House of War, House of Peace


The Islamic theology divides the world into two parts: Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb, or the House of Islam and the House of War. Sometimes, the House of Islam is translated as the House of Peace, since many will tell you that “Islam means peace”. More correctly, Islam means submission (to the will of Allah), which I guess is one way to achieve peace, though it’s not my preferred one. Regardless of the merits of various translations, the binarity sees the major divide between the Muslim ummah, or the community of believers, and the rest of the world inhabited by the unbelievers. The House of War will be at conflict – and subject to conflict – until it converts to Islam, and thus joins the ummah in peace or submission.

It is a sad irony then, that at the dawn of the new year, the House of War is virtually free of war and organised violence, while overwhelmingly conflict and bloodshed are confined within the House of Peace.

With the peace (as in the end of the civil war variety, not the submission one) descending on Colombia, both Americas are currently free of conflict for the first time in decades. Violence there is still aplenty, but it’s of a criminal kind rather than politically motivated (particularly in Mexico). Similarly, this is not to say that Cuba or Venezuela are currently pleasant places to live, merely that they are socialism-torn as opposed to war-torn. With the exit stage left of Colombia’s FARC (my second favourite guerrilla acronym after MILF in the Philippines), Latin America is no longer FARCed, at least not in this regard.

In fact, the only three significant conflicts going on throughout the House of War are the smouldering civil wars in Congo and the Central African Republic, and the separatist violence in eastern Ukraine, otherwise known as the proxy war between Kiev and Moscow, and that has been relatively quiet since September last year.

All the other armed conflicts, civil wars and insurgencies involve at least one Muslim party, and in by far the bloodiest ones all the parties profess themselves the followers of the Prophet.

In his famous 1993 article “The Clash of Civilisations”, which later grow into a book of the same title, Samuel Huntington famously wrote that:

In Eurasia, the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations, from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.

Huntington added that Islam also has “bloody innards”, referring to all the intra-Muslim conflicts. At the time, he was crucified, so to speak, by his academic colleagues and commentators for daring to pick on a religion that wasn’t Christianity and express a very incorrect opinion about its seeming role in modern violence.

Huntington was right then, and he was even more correct now, posthumously, with many of the conflicts without Muslims resolved and many new ones involving Muslims erupting and continuing since then. Religion – Islam, in this case – is of course not the only factor playing role in the ongoing violence; there are also race, ethnicity, economic competition for scarce resources, and often outside interference, but Islam seems to be the one common thread running through all these violence hot spots around the world, or to be more precise through what I would call the Islamic Crescent from the North Africa, through the Middle East to the South-East Asia:

Conflict in Mali, the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, civil wars in Libya and Somalia, conflict of the old Sudan, low-level insurgencies in Egypt and Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, war in Yemen, civil wars in Syria and Iraq, the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, Taliban in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, conflict in Kashmir, low-level insurgencies in southern Russia and the Caucasus, the Uighur unrest in China, sectarian violence in Myanmar and insurgencies in Thailand and the Philippines. In addition, many other countries of the Islamic Crescent, from Tunisia to Indonesia, while free of outright conflict, continue to struggle with the spectre of Islamist terrorism. The same Islamist terrorism is also being exported to the countries of the House of War, notably throughout Europe, but also the United States and Australia.

We should avoid feeling too self-righteous, however. Last century, tens of millions of people died in wars of ideology – nationalism, imperialism, racism, fascism, Nazism, communism, liberalism and democracy – and not of religion, even if for some of these ideologies (Nazism, communism) these were partly the wars of anti-religion. If not ourselves, then our parents certainly have lived through the times of ideological bloodshed of the Cold War. The House of Islam might have been at war within and without for a long time now, but the peace in the House of War is a relatively new phenomenon – and only until the United States, Russia and Chins give us another world war.

Still, the opposite reaction of denying the obvious or trying to explain it away, is just as hubristic. Twenty-three years on, Islam’s borders and innards are still bleeding, which is a tremendous tragedy in itself for the tens of millions of people caught up in these conflicts, but it is also a challenge for the rest of us, sitting in our safety, who nevertheless continue to get splattered by the blood.