We are beginning to use words, phrases, and assertions without any regard to their meaning. The predicate "Islamist extremism is the defining characteristic of the 21st century" ignores we are now in year eight of this century — with 92 more years to go. No one can possibly know what will define our century over the next nine decades.
What is now emerging in neurosciences at George Mason University or in the convergence of information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and robotics at Arizona State University is bound to have more of an impact on this century than the Taliban's flat-Earth clerics in Pakistan and Afghanistan and al-Qaida's volunteers for suicide terrorism against modernity.
Next to the magnitude of coming scientific attractions, a Shariah-based, global-terror caliphate will hold little appeal for "volunteer" suicide bombers. An act of terrorism with weapons of mass destruction would only accelerate al-Qaida's demise.
Nanotech scientists are already addressing societal needs for sustainable sources of energy, personalized medicine and clean water. A nanometer-sized particle is a tiny fraction of the size of a living cell. The width of a human hair is approximately 80,000 nanometers. Cloning humans with different character traits is now feasible, as is the building of a new animal species with different abilities and physical characteristics never seen before.
A sheep named Dolly was the Model T Ford of biotechnology.
Self-delusion in Washington has led our presidential candidates to conclude that democrats in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as democrats inheriting political power from the ruling families in the Gulf, will provide the kind of democratic freedom that will asphyxiate terrorists. But precisely the opposite phenomenon is occurring.
Pakistan's new democrats are already negotiating sub rosa with the Taliban in the tribal areas on the Afghan border. The Taliban will keep their privileged sanctuaries. These, in turn, shelter al-Qaida's operatives.
Saudi royals, on the other hand, have quietly but systematically suppressed would-be terrorists in the kingdom. Five other Gulf states are following the Saudi example.
The U.S. "democracy crusade" gave power to Hamas in Gaza as well as to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and to the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the region. Hamas also runs an extensive underground network in the West Bank.
In 1908, Norman Angell was hard at work on "Europe's Optical Illusion," which became an international best seller in 1910, titled "The Great Illusion." Angell posited the defining characteristic of the 20th century was the economic interdependence of the major powers, which made a general war impossible. He wrote any disruption of international credit caused by a European war would either deter its outbreak or speedily end it.
Both assumptions were dreadfully wrong.
Two bullets on a sunny June day in Sarajevo in 1914 that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife, also triggered a series of events that shaped our world today — World War I, communism and fascism, World War II, the demise of European empires, the rise of the Soviet empire, the Cold War, the Space Age, the collapse of the Soviet empire and the defeat of the world's communist parties, the Nuclear Age, victory of democracy, and the advent of Islamist extremism and its goal of defeating Western democracies and building a global caliphate.
Defining characteristic of the next 92 years? As unpredictable today as it was in 1908 for the 20th century.
When one factors in the world's shrinking resources, one doesn't have to be a descendant of Nostradamus or a clairvoyant to see trouble ahead. In "The Nostradamus Code: World War III," Michael Rathford sifts through the French prophet's famous quatrains and puts forth 2008-2012 as the next "Time of Troubles" that will zap planet Earth with war, despair, and evil, but also with hope and promise. That this will happen in some form at some stage over the next 92 years is as certain as anything can be.
What was the 20th century's "defining characteristic"? The defeat of brown, black and red shirts, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the triumph of democracy over totalitarianism and an urgent message to future generations: Democracy sans discipline doesn't work. Witness France and Germany, Italy and Spain, between the two world wars.
Now the most urgent geopolitical need is for another Martin Luther King Jr., better still a Martin Luther clone, to lead Islam's fundamentalist extremists out of the mental wilderness where they now vegetate. The three U.S. presidential candidates should also remind themselves that the war we are fighting is against terrorists, not terrorism, which has been a weapons system from time immemorial.
America's 44th president should not be afraid to think the impossible and act unpredictably, always leaving opponents and detractors panting for breath to catch up.
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