Sunday, February 19, 2006

Radical Islam - foe and friend

In a paper presented earlier today at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Sciences, Scott Atran notes that the use of suicide bombers has increased exponentially in the last three decades. (Risk in the Wild: Reassessing Terrorist Threats from the Field. The Moral Logic and Growth of Matyrdom: Instrumental Reasoning vs. Sacred Values - presented to the Risk Panel, 19 Feb 2006). The following is part of the conclusion:
"In Unveiling Jimaah Islamiya, one of JI's former top leaders Nasir Abas refutes what he believes to be the tendentious use of the Koran and hadith to justify suicide bombing against fellow Muslims and civilians...He reasons that the best way to turn altruistic suicide bombers who believe that what they are doing is sacred away from violence may be by religiously promoting competing sacred values, such as spreading the faith and promoting equal economic opportunity, as well as social and political advancement through education achievement and personal piety. Sincere alternative appeals to sacred values could undermine consensus for violent jihad. But it is not evident that the United States and it allies would or could embrace this process without strangling it".
Next to this it is instructive to place Hendrik Hertzberg´s commentary on the George Bush´s State of the Union address , in which the US president identifies "radical Islam" as the enemy. The choice of words, Hertzberg argues, is inept: as bad as Bush´s early talk of a crusade:
"Radical Islam is a far broader and more variegated phenomenon than the terrorist virus that infects it...In virtually every iteration, it demands the subordination of women the stunting of education, and curbing of freedom of speech, of the press, and of relgion. It should be opposed, as part of America´s thirty year old campaign on human rights. But it is not in and of itself a casus belli. Violence and terrorism are not intrinsic to it. And it emphatically not something which the United State should fight to the death".
A couple of comments here. First, it´s not "America" that fights for human rights. Some US institutions and individuals have on occasion played a notable role here, but it has always been flawed and complex and never "America" on its own. Beware self-regard and chauvinism (vide Fukuyama After Neoconservatism).

Second, pick your battles. The actual choices and opportunities available in what could prove to be very dangerous times may be more limited than one might wish. There may be some common ground with those who embrace non-violence however much one may disagree on particulars (for example, the non-violent but verging fundamentalist forces in places such as Malaysia, "a model progressive Muslim country that... makes laws that discriminate against women and that allows its religious authorities to snatch away the body of a dead man from his grieving [non-Muslim] family" but where the impetus for progressive reform may come from relatively progressive actors from within).

(Also, as Fukuyama may be right to say "Europe will be a central battleground in this fight")

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