Losing The War Against Radical Islam?

Fareed Zakaria notes that there are several hopeful signs in the fight against Islamist terrorism, including the capture of important leaders and several schisms threatening to break apart alliances in Iraq and elsewhere. Moreover, he argues, the jihadists face numerous structural problems.

The split between Sunnis and Shiites—which plays a role in Lebanon as well—is only one of the divisions within the world of Islam. Within that universe are Shiites and Sunnis, Persians and Arabs, Southeast Asians and Middle Easterners and, importantly, moderates and radicals. The clash between Hamas and Fatah in the Palestinian territories is the most vivid sign of the latter divide. Just as the diversity within the communist world ultimately made it less threatening, so the many varieties of Islam weaken its ability to coalesce into a single, monolithic foe. It would be even less dangerous if Western leaders recognized this and worked to emphasize such distinctions. Rather than speaking of a single worldwide movement—which absurdly lumps together Chechen separatists in Russia, Pakistani-backed militants in India, Shiite warlords in Lebanon and Sunni jihadists in Egypt—we should be emphasizing that all these groups are distinct, with differing agendas, enemies and friends. That robs them of their claim to represent Islam. It describes them as they often are—small local gangs of misfits, hoping to attract attention through nihilism and barbarism.

The greatest weakness of militant Islam is that it is unpopular almost everywhere. Even in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has some roots, it was widely reviled. And now, when Taliban fighters occasionally take over a town in southern Afghanistan, they disband the schools, burn books, put women behind veils. These actions cause fear and resentment, not love. Most Muslims, even those who are devout and enraged at the West, don’t want to return to some grim fantasy of medieval theocracy. People in the Muslim world travel to see the glitz in Dubai, not the madrassas in Tehran. About half the world’s Muslim countries hold elections—representing some 600 million people. In those elections over the past four or five years, the parties representing militant Islam have done poorly from Indonesia to Pakistan, rarely garnering more than 7 or 8 percent of the vote. There are some exceptional cases in places suffering from civil war or occupation, such as Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hizbullah in Lebanon. But by and large, radical Islam is not winning the argument, which is why it is trying to win by force.

Zakaria is right on all counts. Unfortunately,winning by force may be possible. The terrorists don’t have to “win hearts and minds” or even occupy ground; they just have to keep up the pressure on the government and keep it from being able to fulfill its basic functions. As we’ve seen in Iraq, anti-government forces do not need to like — or even communicate with — one another in order to create and sustain an atmosphere of fear and chaos.

He’s right here, too, so far as it goes:

The only durable solution to these ongoing disruptions is for these people to see themselves—and, most important, the societies they come from and still identify with—as masters of the modern world and not as victims. How to open up and modernize the Muslim world is a long, hard and complex challenge. But surely one key is to be seen by these societies and peoples as partners and friends, not as bullies and enemies. That is one battle we are not yet winning.

Obviously not. There’s no obvious path for changing that, either.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ken says:

    Radical Islam began as a problem limited only to the tyrannical dictators and hereditary monarchs of repressive middle eastern countries.

    It became a western problem as western support for oppressive regimes strengthened these regimes against those struggling to change them.

    The single most important lesson we can learn from what has happened in the middle east is that meddling in the affairs of middle eastern countries only makes matters worse.

    The place is a mess. Nothing we can do about that. We need to live in the world without actively making everyone we come into contact with our enemies.

    We need to get out and wash our hands of the region with the exception of buying whatever oil they want to sell us. If they sell it we buy it, if they refuse to sell it we don’t buy it.

    It will take forty to sixty years (an entire generation) to wash the stench of of our mistakes out of the fabric of diplomacy between our nation and the people of the middle east.

    We start by getting our freaking military entirely out of the region and allow them to determine their own future in whatever manner they seem fit. If they are not willing to fight for democracy, religious freedom and other modern western values then they will never enjoy them.




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  2. Wayne says:

    Ken
    What about the many Islamic immigrants that Europe, Canada and even to a lesser degree the U.S. has? They may have came with hope of a better life but brought their believes with them. Some of them are in the radical Islam camp.

    Getting out of the ME will not protect us from the Radical Islam groups.




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  3. You have touched on a key point James that is frequently overlooked. Unlike previous wars, hot and cold, each side shared a similar conception of what victory and defeat meant to each other, and more importantly that victory and defeat where definitional opposites. I’m afraid that in this case we and our enemies have very different views about what victory means and what defeat means, both on the ground and in the marketplace of ideas. This is one of the problems we have in trying to reach a consensus about the Iraq, Al Qaeda, or even questions as basic as, “are we at war?”

