The Islamic Vortex (Part 5)

So – does Mecca get nuked? For the purpose of this series, that’s a reasonable candidate for the terminal question.

A direct assault on this question stumbles quickly into a paradox of stimulating profundity. Of all the geopolitical and religious agencies determining the outcome, the one most theologically predisposed to the vaporization of Islam’s spiritual center is the Wahhabi sect, which presently controls it. The case can easily be made that, within the limitations set by peacetime conditions, this objective has already been pursued with spectacular ardor. (If you noticed the Iranian media links there, save that observation.) Also worth mentioning: it’s a necessary antecedent to the Islamic Apocalypse (al-Qiyamah) that Mecca and the Kaaba be destroyed.

One of the factors supporting the Thirty-Years’ War analogy in the escalating conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam is the confidence with which we can identify the ‘Protestants’ and ‘Catholics’ in this re-run. In God and Gold (p.367), Walter Russell Mead outlines the structure of parallelism:

Wahhabis seek to suppress the popular cults associated with saints and others traditionally believed to intercede for believers with God. Every soul is accountable to God for its own acts, and there is no human mediator. Puritans similarly attacked the cults of the Christian saints, and argued that it was vain and unbiblical to pray to the Virgin and the saints for their intercession with God. To make sure such cults are suppressed, the Saudi government under Wahhabi influence has recently destroyed mosques and monuments in Mecca and Medina that had becomes associated with cults and customs considered un-Islamic. Puritans, like many radical Protestants across northern Europe, destroyed altar screens, stained glass, statues, and other church furnishings which, in their judgement, distracted the people from the worship of the one true God.

Shia Islam, with its far greater tolerance for cultural ‘thickness’, has a ‘Catholic’ alignment with heritage, tradition, and mediation. Sunni Islam — especially in its ‘Puritanical’ or radical Wahhabi, Salafi, and Takfiri variants, interprets intermediary forms of cultural and political organization as manifestations of impiety (to be erased). As with the militant Protestantism of the seventeenth century, its mode of holy war indissolubly fuses iconoclastic theology with the armed advance of the faith.

Radical Sunni ‘desert religion’ projects a desert as (and at) the end of faith. It cannot be realistically expected that cultural inhibitions on the escalation of violence will find fertile soil in this terrain. A geographically and demographically besieged Shiism shows every sign of counter-bidding unreservedly in its own eschatological coin.

There are other inhibitions, however. When socially disorganized militants engage in informal warfare, the requirement that they protect their own neighborhoods from nebulous threats tends to what Gary Brecher calls the ‘cripple fight’ phenomenon. There’s a reluctance to stray to far from home, when home is an informal war zone, which obstructs effective military mobilization. More generally, mass killing is technically difficult, and usually scales up with social competence (a few African counter-examples  notwithstanding).  Disease is the traditional mass-killer, supplanted by famine in modern times. Relatively low-efficiency slaughter is the modern Islamic norm. Hence the fascination with Weapons of Mass Destruction, and especially nuclear devices, as the prospective solution to the Jihad escalation problem.

The dynamics of escalation can be modeled as a chain reaction, which can in turn be translated into the geopolitics as a domino theory. Such theories went out of fashion in the closing stages of the Cold War, because their predictions regarding the contagious virulence of communist regime-change began to look over-stretched. Where domino models clearly excel, however, is in the explanation of nuclear proliferation. Within such domino chains, the attainment of ‘nuclear status’ by power A serves as the sufficient political explanation for the subsequent attainment of nuclear status by power B, in a process that can be prolonged indefinitely, given a suitable linear network of threat links.

Consider the active chain of nuclear dominoes leading into the Middle East (ignoring the non-contagious or here-irrelevant sub-branches, UK, France, Israel, and North Korea). The path leaves little room for controversy. In strict succession, driven by linear threat-response at each stage, it runs USA, USSR, China, India, Pakistan … and already we have an Islamic  bomb. It is crucial to note at this point that each link in nuclear dominoes (after the first) has to be Janus faced. The potential conflict that provoked each stage of proliferation is quite different to the one that triggers the next. For instance, the Indian bomb, clearly responding to that of China, is now primarily understood through the successor stage, in which the nuclear arsenals of India and Pakistan are weighed against each other in strategic calculations. Similarly, Pakistan’s Islamic bomb (when related to India’s Hindu bomb) has to be re-conceived as a Sunni bomb on its other face, envisaged from the Greater Middle East, where a Shia bomb is the obvious threat-response — the next domino.

