To find an answer

I guess this post is a variation on the tiresome “why do they hate us?” question. It’s not uncommon to run into statements along the following lines: Islamist radicalization and the hatred for the United States (or, at least, hatred of the U. S. government) among Muslims are solely or primarily due to our policies there and, in particular, to the presence of the U. S. military in the Middle East (which predates the invasion of Iraq). Here’s an example of such a statement that, I think, is typical of the genre from Jeb Koogler of Foreign Policy Watch (he’s also an associate blogger at the great blog, The Moderate Voice, which directed me to Jeb’s post):

Indeed, it’s important to remember that this phenomenon of radicalization has occurred overwhelmingly since 9/11, despite the fact that “multiculturalist” social policies had been in place long before that. Since this radicalization has occurred almost exclusively in the past few years, and since most British Muslims claim to be adopting a harder line because of western policies in the Middle East, I think it’s safe to say that it is aggressive US and British foreign policies that have caused this crisis.

I think that the narrowest possible construction of Jeb’s statement, that the increase in radicalism among Muslims in Britain since 2001 is largely due to the the U. S. invasion of Iraq and British participation in it, is probably a fair one. However, in the form in which it’s presented Jeb’s post is quite problematic. It is riddled with fallacies and other logical problems notably, appeal to authority (those cited as authorities aren’t), appeal to unnamed authorities (“most analysts agree”), over-generalization, and unsupported assertions and assumptions.

I’d like to consider a couple of broader questions. First, is violent radical Islamism rising? If so, is it increasing due to (mostly) American foreign policy with respect to the Middle East?

Answers can be distilled into several distinct currents

  1. violent radical Islamism isn’t rising
  2. violent radical Islamism is rising and it’s a consequence of U. S. foreign policy (an extension of Jeb’s position cited above)
  3. violent radical Islamism is rising, mostly due to factors other than U. S. foreign policy and, particularly, due to factors within Islam itself (an extension of Michael van der Galien’s position alluded to above)
  4. It’s more complicated than that.

My own view is #4. I think that violent radical Islamism has probably been around for more than a thousand years and I don’t honestly know whether it’s increasing or not. It’s possible that it may merely appear to be increasing to Western eyes. Modern communications, transportation, and the migration of peoples may simply be bringing out into the light something that was already there.

If, indeed, it’s increasing, I do think that U. S. policies with respect to the Middle East contribute to the increase. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, those policies have evolved over time and the people of the Middle East haven’t allowed much else in the way of acceptable alternatives. Either everybody is going to have to accept those policies and deal with them and their consequences or the U. S. must disengage from the Middle East in a major way. That will have profound economic consequences for the entire world, I can’t imagine that happening, and, frankly, I doubt it would slow whatever rise there is in violent radical Islamism.

Here’s what I’d like to open up for discussion. Let’s narrow the conversation to the period between 1968 and 2000 inclusive i.e. from the Six-Day War to the day before the attacks on September 11, 2001. How, specifically, should the U. S. have acted or reacted differently? Please be specific e.g. not “stop supporting Israel unconditionally” but rather how should we have changed our reaction to a specific incident during the period. Please limit the recommendations to things that were actually possible including politically possible in the United States. Also, please include what you believe would have been the consequences of the change.

Don’t critique Jeb’s post here—go over to Jeb’s place via the link and do that.

I’m searching sincerely here. Please be civil.

15 comments… add one
  • yolo Link

    1993 was a pretty pivotal year for terror against the US. 1979 a war was declared against the US. Lets see terror in indonesia,philipines,algeria’nigeria,lebanon and on and on and on. Well before US involvement. Islam is on the ris efor the very reason the koran dictates. It is a political movement that must take over the world. Every place they gain power the rise up. As they are doing all over Europe and Africa. We in the west are at war and better wake up. Just look at the numbers of chapters of CAIR since 9/11. Where do they get their money??? Their propaganda and intimidation campaign costs millions. WE ARE AT WAR!!!!

  • The western world has been in denial about the rise of radical islamist supremacy movements for over 60 years. 9/11/01 was a symptom of the rise of islamist conquest and bigotry, not the cause.