    Al Qaeda will consider themselves as winning even if every Democrat running for President wouldn’t view the withdrawal from Iraq as a loss for the US or Western Civilization. In fact, Al Qaeda will never consider itself as having lost as long as they still exist. Until they are annihilated they will be perceived as winning, and unfortunately that is not yet how we define victory in the GWOT, even though I believe that our annihilation is pretty damn close to how Al Qaeda defines victory.

    Please note that I speak of Al Qaeda and the US or Western Civilization here as entities at war here rather than as individual people. So far as I know, not even Al Qaeda has advocated genocide for all its enemies, except, of course, for the Jews.

    As far as Mr, Zakaria’s conclusion goes, it still takes two to tango, and I don’t think all the fault lies with us that we cannot get along. It is certainly correct to note that we aren’t getting along, but that is far from the same thing as saying that it is our fault and will remain our fault so long as we can’t get along.




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  4. ken says:

    What about the many Islamic immigrants that Europe, Canada and even to a lesser degree the U.S. has?

    What about them? If they become citizens, register to vote, and get legislation passed to impose sharia somewhere how is that any different from what the conservative Christians want to do?

    We fight them (radical islamists) here the same way we fight conservatives. It is not easy but we have the moral, ethical and legal high ground that gives us all the advantage. We will win in the end.




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  5. G,A.Phillips says:

    Ken, radical Islam became a problem fourteen centuries ago when the forefathers of the Jews sold bible stories to Mohammad and he set to create his twisted religion of murder, death, destruction, and domination. Ken why do you blame us, why do you give blame on your own people for things you know nothing about? Do you not see that the true believers of Islam are infecting great parts of the rest of the world with their doctrine of madness? do you not read of the atrocities committed at the hands of these true believes every single day, in the name of their god? why do you not you believe when they tell that murder of the infidel is the only way to the grace of their god and then do it? That I would agree with you that our commerce with these people of Islam has accelerated their ability to spread their faith, and like you and as you would say I do they use the things that they hate about us to spread their doctrine and to gain followers, but I would say to you it is what they believe( the word of their god) that is why they do, not what was done by us or any one else.




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  6. G,A.Phillips says:

    “”What about them? If they become citizens, register to vote, and get legislation passed to impose sharia somewhere how is that any different from what the conservative Christians want to do?”” Ken, do you have any idea what country you live in or how it and its Constitution and laws where founded?




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  7. Wayne says:

    I heard outrage about the feces on Jesus display from the conservative Christians but don’t recall riots like Muslim did with the cartoon.

    Conservatives in the US haven’t been using terrorism on a regular basis yet to further their cause. Problems with the Muslim immigrants have been on the rise and will probably continue. Leaving the radicals alone in the ME will allow them to build and concentrate their fight outside the ME.

    If you think that radical Islam and conservative Christians are on the same level, you are sadly mistaken.




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  8. ken says:

    If you think that radical Islam and conservative Christians are on the same level, you are sadly mistaken.

    What is the difference then? I see they both want essentially the same thing: kill, torture, and dominate those who do not agree with them. Basically neither believes in our American values. Basically both are our enemies.

    I see no reason to fear either radical Islam or conservative ideology. I believe America is stronger than either alone or both together. We will prevail.




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  9. Michael says:

    Ken,
    It became a western problem very shortly after the fall of the Ottoman empire. The British and French did a remarkably good job at screwing up Arab-Western relations.

    Wayne,
    No radical Muslims came to America with the hope of a better life. Those that see America as a better way of living are almost by definition NOT radical Muslims.

    G.A.Philips,
    Good God man, punctuate!




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  10. MarkT says:

    Conservatives in the US haven’t been using terrorism on a regular basis yet to further their cause.

    Not on a regular basis, but they have used it, agreed?

    And there are many conservatives in the US that approve of the use.




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  11. Wayne says:

    Many of the Muslims flee to other countries because of religious prosecution. Some of them have practices that are radical and they plan to intimidate host countries in those practices. Key word is “some”. There are those that move to U.S. not because they believe in American standards but because they think they can take over areas of the U.S.

    Just because a group move to another country is be no means a definition they are not radical. In fact history has shown that many radical groups are force to move because they are radical. Of course many groups move for other reasons as well.

