The Need for Clarity in the War against Islamist Totalitarianism

Feb. 15 2017

Between, on the one hand, the Obama administration’s vague catch-all of “countering violent extremism” and the Bush administration’s overly broad “general war on terror” and, on the other hand, declaring war on Islam as such, Eran Lerman presses for a clear definition of America’s current conflict:

It is in the interests of all the key players to latch onto a coherent interpretation of who the enemy is and how to defeat it. That war could be called by the shorthand DIT, or Defeating Islamist Totalitarianism.

Modern Islamist totalitarianism draws on traditional elements in Islam, including the notion of jihad, the idea of Islam as a religion of conquest, and the central role of political power . . . in shariah. But it also draws on 20th-century models of political action from Lenin to Hitler. . . . This distinction has several implications.

First, modern political movements—unlike ancient religious affiliations—can be tested and broken on the field of battle. Their legitimacy flows from their success, not from the validity of their arguments, and will ebb with failure.

Second, drawing a clear line helps mobilize moderate and pragmatic Muslim forces that are elements of stability within the existing power system. These include Sufi mystics violently targeted by Islamist Salafists, as well as those, like the Egyptian president Mohammed Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, who speak the idiom of Islamic modernist “enlightenment” (tanwir) and rationalism (emphasized, for example, in the preamble to the current Egyptian constitution). All of these forces have a vested interest in the defeat of Islamic State (IS), Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Third, it suggests a workable agenda rather than a millennial war. IS and its ilk can and should be “eradicated” (to use President Trump’s term from his inauguration). Attention should then turn to the Iranian regime and its proxies, notably Hizballah, and subsequently to the Brotherhood and its offshoots, like Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Barack Obama, Iran, ISIS, Islamism, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, War on Terror


Winning Islam’s War of Ideas, Saudi-Style

March 19 2018

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. policymakers have understood the need to confront jihadism not only militarily but also ideologically; yet, writes John Hannah, they have had little success. Now Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’ reformist crown prince, appears willing and able to take up the fight, and Hannah urges Washington to support his efforts:

By an order of magnitude, al-Qaeda in 2018 enjoys a larger presence in more countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia than it did the day the Twin Towers were felled. . . . What’s consistently been missing from America’s strategy have been powerful partners in the Muslim world who can reliably be counted on to speak out authoritatively on matters of Islamic theology in ways that the United States simply cannot. That’s where Saudi Arabia comes in. It’s the birthplace of Islam and host to the faith’s two holiest mosques. Combined with abundant oil wealth, these assets bestow on the Saudis a measure of soft-power influence unrivaled in the Muslim world. . . .

For months, the crown prince and his closest advisers have relentlessly hammered the theme that Saudi Arabia’s modernization requires an embrace of “moderate Islam.” He’s slammed the extremist ideology that the kingdom did so much to empower after the Iranian revolution and acknowledges that “the problem spread all over the world.” . . . At home, the powers of the kingdom’s notorious religious police have been scaled back. Prominent hardline clerics have been jailed. On the all-important issue of female empowerment, the pace of change has been breathtaking. . . .

Now the U.S. imperative should be pressing Mohammed bin Salman to take his campaign for moderate Islam on the road. . . . There should be multiple elements to such an effort, but some immediate tasks come to mind. First, school textbooks. The Saudis promised to eliminate the hate-filled passages a decade ago. Progress has slowly been made, but the job’s still not done. Mohammed bin Salman should order it finished—this year. Behind the scenes, U.S. experts should provide verification.

Second, working with trusted partners in indigenous communities known for their religious moderation, the Saudis should conduct a thorough audit of the global network of mosques, schools, and charitable organizations that they’ve backed with an eye toward weeding out radical staff and content. Third, [they should] initiate a worldwide buyback of Saudi-distributed mistranslations of the Quran and other religious materials notorious for propagating extremist narratives.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Moderate Islam, Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, War on Terror