The Folly Of Harnessing Snakes

Thursday, February 9, 2017
Image credit: 
Poster Collection, US 6793, Hoover Institution Archives.

Image credit: 
Poster Collection, US 6793, Hoover Institution Archives.

In its degenerate grandeur, the Umayyad dynasty that had subdued the Iberian Peninsula found itself too weak of arms and will to fight its own battles. The caliph imported fellow Muslims as mercenaries, Berber warriors whose ferocity had not been dulled by civilization. Then the Cordoba caliphate imported still more Berber troops. And more. They were, after all, fellow Muslims.

But the Berbers were Muslims with a difference: fundamentalist fighters who would fit in today’s Syria. By the early 11th century, the Berber emirs and chieftains saw no reason why they should continue to serve under those whom today we would categorize as “moderate Muslims.”

In 1009, Berbers troops sacked Cordoba, then the jewel of the caliphate. In 1013, they took it again and kept it. In 1031, the fabled Ummayad dynasty faded from view.

Politically correct activists have rewritten history shamelessly, touting the convivencia, the social arrangement that, supposedly, let Moors, Christians, and Jews live side by side amicably. Indeed, Muslim and Christian warlords often allied with one another to slaughter indiscriminately (the famed El Cid spent more time drawing Moorish pay as a mercenary than he did fighting for Christendom).

As ever, the Jews paid the worst price. Left out of the modern-day mythmaking are frequent massacres, such as the butchery of 4,000 or more Jews in one day in Grenada in 1066, or another sweep of Jew-killing two decades later.

Pacific, tolerant Moorish Spain isn’t history, its pop mythology. But why should it matter, anyway?

Because humanity never learns its lesson: Time and again, religious moderates or political conservatives convince themselves that they can harness fanatics to do the hard work—and then nudge them out of the way. On the secular side, the classic example remains the German conservative-establishment notion that Hitler could be used then turned out of doors. But the grim religious examples of our time center, yet again, on the Islamic world.

Impatient with the Shah, Iranian reformers, liberals, leftists, Communists, and religious moderates allied with Khomeinist elements to overthrow the regime. But Khomeini’s followers, like the earlier, secular Bolsheviks in Petrograd, had no plans to share power. The reward of the intelligentsia and the civic-minded was arrest, torture, and massacre, or—for the fortunate—exile.

The Saudi royal family imagined that it could buy immunity by tolerating fanatics and turning a blind eye to their financing. We got 9/11, while the Kingdom got the horrific landscape on its land borders today, along with an insoluble mess in Yemen—and internal terrorism.

Pakistan made the same mistake of sowing the wind and shrugging off the whirlwind. And a beleaguered Afghan government is now reaching out to “good” terrorists…

But the stunning example, the case that should worry Europe, is Turkey, where a fundamentalist leader (who has filled a succession of official roles), President and would-be caliph, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, quietly supported Islamist fanatics in Syria, terrorists he believed he could bend to his will once their work was done. He allowed foreign fighters, weapons and funds to flow southward across Turkey’s border. In return, he expected not only immunity, but a strategic advantage.

Earlier this month, the Turkish security forces arrested over 800 Islamic State members in a series of nationwide raids. It was too little, too late.

Turkey now faces continued terror (with an emasculated military). Turkish ambitions in Syria have shrunk, but remain frustrated. Meanwhile, the bombs have come to Istanbul and Ankara. And Turks, who responded to Erdogan’s public piety, have turned away from the legacy of Ataturk to embrace a crude desert Islam.

Of all the fires with which leaders might play, religious fundamentalism is the flame that burns every hand that tries to grasp it.

Or, to use an even simpler metaphor, you can’t harness snakes.