The threatening conflagration of the Islamic world

David Brooks had an interesting – and worrying – article in the New York Times on August 29, in which he quoted this assessment of the Arab crisis which – in more optimistic times – we used to call the Arab Spring.

The strife appears to be spreading. Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq is spiking upward. Reports in The Times and elsewhere have said that many Iraqis fear their country is sliding back to the worst of the chaos experienced in the last decade. Even Turkey, Pakistan, Bahrain and Kuwait could be infected. “It could become a regional religious war similar to that witnessed in Iraq 2006-2008, but far wider and without the moderating influence of American forces,” wrote Gary Grappo, a retired senior Foreign Service officer with long experience in the region.

“It has become clear over the last year that the upheavals in the Islamic and Arab world have become a clash within a civilization rather than a clash between civilizations,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote recently. “The Sunni versus Alawite civil war in Syria is increasingly interacting with the Sunni versus Shiite tensions in the Gulf that are edging Iraq back toward civil war. They also interact with the Sunni-Shiite, Maronite and other confessional struggles in Lebanon.”

The borders of Islam remain bloody but the heartlands of the Middle East and North Africa now seem far more threatening. The dimensions, the character, and the irrationality of this conflict are such that the rest of the world may have little option other than looking on in horror.

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