Thursday, November 11, 2004

Five points from Gilles Kepel

Today openDemocracy published an interview with Gilles Keppel by Rosemary Bechler.

Kepel’s analysis is profound – and reaches far beyond even this excellent interview. But at least five points he articulates in the interview stand out for me.

Points one and two are what Kepel identifies as the blind spots of the jihadis and the neo-conservatives respectively.

1. The jihadis: claiming that they alone won the war against the evil empire of kufr (impiety) and its Red Army, also dismiss what they owe to American policy. But without the smart, ground–to–air, shoulder–borne Stinger missiles – brainchild of Albert Wohlstetter’s military thinking – the Soviet forces would never have been defeated. In this respect, the Afghan–bred mujaheddin is the metonymy or synecdoche – the best image of the geopolitical crossroads represented by 9/11.

[They forgot that they owed their victory over the Soviets over the United States, and created an unrealistic assessment of the vulnerability of US-allies who they hoped to overthrow next.]

2. The neocons: The main shortcoming of the neocon understanding of democracy, and indeed their whole vision of the world, lies deeper: in its strategic assessment that all it needed to accomplish in Iraq was to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime and thus free Iraqi society. The neocons completely failed to grasp what had happened during the previous sanctions regime.

[Elsewhere, Kepel calls identifies what happened during the sanctions as the“destructuring” or Iraqi society: the collapse of the remnant middle class and creation of a totally criminalized state]

3. The Future of Iraq: The United States troops could, I imagine, have eliminated Muqtada al–Sadr with a smart missile had they really wanted to; but I guess that they perceive him as someone who can ultimately be coopted and inserted into the lower ranks of the Shi’a hierarchy.

Then two points on Muslims in Europe

4. The battle for Muslim identity in Europe as illustrated over the headscarf issue in France and the taking hostage of two French journalists in Iraq of two in France:

The response to the kidnapping of two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, in Iraq on 20 August 2004 is an illustration of this. A so–called “Islamist army”, after buying them from the group of thugs responsible for their seizure, announced they would behead the journalists unless France rescinded its secular ban on the wearing of the hijab (and other religious apparel) in French schools.

The “army” was convinced that this would mobilise the masses of the umma in their favour, and were supported in this expectation by various French Islamists on Arabic–speaking satellite TV. Much to their dismay, French people of Muslim descent – regardless of the degree of their devotion – adamantly denied the kidnappers the right to speak in their name, and affirmed a primary solidarity with the journalists, not to whoever claimed to speak in the name of Islam.

5. Muslims ideology and the European left – the role of Tariq Ramadan:

In my view, the question of whether someone like Tariq Ramadan is two–faced is not the real issue. I see nothing particularly wrong in someone who is in politics using all the means at his disposal. The more relevant point is about the kind of alliance he seeks to form with the extreme left, calculating that it is unlikely to long resist the Islamists’ much more potent and organised ideology.

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