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“Learning to Live With Radical Islam” – Excerpts

I somehow missed this article from Fareed Zakaria (it was published more than two months ago). I believe this needs to be discussed and debated thoroughly. Below are some excerpts from “Learning to Live With Radical Islam” by Fareed Zakaria (Newsweek, Mar 9, ’09). The subtitle is interesting: “We don’t have to accept the stoning of criminals. But it’s time to stop treating all Islamists as potential terrorists.

*** Excerpts “Learning to Live With Radical Islam by Fareed Zakaria ***

…The militants are bad people and this is bad news. But the more difficult question is, what should we—the outside world—do about it? That we are utterly opposed to such people, and their ideas and practices, is obvious. But how exactly should we oppose them? ….but I think it’s also worth stepping back and trying to understand the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism.


…Reports from Nigeria to Bosnia to Indonesia show that Islamic fundamentalists are finding support within their communities for their agenda, which usually involves the introduction of some form of Sharia—Islamic law—reflecting a puritanical interpretation of Islam. No music, no liquor, no smoking, no female emancipation.

The groups that advocate these policies are ugly, reactionary forces that will stunt their countries and bring dishonor to their religion. But not all these Islamists advocate global jihad, host terrorists or launch operations against the outside world—in fact, most do not. Consider, for example, the most difficult example, the Taliban. The Taliban have done all kinds of terrible things in Afghanistan. But so far, no Afghan Taliban has participated at any significant level in a global terrorist attack over the past 10 years—including 9/11. There are certainly elements of the Taliban that are closely associated with Al Qaeda. But the Taliban is large, and many factions have little connection to Osama bin Laden. Most Taliban want Islamic rule locally, not violent jihad globally.

How would you describe Faisal Ahmad Shinwari, a judge in Afghanistan? He has banned women from singing on television and called for an end to cable television altogether. He has spoken out against women and men being educated in the same schools at any age. He has upheld the death penalty for two journalists who were convicted of blasphemy. (Their crime: writing that Afghanistan’s turn toward Islam was “reactionary.”) Shinwari sounds like an Islamic militant, right? Actually, he was appointed chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court after the American invasion, administered Hamid Karzai’s oath of office and remained in his position until three years ago.

…The reality—for the worse, in my view—is that radical Islam has gained a powerful foothold in the Muslim imagination….But the chief reason is the failure of Muslim countries to develop, politically or economically. Look at Pakistan. It cannot provide security, justice or education for many of its citizens. …The state is losing legitimacy as well as the capacity to actually govern.

In the Bush administration’s original view, all Islamist groups were one and the same; any distinctions or nuances were regarded as a form of appeasement. If they weren’t terrorists themselves, they were probably harboring terrorists. But how to understand Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the countries “harbor” terrorists but are not themselves terrorist states?

We have an instant, violent reaction to anyone who sounds like an Islamic bigot. This is understandable. Many Islamists are bigots, reactionaries and extremists (others are charlatans and opportunists). But this can sometimes blind us to the ways they might prove useful in the broader struggle against Islamic terror. The Bush administration spent its first term engaged in a largely abstract, theoretical conversation about radical Islam and its evils—and conservative intellectuals still spout this kind of unyielding rhetoric. By its second term, though, the administration was grappling with the complexities of Islam on the ground. It is instructive that Bush ended up pursuing a most sophisticated and nuanced policy toward political Islam in the one country where reality was unavoidable—Iraq.

Having invaded Iraq, the Americans searched for local allies, in particular political groups that could become the Iraqi face of the occupation. The administration came to recognize that 30 years of Saddam—a secular, failed tyrant—had left only hard-core Islamists as the opposition. It partnered with these groups, most of which were Shiite parties founded on the model of Iran’s ultra-religious organizations, and acquiesced as they took over most of southern Iraq, the Shiite heartland. In this area, the strict version of Islam that they implemented was quite similar to—in some cases more extreme than—what one would find in Iran today. Liquor was banned; women had to cover themselves from head to toe; Christians were persecuted; religious affiliations became the only way to get a government job, including college professorships.

While some of this puritanism is now mellowing, southern Iraq remains a dark place. But it is not a hotbed of jihad. And as the democratic process matures, one might even hope that some version of the Nigerian story will play out there. “It’s hard to hand over authority to people who are illiberal,” says former CIA analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht. “What you have to realize is that the objective is to defeat bin Ladenism, and you have to start the evolution. Moderate Muslims are not the answer. Shiite clerics and Sunni fundamentalists are our salvation from future 9/11s.”

…”We won the war in Iraq chiefly because we separated the local militants from the global jihadists,” says Fawaz Gerges, a scholar at Sarah Lawrence College, who has interviewed hundreds of Muslim militants. “Yet around the world we are still unwilling to make the distinction between these two groups.”

