The Dawn of the New Dark Ages
September 11th, 2001

The lip service paid to Islam by the Western leaders, including George W. Bush, reminds me of the Roman Empire and the Goths.  By the time Alaric sacked Rome in 410, the Goths had penetrated the Roman Empire to the point of no return.  Eventually, a few centuries later, the Germanic tribes overcame Rome and indeed, one of them, Charlemagne, was crowned the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.  Who knows, maybe in a century or so – in the electronic age things move faster – we will witness the birth of the Islamic Republic of the United States. I am not making any value judgments. After all, some six million of my compatriots would not mind that evolution – they might even be delighted. And judging by the mushrooming of mosques across the country, thanks to petrodollars – courtesy of our oil companies – one could say that some of my compatriots are actively working towards that prospect.  It is sad that as our president celebrated Eftar of Moslem Ramadan at the White House, a growing number of Moslems in the United States shunned the celebration of Thanksgiving. 

A Moslem celebration in Battery Park, New York, 2001

“It was a wakeup call”, we have now heard it again and again with reference to the September 11th terrorist plane crash into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. But wakeup from what sleep, and into what reality? 

Time-series dysfunction

To delve into the sleep we were in, I would like to apply one of my theories of global human dynamics to these current events.  The theory is that of  “time-series dysfunction” which I shall apply here to empires.  “Time-series” is a statistical concept which holds that we need a series of a given event occurring in relatively connected intervals in order to be able to discern a pattern and draw conclusions from it.[*]

 An ethnicity preserves its past experiences as its mores and lores, and modern nation-states do try to inculcate their citizens with their national history and lawful behavior.  They draw on their collective memory.  It seems, however, that the human species has geographic and temporal limitations in identifying with time-series. Beyond a certain distance in time and space, human beings don’t relate to events and do not assimilate and internalize them as applicable experience. Events in distant lands or what has happened a “long time ago” become anecdotal and historical, and not components of observed time series from which lessons could be drawn.  That is what I call time series dysfunction.  It is most flagrant in the case of empires. To a Westerner today the conquests of Jengiz Khan are “Chinese” and the Chinese Wall is a tourist attraction. 

It is true that empires are few and far between, and statistically one empire can consider the events and the evolution of another irrelevant to its own course. Yet, looking at history, one is struck by the similarities of emergence, growth, vigor, stagnation and decay of empires.  This is not the place to do a comparative analysis of the Chinese, Persian, Roman, British, French or Soviet empires. I am not suggesting a Spenglerian absolutist approach to the rise and fall of empires. What I would like to do here, however, is to extract certain patterns. Of particular interest to our study here is the process by which certain dynamics of encounter and penetration of peoples, at times by design, at other times as a result of circumstances and conjunctures, have been the cause of the demise of empires. By demise, I do not mean death like an organism. What happens is the growing vulnerability of the empire; and its eventual metamorphosis. 

Penetration of Cultures

The penetration of cultures has a more or less general pattern and common components. By the time Alaric sacked Rome, there were, within the Roman Empire, Goth settlers, Goth ferocious warriors, and Goth chiefs acknowledged by the Romans. The components were settlers, the arms of terror, and recognized authorities. And the process was cycles of penetration, terror, and negotiation (for surrender and final conquest).  Indeed, these are the ingredients for the successful penetration and conquest of one culture by another. Historical examples of this process which, incidentally, is not always consciously planned, abound: Acadians into Sumerians, Medes into Acadians, Persians into Medes, Aryans into Dravidians, Franks into Gauls, Vikings into Celts, Mongols into Aryans, Mongols into Chinese, Turks into Greeks, Aztecs into Mayans, Franks into Gauls, Vikings into Celts, Europeans into American Indians. 

More complex patterns with long term plans for control have emerged in recent times, combining terrorism, underground organization, propaganda, indignation, popular appeal – especially to the poor, the oppressed, and those angered by defeat and resenting discrimination – to advance a cause, ideology, belief or national aspirations. The ingredients have been the same, with variations and different dosages. While some goals may have seemed grotesque and the methods used for their achievement brutal, such as Nazism in Germany, others may have evoked mixed feelings and seemed more justified, and shrewder in the application of terror, such as the struggle to gain Irish independence or defending the Palestinian people. 

As the cause gives a sense of pride to the masses identifying with it and cultivates militancy, its terrorist arm creates insecurity in its adversaries, and its socially engaged legitimate front claims recognition and acts indignant when accused of terrorism. Terrorism increases the potentials of penetration exponentially because of its surprise effect. Terror can become lethally effective when timed sporadically for maximum disarray and minimum risk: when the target has lowered its guards, has become complacent and ready for the next round of negotiation, indignation and penetration. 

Religion as a Venue for Cultural Penetration

The motivation for one culture to supplant another is, in the last analysis, the attraction to greener pastures. The drive gains dynamism when packaged in a cause such as nationalism, ideology or religion. 

Nationalism is confined in its potentials.  It may have some virulence at times like Nazi Germany, but in the long run it butts against other nationalisms.  Because nationalism is, by definition, locational. It is based on birth and therefore is handicapped in terms of global control. It can turn into imperialism – the domination of other “nations” by one nation. But then, it replaces the dynamism of the nationalist cause by dominion and lays itself open to other cultures’ supplantation. 

Ideologies have global potentials.  But, in the last analysis, they are functional processes for breaking and transforming tribal economic molds and organizing the economy and distribution of wealth through different methods corresponding to the evolution of the means of production: “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his work” in socialism; “from each according to his capacity to each according to his needs” in communism; or “free enterprise and survival of the fittest” according to capitalism. By themselves, without the affectional – emotional – dimensions of nationalism (imperialsim) or religion, ideologies remain methods which are mixed and matched under the influence of economico-political factors. 

