In two recent articles (here and here,) Ian Wendt examines radical islamism, and counsels that we must not drive the average, non-violent, muslim towards radicalism. A true statement to a point. The world of radical islamism is much more complex than that however — Ian fails to account for state actors in his examinations, so they are partially flawed.
It’s the Saudis who fostered the recent rise of radical Islam the most the past three decades, by funding the export of radical Salafist ideology, the mullahs, Imams, death-priests, murder-mosques, and the radical Islamic preachers across the world. They’ve become the pre-eminent Arab state, while every neighbor not tightly following and allied is in dire trouble — but all crows come home to roost eventually.
Following closely on their heels is Iran, and there is a highly visible tit-for-tat escalation of drama by the two sides and their loosely-controlled terror-proxies at every great event in the war on terror the past few years. They are each struggling for predominance. Terrorists get nowhere if they are not aided and abetted by state actors, and this bloody game of secret insurgency, intrigue, and destabilization stretches back to Alexander’s times. All Persian and Arab despots knew the convention of “plausible deniability” long before the English pairing of the words came about.
Ian duly notes that radical muslims have killed more Muslims by far than non-muslims, but he doesn’t follow the reasoning through to the why of it all. The ancient tribal structures and Islamic societies still based on medieval-age conventions create several strata through which schisms can run. These lie at state levels, racial levels, tribal levels, and sectarian levels, and that’s completely ignoring all influences outside of Islam for the moment. It’s an emergency room full of wounds available for radicals to pick at, and these wounds have existed for centuries; some even pre-date Islam.
The articles have highly valid points, most important that we can’t just simplistically kill terrorists and expect it to go away, but that we must also use political, cultural, and religious levers if we are to overcome the death, dust, and despair of Islamism in the modern world.
All levers are valid, but if we don’t account for and counter the state intrigues against each other, (and I am leaving Israel entirely out of this for the moment, they are just a stalking horse in the victimhood that Ian accurately describes,) then we will surely fail.
To sum up, the two paragraphs of Ian’s below get things entirely right, but fail to address the key factor that stops the ability to counter grievances, the reason moderates can’t combat extremists.
The ‘fight fire with fire’ response is understandable, necessary even, but incomplete. The chief drawbacks of a predominantly military response to radical Muslim militancy are: attacks reinforce Muslim feelings of grievance; attacks fuel reprisals and increased radicalism; foreign soldiers make ideal targets for radicals; and most importantly, powerful foreign military activities inhibit the ability of Muslim communities to identify, confront and defeat the internal cancer of radicalism.
Muslim radical violence must be resisted and fought militarily. But we also need a comprehensive approach that clearly discredits and undermines Muslim radicalism both within and without Muslim societies. Because radicalism attacks its own community first, it must be defeated there first. Our current responses either deny or fuel the problem without effectively defeating it.
Despots who rule these states have had centuries to practice the Machievellian skills of destabilizing their neighbors and the rest of the world, to them Radical Islam and the Islamists are handy tools, pawns in the ancient game of supremacy of tribes and Empire. Until they are countered, the moderates in the Islamic world don’t stand much chance. Those wishing to create the Caliphate war amongst themselves over the version of this map that they would like to have.
Ian says he’s doing this as a series, so let’s hope that future installments take the root cause into account. Until he does, the facts will be right but some conclusions will likely be flawed.