…Beyond Afghanistan, too, it is crucial that we adopt a more sophisticated strategy toward radical Islam. This should come naturally to President Obama, who spoke often on the campaign trail of the need for just such a differentiated approach toward Muslim countries. Even the Washington Institute, a think tank often associated with conservatives, appears onboard. It is issuing a report this week that recommends, among other points, that the United States use more “nuanced, noncombative rhetoric” that avoids sweeping declarations like “war on terror,” “global insurgency,” even “the Muslim world.” Anything that emphasizes the variety of groups, movements and motives within that world strengthens the case that this is not a battle between Islam and the West. Bin Laden constantly argues that all these different groups are part of the same global movement. We should not play into his hands, and emphasize instead that many of these forces are local, have specific grievances and don’t have much in common.

That does not mean we should accept the burning of girls’ schools, or the stoning of criminals. Recognizing the reality of radical Islam is entirely different from accepting its ideas. We should mount a spirited defense of our views and values. We should pursue aggressively policies that will make these values succeed. Such efforts are often difficult and take time—rebuilding state structures, providing secular education, reducing corruption—but we should help societies making these efforts. The mere fact that we are working in these countries on these issues—and not simply bombing, killing and capturing—might change the atmosphere surrounding the U.S. involvement in this struggle.

The veil is not the same as the suicide belt. We can better pursue our values if we recognize the local and cultural context, and appreciate that people want to find their own balance between freedom and order, liberty and license. In the end, time is on our side. Bin Ladenism has already lost ground in almost every Muslim country. Radical Islam will follow the same path….The truth is that all Islamists, violent or not, lack answers to the problems of the modern world. They do not have a world view that can satisfy the aspirations of modern men and women. We do. That’s the most powerful weapon of all.

*** End of Excerpts ***

My thoughts:

What Fareed appears to be saying is that we should let Islamist radicals “live in peace” as long as they are not waging a global jihad, hosting terrorists or launching operations against foreign countries. My question is do such “Islamist raidcals” exist?

As I understand it, one of the underlying themes of radical Islam is the idea of Dar-ul-Harb and Dar-ul-Islam – although I have also recently heard of Dar-ul-Aman. Is Fareed saying we should accept these “categorisations”?

Fareed is also being incredibly naive (or disingenuous) when he says that Pakistan is not a terrorist state. Going by almost all definitions, it should have been declared a terrorist state several years ago – for harbouring terrorists, for supporting terrorist activities against another state; for orchestrating international terror attacks and for helping in the proliferation of nuclear weapons, amongst other things.

My view is it is truly unfortunate that Fareed Zakaria instead of fighting the ideology of radical Islam, seems to be suggesting a compromise.

I am curious to hear readers’ views…What do you think?

Related Posts:

Join the discussion on Islam, Hindutva, Dr Zakir Naik – Part II

A “marginal minority” of 15million – CORRECTED

Why the “War Against Terror” cannot be won by guns alone

Will the Darul Uloom now declare war on “Islamism”? and

How do you distinguish between an Islamist and a Muslim?

Suggested Reading: The reality of radical Islam

May 24th, 2009 Posted by | Debates & Discussions, Islam & Reform, Islam & Terrorism | 19 comments


  1. I don’t know what is the basis upon which he says :In the Bush administration’s original view, all Islamist groups were one and the same; any distinctions or nuances were regarded as a form of appeasement. If they weren’t terrorists themselves, they were probably harboring terrorists. But how to understand Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the countries “harbor” terrorists but are not themselves terrorist states?

    Just because “hate Bush” is cool, people can say anything and get away with it.

    Comment by froginthewell | May 24, 2009

  2. If Hitler was a Muslim, I’m sure Fareed would be defending him saying the Holocaust targeted only war criminals!
    Fareed is an terrorist apologist who should be kicked out for making such statements.

    Comment by Dirt Digger | May 24, 2009

  3. The problem with Fareed Zakaria is one that plagues most journalists in the west, especially ones with a liberal bias. Liberalism generally tries to support a kind of multiculturism where competing and diametrically opposite values are thought to have equal merit.

    While cultural differences do in fact account for many differences in practices, somethings are in fact universal.

    Just as we in the non-Islamic world think that being killed by terrorist bombs or extremists is unjustified, so too do Islamists when they are killed. Even Osama thinks that the killing of Muslims is unjustified. The difference is that in the non-Islamic world, we generally make the leap and say that if we don’t want to be killed, maybe we shouldn’t indulge in violence. Not so with the Islamists. There killing is acceptable as an end in itself.

