Our Old Grand Fantasies About Radical Islam
Most things that we read in the popular media about radical Islam are fantasies. They are promulgated in the mistaken belief that such dogmas will appease terrorists, or at least direct their ire elsewhere. But given the recent news -- murdering in Algeria, war in Mali, the Syrian mess, and Libyan chaos -- let us reexamine some of these more common heresies. Such a review is especially timely, given that Mr. Brennan believed that jihad is largely a personal quest for spiritual perfection; Mr. Kerry believed that Bashar Assad was a potentially moderating reformer; and Mr. Hagel believed that Iran was not worthy of sanctions, Hezbollah was not deserving of ostracism, and Israel is equally culpable for the Middle East mess.
1. Contact with the West Moderates Radical Muslims
In theory, residence in the West could instruct young Muslim immigrants on the advantages of free markets, constitutional government, and legally protected freedoms. But as we saw with many of the 9/11 hijackers, for a large subset of Muslim expatriates, a strange schizophrenia ensues: they enjoy -- indeed, seek out -- the material bounty of the West. But in the abstract, far too many either despise what wealth and affluence do to the citizenry (e.g., gay marriage, feminism, religious tolerance, secularism, etc.) or try to dream up conspiracy theories to explain why their adopted home is better off than the native one that they abandoned.
Finally, foreign students, journalists, and religious expatriates tend to congregate around American campuses and in liberal big cities. There, they are more often nursed on American race/class/gender critiques of America, and so apparently believe that their own anti-Americanism must naturally be shared by millions of Americans from Bakersfield to Nashville. Take Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s new theocratic president. He should appreciate the U.S. It gave him refuge from persecution in Egypt. It allowed unfettered expression of his radical anti-American views. It schooled him in meritocratic fashion and offered him secure employment at the CSU system, despite his foreign national status. It gave citizenship to two of his daughters (apparently retained). But the result is that Mr. Morsi is an abject anti-Semite (“apes and pigs”) and anti-American. He does not believe terrorists caused 9/11. He wants the imprisoned, murderous blind sheik, who was the architect of the first World Trade Center bombing, sent home to Egypt. And he is pushing Egypt into a Sunni version of Iran.
2. The West Must Atone for Its Past Behavior
I have noted elsewhere both the fantasies found in Barack Obama’s Cairo speech and their general irrelevance to the Muslim world. Polls from Pakistan to Palestine -- both recipients of massive U.S. aid -- show that the U.S. is as unpopular under Obama as it was under Bush. All small nations have writs against large ones, especially the globally ubiquitous U.S. But America must be seen in comparison to ... what? Russia’s artillery and missile barrage that leveled Muslim Grozny (which the UN declared the most destroyed city in the world)? China, which outlaws free expression of Islam and persecutes Muslim minorities? Both are largely left alone by al-Qaeda, due to their unapologetic attitudes, possible unpredictable response, and inability to offer attackers a globalized media forum.
In contrast, no single nation lets in more Muslim immigrants than does the U.S. No non-Muslim nation gives more foreign aid than does the U.S. to the Muslim world -- Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, and Palestine. No nation has so sought to save Muslims from dictatorial violence -- whether bombing European Christians to save Muslims in the Balkans; jawboning Kuwaitis to spare Palestinian turncoats in 1991; trying to feed starving Somalis; aiding Muslims fighting Russians in Afghanistan; freeing Kuwaitis from Saddam; rebuilding Iraq; rebuilding Afghanistan from Taliban terror; trying to free Libyans from Gadhafi; and on and on.
The sources of radical Islam rage are thus not past U.S. actions. Read The Al Qaeda Reader to chart all the bizarre excuses that bin Laden and Dr. Zawahiri alleged were the roots of their anger at the U.S. So why exactly does radical Islam hate us? Mostly because of the age-old wages of insecurity, envy, and a sense of inferiority -- and the hunch that such gripes win apologies, attention, and sometimes money. In a globalized world, Muslims see daily that everyone from South Koreans to North Americans are better off. Why? In their view, not because of market economies, meritocracies, gender equality, religious pluralism, consensual government, and the Western menu of personal freedom. To draw that conclusion would mean to reject tribalism, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, anti-Semitism, statism, authoritarianism, and conspiracy theory -- and to admit indigenous rather than foreign causation. Instead, it is far easier to blame “them” for turning the majestic Islamic empire of old into the chaos of modern Islam -- as well as to fault Arab secularists whose lack of religious zealotry allowed the West to move ahead. All antidotes to these deductive beliefs -- foreign aid, democratization, outreach, better communications -- have so far proved ambiguous at best.