“There once was a specter stalking the hazy hot corners of our world,” they will say. “For a time it even stalked Europe, America – and presidents blanched, parliamentarians locked their doors at night. Embassies built high their walls; we took our shoes off in airplanes; we rewrote laws; we built coalitions; we fought one war, then another and another and yet another.” The historians of the future might even be nostalgic. We do like to reminisce about the wars of our past, don’t we? Documentaries on Netflix. “Remember what it was like when…”
Then one day we awoke to realize that it was no more, that it was over – the latest chapter in an amazing book written by a free people determined to preserve our liberty. History. They will talk about it, those who consider such things; and many will lament, as there are many who still lament the fall of communism. “What did we do wrong?” they will ask each other over tea. “How could we have made it succeed?” not really wanting an answer. For they too will know that theirs was a fool’s errand.
Maajid Nawaz was a specter, a stalker. One of Robert Kaplan’s, “…loose molecules in a very unstable social fluid, a fluid that was clearly on the verge of igniting.” He did ignite, and with him a generation of his peers in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Theirs was a vision of a new, powerful “Khilafah” – a Califate – which would challenge the west. That ancient abiding idea that there is a better way; that the great edifice of prosperity can be made more equal for all if built in blood. But blood is an insubstantial mortar, not suitable in cementing civilization. Hitler’s “1000 Year Reich”; the USSR’s global communism; the Califate – all plans envisioned by the power-hungry and enacted by the angry and aggrieved, and sold as the bitter politics of envy. Maajid Nawaz was one of the salesman, and “Radical” is his story.
Its over now, the stalking is – we called it the “War on Terror” – and the utopianism of the Maajids of the world has been discarded. The coming anarchy which we did not recognize or address brought it to deposit it for a season upon our doorstep until it became brittle and dry, for it was not really organic, and as a fine powder it was brushed away only to accumulate in the most inhospitable parts of the world – where it still chokes out life.
“Really?” I’m sure you are asking. “When did that happen? When did our latest war end?” It’s often hard in the present to realize when things are changing. Sometimes there are wakeup calls – moments like that time when I strolled down a leafy lane in Boston into my Student Union only to see all eyes fixated upon the television screens where the destruction of two towers was being played over and over and over again to the horror of all. But most usually, things come slowly, one small decision after another after another and you look back only to realize something is over or something new has arrived. The skulking power grabs not in great coups bathed in violence but in incremental slices off the hide of liberty’s carcass, sick and rotting – Hitler, Chavez. Dachau and the ‘final solution and ‘the tomb’; starvation and mass-exodus not in a fire blazing strong but an ember snuffed out.
Yes, most of the time it is an unhurried collapse. For the jihadis, it was probably the fall of Raqqa – their “Khilafah”; though that was only the last dying whimper which caught the news; a tiny supernova of a star that had become insignificant in the affairs of men. Truth of the matter is, with each shrine explosion, each little-girl-abduction, each brutal live-streamed murder they were not bleeding out the lifeblood of their victims, but of their own utopian dream.
Now don’t get me wrong, the “loose molecules” themselves have not vanished – the cancerous free radicals in the organism of our ailing societies. They shoot up day-camps in Norway or high-schools in America; they join ‘collectives’ in Venezuela to loot supermarkets or MS-13 to behead enemies in Maryland. They are skinheads and Black Panthers. We will always have them with us, because our planet has become saturated with discontent product of stagnation and a managerialism which leaves no room for opportunity in a world that has become smaller, where we can see through the windows in the floors above us, into the lives of the “…winners (who) stop others from following them, pulling up the ladders behind them” as they ascend, as Angus Deaton reminds us.
They are the future, and the next problem – but what they represent, how they coalesce, is still unknown.
Maajid’s is the story of a foot soldier in the global war on terror – but a soldier of the wrong side, the losing side; and how he came to realize that. He is now one of the good guys; helping others find their way. He has not betrayed his faith, he has found it – because he has learned that fundamental lesson which we all must learn if we are to build better and more just societies: you cannot build in blood.