WASHINGTON--We've had unintended wars. We've had phony wars. We've had a Soccer War (Honduras-El Salvador, 1969). But not since the War of Jenkins' Ear--sparked by Spanish mistreatment of British seamen, including one Capt. Robert Jenkins, whose display to the House of Commons of his severed ear launched a war on the Spanish nasties in October 1739--have we had anything quite as, well, idiosyncratic as the War of Parsley Point.
What else to call the conflict over Perejil (Spanish for parsley), a God-forsaken rocky island the size of a soccer field a few hundred yards off the Moroccan coast that technically belongs to Spain and that Morocco seized July 11 by force: a dozen soldiers, two tents and a flag?
More farce then force. The reaction was something worthy of ``The Mouse that Roared." You half expected Peter Sellers, dressed in drag, to be leading the Spanish invasion force to kick the Moroccans out. In fact, Spain sent what, by current end-of-history European standards, was quite an armada: two frigates, three patrol boats, a helicopter and a boatload of threats. On Wednesday, Spain cashed in the threats, retaking the island with ridiculous overkill: warships, special ground forces, helicopters and combat aircraft. The remaining six Moroccans surrendered.
It is hard to take all of this seriously, since it comes on the heels of the accidental British invasion of Spain earlier this year. Royal Marines in Gibraltar went out to practice beach landings but missed by a couple of miles and stormed a beach in neighboring Spain. ``They landed on our coast with typical commando tactics,'' said the mayor of La Linea de la Concepcion proudly. ``But we managed to hold them on the beach."
After Morocco's non-accidental ``invasion'' of Perejil, everybody got into the act . The European Union declared ``its full solidarity with Spain." NATO, which could not even use this worthless rock for target practice, weighed in on Spain's side, too. The Arab League predictably lined up with its fellow Arabs, declaring Perejil ``a Moroccan island."
Not exactly ``The Guns of August,'' although the way far-flung allies, who had not even heard of this misbegotten rock till last week, lined up instantly behind one or the other of the aggrieved parties had an eerie ghostly echo.
Now, Morocco will hardly go to war over Parsley Point. For one thing, Morocco is no match for Spain. For another, the timing of the whole stunt, during the three-day wedding of the Moroccan king, Mohammed VI, turned the invasion into a cheap, if bizarre, wedding present to himself and the nation.
Nonetheless, this comedy holds some serious lessons. Europe berates the United States for holding on to primitive notions of sovereignty at a time when the sophisticated Europeans are yielding sovereignty to Brussels, adopting the euro, wallowing in Kyoto and, most recently, genuflecting to the newly established International Criminal Court. Yet here they are lining up in lock step to defend Spanish sovereignty over a piece of worthless rock that only dubiously belongs to Spain, by supposed attachment to the other dubiously claimed Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, that in turn are little more than colonial anachronisms on the coast of North Africa. This same Europe heaps scorn on the United States for defending an infinitely more serious sovereign claim--to democratic legal jurisdiction over its own citizens and soldiers--rather than yielding it to the arbitrariness of the new criminal court.
Even more important, however, is that the War of Parsley Point reminds us of the corrosive irredentism for Islamic lands long ago taken by the sword and then lost to the sword. We forget Islam's astonishing early successes. From a standing start in the early seventh century, it conquered Arabia, North Africa and Spain within 100 years. Muslims have not forgotten. The later loss of Spain, to say nothing of European colonialism in the Arab world (including what remains of Spanish sovereignty in Morocco), still burns. After all, how did Ayman Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, begin that first post-Sept. 11 celebratory videotape? By invoking the loss of ``Andalusia"--southern Iberia, lost to the Christian infidel the year Columbus sailed the Atlantic. For many in the Islamic world, it happened yesterday.
Much of the conflict in the world today--the Philippines, Kashmir, Chechnya, the West Bank, Sudan, Nigeria, and now on this ridiculous little rock in the Mediterranean--represents the Islamic world, once expanding, long contracting, pushing out once again to reclaim its place in the sun.
As Samuel Huntington has written, the borders of Islam are bloody. At least
in the War of Parsley Point, no one has been killed and no one is likely to be. It will all end with the game being called on account of silliness. The game goes on everywhere else, however, not as farce but as tragedy.