    Fareed’s solution of ignoring the Islamists as long as they don’t kill us would be a good solution if the Islamists were isolated geographically in their own tin-pot dictatorships where they can live it up till the oil runs out. Unfortunately for us, Islamists form a sizable minority in many countries and they often want to be governed by their own religious laws. We know how it translates in India. Even in England, there seem to many Islamists who want Sharia to be enforced. We know that Netherlands, Denmark and other European countries which have a sizable Muslim population are slowly facing this issue.

    Comment by K. Harapriya | May 24, 2009

  4. @ # 1

    isnt there a word called abetting ? doesnt it make those countries terrorist states for harboring these criminals in the first place and refusing to take them down?

    @ # 2 & 3

    u cannot blame zakaria for that … isnt this sort of verbal jugglary that pays his bills probably ? how long do u think he will last “if he were to say , all this radical islam is bad , take them down !”
    besides that , ignoring such islamists as long as they dont kill us is simply waiting for chance for them to kill us ,, wht r u gonna be able to do after having been killed?

    Comment by vivekam.vairagyam | May 24, 2009

  5. http://globeonline.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/secret-about-kashmir/

    that gives a nice realist’s perspective

    Comment by vivekam.vairagyam | May 24, 2009

  6. and heres one more be zakaria …


    Comment by vivekam.vairagyam | May 24, 2009

  7. Radicals of all types esp Islamists are dangerous to modern society. Therefore they need to be watched and handled appropriately. Maoists in India for example are also radicals unlike say the currernt day Marxists. The point I suppose is that just as the Maoist problem in India (controlling over 180 districts) cannot be treated as a law and order problem alone but one that includes development, education and jobs. Radical islam cannot be eradicated by waging a war but by deploying other means in parallel. Fareed Zakaria I think is trying to make this point but the problem lies in “imposing” development etc on a sovereign country which he has not addressed. I agree that he has made some foggy observations (wrt Pakistan for example).

    Comment by Sanjay Anandaram | May 24, 2009

  8. Sanjay: Radical islam cannot be eradicated by waging a war but by deploying other means in parallel

    Did you mean “…cannot be eradicated by simply waging a war”?

    Comment by B Shantanu | May 25, 2009

  9. Extremism which indulges in regular acts of violence can be wiped out if there is political will. Sri Lanka just proved it after facing 25 years of violence. Development and education will not eradicate extremism which again we know from the data that many of the people supporting extremists are often college educated and from the middle class and not from the the very poor.

    Living in a free society which guarantees individual freedom also doesn’t eradicate extremism–many of those who recently plotted to blow up a temple in New York were born and brought up in the U.S.

    We are deluding ourselves in thinking that we can address the problem without attacking the root of the problem. The problem with maoists is the their ideology; the problem with Islamists is their ideology. Without finding a way to destroy the ideology and the purveyors of the ideology, it probably will be difficult to get rid of the extremism.

    This does not mean we need to deal with Islamists in Islamic nations. Those we can isolate by making sure that they are not funding institutions and extremists in India. But for the Islamic extremists in India, the necessary method is to make sure that they are dealt with through our legal system. (e.g carry out the sentence on Afzal Guru etc)

    Comment by K. Harapriya | May 25, 2009

  10. Harapriya, or we can wait for the oil in the Middle-East to run out – that should deal a death-blow to the root cause.

    Comment by Kaffir | May 25, 2009


    Alternates for Oil is coming up in a big way, but slowly. If you see , even though the Oil production has been cut , there is not a sharp increase in oil prices and energy prices, which used to happen previously. This is because natural gas based systems are coming and they are making way into the market. Europe and Japan do not have the resources for energy like Middle East, Venezuela, USA or even Russia ( Europe depends on Russia for Gas supply). The level of seriousness to find out an alternate for oil is picking up. It was not rapid as after 70’s as there were lot of middle men who made money at leisure as they worked for few hrs a day and traded in billions of dollars. But after this new world order ( the title of post) things have changed. Hydrogen storage research is picking up ( Japanese and Europeans are serious in this area). This idea is from fuel cells , which was used for space rockets. There are new designs coming up thanks to accurate computer simulations which can be done for designing better engines for autombiles to be used for cars and small vehicles to use gas well( they are being used in buses and large vehicles, but still innovations are required for cars).

    The oil crisis which started in 1970 did not see search for alternatiives , but made many countries rich , which in the process gave extra money to do all sorts of disturbing things. It is only after the new world order ( the title of the post) that they have worked up to alternatives. The emissions and global warming issue is there , but , this money going to the wrong places can be stopped if the present momentum of alternatives to oil is kept going. It will be and this issue being double whammy , one for emissions and the other for money in wrong hands.

    Alternate technology is the answer to repulse this new order and surely it will come as they have woken up to realities.

    Oil will be there, but prices will drop to very low level as alternatives come in.

    *** NOTE by MODERATOR ***

    Apologies. I realised that this was linked to the previous comment.

