In yesterday’s Crikey, Christian Kerr stated that he believes “we are at war with Islam”, and endorsed Christopher Hitchens’s somewhat apocalyptic vision of that war. He suggested that expanding on Hitchens’s list of Islamic atrocities could create “the most serious Crikey list ever.”

Well, let’s take the “war” talk seriously for a moment. Imagine 1940, when Britain was at greatest peril in World War II, and look back a few years at the incidents that led up to that point. The list might look something like this:

(1) Italy invades Ethiopia (1935). (2) Germany repudiates Locarno treaty and reoccupies the Rhineland (1936). (3) Germany and Italy give material aid to fascists in Spanish Civil War (1937). (4) Germany occupies Austria (1938). (5) Munich agreement dismembers Czechoslovakia under German pressure (1938). (6) Italy occupies Albania (1939). (7) Germany invades and conquers Poland (1939).

I could go on, but you get the point. War involved actual military action by serious military powers. Britain (and ultimately the civilised world) faced a heavily armed hostile nation and its allies — not “allies” in the vague sense of ideological sympathisers, but other governments coordinating military operations.

That’s what war is like. That’s what an “existential threat” is like. Sorry, but war on terror/war on Islam just doesn’t cut it. To suggest it does is an insult to the millions who risked their lives in the fight against Nazi Germany.

If Britain had followed the advice of Kerr and Hitchens it would have characterised the war as a struggle against “right-wing authoritarian nationalism” or some such, and blindly gone off crusading against every such regime in Europe. Fortunately for us all, it didn’t: it confined the war as much as possible to the actual threat. It declared war on Germany, but waited for Italy to declare war on it, and never went to war with fascist Spain. Some right-wing dictators, such as General Metaxas of Greece, even became allies.

Let’s fight and destroy al-Qaeda, by all means. But don’t elevate a ragtag band of terrorists into a Hitler-sized bogeyman. And whatever you do don’t try to sign up the whole Muslim world as your enemies.

Peter Fray

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