The emergence of the Islamic State group in the Middle East as a ruthless, ambitious political entity bears more world attention than it is getting. Advocating radical Islamic fundamentalism, this group seeks to establish a caliphate—a theological Muslim empire—that will envelop all of Iraq and Syria. To date, it has occupied territory and has imposed a dictated way of life via intimidation and the use of force in these areas. In northern Iraq, it is currently engaged in ethnic cleansing on a “historic scale” of those not adhering to its dictates according to Amnesty International.
The Islamic State also claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide and has further territorial designs on Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey and beyond. Its popularity is due to the impact of a collision of forces—political, religious, military and international—unleashed by the Iraq War in 2003. It is a movement that is threatening the Muslim world and global peace. Around the world, Islamic religious leaders have condemned the group’s radical ideology and actions. The religious leaders state that the group has strayed from the path of Islam and that its actions do not reflect the religion’s teachings or virtues.
The rise of the Islamic State parallels another “ism” that seriously threatened world peace in the last century - Nazism. The Nazi party during the 1930s rose as a major political entity in Germany advocating a new world order. The party’s goal was to establish a Judean-free, thousand-year Third Reich that would envelop all of Eastern Europe for the benefit of a racially pure German Aryan race. Upon attaining political control of Germany, the Nazis initially used intimidation and the threat of the use of military force, then actual armed aggression in gaining their aims. They overtook Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Baltic States, and all of European Russia. Driving the support of the German people for the Nazi goal was the impact of the disastrous results of World War I on Germany. The Nazis ruthlessly implemented political and military authority throughout all of Eastern Europe, which ultimately resulted in the Holocaust, the ethnic cleansing of over 11 million people. Today, the ethnic cleansing in the Middle East is reportedly paralleling this event.
Initial reaction by Europe’s principal powers, Great Britain and France, to the regional threat Nazi Germany posed was a policy of appeasing the Nazis to avoid war. In addition, the U.S. exhibited a policy of isolationism whereby the U.S. chose not to become involved in the affairs of Europe. Russia, viewing the weak response to the Nazis’ aggressive moves by all, initially decided to align itself with Nazi Germany, hoping to avoid any armed conflict. It was a hope that came to a sudden end in June 1941, when Germany invaded Russia. Lacking throughout the 1930s therefore was determined national leadership that would convince its various publics and its countries’ allies that Nazism was a threat to world peace and thus, worth fighting and defeating.
Ultimately, it took a coalition of nations led by an aroused, determined leadership of the U.S., Great Britain, Free France and the Soviet Union to confront and defeat Nazi Germany’s threat to world peace. Faced with a major threat to their core values, security and vital interests, these four nations led an Allied coalition to victory over Nazism during World War II. They attained an unconditional surrender of an “ism” seeking to establish a new world order. Today, there is no such coalition confronting a similar “ism” - radical Islamic fundamentalism. The Islamic State is on the path to expanding its destructive caliphate throughout the region.
Defeating today’s threat to regional stability and world peace will be difficult, but not impossible. If determined leaders can come together to confront the radical Islamic fundamentalists as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin Roosevelt and other Allied leaders came together to defeat the Nazis — history need not repeat itself.
On Jan. 1, 1942, three weeks after the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by Nazi ally Imperial Japan, representatives of 26 countries signed the Declaration of the United Nations. The declaration spelled out the importance of total cooperation among all to conduct full-scale war against Nazi Germany and its partners, with the goal being complete victory. Absent today, however, is such leadership and an allied coalition determined to confront the new threat to regional and world peace.
Does the world have to wait for another U.S. military base to be attacked, another 9/11 or another Holocaust to take action? If the threat of radical Islamic fundamentalism is not met now, will history repeat itself?
Col. Paul Zigo, USA Ret., is the director of the World War II Era Studies Institute, based in New Jersey. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College and holds a master’s degree from Temple University.
Republished with permission of the author. First printed in ARMY Magazine, Vol. 66, No. 4, April 2016.