    Liberals have used terrorist technique on regular bases to promote their agenda while it is an exception on the conservative side. Neither group has reach anywhere close the level as radical Islam. To think we will be able to treat it solely as law enforcement matter is naive.




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  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    Ken, once again you have learned nothing.

    “What is the difference then? I see they both want essentially the same thing: kill, torture, and dominate those who do not agree with them. Basically neither believes in our American values. Basically both are our enemies.”

    Dude??????

    “We fight them (radical islamists) here the same way we fight conservatives. It is not easy but we have the moral, ethical and legal high ground that gives us all the advantage. We will win in the end.”

    Ken, you truly are mad. Please tell me why you think this?

    Ken, if you read your history books, well maybe not your history books, you will find that this country was founded by conservative Christians.

    It is reason you are free to talk your crazy donkey smack.

    “G.A.Philips,
    Good God man, punctuate”

    I”m trying bro, and while we’re at it how do they get them cool gold bars to appear on the sides of the comments? You will be happy to know my girlfriend just taught me how to separate, ha ha!




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  13. Michael says:

    Ken, if you read your history books, well maybe not your history books, you will find that this country was founded by conservative Christians.

    With a few exceptions, this country was founded by atheists, agnostics and deists.

    I”m trying bro, and while we’re at it how do they get them cool gold bars to appear on the sides of the comments? You will be happy to know my girlfriend just taught me how to separate, ha ha!

    WTF? I seriously have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you drunk?




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  14. Michael says:

    Liberals have used terrorist technique on regular bases to promote their agenda while it is an exception on the conservative side.

    I can only assume you’re talking about groups in other countries who are labeled as “Liberal” and “Conservative”, since neither American political party has engaged in terrorism of any kind, and have much more in common with each other than those similarly labeled groups in other countries.




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  15. G.A.Phillips says:

    Michael?

    “With a few exceptions, this country was founded by atheists, agnostics and deists.”

    you could not be more wrong? The above is a common liberal lie.

    and I was refereeing to the un-jumbled statements of my new post and asking how to get the gold bar on on the side of the statements that we cut and post.

    I don’t don’t drink liquor any more, but when I did I saw Pink donkey’s not gold bar’s.




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  16. Michael says:

    you could not be more wrong? The above is a common liberal lie.

    Ok, name a couple of conservative christian founders.

    and I was refereeing to the un-jumbled statements of my new post and asking how to get the gold bar on on the side of the statements that we cut and post.

    Use the b-quote button when writing your comment. It will create the HTML tags <blockquote> before the comment you’re quoting, paste the quote you want, then press it again to add the </blockquote> tag to close the quote. For example, the above I used code that looked like this:

    <blockquote>and I was refereeing to the un-jumbled statements of my new post and asking how to get the gold bar on on the side of the statements that we cut and post.</blockquote>

    (Here’s hoping the forum allows my escaped HTML through unchanged.)




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  17. G.A.Phillips says:

    Michael,

    George Washington, John Adams.

    oh and thanks for the info.




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  18. Michael says:

    Adams was much closer to being a Deist than a Christian in his day, and even further from the modern definition of a “conservative christian”*. Washington too, while maybe not a Deist, was much more inclined to the deist ideologies for government than the christians of his day, and the “conservative christians”* of our day. Franklin, Jefferson and Madison were all noted deists.

    * At least on science and political views, all would probably be repulsed by homosexuality and abortions.




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  19. G.A.Phillips says:

    Michael,

    I sure would like to know where you get your information on these great men from, another liberal?

    what would you say If I told you that 54 of the 56 singers of the Declaration of Independence were Christians?

    And I was not speaking of the modern definition but true definition.




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  20. Michael says:

    I sure would like to know where you get your information on these great men from, another liberal?

    See, when you label everyone who says what you don’t want to hear a “liberal”, and thus disregard their conclusions regardless of their evidence, what then can I possibly use to convince you?

    what would you say If I told you that 54 of the 56 singers of the Declaration of Independence were Christians?

    I would say that nearly all Democratic congressmen today, the ones you accuse of abandoning our “conservative Christian” founding, are also Christians. If these Christians can create a non-Christian government, then so could the ones of 200 years ago.

    And I was not speaking of the modern definition but true definition.

    I’m willing to bet that less than 10% of those who claim to be Christian will agree with you on what is the “true definition” of the word.




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