The Great Game Reaches An End-Game
When a group of deluded North Africans went on their Barcelona rampage, a friend of mine was working in her office nearby, and found herself trapped there. With no previous experience of such an event, she was profoundly shocked. Her reaction reminded me of the woman in the rubble of the Twin Towers beseeching; ‘Why do they hate us?’
Such attacks comes the knowledge that ‘terrorists’ (rather too potent a term for a coward who drives a car into children) can only ever lose because they exist on the most extreme isolated end of any social graph. There have been 90 attacks in 21 countries. 1,400 people have died. Even one death is appalling, but it’s not a war. Attempts to create a caliphate across Iraq, Syria and beyond have failed. The area under control has shrunk from 34,000 square miles to just over 23,000, kept in place by the use of fear and brutality.
Type ‘Islam Extremists’ into Google and you’ll probably end up being directed to one of the many rabid survivalist websites that exist in places like Texas, which hasn’t exactly been on the receiving end of attacks (ISIS claimed responsibility for one attack outside a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Texas (!) but offered no proof). You don’t prevent violence by exclusion. You keep your would-be enemies close. You don’t isolate, you communicate.
But nor do you align extremism with legitimate protest, as Trump has done. And you don’t build walls, because history shows that all walls come down. In London we have lived with bombs all our lives. That the followers of the so-called Islamic State are down to knives and rented cars says a lot about the disenfranchisement of young men in supposedly democratic societies. It is an ongoing tragedy to be weathered, but if we learn anything from the past, it’s that the Great Game is over.
‘The Great Game’ was a term used to describe the series of political and diplomatic confrontations that took place during most of the 19th century between Britain and Russia over Afghanistan and its neighbours. Russia was fearful of British commercial and military inroads into Central Asia. We were worried that Russia add ‘the jewel in the crown’, India, to its empire. Eventually, of course, the British and the Russians colluded over the territories. America waded in with good intentions and accidentally created the heroin trade. About the Great Game, it eventually said; ‘The more we know about Afghanistan, the more we would be better off leaving them alone.’
But Europe and especially the USA had powerful reasons for continuing to interfere. Oil pipelines and the political ideologies of allies were at stake. America accidentally created the heroin trade after hydroelectric dams brought seawater inland (one of the few crops that can grow in such water is poppies). The lessons of the Great Game were not learned. The extreme-Islam diaspora spread and festered, and some of the world’s most impoverished, inhospitable territories attempted to take revenge.
Obama made mistakes, but Trump is only concerned with his personal approval ratings, which turns him into a dangerous innocent. And the last 150 years has seen more than its fair share of blundering children in politics. How we behave now will decide whether this tragedy can finally be ended.