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At stake in the Iraq war: survival of a way of life

Unless the English-speaking peoples step up, they'll lose the great struggle against radical, totalitarian Islam.

By Andrew Roberts / July 12, 2007



London

The English-speaking peoples of the world need to unite around their common heritage of values. And they need to sacrifice their naiveté about the true nature of war – and the losses that inevitably go with it. Otherwise, they will lose a titanic struggle with radical, totalitarian Islam.

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The reason they are under such vicious attack – my home city of London came within minutes of losing up to 1,000 innocent people in an attempted nightclub bombing two weeks ago – is that they represent all that is most loathsome and terrifying for radical Islam.

Countries in which English is the primary language are culturally, politically, and militarily different from the rest of "the West." They have never fallen prey to fascism or communism, nor were they (except for the Channel Islands) invaded.

They stand for modernity, religious and sexual toleration, capitalism, diversity, women's rights, representative institutions – in a word, the future. This world cannot coexist with strict, public implementation of Islamic sharia law, let alone an all-powerful caliphate.

Those who still view this struggle as a mere police action against uncoordinated criminal elements, rather than as an existential war for the survival of their way of life, are blinding themselves to reality.

Sending signs of surrender

But recent news suggests the blindness is growing. Antiwar sentiment in America is swelling. As key Republicans desert the president, senators are pushing amendments to force the withdrawal of US troops. All this before US Gen. David Petraeus reports on the surge.

Are the English-speaking peoples really about to quit before Islamic totalitarianism has been defeated in Iraq? Are they seriously contemplating handing the terrorists the biggest victory since the Marines' withdrawal from Beirut? It was that surrender in 1984 that emboldened Osama bin Laden to believe that his organization could defeat a superpower. Surrender in Iraq would prove him right.

As a Briton, I cannot help thinking that if the Americans of 1776 had been so quick to quit a long, drawn-out, difficult ideological struggle, America might still be ruled by my country today.

The new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, has dropped the phrases "war on terror" and "Muslim" or "Islamic" terrorism from the government's discussion of what Britons are fighting. Car bombs are going off – we just need to find non-threatening ways to describe them.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, meanwhile, English-speaking forces ignore such pusillanimity and get on with the vital job of fighting those who would turn the Middle East into a maelstrom of jihadist anarchy and terror.

We know that Al Qaeda cannot be appeased, because if they could, the French would have appeased them by now. Al Qaeda is utterly remorseless, even setting bombs (detected by authorities in time) on the Madrid-to-Seville railway line in April 2004, after Spain decided to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Fortunately, however, the English have been here before. Thrice. Their history provides a number of apposite lessons about how to defeat this latest fascist threat.

Since 1900, the English-speaking peoples have been subjected to four great assaults: first from Prussian militarism, then by Axis aggression, then from Soviet communism. The present assault from totalitarian Islamic terrorism is simply our generation's equivalent of our forefathers' successful struggles against the three earlier fascist threats. But in this fourth and latest contest, victory is not yet in sight.

In researching my book, "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900" – a coda to Winston Churchill's classic – I visited the papers of 200 individuals in 30 archives on three continents. While there, I could not help concluding that this struggle against Islamofascism is the fourth world war. And I was repeatedly struck by how often common themes from the four struggles emerged.

Today's struggle needs to be fought in radically different ways from the last three, of course, but ideologically it is nearly identical. Look at the common factors.

Just as on 9/11, the English-speaking peoples have regularly been worsted in the opening stages of a conflict, often through surprise attack. As Paul Wolfowitz put it at a commencement in June 2001: "Surprise happens so often that it's surprising that we're surprised by it."

Examples include: The 1898 sinking of the USS Maine, the 1899 Boer invasion of Cape Colony, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II's right hook through neutral Belgium in 1914, the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, North Korea's invasion of its southern neighbor, Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956, North Vietnam's decision to begin armed revolution against South Vietnam in 1959, Argentina's 1982 invasion of the Falklands, and Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

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