William H Thornton. Radical Society. Volume 30, Issue 1. April 2003.
The omnipresent question for Americans after 9/11 was “why us?” But it was never a question about “us.” Since most agree with President Bush that the United States has been a consistent “beacon of freedom” for the world, little thought has been given to heinous U.S. policies. The answer must lie, therefore, in the dark designs of rogue leaders such as Moumar Ghadaffi, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden, or in the atavistic nature of Islam itself. By this logic America is only at fault for having been too soft on its Islamic adversaries (or those of Israel, which comes to the same thing). Thus the Wall Street Journal wasted no time in blaming 9/11 on President Clinton’s Munich-like appeasement of the Palestinians.
Seumas Milne aptly replied, in a Guardian piece of 9/13, that it boggles the mind to think what the Journal would consider a Churchill-like response. To be fair to Churchill, his strategic acumen would be a considerable improvement over the Bush administration’s hunt for one Islamic devil after another. The irony is that most of these demons were once abetted by American foreign policy. The Taliban, for example, was largely composed of veterans of the U.S.-funded mujaheddin. Support was lavished on those groups, which had the approval of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It was in Pakistan’s interest to cultivate fundamentalist leaders who lacked internal support and were therefore dependent on Pakistan for their political survival, much as President Hamid Karzai now depends on the United States. Lacking legitimacy, such a government could impose itself only by sheer force-hence the Taliban reign of terror. The Taliban’s one claim to legitimacy was its promise to end the country’s chronic chaos. But as the late Abdul Haq admonished, Afghanistan could never be ruled strictly “by the gun.”
By destroying every semblance of civil society-i.e., civil Islam-the Taliban set in motion a terrorist cycle (less civil society requiring still more terror) that eventually returned like spawning salmon to its geopolitical point of origin. All too literally these salmon were dying to return to that source. Two weeks before 9/11, and shortly before his own death, Ahmad Shah Musud spelled out what that would soon mean for the United States.
The more immediate U.S. contribution to the Taliban’s rise could be described as negative complicity. America simply lost interest in Afghanistan after the cold war (much as the current Bush administration-on the principle that military personnel should never act as “social workers”-has been a reluctant reconstructionist after ousting the Taliban). This indifference left Washington’s proxy, the ISI, free to combat progressive-minded Islamists such as Musud (assassinated by the Taliban just two days before 9/11) and Haq (executed the next month). There were indications, however, that America’s role in this horror story was moving beyond negative complicity. Shortly before 9/11, when President Bush still saw drugs as the root of global insecurity, the Taliban was being praised by Washington for stemming Afghanistan’s opium trade; indeed it was rewarded with increasing American aid via the United Nations. This made some sense so long as foreign policy could be reduced to drug enforcement. It is no surprise that Afghanistan’s opium output has rebounded with the good fortune of the Taliban’s old foe, the Northern Alliance.
Embarrassing as that is, the White House has more pressing problems. With bin Laden on the loose, and with the president’s Enron connection lurking in the background, the U.S. administration must at all costs divert attention from itself by turning the floodlights of its demonology on an accessible enemy. It is conveniently forgotten that a previous Republican administration maintained an alliance with Saddam Hussein in full knowledge of the fact that he had destroyed countless Kurdish villages in the late 1980s, killing between 100,000 to 150,000 helpless inhabitants. After a cursory “investigation,” then-secretary of state George Schultz judged that these incidents did not warrant a ban on the sale of military equipment and strategic technology to Iraq. Here, as in Afghanistan, the clean divide that Bush draws between “us and them” is a historical fiction. The White House case for geopolitical exorcism rests on public ignorance of, or indifference to, how the United States for years did its best to keep “them” in power.
If simple demonology fails to explain 9/11, the idea that Islam itself is the culprit fares no better. One can forgive Salman Rushdie’s contrary opinion, but in fact Islam is a behavioral “mixed bag”-no more conducive to terrorism than any other world religion. Even Samuel Huntington avers that “there is nothing inherently violent in Muslim theology. Islam, like any great religion, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. People like bin Laden can seize on things in the Koran as commands to go out and kill infidels. But the Pope did exactly the same thing when he launched the Crusades.” Much of what passes for hardline Islamic tradition is of very recent political origin, or at least political exacerbation.
