As Americans, we have a natural tendency to believe that world events over the next few years will unfold from September 11. But in truth much of the world will evolve without regard to September 11. Civil wars will continue, diseases will break out, and local economic crises will run their course. The challenge is to anticipate how these other processes will intersect with the war on terrorism.
We saw an example of such intersection after the start of the air campaign in Afghanistan, when anti-Americanism among Muslims in northern Nigeria sparked a pogrom that left hundreds of local Christians dead or wounded. Intercommunal riots have been on the increase in Nigeria for years—the result, in part, of rising numbers of young males and the destabilizing effects of democratization, which have strengthened the forces of religious mobilization. The collision of these factors with America's anti-terror campaign ignited the recent violence.
What other existing trends are likely to collide with the war on terrorism—and how?
In the Middle East the war on terrorism could have the unintended consequence of disturbing regional politics to a degree unknown since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Remember that the war has been launched at a time when secular-nationalist regimes in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq are so vulnerable that only the sons of dictators are trusted to succeed the dictators. Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are all facing, at best, Mexican-style political and economic disorder, without Mexico's advantage of a long border with a First World country to which it can export millions of jobless workers and from which it can import billions of investment dollars. Because of economic and cultural transformation tied to urbanization, the next generation of Arab autocrats will, like their Mexican counterparts today, not be permitted to rule as autocratically as their predecessors. Yet none of these countries is capable of sustainable parliamentary democracy, not even to the limited degree that Mexico has achieved.