For perhaps a hundred and fifty years—since the end of the American Civil War--Western Man has grown rich because of freedom, technology and the growth of consumer-driven economies. Western Man has created a civilization based on materialism. It works. That civilization has expanded exponentially.
All across Westernized nations, mechanization, science and electronics brought a TV to every living room and a car to practically every garage. The wealth of the West has reduced individual poverty, increased life expectancy and decreased infant mortality.
For this expanding civilization, literacy is up, deadly childhood diseases are down and high school graduation became the norm, not the exception. Western man has become better fed, better educated, better dressed and better entertained than any of his ancestors.
But the expansion of civilization may have peaked. Since the 9/11/2001 Jihadi terror attacks against America, individual wealth has declined. Both unemployment and underemployment have skyrocketed in Western nations. National debts rise. Per capita income drops. Political dissatisfaction increases.
All this has happened as Muslim immigrants have poured into Western nations.
Since 2001, global freedom has declined. Freedom has been important to Western man. It’s been linked repeatedly to national wealth, a growing sense of personal safety and the spread of human rights.
But freedom has eroded in each of the last eight years—a record string of annual declines (Freedom in the World 2014, Freedom House). Increasingly, national leaders are developing their own form of ‘modern authoritarianism’ (ibid). With this style of governing, shrewd leaders cripple political opposition without annihilating it. They flout the rule of law—but maintain a veneer of order, legitimacy, and prosperity (ibid).
More and more, these modern dictators control political and social institutions. They dominate the government. They gain control of the media, judiciary and security forces (ibid). Not coincidentally, democracy falters (ibid).
When global democracy erodes, two things happen. Civilization retreats. Chaos expands.
Concurrent with the retreat of freedom, there is an unravelling of social order and personal safety. One expression of this unravelling is The Failed States Index (for more info on this Index, see the website for The Fund for Peace). The Index has just been renamed. It’s now called, The Fragile State Index.
The title has been changed because there is a growing realization that all states, to different degrees, face conditions that threaten the livelihoods of their citizens, thereby increasing a state’s ‘fragility’ (“Fragile States Index,” Foreign Policy Magazine, 2013). According to the latest index, 77% (138) of the 178 countries studied are less than ‘stable’. Many qualify to be called, ‘Fragile States’ (“As the World Turns: Will the West Prevail?”, Middle East Forum, September/October 2014).
Instead of an expanding civilization zone—which we saw for almost a century and-a-half-- the world now sees greater ‘fragility’. It sees a growing number of states that have descended into chaos, with a number of other countries threatening to follow them (ibid). These fallen and failing states turn their political geography into a ‘chaos zone’ (ibid).
The worst part of this ‘chaos zone’ starts in Africa and spreads up through the Arab Middle East. The ‘Arab Spring’, fighting in Syria, Somalia, Eretria, South Sudan, the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic all combine with the Islamic State to form a toxic ‘chaos zone’. In this zone, states cease to exist as functioning governments. In the place of ‘government’, tribal factionalism and/or religious terrorism replace all hope of order, law and civilization.
Most of the top ten on the Fragile State Index are disintegrating—or close to it (“The Fragile State Index”, ibid). Some argue that we can’t afford to dismiss these disintegrating states (“As the world turns”, ibid). We can’t look at them as disconnected from civilization (ibid) because they connect to civilization.
The predatory rulers of the ‘chaos zone’ often use civilization for ruthless ends. They buy weapons, computers and medicine from civilization (ibid). In exchange, they sell diamonds, precious stones, human trafficking, drugs, stolen oil and money laundering opportunities (ibid). In 2009, they collected some $870 billion in revenues from these sales (ibid).
Some of that revenue is used to spread chaos.
For example, the Islamic State (ISIS) has recently published a series of strategic and operation ‘tips’ for Jihadi operatives in Egypt (“ISIS’s public support for the Egyptian jihadi organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, encouraging it to escalate the campaign of terror against the Egyptian regime. In turn, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi”, The Meir Amit Terrorism and Information Center, November 12, 2014). At some level, ISIS joins with Al Qaeda and other Jihadi groups to peddle its chaos (ibid).
ISIS is the richest terror organization in the world. It has $2 billion in assets. It can earn $3 million a day (“Wealthy Terrorists Don’t Need Foreign Aid”, Commentary, November 13, 2014). It has money to spend to spread its chaos.
The spreading ‘chaos zone’ is not passive. Much of it serves an active world-wide Jihadi ideology. That ideology aims to destroy Western civilization. That ideology expands. It expands in the Middle East. It secures beachheads among Muslim immigrant communities in Europe and North America (“As the world turns…”, ibid). It expands at civilization’s expense.
The chaos zone versus civilization: it’s what’s new for the 21st Century.