A graphic case in point is the rising power of Pakistani “tribal councils,” which shroud themselves in a largely invented legal tradition. The “Islamic law” they practice owes much to the legacy of General Zia ul-Haq, who as president installed a draconian version of Islamic justice, including death by stoning, from 1977 to 1988. The only available remedy for such judicial perversion is not secularization, which would further empower an already Westernized power elite, but better Islamic education. Presently 95 percent of Pakistan’s population has no practical access to the centralized judicial system that is still conducted in English and is devoted to the same hegemonic ends as the colonial system it supplanted. This is a common predicament in today’s Muslim world-one that will only be magnified in years to come. Farish Noor points out that globalization has already engulfed nearly every Muslim state, commercializing the secular legal system at the expense of civil justice. By comparison, “traditional religious courts appear accessible, cheap, reliable and consistent. The beauty of sharia law-as seen by many ordinary Muslims-is that it at least offers some legal protection with clear verdicts.”
Pakistan’s Imran Khan, former cricket champion and founder of the Justice Movement (Tehrike-Insaaf), makes a cogent case for Islamism as the best way out of this neocolonial rut. His own conversion to serious public service followed his gravitation toward a deeply existential Islam. This spiritual passage into civil Islam was not, however, a categorically anti-Western passage. Khan remains dialogically open to the nonimperialistic aspects of Western culture. This should come as no surprise, for just as there has been a Tocquevillian awakening to the importance of civil society in the West, Muslim reformists are recognizing “that formal democracy cannot prevail unless government power is checked by strong civic associations”-i.e., by civil Islam.
As the failure of Western development schemes is laid bare, all Islamic regimes fall under the shadow of this reform dynamic. Some inoculate themselves by fostering a militant fundamentalism such as Saudi Wahhabism. Though President Suharto of Indonesia was always wary of Islamic politics, he too saw the need to defuse the Muslim pro-democracy movement of the 1990s through an eleventh hour alliance with ultraconservative Islamists. Thus he cultivated the very elements that now pose a terrorist threat. Likewise, Pakistan is presently reverting to Zia-like Islamism. In such cases the real threat to democratization is not the chance that Islam will contaminate politics, but that an already corrupt and militaristic politics will contaminate Islam.
Beena Sarwar explains that “when the state declares some aspect of social power to be Islamic or traditional, it creates a political constituency in those who get that particular scrap of power. And once they have it they will defend it in the terms it came wrapped in, even if the ‘tradition’ is new and the ‘Muslim law’ even newer.” This was illustrated all too well by the recent order of a Pakistani jirga (tribal court) that a man’s alleged crime-insulting the dignity of a higher-status tribe by having illicit sex with one of its members-be compensated by the legally administered gang-rape of his sister. Four men, including one of the jurists, took turns doing the court’s bidding, after which the girl was made to walk home naked in full view of dozens of villagers. Although there is no precedent for this sentence, few in today’s Pakistan dare resist such rulings.
Women’s rights are especially at risk in the face of invented “traditions” that use Islam as a front. Educated Muslim women are fighting back by forming their own Koranic study groups. This feminist wing of civil Islam-which does battle on two fronts, opposing both fundamentalist misogyny and Western sexism-made its global debut at the 1995 UN Conference on Women in Beijing. While chauvinistic interpretations of the Koran were given a drubbing, Western feminism was also targeted as an instrument of neocolonial globalization. This double-edged contest typifies civil Islam’s domestic and foreign stance.
