Combating Muslim Extremism | The Nation


Combating Muslim Extremism

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All the major Republican presidential candidates have bought into George W. Bush's rhetoric of a central struggle against Muslim extremism and have thus committed themselves to a generational, often self-generating war. By foregrounding this issue, they have ensured that it will be pivotal to the 2008 presidential race. The Democratic candidates have mostly been timid in critiquing Bush's "war on terror" or pointing out its dangers to the Republic, a failing that they must redress if they are to blunt their rivals' fearmongering.

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Juan Cole
Juan Cole (@jricole) is director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of...

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Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani in his recent Foreign Affairs article complains that the United States has been on the "defensive" in the war on "radical Islamic fascism" and says with maddening vagueness that it must find ways of going "on the offensive." He promises that "this war will be long." Giuliani is being advised on such matters by Representative Peter King, who has complained that "unfortunately we have too many mosques in this country"; by Daniel Pipes, who has questioned the wisdom of allowing American Muslims to vote; and by Norman Podhoretz, author of World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. Combining the word "Islam" with a European term like "fascism" is profoundly offensive; a subtext of anti-Muslim bigotry pervades Giuliani's campaign, a sop to the Christian and Zionist right.

John McCain depicts withdrawal from Iraq as "defeat," saying in Michigan on September 21 that it would "would strengthen Al Qaeda, empower Iran and other hostile powers in the Middle East, unleash a full-scale civil war in Iraq that could quite possibly provoke genocide there and destabilize the entire region.'' But continued occupation of Iraq, a major Muslim country, is just as likely to lead to the consequences McCain fears. Some front-runners, like Mitt Romney, argue for a big expansion in US military forces, without explaining how that would help with counterterrorism.

The Republican candidates have taken their cues from Bush and his Administration. They have continued to vastly exaggerate the threat from terror attacks (far more Americans have died for lack of healthcare or from hard drugs) and have demonized Muslims. India's Hindu-extremist RSS, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, the Lord's Resistance Army of Uganda and Colombia's FARC (a hard-drug smuggler) are seldom referred to by Republican politicians worried about terrorists, even though all these movements have been extremely violent and have threatened US interests.

Advocates of the "war on terror" fantasize about the Muslim world as a Soviet Union-type challenge to the United States. In fact, the dozens of countries with majority Muslim populations are mostly strong allies of the United States. One, Turkey, is a NATO ally, and six (Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Pakistan) are non-NATO allies. Only fourteen countries have this status, so Muslim states make up nearly half. The United States counts many other friends in the region, having significant frictions only with Sudan, Syria and Iran, and those are mixed pictures (Syria and Sudan helped against Al Qaeda, and Iran sought a strategic alliance with the United States against Saddam Hussein in early 2003).

The Republicans are playing Russian roulette with America's future with their bigoted anti-Muslim rhetoric. Muslims may constitute as much as a third of humankind by 2050, forming a vast market and a crucial labor pool. They will be sitting on the lion's share of the world's energy resources. The United States will increasingly have to compete with emerging rivals such as China and India for access to those Muslim resources and markets, and if its elites go on denigrating Muslims, America will be at a profound disadvantage during the next century.

Some Muslim extremist groups are indeed a threat, but they have not been dealt with appropriately. Bush has argued that terrorist groups have state backing, a principle that authorizes conventional war against their sponsor. In fact, asymmetrical terrorist groups can thrive in the interstices of states, and September 11 was solely an Al Qaeda operation. In his speech about the conquest of Iraq on the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, George W. Bush announced, "We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding." It was a bald-faced lie.

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