The Gods of Empire

Empires rise and fall and it is historically exciting to predict their beginnings and endings. The forces of instability that led to the so-called Arab uprising is linked to the first mention of a Caliphate, a fancy name for another empire in the making. It has  the beginning necessities: a leader with a religious ideology, a nascent army with lots of potential recruits, and a bit of empty yet valuable territory. Empires and their builders have begun with less!

Naturally the current dominating  empire, America, and its hesitantly loyal allies have risen up under the reluctant leadership of President Obama to degrade and destroy the new force. More than 200 years ago, upstart America took on the all-powerful British Empire and made it withdraw, which led to its destruction and the new hegemony of an American empire. The Soviet Empire tried to create a wedge in the American Empire and lost badly, despite its latest urges in that direction. It’s an old story complicated by our  interconnected world and its all-seeing media.

But the Middle East has always been a problem for empires. Rome, Greece, and Christianity stumbled there even before oil became important. America may, too. The complicated reasons are better left to academic experts, but scapegoating has played an important role. Assuming stability and a relative balance of power among the many, many tribes and states that inhabit that region has been one of the common pitfalls.

In the last 75 years, the two-pronged cover story of a united Islam and the imminent destruction of Israel has helped maintain the illusion of stability. The incredible divisions that are present in Islam was held in check by dictatorship by minority groups, e.g. Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and by the common enemy, Israel, land of the Jews, the universal scapegoat.

America’s invasions turned Iraq’s Shiite/Sunni religious and class truce into chaos. Still, there was Israel to unite warring, disparate elements. Hitler worked that one well, but then the Jews were a helpless, if influential, group. Recently, Israel’s military might and economic power has made it a less useful scapegoat, as does its military alliance with the U.S. The havoc reeked on Gaza, the presence of nuclear arms coupled with a survivalist mentality of “never again,” made believable through a leader who holds revenge for his brother firmly in mind, makes scapegoating increasingly unwieldy. An empire holds together by its own inner and outer force; it doesn’t need to rely on scapegoats.

Someone had to try to ditch the illusion of false alliances and apply the glue of scapegoating and the use of fear and power to unite this fragmented part of the world. The Islamic State is trying to do just that. It is a long shot, but my guess is that it’s just the beginning.

Comments

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