On his site, Wheeler includes a subscription article comparing the Aztecs with Arabs: “Both the Arabs and the Aztecs invented a religion of jihad as a rationale to justify their imperialist empires. …”
“War – Holy War – became the purpose of the Aztec state. All soldiers in the Aztec army were holy warriors, warriors of the gods. Peace was dangerous. No war meant no prisoners to sacrifice, no food for the gods, which risked the destruction of mankind and the universe itself. The only way to avoid cosmic disaster was for the Aztecs to accept the burden fate had given them and wage perpetual war for the salvation of humanity.
“All in all, a pretty clever rationalization for a monstrous imperialist tyranny, wouldn’t you say? Sounds like they were taking religion-inventing lessons from the Arabs.”
There is a similarity between the dynamics of the Aztec Empire and modern Arab states.
The rapid increase in the number of human sacrifices in the last decades of the Aztec Empire most likely resulted from internal competition between the priest class and the warrior class. To maintain or increase their dominance of the warrior class, the priests needed to keep them occupied, preferably somewhere far away. Wars for captives to sacrifice served this function admirably. (Other sacrifice victims came as “tribute” from already conquered peoples.) The more victims brought to the priests, the more they demanded. A positive feedback loop was created.
Things got so bad that when utterly alien beings with skin like corpses, riding giant deer, with magical weapons showed up and tried to overthrow the Aztecs, the non-Aztec peoples of meso-America flocked to the aliens’ banner.
The same sort of internal competition drives a lot a Islamic terrorism. The terrorists come from groups marginalized from the halls of power. They use terrorism against non-Muslims to raise their visibility and status within Islamic societies. (The actual impact on their non-Muslim targets is largely incidental.) Unanswered by the West, terrorism came to be seen by Muslims as the only means of exerting power in the world. Soon a fierce competition broke out between the marginalized and central groups, to determine who could be seen as striking out the most. The cycle gradually escalated until 9/11 finally provoked a real response from the West.
Like the Aztec warrior and priest classes, many Muslims now wonder why they have no allies. Like the Aztecs, they suddenly realize that they face an external opponent much more powerful than themselves. Like the Aztecs, they face total destruction if they can’t change.
Europeans destroyed the empires of the Aztecs and Incas almost by accident (the disease weapon was totally accidental), using only a trivial amount of the military force available to them. The same enormous gulf of power exists between the west and the Islamic world today. The things we could technically do to Islamic nations are terrifying to even contemplate. It would make the fall of the Aztecs look like a friendly boxing match.
We need to wean the Islamic world away from terrorism, less because of what they can do to us but more because of what we can do to them.