A poster to one of the lists I am on wrote:
“US policy is to allow no sanctuaries anywhere on the globe for anti-American terror groups. No training camps. No organizations, no fronts. No funding. No meetings. No travel. Identified leaders will be taken out. Operations such as those which existed a year or two ago in Afghanistan and Hamburg will not be allowed. Now that is American policy since 9-11 regardless of Iraq, but a major military victory in the Iraq campaign will, I suggest, drive the point home to everyone concern and provide the US with a major military base in the Middle East to monitor the situation.”
I (JC) replied:
I am certainly all for preventing any attacks on the US by terrorist groups anywhere. It just seems to me that the ambition outlined above is a mere abstraction not grounded in the realities of the world situation. For anyone who has actually been to Yemen or Pakistan, or for that matter the not so nice parts of Marseilles, the idea that this level of control could be achieved seems nonsensical. There is also the question of whether, in trying to achieve it, the US will make more new enemies than it is worth. The idea that terrorists willing to commit suicide will be afraid of the US after it invades Iraq is just a misreading of human nature. Terrorism is produced precisely by humiliation and hopelessness and living in fear (which is not a life worth living). It cannot be stopped by inducing more fear and humiliation. You will note that Ariel Sharon has been trying out this tactic for 30 years and it hasn’t worked.
The US so far has not even caught Mulla Omar or Osama Bin Ladin or Ayman al-Zawahiri or Shaikh Khalid Bin Muhammad, the people who planned out the first attack! An estimated 1000 al-Qaeda operatives fled Afghanistan to Pakistan a year ago, and only half have been apprehended (and that was largely because of the excellent cooperation the US got from Pakistan, for which Pakistan gets precious little credit over here). And this failure is despite our ostensible control of Afghanistan and close working
alliance with Pakistan!
If we cannot even catch the leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who already struck us, in areas we *control*, how in the world can we hope to prevent meetings of terrorists about whom we do not even know in places we don’t? These are tiny groups, often clan-based, which have only vague affiliations to umbrella organizations like al-Qaeda. You think you can stop a radical set of friends and relatives from meeting in Antwerp? In Hadhramawt? Unlikely. And, it is not as if we have loads of CIA field operatives who speak Arabic and can infiltrate such groups! It will take years to develop that capacity. We don’t even have an Arabist at the top echelons of the National Security Council.
Nor is it clear that going about having serial wars with Iraq, Iran, Syria, N. Korea, and apparently ultimately China [these are the ideas thrown out by the Richard Perle/ Paul Wolfowitz circle that controls our Defense Department] is going in any way to help with this task of surveillance and infiltration. Surely serial wars in the region are a distraction from the struggle against terrorism, especially since those
countries are not doing anything to the US.
Moreover, the idea that a US military occupation of Iraq will deter as oppose to provoking more attacks on US interests is awfully optimistic. The main problem an organization like al-Qaeda has is to recruit further members and keep current members from melting away in fear. They recruit best when the young men are angriest. What are they angry about? The Israeli dispossession of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza; the almost daily shooting by the Israeli army of innocent noncombatants; the progressive colonization of Palestinian territory by–let us say–idiosyncratic settlers from Brooklyn (all of this is on t.v. every day over there); the harsh Indian police state erected over the Muslims of Kashmir; the economic stagnation and authoritarian policies of many Middle Eastern governments that are backed by the US; and the poverty and prejudice Muslim immigrants to places like France and Germany experience daily.
I don’t have any idea how to resolve all these grievances; but the young men are very angry about and humiliated by them, and al-Qaeda plays on that anger to seduce them into attacking US interests. A US occupation of Iraq is not going to address the grievances, and is likely to create new bitterness and so help the recruitment drive. If the US really wanted to stop terrorism, it would invade the West Bank and Gaza and liberate the Palestinians to have their own state and self-respect, instead of heading to Baghdad.
Iraq is rugged; tribal forces are still important; and the majority population is Shiite, as is that of neighboring Iran. What will happen if US bombs damage the Shiite shrines, the holiest places for 100 million Shiite Muslims in Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain? What will happen if there is a riot in a shrine city like Karbala and US marines put it down by killing rioters? Do we want 100 million Shiites angry at us again? (Lately they have calmed down and it is the radical Sunnis that have given us the problems).
