Ten Years After

‘All is still to play for in this lethal game of blindfold chess’

Afghanistan Environment Manchester Square War on Terror Western Europe

This is a good time to take stock of the 21st century so far and hazard a cautious guess or two about the next ten years. Looking back over the last decade, it is striking how few people anticipated its dominant theme: the global jihad that has raged since 9/11. Having ignored the warning signs, the United States and its allies were caught unprepared for a new kind of war — a war in which we would be blamed, not just for the casualties that our forces inflicted, but even more for the much greater numbers killed and maimed by the enemy. It is a war for which we do not yet even have an adequate name. 

The balance so far is not as unfavourable to the West as the prognosticators of its decline have presumed. Despite the human cost, the war in Iraq has been won; the war in Afghanistan is still winnable; and the radicalisation of the Islamic world, while it has continued apace, may still be contained or even reversed. As Michael Nazir-Ali reminds us in this month’s issue, however, there is a grave danger that the will to resist both hard and soft jihad, both terrorism and subversion, is being sapped by defeatism and political opportunism. All is still to play for in this lethal game of blindfold chess.

Looking ahead to 2020, there appear to be two possible outcomes. If by then the West has stood firmly for its unique combination of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, then it will be able to withstand anything — including new attempts to import jihad into Europe and America. Even so, we must expect setbacks elsewhere. It is inevitable that more countries in Asia, Africa or the Middle East will become Islamist; not only Pakistan, but secularist Turkey and the Muslims of the Far East are potential targets. Attempts may be made to destabilise India, Russia and China too. 

If the West were to give up the struggle, however, the outcome would be very different. We are getting used to the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran, but this means a nuclear-armed Middle East. If the Obama administration and the European Union acquiesce in this alarming prospect, the chances are that the situation will go from bad to worse. The creation of a new Caliphate with ambitions for hegemony over the Islamic world is the long-term goal, not only of al-Qaeda, but of the Muslim Brotherhood and millions of other Islamists too. It is one which may be realised sooner than we expect-if we allow it to happen. 

What other challenges do we face? The apocalyptic hysteria about man-made climate change will inevitably subside as the long-postponed debate opens up. The climate of opinion is changing faster than the climate of the Earth. The developing nations do not take kindly to the Marie-Antoinettes of the West telling them to use less carbon. By 2020, the predictions that underpin the expensive measures of dubious efficacy now fashionable may well have been superseded. But the poor will still be with us. 

So will the difficulties of adapting to a mobile world in which, as one region becomes less hospitable, whether for political, economic or environmental reasons, people move to another that is more so. Global migration is a far more immediate issue for most people and governments than global warming.

This month, Douglas Murray reports from Brussels, quoting Eliot (whose letters are reviewed for us by John Gross). But as the new Europe emerges, Yeats also comes to mind: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” The next decade will be make-or-break for the EU. For this political dinosaur to avoid extinction, it has to prove that it can compete with leaner, nimbler rivals. It will have to stop treating any manifestation of public opinion (such as a treaty referendum) as an existential threat. As the Eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus told jeering MEPs, treating the European status quo as a dogma that cannot be questioned “is in direct contradiction not only with rational thinking but also with the whole 2,000-year history of European civilisation”. That Judaeo-Christian fusion of faith and reason we call Western civilisation, much of which has its origins in Europe, will outlive us all — but only if we are prepared to defend it.