Is Putin’s war distracting us from another threat?
William Kilpatrick is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His books include Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press), What Catholics Need to Know About Islam (Sophia Press), and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad.
While the world justifiably worries about the expansion of Russia under Vladimir Putin, another world power is slowly expanding its reach.
It’s called Islam. Unlike Russia, Islam is not one large land mass, but it does cover a lot of territory. There are 57 member nations in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) making the OIC the largest voting bloc in the United Nations.
The world’s attention is currently focused on Russia, but it would be unwise to forget about Islam. Whereas the population of Russia is about 145 million and declining, Islam’s global population is approximately 1.8 billion and growing.
It’s becoming clear that Russia under Putin is expansionist. But it’s difficult to know to what extent. Will Russia be satisfied in neutralizing Ukraine? Or does it hope to reassert control over its former satellites in Europe? Or does it seek to control all of Europe?
Coincidentally, some of the territory that Russia covets was once controlled by Islam, and many Muslims believe that any territory once conquered by Islam still belongs to Islam.
Like today’s Russia, Islam is expansionist. Subjugating the entire world under the rule of Allah is, arguably, the chief purpose of Islam. And history confirms that gobbling up land in order to spread the faith is precisely what Islam has always done.
Within 100 years of Muhammad’s death, Islam had conquered all of North Africa and Spain as well. And the conquests continued for many centuries. About half of the world’s great empires were Islamic empires and some of them were of immense size and power.
However, when discussing present day Islamic expansion, it’s important to realize that expansion is not always a matter of conquest and the acquisition of new territory. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation hasn’t added any new members for quite a while, but that doesn’t mean that the Islamic world hasn’t been expanding.
In recent decades Islam has increased its influence through a combination of high birth rates, migration, and jihad terror.
We’re all familiar with examples of Islam’s population boom. Many Western citizens were surprised to learn about a decade ago that “Muhammad” was the most popular name for baby boys in several European cities; that Muslim children in cities such as Vienna and Birmingham outnumbered Christian children; and that Muslims had established “no-go zones” in some 750 locations in France—usually in suburban areas of major cities such as Paris, Lyon, and Marseille.
But Europe had a small Muslim population to begin with. So, the increase in the Muslim population wasn’t as noticeable at first. It is now, however. A recent Harris poll of French people revealed that 61 percent are worried that Europe’s white, Christian populations are being threatened with extinction by immigration from African and Muslim countries.
In one of Hemingway’s novels, one of the characters offers a succinct explanation of how he went bankrupt: “two ways, gradually and then suddenly.” Europe is still in the “gradual” phase of demographic bankruptcy, but it is fast approaching “suddenly.”
In Africa, where population is more evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, the situation is more critical. North Africa, of course, is almost totally Muslim, and has been for centuries. But there’s a possibility that sub-Saharan Africa could eventually follow suit. That’s because the Muslim population in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow at a faster rate than the Christian population. Between 2010 to 2050, according to the Pew Research Center, the Muslim population is projected to increase by 170 percent versus a 115 percent increase for Christians
That figure, however, doesn’t take into account the war of attrition that Muslim jihadists are waging against Christians throughout Africa. The actual decline of the Christian population in Africa is probably much higher. Except for the fact that Christianity in Africa is of a hardier sort than that practiced in Europe, one might say that Africa is much closer to the “suddenly” phase.
Surprisingly, relations between Muslims and Christians in Africa were much friendlier in the not-too-distant past. In general, Christians and Muslims were good neighbors to each other. The Islam practiced in the Southern half of Africa seemed to be of a more relaxed nature than that practiced in Saudi Arabia far to the north.
But eventually the radical message of the Iranian Revolution seems to have filtered down to some, if not all, of the sub-Saharan Muslim population. Which brings us to another factor that needs to be considered when discussing the expansion of Islam.
Population shifts, especially those that result from migration, always cause friction. But the amount of friction is usually a factor of the cultural distance between the two populations that rub up against each other.
Islamic culture post-1979 had far more rough edges than the Islam that Europeans and Africans were accustomed to.
We often hear that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, and that radical Muslims make up only a tiny minority. Forty-four years ago, that might have been the case. Prior to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, most of the Muslim world was fairly moderate.
During most of the twentieth Century, many of the major Muslim powers were ruled by secular strong men such as Ataturk in Turkey. the Shahs in Iran, Nasser in Egypt, Hussein in Iraq, and Assad in Syria. Many of these leaders looked to the West as a model of progress. Western Ideas, Western conveniences, Western clothing, and Western entertainment set the standard—at least in the larger cities.
