Posted in 9/11, Al Qaeda, democracy, Egypt, Europe, Fundamentalism, Iran, Iraq, islam, Middle East, Muslims, Obama, Osama, Radical, revolution, September 11, terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy, youth, tagged 9/11, Al Qaeda, America, democracy, Egypt, elections, Europe, Iraq, Libya, Middle East, mullah, Muslims, Radical, Syria, Tunisia, U.S. Foreign Policy, Yemen, youth on April 24, 2011 |
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“La Ikhwan, La Salafia. A Sha’ab Bidu Huriyya.”
“No Muslim Brotherhood. No Salafists. The Youth want Freedom.”
The language above on the sign held up by a Syrian protester this week encapsulates all the promise, and anxiety, of this moment for Western policy makers watching the Arab revolutions unfold. What kind of freedom? Who will step into the vacuum? What will be their world view?
Stepping into this dangerous information void is a familiar narrative for those of us who have been watching the region for some time, finding its voice once again in the global media echo chamber. In the 80′s and 90′s it was a barely reported whisper in the secure, secular anterooms of power, yet it resonated with the right audience. Strongmen in immaculate Armani suits in Cairo and Damascus and Sana’a pulled aside envoys from Rome to Paris to Washington for a measured, and entirely calculated pronouncement: We have a problem. The mullahs have toppled the Shah. The fundamentalist wave is now sweeping thru our own countries. Look the other way while we deal with it…
And we did. The secular, benevolent dictator was much preferable to the bearded fundamentalist. Benevolent to our own interests, of course, not so much those of their own people. In Iraq, Saddam invaded Iran and brutally crushed Kurdish and Shi’ite dissent, all with Western weapons and financing. In Syria, the late Hafez Al-Assad reduced the city of Hama- the center of the Syrian Islamist movement- to rubble. In Egypt, pitched battles took place between Mubarak’s security forces and Islamic groups. And perhaps most damning, in hindsight, a moderate Islamic party won a free and fair election in Algeria, only to be brutally removed by a cabal of generals who tipped the country towards civil war, without so much as a peep from Western leaders.
All of this, years before Al Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden were even a coherent operational entity. All of this, and our leaders still scratch their heads and wonder out loud why political Islam has turned dangerously radical.
What has changed today? In Libya, the Qaddafi family mafia screams of Al Qaeda rebels and Islamist conspiracies. In Syria, the younger Assad talks of armed gangs with sinister Islamic credentials. In Egypt, military rulers continue to play the heart-strings of Western Islamophobia, hinting of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover in upcoming elections. Yemen’s President Saleh long ago mastered the art of the American shake down: extracting millions in U.S. aid by playing up the threat of exploding underwear bombers and then using those resources to crush any dissent to his rule. Let’s not limit ourselves to the Arab world. The corrupt autocrats of Pakistan and Afghanistan have extracted billions in American treasure while doing little to combat (and much to proliferate) the fundamentalist forces in their own countries. Why would they when extremist Islam is a source of so much badly needed foreign exchange? The Islamophobia con game has not been limited even to sitting rulers. In the runup to the 2003 Iraq invasion, Iraqi exile groups were persistent in their arguments that Saddam was conspiring with Al Qaeda, and their persistence paid off by pushing America to war, despite a shred of real evidence to substantiate their claims.
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Posted in 9/11, Al Qaeda, democracy, Egypt, Europe, Fundamentalism, Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran, islam, Middle East, Muslims, Obama, Osama, Radical, revolution, September 11, South Asia, Taleban, Taliban, terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy, youth, tagged 9/11, Al Qaeda, America, Americans, Arab, democracy, Egypt, Europe, Hamas, islam, Libya, Middle East, Muslims, Obama, Radical, Saudi Arabia, Taliban, terrorism, Tunisia, U.S. Foreign Policy, youth on March 27, 2011 |
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“Barack Obama has now fired more cruise missiles than all other Nobel Peace Prize winners combined.”
It’s good for a laugh. A cheap laugh. The blogger who wrote this clearly doesn’t have any appreciation for the reality that confronts American presidents on a daily basis. No doubt he or she also did not have any family in Benghazi last week, when a desert breeze stood between Qaddafi’s tank columns and the certain massacre of the city’s population. Can anyone- Arab, European, American- honestly compare our intervention in Libya in 2011 to Iraq in 2003 or Afghanistan in 2001? Really? Have we become that morally unhinged? Iraq and Afghanistan were all about an insecure, fearful United States lashing out at nations because it didn’t have the means to locate and punish the trans-national movement responsible for 9/11. Libya is about a coalition of mainly Western powers reluctantly resorting to force to protect ordinary people from their own self-appointed leader. Do NATO countries have their own, selfish reasons for bombing Libya? Of course. No nation in the history of nations acts out of pure altruism. France and Italy are concerned about North African refugees overwhelming their shores. Britain and America worry about Al Qaeda stepping into a vacuum. Everyone worries about the free flow of oil and upward pressure on its price. Interestingly, all these risks have the potential to grow exponentially if you go down the path of using force. So, are we really being selfish and sinister by bombing Libya, protecting only our own interests, or are we, instead, ignoring them for a greater cause? Hmmm. It’s infinitely more complex and larger than this question alone.
There is something bigger here. Say whatever you want about mission creep in Libya, international spinelessness in Bahrain, or heavy-handed government brutality in Syria, the paradigm has forever changed, and unambiguously for the better. Since the 9/11 attacks, conflict between the “West” and the “Muslim world” had been framed, indeed defined, by two primary actors- one state and one non-state. On one side, Western governments and their partner regimes (Israel and our Muslim allies) declared their war on terror. They faced off largely against trans-national groups- Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hizbullah, Hamas- entities who by their very nature and ideology challenged the notion of the modern nation-state itself. Conspicuously absent on either side of the battle lines was the most important actor of all: Muslim civil society, the entity who alone has the power to reinvigorate stagnating communities and provide a viable long-term solution to violent extremism.
No longer. The Arab Street has emerged. Unruly, leaderless, fickle- and yet, it has forced both sides to contend with it and can no longer be discounted derisively as “not ready for democracy” or “too chaotic and unknowable to be trusted”. Both primary actors in the conflict have had to reconfigure their strategies to account for this new and potentially pivotal player, and the upshot so far is encouraging. Western governments have for the most part aligned their policies more with the aspirations of the Street while trans-national actors seem too dumbfounded even to react.
Indeed, the hidden story in all of this, the elephant in the room that no one has talked about seriously: where is Al Qaeda? Why the strange silence during the region’s most volatile hour in decades? Numerous self-styled experts have claimed that instability and chaos were this organization’s preferred milieu, creating the space for its operatives to challenge the legitimacy of national governments. What better opportunity than the upheavals in places like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where secular strongmen tied to American patronage have come under immense pressure. Is it perhaps because Al Qaeda has nothing to say to the largely young, secular groups and moderate Islamists who have tipped the scales of the system? What would they offer them? Brutal caliphates like those that are going swimmingly well in Saudi Arabia and Iran? Perhaps more important, these popular awakenings have relegated a key plank in the Al Qaeda public relations machine to history’s dustbin: the string of corrupt secular regimes controled by Western puppetmasters and dismissive of their own people. The edifice of this once potent recruiting tool is now crumbling, and Al Qaeda does not know what to do.
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