    Comment by Energy | May 25, 2009

  12. *** COMMENT DELETED ***

    *** NOTE by MODERATOR ***

    Off topic. No advertisements allowed in comments. Pl. see the Comments Policy

    Comment by aftab hussain shah | May 25, 2009

  13. “The veil is not the same as the suicide belt. We can better pursue our values if we recognize the local and cultural context, and appreciate that people want to find their own balance between freedom and order, liberty and license.”

    Really? One kills the person immediately and the other just takes years. The problem with people like Fareed is that he makes a distinction between the political and social problems of radical Islam. He would want a political solution, aid to those countries, but let them maintain status quo in the social arena. This does not solve the problem as it will create more Saudi Arabias which are linked to the world politically and economically, yet are the prime harbinger of Islamic terror.

    The defensive mentality of Islamists when approached with their civil problems does not aid in the solution of the larger problems posed by their religion and its supporters to the remainder of the world.

    Comment by Dirt Digger | May 25, 2009

  14. Excerpts from Textbook Lies About Islam by Raymond Ibrahim

    In recent House hearings dedicated to examining Islamic extremism, I stressed that the fundamental stumbling block to effective policy-making is educational and epistemological. What people are taught about Islam needs a serious overhaul before we can expect to formulate strategies that make sense.

    …Why, at a time of war, are students at top U.S. military schools denied an objective treatment of [4] Islam’s war doctrines? A report by the [5] American Textbook Council sheds light by showing how these academic failures have much deeper roots.

    After reviewing a number of popular textbooks used by American junior and senior high schools, the report found that, due to political correctness and/or fear of Muslim activists, “key subjects like jihad, Islamic law, [and] the status of women are whitewashed.” Regarding the strikes of 9/11, one textbook never mentions Islamic ideologies, referring to the 19 al-Qaeda hijackers as “teams of terrorists” — this despite the fact that al-Qaeda has repeatedly articulated its hostile worldview through an Islamist paradigm, with a stress on hating “infidels” and waging holy war (see [6] The Al Qaeda Reader).

    The report finds other disturbing aspects regarding Islam’s whitewashing in textbooks: the well-documented Muslim military conquests demarcating most of what is now known as the “Islamic world” are glossed over or distorted; Islam ambiguously “spread” or was “brought.” Well-defined aspects of Islamic law — the subordinate status of women and non-Muslims, execution of the apostate and homosexual, and other issues that appear almost any given day in headlines — are either ignored or obfuscated.

    …The effects are dramatic. For instance, far from objectively examining Islam, the government is now pushing to [9] ban Arabic words connotative of Islamic ideology from formal analysis — such as “mujahid,” “umma,” “Sharia,” “caliphate” — asking personnel to rely primarily on generic terms, such as “terrorists.”

    The greater irony is that not only do children’s textbooks in Muslim countries openly [10] teach hatred and hostility for non-Muslims, or “infidels” — those same people fervently trying to whitewash Islam — but so do Muslim schools [11] operating on American soil.

    Bottom line: if children are sheltered from ugly truths today, how can they ever be expected to confront them as adults tomorrow?

    Comment by B Shantanu | May 26, 2009

  15. @Shantanu,
    Agree, but with technology and the Internet, there are windows of learning still available. But in the middle-east even those are severely curtailed. Where will they go for learning?

    Comment by Dirt Digger | May 27, 2009

  16. Yes , Energy’s conclusions are right. The alternatives are coming. This should have been done in 1973 itself, but 9/11 has changed the world view and the surge in research funds for alternatives is very high. The economic aspect has been well explained ( It could have been much better). Once you cut money as mentioned by Energy, their power will also diminish.

    Comment by Ravi | May 27, 2009

  17. *** COMMENT EDITED ***

    Forget radical islam.

    India is supposed to celebrate the Latikas of this world (of slum kutta fame)as an example of hindu tolerance.

    Of course, attempting the reverse will result in having your neck snapped and face smashed. No, the 24/7 guys won’t report it.


    *** NOTE by MODERATOR ***

    AG: No blanket condemnations, no unsubstantiated assertions please. I am sure you are aware of the comments policy.

    Comment by AG | May 27, 2009

  18. This should concern those people (as well as others too) who so far have maintained that the Muslims living in the US won’t be radicalized because the dynamics in the US are different than the dynamics in Europe.

    New York Times news-report [may require registration]

    Comment by Kaffir | July 12, 2009

  19. Our secularists can only see what Ram Sene and such other outfits do but keep their eyes and ears closely shut to the slow but steady Talibanization of Kerala. They don’t bother about chopping of hands and even killing to terrorise the people into silence. Can their sphinx like silence be construed that they whole heartedly support this ?


    Comment by KSV SUBRAMANIAN | October 12, 2010

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