Meanwhile, the religion of Islam was either suppressed (as in Turkey) or ignored. Kemal Ataturk once referred to Islam as the “theology of an immoral Arab,” entirely unsuited to a “modern progressive state.” And during the 1960s President Nasser of Egypt joked publicly about the impossibility of making women wear the hijab (as demanded by the Muslim Brotherhood). The large audience to which he spoke was quite appreciative of the joke. The hijab, they were sure, was a thing of the past.
The climate of the times is captured in an article by Ali A. Allawi, a former Iraqi cabinet minister. Here’s an excerpt:
I was born into a mildly observant Muslim family in Iraq. At that time, the 1950s, secularism was ascendant among the political, cultural, and intellectual elites of the Middle East. It appeared to be only a matter of time before Islam would lose whatever hold it still had on the Muslim world… To an impressionable child, it was clear that society was decoupling from Islam.
In short, Islam’s moderate era, was the result, in part, of a loss of faith in Islam.
Paradoxically, the perception that the faith was slipping away was also the cause of its renewal. In 1979, the jihadist Islam of the past came roaring back. With the Iranian Revolution and the ascendance to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini, everything changed. Miniskirts were no longer worn in Tehran, and Islam was once again taken very seriously. As Khomeini once remarked, “there are no jokes in Islam.”
Moreover, the Iranian Revolution set off a chain reaction. Like the French Revolution, its ideas and ideals were soon exported to other nations. Hardly any Muslim nation was left untouched by Iran’s overthrow of the Shah. Khomeini had reminded them that Islam is a militant religion—that each Muslim has a duty to wage jihad for the sake of Allah to the best of his abilities.
One of the more unexpected converts to militant Islam was Turkey. In a matter of a dozen years, President Recep Erdogan was able to transform Turkey from the thoroughly secular state created by Ataturk to something more reminiscent of the early Ottoman Empire. Indeed, it’s no secret that Erdogan has long wanted to restore the Caliphate—with himself as Caliph.
One way to accomplish this aim was to invade Europe—not with soldiers, but with migrants. As Muhammad had shown in his conquest of Medina, migration could be employed in the service of jihad.
Erdogan realized this, but Europeans did not. They had fallen in love with the concept of multiculturalism and with the multicultural belief that, beneath the surface differences, all peoples and all cultures are essentially the same. They were sure that once the migrants realized how welcoming Europe was, they would quickly assimilate.
But Erdogan had other ideas. When he spoke to an audience of 20,000 Turks gathered in Cologne, Germany, he told them that “Assimilation is a crime against humanity.” Moreover, he encouraged Turkish families in Europe to have not just three, but five children apiece. Erdogan seems to look at Muslims in Europe, not simply as migrants, but as the advance units of an army.
Although we still cling to the hope that the vast majority of Muslims are moderates, Islam is at heart a radical religion. It’s all about transforming the world. And, almost by definition, moderate people are not out to change the world. The alarming expansion of Islam’s size and influence over the last four decades owes more to those who were inspired by Muhammad’s conquering spirit, than to those “mildly observant” Muslims described by Ali Allawi.
That’s not to say that the Muslim world’s secular leaders were a peaceful lot. Although Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser was nominally a Muslim, his government was basically secular. But that didn’t prevent him from attacking Israel on several occasions. His motivation, however, had more to do with Arab nationalism than with Islam.
Arab nationalism is no longer the force that it once was, but the appeal of militant Islam is still strong—even stronger as a result of the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan.
However, Putin’s vicious attack on Ukraine has now distracted us from the Taliban and the boost they have given to the international jihad. Compared to Russia’s army and its possession of nuclear weapons, the threat from jihadists suddenly seems like small potatoes.
But just as Putin was mistaken to underestimate the strength of Ukrainian resistance, we would be mistaken to underestimate the appeal and the persistence of jihad.
It would also be a mistake to expect the forces of jihad to arrive at our borders in the same way that Putin’s army arrived on the borders of Ukraine—with 200,000 troops backed by tanks, heavy artillery, fighter jets and long-range missiles.
Stealth jihadists are already inside the borders of all Western countries, and they are using Erdogan’s methods, not Putin’s. They’re taking advantage of our romance with diversity, shaming us for our “Islamophobia,” bribing our universities to present Islam in a positive light, and demanding increased levels of Muslim migration. Meanwhile, as Joe Biden promised, Muslims are now working at every level of his delusional administration.
We have every reason to be alarmed by Putin’s brutal and reckless tactics, but we can’t afford to forget that in radical Islam we face an equally determined and ruthless enemy.