiming that locals don’t often go along with what foreign managers want, for some other reason or set of reasons TBD. If they don’t have to act like proxies, but they do anyways, then we should ask what it is that makes them choose to act like foreign proxies, right?

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 30th, 2013 at 9:59 pm Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    Arabs don’t understand that nobody gives a shit about their part of the world. They’re cannon fodder for the military industrial complex and Jewish sentimentalism.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Yes, except there’s also that enormous gas station thing going on.

    [Reply]

    spandrell Reply:

    None in Syria or Egypt.
    And the big one in Iraq had to stop business for years. Not much money made in the meantime.

    The Middle Eastern wars are like domestic welfare. Make-work for the bureaucracy to keep the patronage going.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Sure — in such cases, your initial judgment is all but invincible. For cruel e.g. — Yemen.

    C. Y. Chen Reply:

    Not oil, but natural gas and proposed pipelines do seem to be important factors in Egypt and Syria.

    Posted on July 31st, 2013 at 12:10 am Reply | Quote
  • Randoms | Foseti Says:

    […] Nick Land has a two-part series on the Arab world, which is worth your […]

    Posted on July 31st, 2013 at 4:27 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jason Says:

    Proxy conflicts are extremely complicated, because they depend on foreign military forces (regular or irregular) doing what you want. Usually, the alignment of interests this requires is limited, temporary, patchy, and unreliable.

    Proxy conflicts aren’t extremely complicated. There doesn’t have to be some sophisticated alignment of interests. There rarely is. It’s more basic. There are always people willing to break things and go after the guys you don’t like for money and power and for the chance of even more money and power.

    Asking about what the positive sum gains are is the wrong question. Power is zero-sum. Politics is a zero-sum game.

    [Reply]

    Chevalier de Johnstone Reply:

    But politics /= power. Politics is the means of ordering and organizing the civic culture. Like any technology, it is not at all zero-sum. Political power is zero-sum, but that’s not the same thing as politics. If we decide to make one man supreme dictator, this is an example of zero-sum political power. If we determine a better method to ensure that the best man for the job gets it, this is politics, and is obviously a net gain. Likewise if we devise a political system that purposely picks rubes, flakes, and ignorant buffons (ahem) this is a net loss.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 31st, 2013 at 9:14 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jason Says:

    But politics /= power. Politics is the means of ordering and organizing the civic culture.

    That’s called a political myth or formula. In fact, this is the liberal misunderstanding of politics. Cf. Carl Schmitt, especially his The Concept of the Political.

    If we determine a better method to ensure that the best man for the job gets it, this is politics, and is obviously a net gain.

    It may be a net gain in terms of, say, how many ice cream cones each man gets. But not in terms of politics. Power still nets to zero.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 31st, 2013 at 9:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • The Islamic Vortex (or How Obama Accidentally Triggered a Moldbuggian Reboot in Egypt) | The Reactivity Place Says:

    […] Nick Land—when he keeps his sentences to under 50 words and three independent clauses each—is one of the better reads in the Reactosphere®. And he’s managed (mostly) to do just that in his recent three part series on The Islamic Vortex. A taste: […]

    Posted on August 1st, 2013 at 7:56 pm Reply | Quote
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  • Moving forward with 4GW and NRx | The New International Outlook Says:

    […] barbarity. The wars currently raging will continue as no possibility of order is possible, and the Islamic vortex is very much at the beginning stages. A couple of battalions of Marines or Paratroopers would be […]

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