It is important to stress that this is where the Iranian nuclear program comes from. American and Israeli optics tend to distract from the regional logic of proliferation. However politically convenient it may be for Iranian leaders to publicly proclaim that their bomb (which, of course, they have no intention whatsoever of building) is designed solely to kill Jews, or to drive Americans out of the Gulf, it is in fact overwhelmingly necessitated by the fact that a Sunni bomb already exists, next door. A nuclear Iran means, fundamentally, a balance of threat between Sunni and Shia power in the Greater Middle East. It can also be assumed, with extreme confidence, that a Sunni Arab (Saudi) bomb would soon follow, according to the wholly predictable  domino-Janus sequence which exposes Iran from the other side.

[There’s a lot more to say about all this, but I’m done for tonight]

August 10, 2013admin 9 Comments »


9 Responses to this entry

  • georgesdelatour Says:

    Pakistan has a nuke because China let them have a nuke, yes?


    Posted on August 10th, 2013 at 7:05 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jacob Says:

    Relatively low-efficiency slaughter is the modern Islamic norm.

    They may actually be very efficient from a ROI (return on investment) perspective.

    Al Qaeda’s choice of a demonstration was to use parcel bombs (called Operation Hemorrhage — a classic name for a systems disruption attack). These low cost parcel bombs, were inserted into the international air mail system to generate a security response by western governments. It worked. The global security response to this new threat was massive.

    Returns on Investment (ROIs)

    Part of effective systems disruption is a focus on ROI (return on investment) calculations. As paraphrased in Inspire: it is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy and keep him on his toes in exchange of a few months of work and a few thousand bucks. We knew that cargo planes are staffed by only a pilot and a co-pilot, so our objective was not to cause maximum casualties but to cause maximum losses to the American economy. (this shift is a clear attempt to avoid limitations of blood and guts terrorism by adopting systems disruption as outlined in this article)

    To demonstrate this ROI, Inspire listed the costs of the investment in the operation:

    Printers: $300 each
    Nokia mobile phones: $150 each
    Shipping and transportation: short $$
    TOTAL COST: $4,200

    It’s pretty clear that the security costs inflicted as a result of this operation are counted in the millions of dollars, making for an impressive return on investment for the operation. ROIs from systems disruption can reach one million to one.

    This data demonstrates that the most effective start-ups in Iraq’s bazaar of violence are global guerrilla networks. They have shown an ability to attract (either through ideology or money) the oil industry personnel with the vital data needed to make these attacks effective. Global guerrillas have stayed small to keep OPSEC (operational security) extraordinarily high — coalition and government agents haven’t been able to penetrate their networks. They have made attacks that have had incredible ROI (rates of return on investment) and have suffered few casualties. They are able, despite their small numbers, to keep a nation-state in failure.

    New ROI estimates for the September attacks on Mexican natural gas pipelines:

    Over 2,500 business will suffer severe harm in 11 of Mexico’s 32 states. 1,100 companies have shut down production. Key industries impacted: Auto, glass, food, and cement. For example: Volkswagen (1,780 cars a day, 81% of which is for export).
    Revised estimate of $200 million a day in costs.
    Impact expected to last for a week.

    ROI for an attack that cost less than estimated $10,000 to accomplish? Rough estimate: 1.4 million percent. Welcome to modern war.


    admin Reply:

    “They may actually be very efficient from a ROI … perspective” — Sure, but it doesn’t scale up to high-intensity warfare.


    Posted on August 10th, 2013 at 8:07 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jacob Says:

    I don’t think the nuclear destruction of Mecca would have any major impact.

    It would just be rationalized away. Like all Middle Eastern religions, Islam is morally nimble enough to pull off all kinds of magic in this regard.


    Big Bill Reply:

    When the Romans destroyed the sacred Jewish temple of Jerusalem it scattered the chaos worldwide. I would expect a similar result from the sacred Muslim temple in Mecca.


    Posted on August 10th, 2013 at 8:18 pm Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    Well, everybody has to go to Mecca in pilgrimage, right?

    Let them eat the radiation =)

    The destruction of Saudi Arabia as a source of funds for Sunni supremacism would be the biggest game changer. It’s the only real source of power they have.


    admin Reply:

    When Mecca is destroyed I think everything is supposed to switch over to end-of-the-world mode. It’s hard to predict how the Ummah responds to that.


    spandrell Reply:

    Well humans have a way of going back to daily routine no matter what their God demands them to do.


    admin Reply:

    Well, in this case, sticking with the routine is praying in the direction of a radioactive crater five times a day. How does that work out?

    Posted on August 11th, 2013 at 7:22 am Reply | Quote

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