Like most Islamic rulers, Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf is fighting on those same two fronts, but very much on the opposite side. His recent constitutional revisionism includes a rule that only college graduates can run for high public office. That voided the candidacies of many leading political activists, such as the head of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, Nawabzada Nasrulla Khan. There was also an attempt to disqualify Imran Khan for failing to file proof of his Oxford graduation. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) appeared to suffer a startling setback in the country’s elections of October 2002, as voters registered their chagrin over Musharrafs Washington ties. Qazi Hussein Ahmed-leader of the rising Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of six Islamic organizations-declared this a revolution against U.S. imperialism and Westernization. Paradoxically, however, nothing cements the PML’s U.S. alliance so much as this MMA challenge. The October elections provided just the democratic gloss that Musharraf needed to paper over his constitutional ravages and to leverage Washington for still more support. The tactic worked: By mid-November U.S. treasury secretary Paul O’Neill was praising Musharraf for his antiterrorist efforts and promising to forgive $1 billion of Pakistan’s debt to the United States.
This lesson in political image control was not lost on Sheik Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, king of Bahrain, who decided to allow a parliamentary election for the first time in almost thirty years. America welcomes this move insofar as it stabilizes the political environment of a vital U.S. naval base. It is a risk-free venture, since the new house of Parliament cannot act without the consent of the other house, which the Sunni king appoints. Shiite groups therefore organized an election boycott, but that did not prevent the arch globalist Thomas Friedman from lauding the elections as a democratic beachhead in the Arab world.
Civil Islam must be prepared to fight the Musharrafs and the Friedmans alike. So too, like Muslim feminists, it must combat both radical fundamentalism and blanket secularism. Bernard Lewis reduces modern Islam’s field of choice to those fire-and-ice options, but in fact the traditions of Ataturk and Khomeini have struck a symbiotic bargain. While secular elites choke basic liberties, what remains of public discourse is shunted into fundamentalist mosques. America does its part by promoting some of the most repressive regimes on Earth, and by withholding the modicum of support that civil Islamists need to function.
Nothing, not even radical fundamentalism, puts America’s client regimes so much on edge as civil Islam-hence the local and global ferment when Turkey’s new Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP) claimed a sweeping victory in the November 2002 elections. The AKP was forged out of the remnants of the Welfare Party that formed the first Islamist government in 1997, only to be ousted by the staunchly Kemalist military. With Turkey’s E.U. application at issue, the military will probably exercise restraint this time. The country’s flagging economy too badly needs the E.U. boost, and America is in no position to object so long as Turkey offers itself as a military springboard into Iraq.
Thus the West finds itself in the curious position of securing the new Islamist government. Just ten days before the elections, Turkey’s chief prosecutor tried to outlaw the AKP-the party’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, having already been banned from public office-but the tide had turned both domestically and geopolitically. Knowing its victory was less an endorsement of Islamism than a vote against corruption, the AKP is in no position to spurn the West. Far more than the political establishment it displaced, this reform party promises full support for the human rights and democratic reforms mandated at Copenhagen for E.U. applicants.
An even better example of civil Islam’s democratic propensity is the fledgling Kurdish government that has emerged in northern Iraq since 1991 when a no-fly zone was put in place following the Gulf War. In an area 250 by 125 miles, bordered by Syria to the west, Turkey to the north, and Iran to the east, civil liberties have taken shape here as never before in Iraq, or indeed in the Arab world. The Bush administration boasts that its blueprint for a new Iraq would offer a democratic model for the Islamic world, but such a model already exists in the Kurdish zone.
Although Saddam Hussein easily qualifies as the antithesis of that model, it was his place in the global economy that enabled his petrol-driven regime to crush the median institutions that would normally buffer centrist oppression. As Bryan Turner points out, standard Orientalist depictions of Asian society have overlooked such mediating social structures in Asian society. Ironically it is Western and especially American influence that has done most to corrode these structures. Globalization has only accelerated this process, while Islamic resistance has been compelled to go global, setting the stage for the civilizational clash that Barber and Huntington warned of in the early 1990s.
America’s impending war with Iraq, however, is not so much a case of civilizational clash, like its war on Al Qaeda, as a disciplinary action against a refractory globalist puppet-a hired thug who decided to stake out his own turf. Despite their deep hatred of Saddam, Kurds have understandably been slow to join this war dance, since it could remove the protection they presently enjoy in northern Iraq. They have not forgotten how the former President Bush left them in the lurch after encouraging their ill-considered revolt. Only after a million of them fled into Turkey and Iran did the United Nations establish the safe haven that now doubles as a regional prototype for civil Islam.
