Of terror and warfare
THE art of warfare has evolved in this age awash in hate and arms. Were the French warrior, Napoleon Bonaparte, to see this age he would find that the hitherto rules of engagement in battle have changed. Back in Napoleon’s days in 19th Century, only nation states could wage wars and only real soldiers fought in wars. Back then the frontlines were discernible and engagements at war were subjected to certain rules and conventions.
Since then, the world had changed and changed again. In the First World War, which history also calls the Great War, the internal combustion engine was deployed for the first time as instruments of war. In the Second World War, Adolf Hitler’s Blitzkrieg stood as the memorable milestone on strategy, it was actually the first war of cutting edge technology; atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, two Japanese cities, in a row in the grand finale of the war.
Now there is a new phase where humans are weapons of warfare. The low-tech approach to combat was designed for maximum damage. Al Qaeda, ISIL, Al Shabab, AQIM and Boko Haram are the faces of the new war. Nation states can no longer claim the monopoly of violence. Ideologues primed with bombs and hate routinely wreaking more havoc on detonation than a regular battalion of Napoleon army with canon and bayonet.
Warfare has indeed gone retail and the world is hung on tentacles. It is chilling to think that terror may be the new normal and religious extremism; the new ideology. Sadly, unlike in the past, the battles of this age are not fought on ideals but on a strange dogma that insists that the road to heaven must be paved with the blood of the innocents.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is locked in the epicentre of that dogma. No space is sacrosanct to Boko Haram, the local franchise of the doctrine that recently unleashed mayhem on Paris. Markets, parks, churches, mosques and the confines of the United Nations were fair targets in the rampart orgy of violence before the recent slowdown forced by the new government.
Blaise Paschal warned that men never do evil so completely as when they did it from religious conviction. The French theologian lived in the 17th Century and likely had the 16th Century Catholic Inquisition in mind when he penned the statement. Remember, during the Inquisition, men of God terrorised, maimed and killed innocent citizens on account of heresy in the name of God in pursuit of clear self-interests. But Pascal should have waited for this time and age to plumb the length man would go to do evil in the name of God.
What words could fully explain the horrors of 9/11 to a future generation? How do you narrate the mayhem made of our North East to that future; the scurrilous fate of the Chibok girls, the students massacred in Yobe, the horde of kids made homeless and parentless by those who swore they were doing it for God?
History teaches that hate also loves to feast on God. Often, the peddlers invoke the Almighty in the propagation of vile. Take the secessionist slavers in the antebellum America who were purportedly defending a godly right to enslave Africans on account of race. The slavers loved to quote the Bible on blackness and a certain curse of Ham, like Boko Haram loves to quote the Koran to prove divine right to trade women as slaves. Herr Hitler and the Nazis also employed God to justify the pogrom they visited on the Jews; they said they were avenging for the blood of Christ. Sanctimonious justifications often the nexus for monumental crimes. The American slave owners and Adolf Hitler Nazis had lived in different ages but they lived by the same ideology of live and let die. The religious haters of our own age have taken that ideology into a new height.
Talking about hate and new heights, George Orwell did not experience the age of terror before he ranked communism as the ultimate assault on civilisation. Orwell loathed the future where the state controls everything and is controlled by a few unaccountable tyrants. Think of it, even communism courted intellectual discourses. The terror war is entirely stiff and grey. It has no atom of wit or humanity. Even in the winter of the Cold War there were quotable banters even from behind the Iron Curtains. The American President, John Kennedy once boasted his country had the nuclear capacity to wipe out the Soviet Union two times over while the Soviets had enough atomic weapon to wipe out the United States only once, to which Nikita Khrushchev jokingly replied, “Yes he (Kennedy) is quite right. But I am not complaining… We are satisfied to be able to finish off the United States first time around. Once is quite enough. What good does it do to annihilate a country twice? We are not a blood thirsty people.”
President Francois Hollande swore by the Trio-Color he would avenge the attack on Paris by the merchants of hate. He is delivering on that pledge by hauling bombs at Raqqa and other hotbeds of ISIS. The prompt action by France may well offer some immediate comfort to her traumatized people but the world have learned since Afghanistan and Iraq that air sorties alone will bring no lasting solutions to the fanatical menace of our age.
Hollande should learn from George Bush Jr. on the limits of spontaneity. Recall that George Bush promised to pursue Al Qaeda to the end of the world in wake of the 9/11 horrors. America has essentially fulfilled that promise; Al Qaeda is now degraded, Osama Bin Laden is dead but terror has not subsided. The terror franchise is alive and well, three presidential terms later.
The world ought to rally against terror like it did against Nazism a few generations ago and without its traditional biases. Specifically, more concerted efforts are required from the major powers to tackle this terror cancer in West Africa and at present, France appears to be the only visibly upfront power on this regard. It is time Washington and London cut symbolism and diplomatic-speak to engage with the region; especially with states like Nigeria and Mali that have been bearing the brunt of this war.
Vladimir Putin cautioned that terrorism has no nationality or religion and this time around the Russian president is actually right.
• Akinyosoye wrote from Lagos.