Everyman’s Strategic Survey: The Middle East (3) ~ How does it end?

There is an interesting article in Foreign Affairs by Andrew  L Peek in which he asks and answers the question: “How does this [Islamic radicalism] end?

He prefaces the discussion with a very brief history of radical Islamism:

Islamist terrorism is not a constant. The threat of violent Sunni Islamism was essentially nonexistent until 1979, when the Iranian Revolution and Afghan jihad became symbols of the potential power of political Islam. After Sunni gunmen took hqdefaultover the Grand Mosque in Mecca and demanded the overthrow of the monarchy, Saudi Arabia poured money into Islamist charities, schools, and religious foundations to bolster the monarchy’s religious credentials. Radicalism began to take root. A few years later, after the Gulf War, modern al Qaeda was born, its members already with a Soviet scalp on their belt. The United States, as the guarantor of regimes throughout the Middle East, absorbed its fire. Because few of those states functioned, and since none were free, the Islamists’ critique found fertile ground. And on the fringes came the militants.

But he goes on to explain that the US, the US led West in general, may be helpless:

ISIS’ defeat would only bring a temporary respite. A decade ago, Sunni radicals were pledging allegiance to al Qaeda; a decade from now, they might well be doing the same to ISIS’ successor. The genesis of ISIS, like al Qaeda before it, lies in the broader phenomenon of radical Sunni norms in the Middle East. These are primarily the legacy of the Grand Mosque takeover and Saudi Arabia’s reaction to it … [and] …  These norms hinder the functional cooperation on terrorism with America’s allies. For example, Pakistan’s politicians are fully unable to arrest the indicted leaders of radical groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa for fear of public backlash. Saudi and Emirati authorities cannot prevent millions of dollars from going to radical groups throughout the Middle East, because radical norms have filtered down to the people. According to a Pew Research Center Poll in 2013, 88 percent of Egyptian Muslims and 62 percent of Pakistani Muslims support the death penalty for apostasy. A 2016 poll suggested that over half of British Muslims believed that homosexuality should be illegal. Of course, that is only a snapshot, not necessarily representative of the broader Islamic community, but it is troubling for the populations of three U.S. allies.

He then draws a link between the recent mass murder or, perhaps, terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida and the “cultural norms” in the Middle East:

Surely there is some link between Orlando shooter Omar Mateen’s attack on a gay club and the Middle East’s illiberal civil laws, including prohibitions on blasphemy and sodomy. Surely there is some link between those laws and Pakistan’s support for Islamist militancy. Surely there is a basic societal worldview that encapsulates all three, and surely it is not particularly uncommon. Not the majority view, maybe, but not uncommon. Even the most pluralistic, peaceful, successful states such as Morocco and the United Arab Emirates contribute thousands of fighters to ISIS and raise money for the Taliban … [and]... U.S. foreign policy must address such norms in order for Sunni Islamic terrorism to end. They may seem tangential to the fundamental interests of U.S. foreign policy, and are difficult to change, but the United States should insist. If Saudi Arabia institutionalizes freedom of worship, for example, it could have a trickle-down effect. If Pakistan’s military and intelligence services stopped supporting violently anti-U.S. and anti-Indian press outlets, eventually those stridently sectarian voices would become less influential in the national narrative and worldviews of aspiring lone wolves. Over time, changing such basic social norms would likely produce fewer Islamist radicals, not more.

None of this would be easy,” Mr Peek goes on to explain, because  “both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are in extremely vulnerable positions right now. As a result of the Iranian nuclear deal and war against ISIS, Saudi Arabia is more isolated than at any point in its history—for the first time ever, it is without a great power sponsor. Similarly, the drawdown of the United States’ war in Afghanistan means that the United States has less reason to ignore Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation and shell games with the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups. Both might be willing to negotiate” …  “On the other hand” he continues, “they might not. Isolated, they might find vindication in the Islamists’ critique of the West and slip deeper into their radicals’ worldview. Even so, there would be some reason for hope. Most Islamist governments can’t function. The best weapon the United States has in Afghanistan is that Afghans experienced the Taliban and did not like the group. And it is telling that the most pro-American populace in the Middle East besides Israel is Shia Iran, where the Islamist government has made itself impoverished and unpopular.
He concludes that:
Unfortunately, there is no qualitative solution to radical Sunni terrorism. There is no way to categorically eliminate the source. Thirty-five years after the genesis of modern Islamic radicalism, many of its tenets have taken deep root. There is only the hope that the frenetic energy of Sunni extremists will make so many enemies that they will eventually exhaust themselves, and after enough Talibans and Islamic States, the age of terrorism will be over. The radicals will dwindle to a point where communist and fascist radicals are now: a discredited voice in the wilderness. In the meantime, America must protect itself, and be vigilant.
Northwest Florida site of weapons system evaluationSo, his solution, which I find very depressing, is that we must hope that “Sunni extremists will make so many enemies that they will eventually exhaust themselves.” You’ll forgive me if I suggest that there are ways to hurry that process along a bit. We were, until Prime Minister Trudeau came to power, actually helping a bit, but he seems to trust Andrew Peek’s prescription: wait them out.
I do agree that the “final solution” to Islamist radicalism lies with Muslims, themselves, in their communities but we can put pressure on them, especially by showing the Middle Eastern peoples, themselves, that there are violent, bloody, deadly consequences for attacking Western cities and murdering Western civilians.
Radical, violent, Islamism is not an existential threat to the West, or even to our institutions ~ we will get the balance between security and liberty right, eventually. But it poses a real danger and we must take measures to protect ourselves and to punish those who attack us in exemplary fashions.

2 thoughts on “Everyman’s Strategic Survey: The Middle East (3) ~ How does it end?”

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