The U.S. Seal of Approval
Those who think Iraqi Kurds would be protected by an U.S.-engineered “regime change” in Baghdad should consider how little protection Turkish Kurds have received under America’s cold war aegis. Since 1984 there have been forty thousand Kurdish casualties in Turkey’s undeclared ethnic war. The end of the cold war removed America’s only excuse for not applying humanitarian pressure on Turkey, but the only real pressure has come from the European Union, which has induced the Turkish parliament to extend some rudimentary rights to the Kurds. Television and radio stations, for example, are now allowed to broadcast up to forty-five minutes a day in Kurdish and other regional languages. This limited but effective engagement stands in contrast to America’s record of highly invasive but ethically nugatory “realism”: roughly two hundred military aggressions since World War II, plus countless economic machinations. Jeane Kirkpatrick defended such habits on the ground that authoritarian regimes, unlike “totalitarian” ones, would reform themselves in time. But as Stephen Kotkin points out in Armageddon Averted (2001), it was ultimately the Soviets who reformed themselves.
Today similar tactics keep the oil flowing but seldom result in significant reform apart from economic restructuring on globalist terms. Using the war on terrorism as its pretext, Bush foreign policy pushes the geopolitics of oil to new extremes. In the same week that Colin Powell arrived in Indonesia to fete the partial renewal of military aid to one of the world’s most virulent military machines, the administration played its antiterrorist card on the judiciary by attempting to block a lawsuit filed in the United States by the International Labor Rights Fund against Exxon Mobil on behalf of eleven Acehnese victims of assault, torture, and murder. The company claims it bears no responsibility for the actions of security forces guarding its facilities.
Would Exxon have dared use that line if these facilities had been on U.S. soil and the victims had been Americans? The message this double standard sends to the global South raises the question of why it is only Muslim extremists who are effectively fighting globalization with more than words. Islamism is a categorical failure only for those, such as Daniel Pipes and Azar Nafisi, who see the New World Order as a categorical good. Nothing personal here. The same judgment would come down on any serious resistance to globalization. Pushed to its logical conclusion, this globalist reflex leads to the apotheosis of order that Stanley Hoffmann deplores in Henry Kissinger and a new generation of realists. Licensed by 9/11, these empire builders are prepared to put human rights on permanent hold. Like Michael Ignatieff, Hoffman laments that Clinton-era gains on the Palestinian issue have been sacrificed on the altar of antiterrorism. Meanwhile the sympathy that the world showered on America after 9/11 has been answered with cold, unilateral contempt-this at a time when the United States, lacking the magnetic attraction of cold war polarity, needs international support more than ever.
Unable to depend on unconditional cold war allies, the United States looks all the more to its client states for loyalty. These correctly take Bush administration policies as an American seal of approval for hard-line tactics. Thus Egypt feels secure in its “republonarchy” (“Gomloukiya”), as Saad Eddin Ibrahim dubs it. Ibrahim’s Cairo University professorship and dual Egyptian-U.S. citizenship did not shield him in his pro-democratic activism. He was arrested on charges of embezzling funds from the European Union, receiving donations without government permission, and harming Egypt’s international reputation. Although the European Union insisted that no embezzlement had taken place, the 63-year-old reformist was convicted and sentenced to seven years at hard labor, which could be a death sentence for a man of his age and poor health. His only real “crime” was encouraging voter registration and assisting the European Union in monitoring elections.
At first the U.S. State Department simply went on record as being “deeply disappointed” by the court’s ruling. Thomas Friedman’s response was well stated, if more than a little naive: “‘Disappointed?’ I’m disappointed when the Baltimore Orioles lose. When an Egyptian president we give $2 billion a year to jails a pro-American democracy advocate, I’m outraged and expect America to do something about it. I’m also frightened because if there is no space in Egypt for democratic voices for changes, then Egyptians will only be left with the mosque….”