Religions, on the other hand, have potentials for global expansion and control. But not all of them.  There are religions which have the same handicap as nationalism by depending on birth like Judaism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. It is the proselytizing religions like Christianity and Islam, which address all of humanity, that have universal pretension and real potentials for global control. 

In terms of penetration of cultures, proselytizing religions are more virulent and pervasive. Their tentacles that penetrate into a culture do not remain undercover agents. They convert, recruit and seep into the population.  They permeate the culture they have invaded and transform it.  By the time Constantine, the Roman emperor saw the sign of the cross in the dusty sky of the battle in 312 AD. and the vision in hoc signo vinces (by this sign thou shall win), Christianity had so seeped into the Roman society that Constantine could no longer control the empire without its support. 

Islam: a Totalitarian Religion

Of the proselytizing religions, Islam is the most virulent. It claims all of humanity.  So does, indeed Christianity in its concept of the original sin and love of next. But while Christianity preaches, Islam claims the mission of converting the unbelievers, by the edge of the sword if need be.  The land of Islam is Dar el salam (the land of peace), what lays beyond it is Dar al Harb (the land of battle). For Islam, all are born Moslem, even if they don’t know it, and should be converted into it. In that sense, Islam’s potency is in its amalgamation of religion and nationalism. Beyond faith, it also claims all as its “nation” – by birth. While in other religions you need some kind of baptism in Islam you simply have to acknowledge the fact that you have found the true path.  It is accomplished by the simple utterance, in front of a witness, of the Shahada: “La Elah el Allah, Mohammadan Rasul Allah” – “there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger.” 

Those who belong to other monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity or Zoroastrianism – “the people of the book” – although according to the Qor’an are mistaken in not embracing Islam, can theoretically keep their religion as second-class subjects of Islam. In their early onslaught the Arabs imposed exorbitant taxes on the non-Moslem “people of the book”. The apparently simple process of conversion, however, made the quasi-totality of the “people of the book” under the Arab domination convert into Islam. Many of them took the oath to avoid taxes hoping to get off the hook without further involvement in Islam. 

But Islam is a totalitarian religion and begins to close in on the individual after the Shahada. With its emphasis on the Qor’an as the ultimate book of wisdom, its strict laws and the requirement of regular daily prayers, Islam takes away from the believer the freedom of thought and the capacity for independent reasoning. “Intellectual Moslem” is a non-seqitur. A devoted Moslem believer can only think within the premises allowed by Islam.  A rational thinker who understands some of the precepts of Islam and finds some of them acceptable, and goes beyond, is not a good Moslem.  A good Moslem who follows the teachings of his prophet should be prepared to give up his life for his religion. He should accept martyrdom. A good Moslem is a dead Moslem. Reflecting on Martyrdom, Dr. Eyad Sarraj, psychiatrist and founder of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen’s Rights, writes in Time magazine, April 8, 2002, p.39: “This is the influence of the teaching of Koran, the most potent and powerful book in Arabia for the past 14 centuries. In the holy book, God promised Muslims who sacrificed themselves for the sake of Islam that they would not die. They would live on in paradise. Muslim men and women, even secularists, hold to the promise literally. Heaven is then the ultimate reward of the devout who have the courage to take the ultimate test of faith.” 

For a Moslem Shari’a – the Islamic law – should be the law of the land.  Islam is not only a religion but also a political order. True Islam does not recognize the separation of church and state. Pluralist democracy and Islam are incompatible. Once voted in through a pluralist democratic process, Islam abolishes that process.  That is why we have difficulty understanding and accepting the role of the Guardians’ Council in Iran today. 

 Presently the perception of growing inequalities and poverty around the world, and lack of proper secular education in many countries, are preparing fertile grounds for an accelerated spread of Islam worldwide. Recent events have shown the effectiveness of Islamic movements’ use of the different dimensions listed earlier for penetration into Western cultures. Looking at the profuse apologies of Western political leaders bending backwards to make a distinction between Islam and terrorism, the proliferation of flowery coverage of Islam by the Western media, and the newly found self-righteous arrogance of Islam, one wonders whether the 911 terrorists did not indeed achieve a goal far beyond killing three thousand people and destroying some symbols of capitalism. 

© A. Khoshkish 
May 2002 


[*] I maintain, for example, that beyond biological and genetic factors, love and respect for parents was originally inculcated into the child as primeval adults observed, over time, that as they grew older and weaker, the little child grew bigger and stronger. Parents realized that without proper conditioning the grown young was susceptible to compete with them and, where scarce, deprive them of their sources of livelihood. Repeated observation of the phenomenon at short intervals inspired the adults to remind the child that they were the source of its existence, and as they had already been through life, “they knew better!” and deserved respect.  Eventually, the collective realization of that time-series resulted in the elaboration of social precepts of parental love and authority: from the code of Hamurabi, the Chinese spirit of the ancestors, the Ten Commandments, the Roman paterfamilias, to the Napoleonic Code. Collective observation of time-series is thus conducive to the creation of social norms. “Time-series” is a broad concept that can be applied to various human social experiences. When in early human encounters “adventurers” attacked propertied “conservers” and appropriated the latters' property and wanted to enjoy it, they became in turn the target of the dispossessed and insecure in their acquired possessions. As the experience repeated itself over time, rules of entitlement, respect for property and settlement of conflicts developed. For the concept of “adventurers” and “conservers” see A. Khoshkish, The Socio-Political Complex: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Political Life, Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1979

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