    The 1990s were years of “sweeping unpleasantness under the rug.” The US and European economies really started booming after the US 1994 elections, and everything else was ignored in hopes it would all just go away.

    It’s amazing to me that the left falls all over itself in denying any threat from fundamentalist Islam. “If we could only get rid of Bush and the neocons, all would be well with the world.” Panglossian to the core, milking at the teats of university multiculturalism.

    Look at Palestine and the brainwashing of the Palestinian young–steeped in total hatred. That’s how the Islamic world has been changing over the last fifty years. It may have accelerated as a few politicians in the west started waking up to the threat. But the cause lies within the need for Islamist supremacy coming from muslim bigots who call themselves imams, mullahs, and ayatollahs.

  • Ken Hoop Link

    The Palestinian militancy has been the result of Israel’s continuing
    oppression and refusal to obey UN edicts-not that “The Lobby” will
    allow the US to enforce them. And as Pat Buchanan says, the US Empire
    will eventually be forced out of the Mideast, or the presence thereof at least significantly reduced,regardless of this siteowner’s “ain’t gonna happen” attitude.
    Moreover every poll taken in the Islamic world reveals its negative attitudes vis a vis America stems primarily from “our policies (foreign),
    stupid.” The outer thrust of Islam remaining should be Europe’s problem, Russia’s problem, not our problem.

  • In other words, Dave, no one has a suggestion but everyone has an axe to grind. I also have no answer.

    The Israeli-Palestinian issue is important to Israelis and Palestinians, but has no intrinsic importance to the people of Egypt or Iran or Pakistan. It’s a manufactured issue, a distraction. And the only “answer” that would have sufficed for the easily-provoked citizens of the middle-east, and their western amen corner, would have been for us to exterminate the Israelis. There would have followed a brief pause, after which another casus for endless belli would have been found.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I generally agree with the thrust of Dave’s skepticism. Second-guessing American policy probably requires ignoring the Cold War (particiularly pre-1989) and exagerating American power in the region.

    But I’ll play: 1979, the Iranian Hostage Crisis. After exausting initial efforts at diplomacy, Carter should have threatened a series of military strikes if the hostages were not released immediately. How would I expect history to have changed? Magic Eight-ball hazy. I suspect that the hostages would have been released earlier on the fear that U.S. actions would encourage a counter-coup. These events might have marginalized the radicals and their revolutionary zeal and preserved the possibility of a cross-movement regime due to the pressure of an external threat. A more resolute end to the crisis would have prevented decades of passive-aggressive US-Iranian relations that might have had a further moderating influence. But most importantly, the prospect of a world without Khomenism is significant.

  • Ken Hoop Link

    “The Israeli-Palestinian issue is important to Israelis and Palestinians, but has no intrinsic importance to the people of Egypt or Iran or Pakistan. It’s a manufactured issue, a distraction”

    This is both escapism and an insult to the Islamic world writ large.
    Typical American hubris. The common refrain is, Arab and Moslem
    governments use the Palestinian issue as a distraction for their
    subjects from their own countries’ problems. Wonder why the issue
    is so resonant and the strategy so effective? Ah, but US interventionism
    might eventually discover the answer in depth if it keeps its
    unwavering Israel-first stand. Like through destabilization and
    overthrow, or at least increasing “radicalization” of the governments
    in question.
    Then Takhullas might learn a lesson.

  • Ken:

    The Palestinians could have had a state at any time in the last 60 years. They haven’t wanted one. They could have one today – they still don’t want one.

    The Arab governments could have encouraged compromise and peace, they preferred a hard line and war. Muslim leaders could have pushed for a Palestinian Ghandi or a Martin Luther King. Instead they’ve dreamed of an Arab Hitler.

    Now they have intra-Palestinian civil war and the Israelis have their wall and their F-16s. Israel lives in the 21st century and the surrounding states are struggling to reach the 19th.

    The Israelis certainly behave like thugs at times. Like cops patrolling gang territory for too long sometimes lose their grip on their own principles. But the Palestinians’ only principle has been hatred and war. Their dreams are of genocide not of a state.