What happens if the Iraqi Sunni middle classes lose faith in secular Arab nationalism because the Baath is overthrown, and they turn to al-Qaeda-type Islam, in part out of
resentment at American hegemony over their country? What will happen if we give the Turks too much authority to intervene in Kurdistan, and fighting breaks out between the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds, and if the Iraqi Kurds turn against the US?
Colin Powell explained in Qatar last week on an Arabic talk show that the US war will be followed by a period of US military administration of the country by a general, followed by a year or two of US civilian administration of the country. This plan is an abandonment of earlier pledges to Iraqi expatriate dissidents that there would be a direct transition to a new Iraqi government. There has been a howl of outrage and betrayal by Kanan Makiya and other dissidents, once close to the Bush White House. If our friends and supporters among Iraqi dissidents are so unhappy now, will everyone in Iraq be just delighted to still be under US administration a year or two from now?
So, this business about controlling everybody all around the world just sounds to me like pie in the sky, and the same sort of thinking that got us mired in the jungles of Vietnam.
I will be ecstatic to see Saddam go. But I have a bad feeling about this, as Han Solo once said prophetically.
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*Dawn reports that a senior US State Department official has said, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are in safe hands and the United States is satisfied with the measures Islamabad has taken to secure them, says a senior official of the US State Department. The official was not named by Dawn but presumably was Undersecretary of State for South Asia Christine Rocca. She is quoted as saying, “Our overall assessment is that Pakistan has control of its nuclear arsenal and there is very little doubt about the fact that they have got it under wraps.” The US has not given Pakistan the sort of help it gave post-Soviet Russia in securing its nuclear weapons sites. Pakistan has not requested such assurance. Although the US seems satisfied at the moment, things could change. Were there to be a coup against Musharraf by radical fundamentalist officers aligned with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, there seems little doubt that the US would immediately try to take out Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal at Kahuta. What would happen if the fundamentalist Muttahidah Majlis-i `Amal or United Action Council, which controls the NWFP, came to power in the federal parliament, is not clear. It would probably provoke a similar crisis unless the Pakistani military could reassure Washington that the civilian politicians had no access to the nukes.
*[With regard to categorizing Muslim political groups:] I may sometimes
use it, but I am not enamored of the phrase “Islamist.” It
will never catch on with the journalists, but I would propose that we make
some distinctions for academic purposes. Let us take the universe of
political and social groups that define themselves with reference primarily
1) What is a group’s political goal? If it is a Muslim dictatorship or
oligarchy and the thoroughgoing implementation of a fundamentalist reading
of Islamic law, the group consists of *Muslim theocrats*. If it is
parliamentary democracy with a mixed legal system that includes input from
Islamic law, the group consists of *Muslim democrats.*
2) The second question is how the goal is to be achieved. If the group is
committed to using violence, it has chosen a radical path. If it is
willing to work in a law-abiding way for its goals, it has chosen a
moderate path. (The goal may not strike anyone as moderate, but the way of
achieving it is nonviolent and so moderate). Note that none of these terms
is meant to be value-laden. George Washington was a radical democrat. The
ancient Israel Americans hear praised every week from the pulpit could
probably be categorized at some points as a theocracy. On the other hand,
realistically speaking, radicals will be disliked and where possible
prosecuted by states.
Logically speaking then, we have two possible goals and two possible
methods, yielding four potential combinations. You can have
a) radical Muslim theocrats
b) moderate Muslim theocrats,
c) radical Muslim democrats
d) moderate Muslim democrats.
Radical Muslim theocrats are represented by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and by
Omar `Abdu’r-Rahman’s al-Gamaa al-Islamiya and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Jihad
al-Islami in Egypt. Moderate Muslim theocrats are represented by the new
al-Gamaa al-Islamiya in Egypt that has renounced violence from Tura Prison.
Most Muslim democrats, whether Soroush in Iran or the Ak Party in Turkey,
are moderate. But one could imagine radical religious democrats, as, for
instance, with the American Baptists who fought in the Revolutionary War
for democracy. I have the sense that by 2001 some of the anti-Taliban
Muslims in Afghanistan aligned with the Northern Alliance were hoping for a
parliamentary system that could accommodate the shariah or Islamic law.