True enough. But this show of outrage hinges on a degree of surprise that is inconceivable in view of America’s stance toward Islamic states since the early cold war era. Washington still keeps its silence concerning the fact that not one of the twenty-two members of the Arab League is a democracy. Is it beyond Friedman’s neoliberal imagination that Bush could be calling the shots with Mubarak, even as Mubarak calls the shots with the Egyptian courts? And can his fellow neoliberals-turned-hawks be unaware that part of the current leadership crisis in Iraq stems from the absence of suitable replacements for Saddam, given the fact that most of the country’s best intellectuals were long ago liquidated, with Washington’s tacit blessing, for having been affiliated with the Left?
Had the United States shown half as much concern over the plight of women within its spheres of influence as it did over Left ideology, the condition of 50 percent of the Saudi population could have been much ameliorated. The sordid truth is that Iraqi women enjoy privileges and opportunities far beyond the reach of their Saudi counterparts. This is one of many reasons why the Iraqi regime is no friend of Al Qaeda. While Bush propaganda depicts Saddam as a rabid Islamist, jihadists more realistically view him as a secularist; and for many years that helped him keep his U.S. stamp of approval.
America’s animus against Islamic politics is even more pronounced in Central Asia, where Islamism functions to destabilize atavistic regimes. When it is considered that these ruling structures were left over from Soviet days, and in Central Asia did not undergo the reforms associated with glasnost, it becomes obvious that a destabilizing force is not necessarily a bad thing. To snuff out Islamic oppositionalism is to reinforce the residual Stalinism that plagues the region to this day, and ironically is more ingrained here than in present-day Russia, where apparatchik kleptocracy is more a problem than old-style despotism.
Human Rights Watch reports that Uzbek president Islam Karimov, having repeatedly extended his term of office, now publicly questions the efficacy of democracy, human rights, and freedom of the press. His crackdown on “Islamic extremists” is aimed at all Muslim opponents, including peaceful ones. The situation in Turkmenistan at least provides comic re lief from the usual banality of evil. Saparmurat Niyazov is better known as Akbar Turkmenbashi, or the Great Leader of All Turkmen. Streets, factories, airports, all kinds of public works, and even one city have been named for this de facto president for life. Not satisfied, the Great Leader has arranged to have the month of January renamed Turkmenbashi.
Meanwhile, Kazakstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev shares something of the Bush family commitment to privatization: according to his own prime minister, he put away $1 billion of a payment from Chevron into a secret Swiss bank account, while his daughter owns most of the country’s news media. But most importantly he holds the winning cards on terrorism and oil, the two most pressing concerns of American power politics. Narzarbayev has been an ardent supporter of the pro-West Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), which holds the line against Russia’s ambition to cultivate a “Big Brother” unilateralism in the region, even to the point of resurrecting the limited sovereignty principle of the Brezhnev Doctrine. Confident of solid U.S. support, Narzarbayev is presently intensifying his crackdown on independent media (thus serving his daughter’s media interests) and on the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakstan (DCK).
There was one grand exception to this pattern, or so it seemed in better times, before the Americans arrived. After its independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan stood apart from its neighbors by virtue of its relative tolerance for a free press and political opposition. This was because the Kyrgyz Republic (to use its formal name) did not follow other former Soviet republics in making an ex-first secretary of the Communist Party its new president. Rather it chose a respected scientist, Askar Akayev, whom Al Gore once described as “a democrat to the bone.” This made for good press, but it was the country’s assiduous compliance with IMF directives that in 1998 made Kyrgystan the first former Soviet republic admitted to the World Trade Organization. Akayev collected still more points by providing a base for two thousand Allied troops when the United States took the West to war in Afghanistan.
American backing made Akayev feel secure enough to move up the realist food chain: arresting his leading political critic, Azimbek Beknazarove, and cracking down on independent news media. When this shocking reversal ignited demonstrations, the police opened fire, killing several protesters and provoking even larger demonstrations. Thanks to that surge of popular resistance, and no thanks to America’s growing influence, charges were dropped against Beknazarove, who returned triumphant to parliament in June 2002. Protesters are now turning to the more formidable task of ridding the country of its aspirant czar.
