Sunday, November 14, 2004

Ring of Fire: From Krakatoa to a Country Near You

On Tuesday, October 2, 1883, a Dutch soldier in the port town of Banten, Indonesia, was carrying out rescue and recovery operations in the wake of the Krakatoa eruption. Suddenly, a bearded man dressed in white and carrying a curved dagger jumped him from behind, and began stabbing the soldier repeatedly.

And thus, says Simon Winchester, author of Krakatoa, the Day the World Exploded, began the Islamic rebellion against the Dutch colonialists who had commercialized Indonesia, eventually turning the country into the world’s largest Muslim country – 231,000,000 and growing rapidly. Winchester’s book makes the claim that the Krakatoa eruption was not just a geophysical event, but also a geopolitical one.

Indonesia has generally been considered a “moderate” Muslim country – its roots in Javanese mysticism have historically leavened the harshness of Islam’s Arab origins. In the 1980s and 1990s, Jakarta was a booming international city where Western business flourished and was encouraged – American businessmen swarmed over the capitol city to establish new manufacturing sites for their products. But the business climate has dramatically changed, with the Bali bombings, the ongoing Islamic militant uprisings throughout the archipelago, and the policies of the former Megawati administration.

The conflicts within Indonesia are symptomatic of a wider Ring of Fire between Islamic and non-Muslim countries, reaching from the Philippines, through Thailand, China, India, the Caucuses, the Balkans, Greater Europe, Spain, down through Sudan, Nigeria, Namibia, and the entire continent of Africa. The inability of assimilation or peaceful co-existence between these two cultures is the central thesis of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.

These external conflicts are also a manifestation of the internal civil war between Islamic radicals and non-militants, where this fault line is growing.

In geology, the Ring of Fire refers to the clashing of tectonic plates and their resultant volcanic activity. We’re witnessing another Ring of Fire, as unpredictable and potentially as lethal as the Krakatoa eruption.