    Arabs and Muslims who’ve never been to Palestine, who’ve lived their entire lives a thousand miles from Jerusalem, who’ve never lost so much as a single square inch of territory to Israel, who’ve stood by silent while Arabs are murdered wholesale by other Arabs, are sold the Palestinian struggle as a substitute for the struggle they should be fighting against their own governments, against their own backwardness, against their own societal failures.

  • DF Link

    It is ironic that, having finally buried the true story of our centuries-long history with American Indians (which had good and bad on both sides) under a mountain of politically correct fairy stories, obfuscation and ‘morally-superior’ posturing, we now confront the American Indians of the twenty first century – Middle Eastern Muslims.

    We will see whether we or our children can in the end find better answers than our ancestors did. I see little evidence so far to suggest we will.

  • DF

    The Muslims are the Indians? Has someone deprived Muslims of all their land, massacred thm, herded them into reservations? I must have missed that.

  • Ken Hoop Link

    The Palestinians “could have had a state”, –like last offer, when the
    Israelis offered them a little house, as long as Israelis could control the halls between the rooms? No thank you. How about the right of every
    Palestinian with deeds to their former property coming home, then a plebiscite with both Arab and Jew deciding how the nation in question is to be governed?

  • Ken:

    They can insist on destroying the Jewish state — and have no state for themselves. Or they can negotiate in good faith for a viable Palestinian state. So long as they choose ‘a’ they’ll be where they are. Which at the moment appears to be in a Palestinian civil war.

    You seem to prefer to keep them in their current state rather than support reasonable negotiations. Of course you’re not the one caught between Hamas and Fatah and the IDF.

  • Ken Hoop Link

    The US withholding funds from the new Palestinian government because
    Bush didn’t like the results of democracy in action…could that be a partial cause of the “civil war?”

  • Ken:

    Yeah, Ken, it’s all our fault. Because we wouldn’t pay them to behave themselves. What can you expect, right? We certainly can’t hold the Palestinians responsible for their own behavior.

  • The underlying reasons are complex.

    I think that part of the Islamic radicalism stems from the 1950’s following the creation of the state of Israel. Many perceived this act to be an extension of the very recent colonial past. That however, is only a contributing factor not the sole, nor even the most important reason for its rise. The feeling was exacerbated by the defeats inflicted upon the secular dictatorships, and modernizing monarchies in the region at the hands of the religiously guided (as Zionism was perceived by Muslims) government of Israel. Not that Israeli Zionism caused Islamic fundamentalism, but rather that the perception that the Islamic world (under secular, socialist, westernized elite) had lost its way and hence was suffering humiliation at the hands of infidels losing even the third holiest site in Islam (the Dome of the Rock).

    Move over to Egypt, and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood with Sayyed Qutb’s Islamist Manifesto “Milestones.” Qutb’s manifesto posited this very ideology, the belief that the modern Muslim world had succumbed to Jahiliyya and as such was experiencing decline for failing to adhere to Islamic principles. His beliefs were to a large extent based on his experiences where he saw the secular dictatorships (the modernizers) as using tactics in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood which would not have been permissible under his idealized version of an Islamic state. In essence, Qutb argued that all of the ideologies imported from abroad, colonialism, nationalism (udner Nasser), socialism and even democracy had failed Muslims and as such, they needed to find an alternate ideology based on their Muslim principles. That is how Islamism was essentially born.

    The rulers of these countries, particularly Egypt were seen as infidels who sought to push their countries away from “true” Islam and as such, were liable to the only punishment capable of righting this wrong; death. Initially, during these years groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria, Jordan etc, focused on fighting their country’s respective governments and trying to topple them.

    At the same time the mostly secular PLO was trying to find a base from which to fight against Israel. They moved to Jordan and were kicked out after they tried to overthrow the monarchy. They were eventually kicked out of Lebanon following Israeli intervention. Hence, the perception of being assailed from all sides pervaded Islamists who pointed to the plight of the Palestinians and to how badly their own governments treated these.

