Victor Davis Hanson

Read any newspaper or turn on any news broadcast and you're bound to encounter stories of Islamic radicals fighting, killing and threatening each other — and just about everyone else.

In Somalia, jihadists, with the support of al-Qaida, have clashed with troops loyal to the country’s internationally recognized interim government and now threaten neighboring Ethiopia with all-out war.

Nearby in Darfur, Muslim militiamen called janjaweed are waging genocide against black Christian and animist villagers — apparently with the consent of the Sudanese government.

Shiite and Sunni militias, each claiming to represent true Islam, keep slaughtering each other in Iraq.

Hezbollah (“Party of God”) seeks to destroy democracy in Lebanon by provoking Israel, which it is sworn to eliminate.

On the West Bank, Hamas and Fatah have taken a timeout from their attacks on Israel to murder each other and innocent bystanders.

The Iranian Shiite theocracy — when not hosting Holocaust deniers or sending terrorists into Iraq — issues serial pledges to finish off Israel.

The shaky Pakistani leadership pleads that it can neither target Osama bin Laden nor stop Taliban jihadists hiding out in the remote regions of Pakistan from streaming back into Afghanistan.

In Europe, opera producers, novelists, cartoonists and filmmakers are increasingly circumspect out of fear of death threats from Islamists.

While each conflict is unique and rooted in its own history, the common thread — radical Islam — is obvious. It's thus worth asking why this violent, intolerant strain of Islam has taken hold in so many unstable places — and at this particular time.

The ascent of radical Islam is, perhaps, the natural culmination of a century's worth of failed political systems in Muslim countries that were driven by morally bankrupt ideologies, led by cruel dictators, or both.

In the 1930s, German-style fascism appealed to Arabs in Palestine and Egypt. Soviet-style communism had sympathetic governments in Afghanistan, Algeria and Yemen. Baathism took hold in Syria and Iraq. The secular Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser promised a new pan-Arabism that would do away with colonial borders that divided the “the Arab nation.” Then there is the more pragmatic authoritarianism that survives in Muammar el-Qaddafi's Libya or in the petrol-monarchies in the Gulf.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.