Thursday, April 26, 2007

Varieties of Islamist experience

John Esposito addresses the "why do they hate us?" question (or doesn't anyone even ask that any more?) in It's the Policy, Stupid: Political Islam and US Foreign Policy Harvard International Review 11/02/06. He reminds us that there are various forms of "political Islam", most of them not violent jihadist. (Don't tell Danny Goldhagen!)

Esposito writes:
History demonstrates that political Islam is both extremist and mainstream. On the one hand, Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, and Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda as well as terrorists from Morocco to Indonesia have espoused a revolutionary Islam that relies on violence and terror. On the other, many Islamist social and political movements across the Muslim world have worked within the political system.

Since the late 20th century Islamically-oriented candidates and political parties in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia have opted for ballots, not bullets. They have successfully contested and won municipal and parliamentary seats, held cabinet positions, and served in senior positions such as prime minister of Turkey and Iraq and president of Indonesia. (my emphasis)
Now, this doesn't mean that these are necessarily nice people running these parties or that their policies are all good and constructive. They aren't. But it does mean that there are varieties of "political Islam" or "Islamists" out there in the world who don't have as their main goal in life killing Americans because "they hate our freedoms".

A lot of Esposito's article discusses opinion polling results on various attitudes toward the United States, many of which may seem surprising.

And a big issue affecting those attitudes is US support for Israel and its policies in the occupied territories. Referring specifically to the effect of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, he writes:
The administration’s responses in Gaza and in Lebanon undercut both the president’s credibility and the war on terrorism. The United States turned a blind eye to Israel’s launching of two wars in which civilians were the primary casualties. The United States failed to support UN mediation in the face of clear violations of international law, refused to heed calls for a ceasefire and UN intervention, and continued to provide military assistance to Israel. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s criticism of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon as an "excessive use of force" was countered the next day by the New York Times headline United States speeds up bomb delivery for the Israelis.

America’s unconditional support of Israel cast it in the eyes of many as a partner, not simply in military action against HAMAS or Hizbollah militants, but in a war against the democratically elected Palestinian government in Gaza and the government of Lebanon, a long-time US ally. The primary victims in Gaza and Lebanon were hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, not terrorists. In Lebanon, more than 500 were killed, 2,000 wounded, and 800,000 displaced. Israeli’s military destroyed the civilian infrastructures of both Gaza and Lebanon. International organizations like the United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have criticized Israel for violating international law. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch has specifically cited the use of collective punishment and war crimes. The regional blowback from the approach that the United States has taken will be enormous and enduring.
Esposito's article doesn't go into great detail about how to untangle that nest of difficult issues. What he says here is reasonable:
A more recent and complex challenge is dealing with resistance movements like HAMAS and Hizbollah. Both are elected political parties with a popular base. At the same time they are resistance movements whose militias have fought Israeli occupation and whom Israel, the United States, and Europe have labeled as terrorist organizations. There are established precedents for dealing with such groups, such as the ANC in South Africa and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA in Ireland, groups with which we've had to come to terms. The United States and others need to deal with the democratically elected officials, while also strongly condemning any acts of terrorism by their militias. Diplomacy, economic incentives, and sanctions should be emphasized, with military action taken as a last resort. However, overuse of economic sanctions by the Clinton and Bush administrations has reduced US negotiating leverage with countries like Iran and Sudan.

Equally difficult, the United States, while affirming its enduring support for Israel’s existence and security, must clearly demonstrate that this support has clear limits. The United States should condemn Israel’s disproportionate use of force, collective punishment, and other violations of international law. Finally, most fundamental and important is the recognition that widespread anti-Americanism among mainstream Muslims and Islamists results from what the United States does - its policies and actions - not its way of life, culture, or religion. (my emphasis)
Of course, it's not that hard to come up with general comments that sound sensible. Getting the actual arrangements in place is normally incredibly difficult in that situation.

Esposito makes an important point about economic sanctions. They have become widely accepted by both Democrats and Republicans as a peaceful alternative to military coercion and threats. But their results are not always optimal. And laying on economic sanctions can also lead to further, less peaceful involvement. Especially if the goal, as with the neocons and the Cheney-Bush administration in Iran, is changing the country's regime rather than the regime's behavior.
Another huge problem with US policy in the Middle East right now is the Cheneyite view that negotiating with a country is some kind of reward rather than a means of resolving problems and disputes.  Until we can get beyond that, it's hard to see how much diplomatic progress in the Middle East will be possible.

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