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.


7 comments on “The Great Game Reaches An End-Game”

  1. Peter Dixon says:

    Its sad that we are still suffering from ‘diplomatic’ decisions made some 120 years ago.

    The ridiculous pomposity that Britain and other powerful countries had some sort of moral supremacy over ‘inferior races’ still resonates with the like of the Brexit vote.

    The poison of the Boxer Rebellion and the opium Wars together with the heroin trade was entirely designed and propagated by Britain and America.

    The British couldn’t sort out Afghanistan, nor the Russians and now America. Ultimately its got nothing to do with us and we should leave it alone and stop supplying weapons while blocking the market for its illicit products.

    The west continues to look like a bunch of lunatics – Trump proves every day that Democracy is a sham as long as you allow patent narcissists to seek votes. He should have been thrown out at his first attempt.

    America is fast becoming a dangerous menace to the world because it allows a level of intolerant underclass to influence world decisions, giving power to people who have little understanding of the wider world and are more interested in their own twitter accounts than a great nation.

    Its time, in America and England ( I’m no longer convinced about the term Great Britain) to look at what democracy is really about and not allow the world to backslide because of a lot of questionable voting systems. In the US and the UK we should look at total votes and not moveable electoral boundarys. We can actually do that now, not work on a system thats over 120 years old and, clearly, not fit for purpose.

  2. Vivienne says:

    I have wondered why, to help stabilise Afghanistan, the West, (US, UK, Europe) could not agree to buy up all of Afghanistan’s poppy crop. We must need a lot of it for legitimate morphine in hospitals, and the rest could be destroyed or kept for addicts if we ever got sensible enough to legalise some drugs. They have almost no other source of income so there’s bound to be extreme dissatisfaction and poverty as things stand.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Just as Russia was withdrawing from Afghanistan we had a representative from the US State department speak at a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon. He went on and on about how the US would just go in there and clean out the mess, a few strategically place bombs and missels should do the trick. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing so when question time came I rather babbled a bit in asking if losing an entire army in those mountains didn’t teach them anything and look what happened to the Russians. You know that sound in books emitted by retired colonels, that harrumph thing? I swear that was what I heard from the other side of the room and someone closer to me said that I sounded like those protesters “we keep seeing across the street” (at the US consulate). My husband got a phone call from his partner telling him to “keep his wife on a leash”. Why can’t anyone learn lessons from the people who have been that way before?
    We were to have an anti-immigration, anti-islamic rally at Vancouver City Hall today and by the pictures I’ve seen so far (I had a funeral to go to) the numbers of anti – rallyists was hugely bigger than the anti-immigration people. The street was filled and as one reporter said, it sounded more like a party than a rally. Haven’t seen anything about the rightist people yet.

  4. Guillaume says:

    I am willing to admit that my country is the current best argument against democracy. Currently. There have been others before, and will be more again. Democracy is a tough thing to handle.

    Why couldn’t we listen when we were told it takes eternal vigilance, i.e., smarts?

  5. Steveb says:

    I know I’ve posted this before but as far as Afghanistan goes Bitter Lake is a must see. On youtube

  6. Peter Tromans says:

    History isn’t to learn from: it’s to find material to hit others on the head with.

    The justice system between nations is much as the public system: it’s not to protect the weak from the criminal, but the rich and powerful from the poor.

    Could go on to democracy without education, but even my cynicism has to be limited…

  7. Jan says:

    Do you reckon this is at endgame?

    It was a terrible thing this latest atrocity in Barcelona. If it hadn’t been for an accidental explosion in the middle of last week which prevented this group from having access to a large amount of gas canisters the carnage and damage would have been much much worse.

    This is bigger than the Great game – the Afghan issue. Bigger still than the truly dreadful way Britain and France divided up North Africa at the end of World War 1 dividing the nation’s in such a way the that tribal + enlarged family issues and religious schism would keep these nations inherently unstable and in this way open to influence from Europe and Russia. This piece of work led Lawrence of Arabia to leave the Paris conference leading up to the creation of the new countries back in the early 1920s. A century later those dreadful decisions caused the mass migration of people running from danger out of these lands.

    This conflict between Islam and the West has been a bubbling undercurrent through the centuries. subjugated nations are the perfect breeding grounds for terrorism, hatred and resentment Ireland and Britain know that.

    There’s no immediate answer that I can see for this one. Mr. Fowler is right though about communication. If at all possible you keep everyone on side, we stick together as a cohesive whole. Don’t isolate communicate. Then hopefully through time perceptions change.

    Don’t count on anything changing too quickly though.

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