Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008.

“Mr President.”

“What now?” Obama peeks out from behind the covers of Thomas Piketty’s Capital, which he’s been reading on John Kerry’s recommendation. He found he couldn’t really get past page 421. Kerry must have read it in French. Still, Elizabeth Warren was raving about it, and he didn’t want to look like a complete idiot on the Hill.

“You know those girls in Nigeria, sir?”

“Yes, it’s terrible, Susan. Someone should do something about it.” Back on go the reading glasses.

“Mr President!”

“Oh, sorry you’re right, that someone is me. The First Black President of these United States. My grandfather was a cook you know, a domestic servant for the British. And here I am son of Kenyan and a Kansan leader of —”

“And I’m the second black national security adviser. I’m also the second one called Rice.” She continued, stopping his reverie “and Boko Haram says they will be sold into slavery!”
“Hmm, you have a point there. Better prepare a Strongly Worded Statement in Front of The American Flag.”

The President gestures to a notepad bearing aide who’s just appeared. “Boko Haram’s actions are, uh, an unacceptable violation of, eh, international law. I call on them to deescalate the, uh, situation. Failure to deescalate will lead to costs being imposed…”

“Barack! What difference is that going to make? They’re barbarian terrorist fanatics who don’t think girls should to to school. The only language they understand is force.”

“OK, get me Hagel.”

The aide drops his notepad and scurries out a side door, returning a couple of minutes later with a pristine copy of The Phenomenology of Spirit.

The President begins to look mildly peeved “No, Chuck Hagel, put him on the screen.”

What had appeared to be a bookshelf opens, revealing a large screen, and a connection is made to the Pentagon.

“Mr Secretary. Have you a rescue mission planned? Seals in the air, marines on the ground.”

“We do, but we think it might be dangerous.”

Rice can be seen with difficulty suppressing a splutter. To remain calm she purses her lips Lady Bracknell style as though sucking on an especially bitter lemon.

“We have,” continued the Defense Secretary “been developing a secret weapon. It uses the latest technology.”

“What about casualties”

“None on our side.”

“And civilians?”

“None of those either”


“Absolutely Mr President”

“Is it ready to go.”

“Right Away.

An image of Michelle Obama holding up a sign“ #BringBackOurGirls” appears simultaneously on all their phones.

Susan Rice turns a shade of puce, and at first quietly, her voice rising to glass-shattering pitch:

“A hash taaaaaaaaaaaaaag!”

Had President Obama actually been Muslim perhaps none of this would have happened. As every schoolboy is taught these days, classical Islamic thought divided the world into dar al-harb and dar al-islam. Fundamentalists and ignorant westerners have taken this literally to mean zone of war and zone of Islam. But this does injustice to the political richness of Islamic tradition.

The literal interpretation of snatches of text — a kind of Muslim scholasticism — rather than the attempt to use Mohammed’s life and experience, even as related by the official tradition, led Islam astray. Narrow textual interpretation isn’t the way to understand much of anything. The context of the story being told (opaque as if is in some of the Quranic surahs), as well as the historical situation in which it was compiled and in which the events depicted are taken to have happened convey a much more valuable story.

Unlike our usual Christian-influenced idea of what a prophet should be, Mohammed was also a political leader, and dar al-harb and dar al-islam should be seen as political concepts. The former is no different from Thomas Hobbes’s state of war; the latter his civil society. If the exact form of the civil society over which Mohammed presided was, obviously enough, Mohammedan. (To call it Islamic is to project a later construction onto it; faithful Muslims believe it evolved according to God’s plan, but Mohammed himself, even if he considered himself divinely inspired, would have been too in awe of the Almighty to presume to think that he understood exactly what God had planned for him). The important point is that he tried to bring order to an Arabian peninsula characterized by tribalism, vendettas and clannish disorder. He was a state builder. He understood that the rules dictating justice within the community weren’t much good in dealing with the chaotic world outside it.

Obama would be wise to follow his example, and understand that Twitter-based political campaigns have power inside democracies – not in battles with lawless terrorist fanatics, where force and power are needed. Outside, they’re only useful as a communication tool to be combined with military strategy.

A serious mission could be accompanied by a hashtag of its own. I recommend #TheMarinesHaveGoneIn

22 comments for: Garvan Walshe: The prophet Mohammed, not hashtags, would have sorted out Boko Haram

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