In 2006, well-known neoconservative Norman Podhoretz published the book titled World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. He argued that the war against Al-Qaeda, its affiliates, and other Islamist terrorists represented a new world war that would take decades to ultimately win. In addition, our enemy was not a state as typical great power wars have historically been, but an ideology that Podhoretz called “Islamofascism.” He gave the ideology this name because it is a fascist ideology motivated by fundamentalist Islam. Walter Russell Mead, in his work Power, Terror, Peace, and War, called the ideology “white fascism.” Many mocked the neoconservatives for their analysis of the world and accused them of being simplistic, Manichean, and naïve. However, recent global events show that the neoconservative understanding of the world was right. There is a global struggle between democracies and a totalitarian ideology, and it will last for decades.
Neoconservatism originated at the University of Chicago from little-known academic Leo Strauss. A German-Jewish émigré to the United States, Strauss came to America after the rise of Nazism, and he forever changed the future of American foreign policy. The most important part of Straussian philosophy is his analysis of liberalism, fascism, and communism. He argued that all three were nihilistic, but they were different types of nihilism. Liberalism is “gentle nihilism” because of its foundation of relativism that makes everything meaningless. Fascism and communism as totalitarian ideologies are “brute nihilism” because they actively sought the destruction of culture and society.
During the 1980s, figures like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Pearle argued that communism was a threat to democracy, that it was nihilistic, and that the fight against the Soviet Union was a moral conflict between good and evil. George W. Bush brought many neoconservatives like Wolfowitz into his administration. They applied similar analysis after 9-11 to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
Islamist terrorists fall into the category of brute nihilism. They wish to destroy modernity, Christianity, the West, and democracy. In its place, they want to build a caliphate based on the strictest interpretation of Islamic scriptures and tradition. Islamists are all over the globe, and they continuously threaten the West and democracy today. Transnational terrorism is still a threat to American security and prosperity. Just look at all of the places where Islamism flourishes and the events that have surrounded them.
Syria: Protests began in March 2011, following revolutionary activity by young people that led to arrests and torture. Security forces began attacking the protesters, and the country soon devolved into a civil war. Opposition to Bashar al-Assad exponentially increased, and Islamists began flooding into the country to fight the Alawite dictator. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also funded these Islamists as a means to move terrorists out of their country and put them to use elsewhere.
Iraq: Iraq is now facing a crisis that could also bring this country into a full scale civil war. A break-off Al-Qaeda group named the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or Levant), or ISIS for short, has conquered several cities in Iraq and controls a region larger than other Arab countries. ISIS is one of the most brutal Islamist groups globally; even Al-Qaeda thinks they are extreme. They will move through areas and systematically behead dissidents and traitors.
Israel: Israel has had to deal with Islamists since the 1980’s and the end of the First Lebanon War. Hezbollah, Hamas, and the PLO have all attacked the Israeli military and civilians. Recently, these groups even kidnapped two Israeli teens and one American. This has led to multiple conflicts and operations by the Israeli Defense Forces like the Second Lebanon War, Al-Aqsa Intifada, Operation Cast Lead, and others.
Afghanistan: Although Al-Qaeda Core may be down to only a few fighters, the Taliban is growing stronger. Afghanistan may soon be under their control again now that the Obama administration has decided to abandon America’s commitments there. Afghanistan’s election couldn’t even happen without terrorist attacks. The Taliban led a brutal Islamist regime in the 1990s, and it is entirely possible that an insurgency could overthrow the weak Karzai regime.
Yemen: One of the more famous terrorists in Yemen was Anwar al-Awlaki, an American Muslim-turned-terrorist. He was an integral leader in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the organization responsible for the Christmas attack by Abdul Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “Underwear Bomber.”
Nigeria: Boko Haram threatens the stability of Nigeria and promotes an anti-Western agenda. Their name in fact means “Western education is a sin.” They are infamous for recently kidnapping hundreds of girls and threatening to sell them into slavery. As an organization, they seek to bring down democracy and establish Islamism in the country. Clearly, they are also not good for furthering women’s rights.
These are not the only countries facing Islamist problems. Egypt, Somalia, India, China, the Philippines, Libya, and others all have problems from Islamist terrorism and the type of fascism it promotes.
Although the neoconservatives may not have implemented the best policies to combat transnational terrorism and Islamism, it appears that their analysis of the world was–and still is–correct. There is a global fight against violent Islamism, an ideology that seeks to destroy the West, democracy, and everything the Enlightenment represents. Democracies must consistently fight against the brutal nihilism of totalitarian ideologies if they want to survive.
If American want to keep its security and prosperity, then it will need to first accept that the neoconservatives were right. After this, we will be able to construct the policies necessary to neutralize the threat.