They were entirely willing to support violence against the Taliban.
Dick Bulliet has usefully divided political groups in the Muslim world into
those who support an imarah system and those who support parliamentary
democracy. The imarah option is essentially one-man rule by an Amir with
implementation of the shariah or a fundamentalist approach to Islamic law
as his policy–what I am calling theocracy. The Taliban, obviously, is an
example of the imarah, and I would argue that 1980s Iran under Khomeini,
despite some nods to controlled elections, was more or less an imarah. The
Jama`at-i Islami in Pakistan during the 1980s also denounced parliamentary
democracy as un-Islamic and advocated having a pious amir (which made it
easy for them to ally with Gen. Zia ul-Haqq, who came close to their
ideal). Hasan Turabi in the Sudan was a similar story until the military
government broke with him. These are all theocrats, whether radical
(Khomeini’s Hizbullah) or moderate (Pakistan’s Jama`at-i Islami).
On the other hand, I think the Muslim Ak Party in Turkey genuinely has
committed to parliamentary politics, and so are in my schema moderate
Muslim democrats. I would argue that there is a range within the Muslim
democrats, from those who just object to a totally secular legal system and
want more Islamic-law influence, to those who want Islamic law to be the
primary legal basis of society. If they are committed to regular free and
fair elections on a multi-party basis, they would be democrats regardless
of their legal philosophy, in my schema. Thus, the old Welfare Party led
by Erbakan probably wanted more in the way of Islamization than does
today’s Ak Party (though Ak wants some, certainly).
The mainstream Muslim Brotherhood or Ikhwan al-Muslimin has decided to
cooperate with parliamentary elections in Egypt and, where possible, in
Jordan. The Egyptian Ikhwan has also foresworn violence as a root to
power. For the most part, then, the Ikhwan are *not* radicals according to
my typology. The problem is that this decision is different from saying
that the Egyptian Ikhwan backs “democracy.” Were they to get into power,
we cannot know if they would simply decide not to hold any more elections.
I am not prepared to say that the Egyptian Ikhwan has gone so far in this
direction as has Ak. I suspect that most politically active Ikhwan are
moderate theocrats. Their ultimate goal is not democracy.
This question of how committed the Ikhwan are to democracy goes back to a
time when Egypt had something more like meaningful elections, however
corrupt the old Wafd was. Al-Banna announced around 1941 that the Ikhwan
should join the political system. But then he subverted that system with
terrorist training camps, assassinations, and paramilitary activities for
the rest of the ’40s, via the “secret apparatus.” I think he was a
theocrat all along, and that we cannot trust his public pronouncements
about getting involved in the parliamentary system.
That is, when we analyze fundamentalist Muslim political parties, we cannot
simply take their statements at face value, since they have a history of
covert policies and use of extra-legal and paramilitary measures.
FIS in Algeria likewise decided to contest elections in the early 1990s,
but it is not clear that its leaders were committed to parliamentary
democracy in principle. It would have been entirely possible for them to
annul the constitution and implement a theocracy. The vehemence with which
they turned to terrorism when they were blocked from taking power strikes
me as suspicious.
I do not know enough about Ghanoushi and al-Nahdah in the present
incarnations to be sure where to place them. In the 1970s Ghanoushi was a
theocrat, but he may have changed. Tunisian university friends of mine
remember him trying to take over the faculty union and get them fired for
being secularists. They remember him as ruthless.
Sami al-Arian is certainly a fundamentalist Muslim theocrat with regard to
his goals. That is not in question. The question is whether he is a
radical activist who actively contributed to the implementation of
terrorist acts. The US appears to have gathered enough evidence for the
latter from its surveillance abroad to risk going to a judge with it.
Apparently in the 1990s it was not possible to present such evidence,
gathered overseas, at the trial of a US resident. That has now changed.
Essentially the Justice Department is now applying the techniques it
earlier honed against the Mafia to Muslim radicals.
I am not sure we will get to see the evidence (nor would I be happy if
not), but I think it is premature to assume that there is no solid evidence.
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