Combating Muslim Extremism | The Nation


Combating Muslim Extremism

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Imperial occupations under the pretext of fighting terrorism suck up scarce resources and multiply terrorism, and so are self-defeating. They benefit only the military-industrial complex and political elites pursuing American hegemony. The backlash is growing. Sympathy bombings deriving from Muslim distress at brutal US military actions against Iraqis have been undertaken in Madrid, London and Glasgow, and a handful of formerly secular Iraqi Sunnis have suddenly expressed interest in Al Qaeda.

About the Author

Juan Cole
Juan Cole, who maintains the blog Informed Comment, is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the...

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Worse, the hypocritical Bush Administration has ties to Muslim terror groups. The US military, beholden to Iraqi Kurds for support, permits several thousand fighters of the PKK terrorist organization, which bombs people in Turkey, to make safe harbor in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Bush Administration has used against Tehran the expatriate Iranian Mujahedeen-e-Khalq terror network, on which Saddam Hussein bestowed a base in Iraq. Democrats have mysteriously declined to denounce these unsavory alliances.

The Administration clearly is not very interested in doing the hard work of dealing effectively with small fringe terrorist networks. That is why Osama bin Laden is at large and the CIA unit tracking him disbanded. Successful counterterrorism involves good diplomacy and good police work. A case in point is the plot last summer by young Muslim men in London to bomb several airliners simultaneously using liquid explosives in innocent-looking bottles and detonators hidden in disposable cameras. Contrary to the allegations of skeptics, the techniques they envisaged were perfectly workable. The plotters were determined enough to make chilling martyrdom videos.

The plot was broken up in part because some of the conspirators were turned in to Scotland Yard by British Muslim acquaintances disturbed by their behavior. They had been alerted to the seriousness of radical views by the bombing of London's public transport system in July 2005. British police infiltrated an undercover operative into the group. The Pakistani security forces helped monitor a radical in that country, Rashid Rauf, who was in contact with the London group. That is, the foiling of this operation depended very largely on the good will of other Muslims. Such police and community awareness work has had proven results. In contrast, invading and occupying Muslim states risks reducing the fund of good will on which successful terror prevention depends.

Since resources are scarce, it is important that the magnitude of the threat not be exaggerated. Al Qaeda has at most a few thousand members. It holds no territory and its constituent organizations have been roundly defeated in Egypt, Algeria and other Muslim nations. Its command and control networks have been effectively disrupted. Most threats now come from amateur copycats. Al Qaeda has no prospect whatsoever of taking over any state in the Muslim world. It probably would be dead altogether if Bush had not poured gasoline on the flames with his large-scale invasions and occupations. For John McCain to proclaim that Al Qaeda is a bigger threat to US security than was the Soviet Union, which had thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at this country, is to enter Alice's Wonderland.

Very few Muslims are either violent or fundamentalist; most are traditionalist, mystic, modernist or secularist. Murder rates in the Muslim world are remarkably low. About 10 to 15 percent of Muslims throughout the world, or 130 million to 215 million, generally support a fundamentalist point of view, including the implementation of Islamic law as the law of the state. But they are not typically violent, and the United States has managed to ally with some of them, as with the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa Party of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The fundamentalists are atypical. In a 2006 Pew poll, majorities in Egypt, Jordan and Indonesia were optimistic that democracy would work in their countries.

Because of its support for or acquiescence to Israel's creeping erasure of the Palestinian nation and for Israel's attack on Lebanon in 2006, and because of Washington's own brutal war in Iraq, the United States is poorly positioned to win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. In the last year of Bill Clinton's presidency, some 75 percent of the population of Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) had a favorable view of the United States. By the time Bush had invaded two Muslim countries, in 2003, America's favorability rating there had fallen to 15 percent. It recovered a bit after US magnanimity during the tsunami but then fell back to less than half the pre-Bush level. In Turkey, the favorability rating has fallen from 52 to 12 percent in the same period (all polling figures from the Global Attitudes Project of the Pew Charitable Trust).

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