OK, yet again, as it is day-after-day-after-day, my newsfeed contains a story about another immigrant in another country (Belgium, this time) attacking someone “with a knife shouting Allahu Akbar (God is great), in a case authorities are treating as a terrorist attack.” It’s not an isolated incident … it happened, again, in London, too. It is tempting to blame political-Islam for all this, but, as The Economist says, “When jihadists kill – as they did again in Spain last week – it is indeed tempting to treat those who seek power in the name of Islam as a menace. Yet the blanket repression of all Islamists is the worst possible response. In the end, it will lead only to more resentment, more turmoil and more terrorism.“
Remember, what The Economist is saying is not that Islamist are not terrorists, some are, and it is not that Islamism cannot be, and is not “a menace,” sometimes it is, but rather that, yet again, a simplistic, one-size-fits-all approach will be wrong. “Islamist groups come in many forms,” the article days, “from Ennahda, the Tunisians who call themselves “Muslim democrats”, to Hamas, the Palestinians who dispatched suicide-bombers to Israel. Those who would suppress them all make three errors: they claim Islamists are all the same; they say they are fundamentally undemocratic; and they think the solution lies with strongmen … [and, we should] … Start with the conflation. Critics charge that political Islamists differ little from jihadists like al-Qaeda and Islamic State, since both sorts of groups seek to re-create an Islamic caliphate under sharia and disagree only over timing and means; worse, political Islam is often a gateway to violent jihad … [but] … The Brotherhood is itself partly to blame for the blurring of distinctions. Its leaders have a habit of preaching non-violence in English while, as over Palestine and Syria, talking up resistance and even jihad in Arabic. Likewise, some of the violence against the Egyptian government appears to be the work of Brotherhood radicals. Prominent global jihadists include ex-Brothers, among them Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader … [but, further] … to lump all these groups together is simplistic. Violent jihadists draw on many sources to justify their gory deeds, not least the puritanical Salafism of Saudi Arabia, which competes with the Brothers. The jihadists loathe more moderate Islamists for focusing on piety, social services and elections. They think man-made laws are an affront to divine ones. To treat all Islamists as jihadists is a bit like saying social democrats are just like Italy’s Red Brigades because they all read Karl Marx.“
The Economist concludes by saying that “Oppression and misrule set the scene for the Arab world’s crisis; they will not soon be eradicated. However, autocracy is a dead end. Amid the bad choices, the only way out is the gradual opening of Arab economies and polities. That means letting ideologies compete, as long as they abjure violence and respect democratic norms. Competition must include Islamists, because Islam is so central to Middle Eastern society … [and] … Often illiberal on everything from the place of God in politics to the role of women, political Islamists are hardly the Christian Democrats of the Arab world. Yet they can be pragmatic and they cannot be ignored. Rather than trying to crush them all, which would only unite and radicalise them, the aim should be to work with moderates, demand that the obnoxious reform, and fight the most dangerous. In this way Islamists might serve as a roadblock to jihadism, not a path to it.”
Who are the moderates?
Well, in my opinion, it is fairly easy to identify the one and only true “friend” that the modern, moderate West has in the entire Islamic Crescent, which stretches from the Atlantic coast of Africa all the way to Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country: King Abdullah of Jordan. King Abdullah is not perfect, nor is Jordan a an exemplary liberal democracy … but he is, head and shoulders, the best of the Arab-West Asian leaders and, I suspect, the only real hope the US led West has for an Arab “ally.” Canada should take a leading role providing political support, aid and trade in order to help King Abdullah to strengthen his own position and to expand his influence in the region, throughout the Islamic Crescent and in the world … that may mean alienating some other Muslim states and, potentially, it may make it harder, even impossible to win the elusive, second class, temporary and, ultimately, worthless seat on the UN Security Council.
The other “moderate” state in the Islamic Crescent may be Malaysia. I keep reading that Malaysia is slipping into various stages of corruption, political disarray or Islamism but it still seems to be a generally socially and politically moderate state and, therefore, a good candidate for Canadian aid and trade.
Canada has played a generally positive and mostly constructive role in the Middle east since the 1950s when Lester B Pearson helped to broker and end to the Anglo-French and Israeli invasion of Egypt which very nearly shattered the Western alliance.
One size does not fit all. Canadian foreign policy must recognize this geo-strategic reality. We, not Canada, not the US led West, have very few friends anywhere in the Islamic Crescent … we can, easily, count them on the fingers of one hand. We must stop pretending that e.g. Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or Lebanon are “friends.” The enemy of our enemy is not, usually, our friend, in fact the enemy of our enemy in the Muslim world may be an even worse enemy. Some Muslim states are, relatively, neutral, some are actual enemies and only a couple can be said to be friendly or trustworthy. Even our NATO ally Turkey seems to be embroiled in a “caliphate waltz.” We should support none of them … that doesn’t mean we have to isolate them, break off diplomatic relations or anything like that … we can trade with them, talk with them and so on, but we should not support anyone except for a tiny handful of friends; in the Middle east that means Israel and Jordan … no one else.
The Canadian government should:
- First ~ push Canadian oil to ALL Canadian markets and that means forcing pipelines through e.g. Montreal, no matter what Mayor Denis Coderre says;
- Second ~ stop worrying about a second class, temporary, worthless seat on the UN Security Council (let Ireland and Portugal have those) and focus, instead, on what really matters: supporting a lasting Middle Eastern peace;
- Third ~ step up the military share of the war against Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS;
- Fourth ~ reward “good actors” in the international arena with increased aid and trade and, concomitantly, punish the bad actors by taking aid and trade away from them; and
- Fifth ~ stop believing that there is a “one-size-fits-all” political, economic or military solution to the problems in the Islamic Crescent.