Last Build Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 16:43:35 -0600Copyright: Copyright 2007
Fri, 30 Jun 2006 16:43:35 -0600
The twenty-first century proves the world has not yet learned its lesson. Tyranny is not dead, but it has a newfound cloak of cultural respectability. Pockets of anachronistic secularism dominate the globe from Cuba to China, but tomorrow's totalitarianism wears a religious face. In 1979, a handful of Iranian students served notice on the world that a new day had dawned. Nearly 30 years later, their theocratic heirs still taunt and torment the free world. In the 1990's, a party of young Afghans seized by a single-minded thirst to build heaven on Earth completed the totalitarian vision that the Soviet Union could never quite realize. After nearly five years of war, the combined might of the world's best militaries hasn't yet been able to free Afghanistan completely from the reach of the Taliban's iron fist.
In both cases, it is simple to imagine how much better things would have been had someone had the courage, the foresight, and the mandate to stop these growing nuisances before they developed themselves into real problems. It would not have necessarily meant war, but only an honest confrontation of those social ills that made revolution easy and appealing. Yet the West, including the United States, was too bound up in the future of the shah to see the growing appeal of a movement that would not subvert the proud Persian heritage to an alien and uncomfortable culture. No one noticed that the Afghan strength and spirit had been too devastated by years of instability and deadly conflict to resist an onrushing tide that at least promised stability.
To be fair, even if any of the warning signs were heeded, there is no guarantee that the resulting tragedies could have been avoided. Mustering the political will to act would have been difficult, as all preemptive policies are. But it is not impossible at least to hope that we would learn from these failures and do better the next time.
Unfortunately, we don't appear to have done so. Such a development is occurring right now in Somalia. After more than a decade of devastating civil war, a fundamentalist Islamic party is in the process of seizing power. Its leaders claim to have no intentions of establishing a regime on the Iranian model, but there are many forms that a sharia state can assume, few of which are kind to basic human rights. If the radicalization process continues as one would expect, Somalia could easily turn into a terrorist haven along the lines of Sudan.
This is not a reflection of popular Somali will, but the result of a protracted conflict between strong men, the result of which the Somalis will accept as a preferable alternative to more death and uncertainty. With a history of razed villages, dead children, and devastated economics, the stability of even a theocratic autocracy earns a certain sort of appeal. Averting this outcome would not necessarily have required more soldiers sent in retaliation for Mogadishu, but a concerted effort and enduring attention toward the social insecurities that allowed warlords to pursue their deadly aims while America's focus was elsewhere. A viable police force, economic infrastructure, and public services could have stopped these frightening developments in their tracks. Let us only hope that we will not have traded one dictator in Iraq for a new one in Somalia. Surely this is not a trade any of us would have made.