In the early 1990s genocidal attacks against the Muslim population of the former Yugoslavia proceeded with little Western interference while the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan resulted in Western action to arm a wide range of insurgents, including a nascent Al Qaeda.
Some of the tactics and techniques developed in Afghanistan were deployed in the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, eventually in Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania, and lower Manhattan. An echo of these days reverberated as recently as April 15.
Western hypocrisy and geopolitical competition fueled the emergence of a worldview, adversaries, and a preternatural expectation of cultures-in-conflict.
Today tens of thousands are killed in Syria and any mitigation — much less resolution — is stymied by Big Power geopolitical competition. Across the Sahel Salafist fighters bomb and kill (Christian) teachers and school children. In Somalia Ethiopian and Kenyan Christians are active in containing (Islamic) al Shabbab. In Egypt a Western-funded military facilitates the overthrow of a popularly elected (conservative Islamic) President.
These are gross simplifications of very complex realities. But this narrative sufficiently parallels reality that more complicated counter-arguments are seldom self-evidently compelling.
We have, perhaps, ten years to adjust the narrative. The analogy that comes to my mind is trying to write lyric poetry as Asiana Flight 214 hits the seawall at SFO. There is forward movement, there is a bit of time, you will probably survive to die another day, but the noise, destruction, fear, and pain do not lend themselves to much writing of any kind.
Yet if we cannot — in collaboration across religious, national, and tribal divides — craft a more mutually satisfactory narrative, we will suffer again and again explosions of self-righteous anger and revenge.
This week there was a modest effort, easily ignored and as easily dismissed, to at least conceive a different narrative. Here’s a news release and here’s a 25-page report with recommendations. Might be worth a glance between our show-trials, political melodramas, furloughs, and vacations.
We need better. But we should start with what we’ve got.