Last week Pope Francis took stock of all the regional conflicts, bloodshed, struggles and strife, and joined the dots. “We are now in World War III,” he told journalists on board Air Pope One. “Today we are in a world at war everywhere. A man said to me, ‘Father, we are in World War III, but spread out in small pockets everywhere.’ He was right.”
A world war “in small pockets everywhere”?
Syria.. Iraq.. Pakistan.. Nigeria.. Mali.. Iran.. Libya.. Egypt.. Afghanistan.. Sudan.. Algeria.. Kenya.. Somalia.. Yemen.. Palestine. Join the dots. The problem appears to be Jihadists intent on slaughtering everyone who disagrees with them, irrespective of culture or creed. They are not a unitary, cohesive force; they are not organised or ranged in battalions. They are a rag-bag collection of longstanding territorial disputes and ancient divisions along ethnic and tribal lines. But each Islamist group has essentially one religio-political objective – the establishment of the Caliphate, the Islamic State. And Pope Francis implied (very clearly) that military action may be necessary (and justified) to kill them before they kill us. “In those cases where there is an unjust aggression,” he said, “I can only say that it is legitimate to stop the unjust aggressor.” He added: “I underscore the verb ‘stop’. I don’t say ‘to bomb’ or to ‘make war’, but to ‘stop’.”
The thing is, you can’t stop tens of thousands of murderous Islamists without shooting them, and you can’t stop the barbaric Islamic State without bombing it. They tend not to want to chat over a cup of tea and a slice of halal cake: they infinitely prefer to behead children, rape women and crucify men to engaging in inter-religious dialogue. Pope Francis knows this. So does President Obama. And so do the leaders of those Muslim nations who are now joined in a “US-led” coalition to weaken Mohammed’s militant wing – Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This is not a Western-Christian crusade against Islam: it is a global multifaith coalition against an extremist religious ideology.
And it is religious. It is absurd to insist that the problem is purely political, as some apologists are doing. You tend not to hear many politicians these days going on about God, paradise, martyrdom and apostasy. They may shroud their politics beneath a veneer of green-and-pleasant religion or disguise their religion beneath a shroud of neutral secularism, but for the Salafist-Wahhabist-Islamist-Jihadist there is not such convenient Enlightenment categorical distinction: the rule of the Khalifa under the law of Allah is political, religious, all-embracing and universal.
It is our moral responsibility not merely to denounce and condemn this evil with expedient platitudes and promises of retributive justice, but to liberate the oppressed, aid those who are exiled and destitute, and try to save the lives of those who are threatened and persecuted. Hundreds of thousands of Christians and other minorities have been driven from the lands they have lived in for centuries and millennia. Those who refused to leave have been killed or captured and sold into slavery. The murderers don’t much care for our liberal and democratic principles or our notions of equality and justice: they simply want to kill us:
“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State… kill him in any manner or way however it may be” (Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani).
And so David Cameron is gearing up to recall Parliament, where he will announce our imminent participation in strikes against the self-styled Islamic State (or fragmented Islamist states). And (this time) Parliament will not stop him, for the war has already been ignited, and our participation is inevitable. This is not capricious, but considered. It is not “neocon”, but just. We will not arrive at a lasting political peace without eliminating the roots of religious extremism: there is simply no other way to end the nightmare, at least until Jesus returns. We are about to enter World War III – if we are not already in it.