    They wanted to change this, and yet, no matter how hard they fought, the regimes endured. Fast-forward to the late 1970’s when radical wahabis took over the Grand Mosque of Mecca (among them an older brother of Osama bin Laden) and of course, the Iranian revolution, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That a group could take over Mecca’s holiest site and embarrass the Saudi monarchy was seen as a sign that the battle was not in vain. Iran’s revolution provided even more of a feeling that the fight could be won, after all, the Shah was America’s closest ally and the strongest regime in the region and yet he had succumbed to the forces of “political” Islam.

    The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan added to the feeling that something momentous was happening. 1979 was in the Muslim calendar akin to the beginning of a new Millennium, which in all societies is seen as a time of dramatic change. When the Islamists, financed by the US through Pakistan and the Afghans defeated the Soviet Union, the sense of inevitability spread, with Abdullah Azzam, (the leader of the foreign jihadis in Afghanistan) stating that nothing was impossible so long as it was the will of God. A feeling which was even more powerful when just a few years later, the Soviet Union collapsed. In some ways, many saw the defeat of the Soviet Union as a precursor to the rise of a Muslim superpower.

    During the time of the Soviet Jihad and following the return of these mujaheed to their home countries, they noticed that their respective regimes had come close to defeating the Islamists movements that had sought to overthrow them. This, while these same groups and their ideology (as they perceived it) had defeated the second mightiest empire on earth. Many began to ask themselves why?

    When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Osama bin Laden offered his services to the Saudi Crown and pledging all of his fighters in a jihad against Saddam Hussein. The Saudi crown refused and instead sought American help. The US swiftly moved to push Hussein out of Kuwait and to contain him. This brought a realization into some Islamist circles, mainly that the governments in the region, now owed their existence to one country and one country alone; the United States.

    Osama bin Laden (who took over the leadership of the Afghan jihadis) had adopted this version of history, for him, the reason the regimes in the region endured was not because Islamists couldn’t defeat them, but rather because like the US had proven in Kuwait, it was the guarantor of the status quo. The US provided the weapons that Israel used to kill Palestinians, the US provided the weapons and training that Egypt used to subjugate its people, same for Jordan, and even Syria (which backed the US invasion of Iraq). As such, he and others like him argued, the battle should now turn toward the far enemy, the United States. Hence, Osama’s famous statement “cut the head of the snake and the various governments in the region will fall.” For him in essence, the US became the personification of what was wrong with the region. The dictatorships that oppressed their people, the same dictatorships that killed and persecuted Islamist (from their point of view) were almost all American allies. The few, like Hussein, who had tried to defy America were punished and humiliated.

    The ideology became popular because Islamists could point to the very good relations between the dictators in Egypt, the monarchies of Arabia and the United States. They blamed the corruption of these on the US and as such fed the animosity toward us.

    To be sure, this is a very brief and generalized history of the rise of Islamism, but I think it provides a telling narrative of how we arrive at where we are today and the difficulties we have in prosecuting this War on Terror. At one time we are trying to show that we care about democracy and human rights (i.e. trying to promote democracy in Iraq and elsewhere) and yet as hypocrites whenever our representatives (think Laura Bush in Cairo stating that the reforms of Mubarak had done a lot for democracy in Egypt even as student demonstrators were being pummeled in the streets during her visit for protesting against the government). We are seen to promote the continuation of these dictatorships at the expense of the people of the region. Our rhetoric is perceived to be hollow. Bin Laden and al Qaeda use these contradictions within our foreign policy against us, and we end up looking like John Kerry in the last election (like flip-floppers) on the rights of Muslims. That feeds into the ideology of anger that has emerged from many Muslism, an anger that says that only violence will make them heard. These because as in Egypt, reformers are routinely silenced without a whimper from the West, and where the only place left (which the dictatorships dare not touch) for political dissent is the mosque. Hence the power of Islamists in the region, the mosque becomes politicized as the ideology hardens around absolutist principles.

    The president had it right initially, we needed to change this system, a system which exacerbated things by also promoting anti-Americanism, anti-semitism as pressure valves for their restive populations. However, although Iraq was supposed to be the beginning of the end for our old strategy and policies in the region, our botched occupation has actually exacerbated these problems. The regimes now point to the chaos in Iraq as a reason for why they cannot reform using the fear of chaos as a means of suppressing dissent, driving it further and further into the mosque, where people become radicalized and angry.

