“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 ***
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?
Suggested Reading: The reality of radical Islam