Akayev himself is assisting the protesters by flaunting his nepotism and crony capitalism at a time when most of the country is in deep depression. Living standards have collapsed since the Soviet era, especially in the south, because most of the country’s $2 billion in foreign loans have been corralled by a few families, businesses, and bureaucrats near Bishkek in the north. While Akayev’s wife cornered the market on government appointments, his son-in-law emerged as a business mogul, pushing out the less-privileged competition. At this critical moment, President Bush decided to invite Akayev to Washington, presumably as a reward for playing host to coalition forces, but also putting a U.S. stamp of approval on Akayev’s general performance.
Getting Past Fukuyama and Huntington
In August 2002 President Musharraf posted his infamous constitutional amendments, discussed above, allowing him to dissolve the parliament at will and personally appoint the prime minister, supreme court justices, cabinet, military chiefs, and all top bureaucrats. To test the water, he made these plans known in advance, but predictably the U.S. State Department made no comment.
Musharraf had convinced Washington that peace in Kashmir and the permanent de-Talibanization of Afghanistan were almost exclusively in his hands. Only he could rein in the Muslim terrorists who operate with impunity out of Pakistan. To prove his seriousness he made sure his court rendered a prompt death sentence to Omar Saeed Sheikh for the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. It was of small importance that domestic support for Musharraf had plummeted, for the army would now decide most matters, including who could run for elections. That is to say, no serious opponents, such as the former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, would be on the ballot. But pro-Taliban fundamentalists were welcome.
Human rights activist Hina Jilani asks why the country even bothers to hold elections. The obvious answer is that it pleases Washington keep up appearances. Ahmed Rashid points out that the army and the ISI adroitly sponsored their nominal adversaries, the mullahs, in the general elections of 10 October 2002. This sends Washington the message that the alternative to Musharraf would be the Talibanization of Pakistan and the re-Talibanization of Afghanistan. This oppositional facade inspired Washington to declare the election “a milestone for democracy,” even as the European Union called it “seriously flawed.” Thus the American public can go on believing the United States is doing a fine job of promoting democracy by holding Islamic politics at bay. Like a weed killer that kills everything that grows, current antiterrorist policies root out both civil and uncivil Islamism.
On the surface these adventures in “nation building” radically depart from the professed doctrines of post-cold war globalism. With the cold war safely behind, neoliberals concluded that commerce alone would best advance their interests. The best cure for bad geopolitics would be no geopolitics. Obviously that notion is hard to sustain after 9/11, but the ensuing “war on terrorism” is informed by strategies cut from an equally totalistic mold. Fukuyama et alia believe that the best cure for extremist Islamic politics is no Islamic politics-complete political secularization. It follows that the war on terrorism should not be directed against terrorists alone, nor even against radical-Islamists alone, but against all Islamists, which is to say all Muslims “for whom religious identity overrides all other political values.”
For any devout Christian, no less than a devout Muslim, religious identity trumps other values. This is seldom regarded as a democratic defect in the West, and likewise Islamic identity has often proved a formidable force of democratic reform. One civil Islamic model took shape in Iran in the early 1960s under the banner of the Freedom Movement, which fervently opposed the Shah. It was this version of Islamic governance-aimed at a republic run by Shiite experts, not a theocracy run by clerics-that the revolution of 1979 first realized. That was before Khomeini declared all supporters of democracy the enemies of Islam. The Movement’s broad base of support, especially among students, ensured that “safavid” mullahs would ban it and do their best to crush it.
Now it is back, however, and the mullahs are restless. It is no comfort to them that Iran has the youngest population in the world, three-quarters of Iranians being under twenty-five. Attending Friday prayers is not the younger generation’s idea of fun. For that they look to the West, and especially to America. President Bush unwittingly came to the aid of the mullahs with his State of the Union message in January 2002. By casting Iran as an “axis of evil” nation, Bush put pro-Western reformists on the defensive. President Khatami, as Whit Mason notes, can at best pass for an Iranian Gorbachev, but never a Yeltsin. Mason nonetheless senses in Iranian cities a republican spirit reminiscent of Barcelona’s on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. He fails to mention, however, one crucial difference: the Spanish republicans were not just anticlerical, but officially antireligious. By contrast, Iranian reformism is very much a civil religious phenomenon.
