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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

April 13, 2003

Combating the Ideology of Radical Islam

Daniel Pipes and Graham Fuller discussion about changing radical Islam. Pipes notes that
[...]There is no such thing as a moderate Islamist, for all Islamists share the same long-term goals; they differ only over means. For example, the Justice and Development Party in Turkey is very different from the Taliban in its means, but not so different in its ends. If the party gained full control over Turkey, it could be as dangerous as the Taliban were in Afghanistan.

The U.S. government's biggest mistake in the Middle East has been to accept the rule of tyrants, out of a fear that the alternative would be worse: Islamists, Ba'athists, or other hostile forces. The time has come for Washington to encourage democratic development, but in small, gradual steps. This means building civil societies in which the rule of law operates, freedom of speech and assembly develop, local elections take place, and so forth. National elections would be the capstone to these changes. Reversing this order—that is, moving abruptly from rigid authoritarianism to national elections without first building civil society—runs the risk that elections will be hijacked by Islamist forces, as happened in Algeria.
and Graham says that
[...]The Islamist phenomenon is a result of global trends toward modernization, a response to the problems and aspirations of the modern world. Islamism is part of the universal struggle to make sense of a troubling world, in this case using religion. It is also part of a drive to restore the identity and dignity of the Muslim world. The tensions between the West and the Muslim world are not a result of a clash of religions; they are rather a symptom of deep-rooted clashes of interest.

The United States must be careful not to create more bin Ladens in its attempt to root out bin Laden himself. This is the most likely scenario if Washington continues its current policy of supporting states that crush Islamists. Such a policy is likely to backfire. The solution is to support moderate Islamists even if they do not explicitly renounce violence as a political tool.

Democracy is the best option for the Muslim world, an end to rule by unpopular leaders would be in the best interests of the United States. These leaders constantly direct hostility at the United States rather than take action against such sentiment. As a result, they are easy targets for Islamists, who contrast the impotence of such leaders with their own actions, casting themselves as the only people who seem to be able to do something about Western imperialism. Democratization will be a long process, which is why Washington should start working on it now rather than some time down the road. Muslim populations have been penned in for years, and when the gates open, it will be a rough ride. Islamists will win the first elections, but will they win the second? If Islamists do not deliver once in power, they will fail; one need only look at Iran to see evidence of this fact.