    So in essence, the system propagates the anger and the hatred. It’s not Islam that begets all this, it is the conditions under which Muslims have had to endure for so long. This is not to say that Muslims are blameless, of course they also carry a lot of the blame (for not standing up to the radicals) however, given the conditions where some radicals (as in Saudi Arabia) control parts of the state, speaking out gets you a quick death sentence.

    The only way to cure it, as the President has noted is to reform the Middle East, but paradoxically while propelling that change, we must allow Muslims to establish the boundaries of their reform and to in essence renegotiate with each other the terms under which they will live with one another. This while also (the US) fighting the radical extremists born of the system we are trying to change, who will not allow that type of discussion to take place. However, the fight is not only military, it is also political, economic, diplomatic. That is why, many of us argue that it is essential to resolve the stand off with Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other simmering issues because the less radicals have to point to justify their existence (think of how Hezbollah justifies its existence due to the threat from Israel) the faster that moderates can assert themselves in the dialogue that will be necessary to move the Middle East from where it is today to the future.

  • Hmmm, you really started something Dave!

    I agree with the basic proposition that the US is responsible for the current situation between us and the Muslim world.

    But it has zero to do with our military presence there, Israel, or even, except peripherally, the oil. It has to do with us judging the Arabs by civilized Western norms.

    I like your point about only going back as far as the `67 war – as long as we all realize that the roots of this are in Islam as a political, conquering ideology as much as Islam as a religion, and that goes way way back to the Original Gangsta, as I like to call him.

    The start of today’s situation was indeed the `67 War, but that had very little to do with the US since we were not supplying Israel with arms or aid at the time.

    I still remember as a kid seeing LBJ and Dean Rusk on TV intoning that the US was `neutral in thought, word and deed’ when the Jews of Israel were facing a second Holocaust.

    We didn’t really start selling Israel arms until Nixon, and that was in the context of the Cold War after the Arabs sided with the enemies of the Western Democracies..just as they always have.

    What the war did was to start the beginning of the end of the Arab nationalism, as embodied by Nasser and Saddam Hussein, due to the Arab failure to annihilate the despised Jews.

    The next step was our allowing the Arabs to abrogate their agreements with US oil companies , `nationalize’ steal millions of dollars of US property and form OPEC without any retaliation or penalty from us.

    Aside from pumping up the jihad coffers with billions of petrodollars and assisting our natural enemies, it showed them that we were weak and could be bought…especially our politicians. it allowed them, especially the Saudis, to fund jihad mosques and madrassahs in the west and engage in subversion of our countries in a way the jihadis of the 12th century could only dream of.

    The next major event was the Islamic revolution in Iran, aided and abetted by a certain feckless ex-president who shall be nameless, which showed the Islamic world that an Islamic theocracy could successfully defy the West. That event also coincided with the mujihadeen’s defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan (which would not have happened without US aid), the beginnings of al Qaeda and the rise in influence of the Muslim brotherhood.

    All these elements realized something at the same time – that the secular Arab nationalism had essentially failed to defeatthe west and give rise to an all powerful dar Islam, but that the Muslim ummah, using jihad, might just be able to conquer the hated non-believers in the West.

    There it is a relatively succinct nutshell. The rest of the story until 9/11 is just a ramping up of the war against the West.

    One must look a little farther back to remember that the most successful rulers of the Arabs were the Ottoman Turks, who ruled them without any major revolts or problems for five centuries, and who’s rule over the region was only ended by the West after WWI. The Ottomans bled them white with taxes, treated them as an uncivilized servile lower order and punished any aggression or non-adherence to their rule with severity.

    When we are willing to end the export of jihad to our countries and convince the Arab world that we are more than willing to be as harsh, violent and as uncompromising to them as they have been to us, and to retaliate in kind for any aggression on their part, the War on Jihad will have ended in victory.

    When we show the jihadis that threatening our lives,property and culture carries an unimaginably high cost, they will cease to do so. The fact that we haven’t thus far is indeed `our fault.’

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