So too is Pakistan’s. Even such an uncompromising critic of Western culture as the late Sayyid Abu al-ala al-Mawdudi, founder of the Jamaat-i Islami (JI), granted that there is no essential disagreement between Islamism and Western democratism on issues such as legal equality and freedom from oppression. JI has long stood in defense of civil liberties and as a bastion of prodemocratic dissent. Like the Egyptian fundamentalist Yusaf al-Qardawi, most Islamists resist only the blanket import of Western culture. They recoil from Western consumerism and its political appendage, the bread-and-circus “democracy” that thrives under the auspices of corporate globalization. To that extent civil and uncivil Islam stand as one. But they are profoundly at odds where cultural dialogics is concerned-a vantage advanced by President Khatami of Iran and by Anwar Ibrahim, the ill-fated former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, in the days before Mahathir’s full crackdown on Islamic reformism.
Nowhere, however, is that civil Islamic difference so pronounced as in Indonesia. When the Islamic extremist Abu Bakar Bashir, founder of the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, pressed the Indonesian legislature for a constitutional amendment to make Islamic sharia the law of the land, it was the country’s two major Islamic parties that most forcefully blocked the proposition. So too, most Muslim leaders were fast to endorse tough security laws following the terrorist bombing of 12 October 2002 in Bait. Nor do Muslim moderates think much of Bashir’s goal of a pan-Islamic state uniting Malaysia, Indonesia, and the southern Philippines. If Bashir’s brand of Islamism gains popularity, it will be because Indonesia’s president Megawati failed to tap the moral resources of civil Islam. That is the position of Azymardi Azra, rector of the Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University. In his opinion Megawati must marshal the support of moderate Muslims while toughening her opposition to terrorists. Up until the BaIi tragedy her government had done neither. Jihadic Islamism will be the winner if she now yields to Washington’s push for a general war on Islamism.
As Azra attests, terrorism must be fought within rather than against Islamic politics. Even in Aceh, Indonesia’s most intensely Islamic province, religious leaders oppose the cruel and unusual punishments associated with some forms of sharia. It was to forestall political development that Suharto’s New Order disempowered the country’s ulama (traditional religious teachers); and it is political corruption, not democracy, that is threatened by the resurgence of the ulama. By the same token, the best means of combating Islamic terrorism is not-as the Bush administration insists-intense remilitarization (and of course re-Pentagonization).
Any effective antiterrorist strategy, Sidney Jones argues, must remove the conditions that fostered Islamic extremism in the first place. And in Indonesia civil Islam is the only mechanism capable of expunging the corruption and repression that fuel extremism. The real enemy is the politics of resentment that cloaks itself in the trappings of Islam. The real choice, therefore, is not between Islamism and secularism, but between civil and uncivil Islam. If the former treats the state, in effect, as “one nation under Allah,” that is no more anti-democratic than the principle “one nation under God.”
Fukuyama just doesn’t get it. He fails to see that maligning the politics of Islamic identity does a favor for the terrorist cause by blowing the bridge between “us and them”; and although Huntington avoids such neoliberal hubris, the gap between the two is not so wide as has been supposed. Their contest can better be described as a fraternal tug-of-war between Eurocentric optimism and pessimism. Both would offer the West as a model for global emulation wherever possible. They differ greatly, however, as to the scope of that possibility. Huntington is grimly reconciled to the West’s cultural insularity, given what he considers the incorrigibility and very real danger of the cultural Other, and especially the Islamic Other; whereas Fukuyama holds out hope for an ever widening zone of posthistorical globalization. His brand of globalism is always glad to lend a hand in liberating the Other from itself. Such “neoliberalism” is just another name for neocolonialism.
Initially the Bush administration sustained Clinton’s economic globalization while embracing Huntingtonesque isolation in other respects. That changed on 9/11, when the Islamic Other paid its epochal visit on the symbolic centers of globalist trade and security. Needless to say, this was not a good day for Fukuyama’s end-of-history teleology, but neither was it a good day for Huntington’s cultural isolationism. As Karen Armstrong puts it, the inescapable lesson of that fateful day was that we now live in one world: “So if, like the Bush administration, we try to isolate ourselves, the world will come to us-in terrifying ways.”
