The new cartographers

Names by which we know the nations are blotted out and new names appear. Old boundaries are erased and expanded, new lines are drawn

The new cartographers


Every dream begins with a map. We begin to map out our perceptions and act on them at a very young age. My oldest son had a dream of escaping his crib. He was a very young lad when he figured out how to climb over the rails and take evasive actions to avoid taking a nap. The younger son did not harbour an escape plan. He was the docile child and his dream was to maintain a food source. So, if taking a nap meant he would awaken to an afternoon snack, he was content.
My own childhood map involved fashion. I would eagerly take a dress catalog and pick out 10 new dresses. Since at any given moment my wardrobe contained half that number, my imagination took flight within the pages of a magazine. After carefully making my choices I would draw an “x” through two or three of them and make new choices. My memories remain very pleasant regarding my early attempts to be a fashionista. Adults also retain their own maps. They are not far removed from the maps of our childhood. We just have greater capability and creativity to place our map in a written or digital form to guide our future actions.
In the prior decade, a new map appeared. It was the simplistic black flag of a future caliphate. I first noted the design on a website run by Chechen separatists. Later, an intellectually complex “dream map” sat across from me at a restaurant in Dallas. This man was a flesh and blood representation of what was embodied in a simple design. He continued to meet with me for lunch over a period of several months. As he ran me through the maze of what it meant to be a US loyalist with close ties to top tier Chechen leadership, I began to understand a bit more regarding personal goals. How these things affect individual risk-taking behaviour remains an amazing thought. With a glimpse of his carefully guarded map I was also better able to understand the tremendous sentiment attached to dreams that reach the skies and across the globe.
As early as 2008, my research was focused on observing the emancipation and self-determination movements that gained full flower in 2012. By 2009, my gaze began to move toward a tributary movement: the invigoration of the clerics who began to align with the populist movements. Later, my pen unleashed. The dynamic was in the category of “fun to watch” and “disastrous to behold”.
Early this year, I noted a new dynamic. It also involves a map. Let me remind you again. Our dreams are what motivate our actions. But what I am seeing is dream maps in digital form. There is a rising class of nouveau cartographers. And they are bent on erasing national boundaries to create new boundaries. These new boundaries are the result of earnest research by the cartographers. They seek Islamic expansionism through the lens of eschatological Islam. Al-Sham. Khorasan. Ahadith. New rudimentary ‘maps’ are popping up as quickly as mushrooms across jihadi portal’s field of dreams.
Perhaps these new cartographers also hold to a saying from a time long ago. Islam “began as something strange, and will end as something strange”. What this means to the cartographers is that the same Islam that sprang up to split the power of the Persian and Byzantine empires is the same powerhouse that can create a new map and political grid in a modern century.
Maps, and more maps, are making it to jihadi portals. Names by which we know the nations are blotted out and new names appear. Old boundaries are erased and expanded, new lines are drawn. Perhaps the new cartographers fail to grasp one very simple fact: within every rudimentary imagined map lie the unclean lines of humanitarian crisis. Just this past week, the new cartographers put 60,000 Syrian Kurds to flight across the border to Turkey. The displaced citizens made the trek with the clothes on their backs and hauling along small suitcases and wares. More than a few shoeless refugee children scampered along. This mad dash occurred during a 24-hour window. The cartographers are so enthralled with their new map that they do not mind slitting the throats of men residing along the Syrian/Turkish border. Would you not also flee?
We all have dreams. We are the guardians of our personal maps. But others cannot be forced to serve as the guarantors of our dreams. Our actions must be predicated with a “first do no harm” clause. And contrary to what appears to be popular nouveau cartographer belief, none of us has a God-given right to pursue our dreams to the detriment of a nation. Our pursuit must be wedded to the greater good.
The US has failed to cordon the new cartographers residing on our soil. Our domestic policy net is frayed. Let me give one small example. A US man sends out a tweet, “As I’ve said b4 inevitable that ‘Caliphate’ returns. Choice only whether we support #EU like Muslim vision or not.” The aforementioned is only one of billions of tweets flying across the globe on any given day. But when that Tweet is sent out by Mohamed Elibiary, a member of the department of homeland security’s advisory council, we are looking at a nouveau cartographer. Mohamed Elibiary would do well to contemplate the words of Thomas Paine: “Those who want to reap the benefits of this great nation must bear the fatigue of supporting it.”
As I always opine: if you are unhappy, please leave. Find your happy place. Live there. At the moment, I doubt there are many people packing their bags for Syria, Iraq or beyond. The world is a more dangerous place because of the caliphate cartographers. Should this flawed experiment in human misery really succeed, the world will be a much sadder place for those living within the boundaries of the new maps.

The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at tammyswofford@yahoo.com