Conclusion: The Core Problem
These new terrors render old lines of defense obsolete or woefully inadequate, and old lines of foreign policy undecidable. One tragic error of twentieth century international relations was its rigid bifurcation of realist and idealist strategies. Our current crisis demands that the two be brought into a workable relationship-my term for this merger being “moral realism.” By rejecting the ends and means of corporate globalization, on the one side, and Bush/Rumsfeld militancy, on the other, moral realism affords an alternative to isolationism and imperialism alike. So too it moves beyond the antipodes of cultural isolation or imposition. With Amartya Sen it recognizes that respect for basic freedom is hardly the monopoly of the West. This allows us to see Islamic tolerance as an especially fertile field for democratic development.
The very opposite view is taken by the Bush administration, which imposes cultural norms with the same unilateral fiat it applies to military decisions. Islamic militants are among the beneficiaries of this cultural closure. When Bush, mirroring the theocrats’ “Great Satan” view of America, vilified the entire Iranian nation, he gave the clerics temporary respite from their demographic dilemma: the fact that 70 percent of Iranians are under age thirty, and on the edge of revolt. This put at risk five years of arduous diplomatic bridge-building with Khatami’s moderate Islamism. Similar dialogic opportunities are being wasted throughout the Muslim world.
Civil Islam is the missing dialogic link between America and that world. Though it hardly registers in Western media coverage, Muslim civility is a growing force of change at the grassroots level in such diverse cultural climates as Indonesia and Egypt. The most popular Islamic preacher in Indonesia, Abdullah Gymnastiar, talks mainly about practical and personal issues to his rapt television audience. Even Egypt, where Islamic extremism has competed with the government in its hostility toward moderate reformism, shows similar signs of transition. Many young Egyptians are turning away from the revolutionary Islamism of the 1980s toward a more personal and ethical faith, closely akin to the call of the great Arab poet Adonis for an Islamic subjectivist revolution. There is a growing consensus that violence in general, and terrorism in particular, are very un-Islamic. Many former Egyptian militants have publicly renounced their prior activities and condemned Osama bin Laden’s tactics, especially after 9/11.
Promising as these developments are, the Egyptian case presages a reverse danger: the untimely forfeiture of modern Islam’s political nature, and hence its oppositional resolve. Political extremism, unfortunately, is giving way to a programmatically apolitical politics. Not surprisingly the personalization of Islam that is sweeping Egypt-pushing cassette sales of the country’s leading televangelist, Amr Khaled, over those of the hottest pop stars-has been most entrenched within the affluent classes. This privatization leaves the most explosive public issues to fester unattended. It is a safe bet that less privileged classes will not reach out to Amr Khaled for guidance. And the moderate political leaders they might have turned to, such as Professor Ibraham, will have been silenced.
Indonesian Islam is less inclined toward this pendulum swing into apolitical civility. Even the affable and business-mined Gymnastiar is political enough to condemn U.S. Middle East policies and to underscore his disaffection by refusing all invitations to visit the United States. When he recently met Colin Powell he took the occasion to brief him on the axial principle of civil Islam: while Christians ground their faith in love, Muslims center theirs around fairness. That, he stressed, is America’s core problem in its dealings with the Islamic world in general: Washington’s manifest unfairness is a veritable factory for blowback.
This is producing, in terms of culture clash, the equivalent of a new cold war. Yet despite events such as the Cole attack and 9/11, radical Islamism is still a basically defensive reflex. In the view of Adonis, author of the shockingly prophetic poem “The Funeral of New York,” the geocultural battle lines of this war are internal to the West. They are drawn, that is, in terms of a different kind of civilizational clash: the widening gap between the richness and breadth of American culture, on the one side, and the poverty and narrowness of American foreign policy on the other. This rift traces largely to America’s bad listening skills, such that only Islamic terrorism gets a hearing. he real enemy is not so much Islamism as our own cultural myopia. More even than the first cold war, this one is all about us.