By Barry Rubin
The lesson from the Boston Marathon bombings could not possibly be clearer. Yet few people, due to various complications, will address that real issue.
Part of the problem is this. Most powerful institutions and people say that Islam is a religion of peace. There’s no problem, except for a few mysterious extremists who just seem to pop up either at random or due to American and Western sins.
The next largest segment says that Islam is an inherently violent and extremist religion so since the problem is Islam there’s nothing to do but to combat it directly in some form.
Both of the main Western responses, then, deny the importance of waging a real and serious battle within Islam.
Yet where do the terrorists come from? In the case of these two brothers, they were Muslims all of their lives and yet suddenly they became—without any major direct experience—radical terrorists.
The cause, of course, was revolutionary Islamist propaganda, especially but by no means exclusively, from al-Qaida. There are literally hundreds of Internet sites, videos, preachers, books, and everything else you can think of that promote revolutionary Islamism. They tell Muslims that they should and must be revolutionaries and terrorists; they cite holy works to do so.
What the heck is there on the other side?
Let’s think for a moment about some of the things that don’t exist:
–A Radio Free Islam that systematically preaches (the last word is not chosen at random) an anti-extremist approach to Islam. Obviously no Western government could do such a thing but there are supposedly enough wealthy Muslims to finance such an operation.
–Virtually no programs at mosques to explain why terrorist, Islamist, and extremist Islamic positions are wrong and bad. Wrong because they don’t accord with what those who say so deem to be a “proper” Islam; bad because they are immoral, ruin the lives of those who embrace such ideology, and hold back the societies where enough such people have such a view.
–Remarkably little literature and remarkably few preachers—especially ones who are as well-financed as the radicals—that a young Muslim is going to read on Internet or hear on videos or elsewhere which suggests an alternative path.
–Where are the videos? Where are the web sites? Where is the social disapproval among Muslims?
On the basis one could argue that there is no moderate—or at least no non-violent, non-revolutionary– Islam that can be developed. But that simply isn’t true. The works and the moderate individuals exist but they are not given support, even in Western countries, nor do they have the resources to wage the battle.
Everyone who ignorantly drones on about Islam being inevitably radical based on religious texts doesn’t know how hard Islamists have had to work for forty years or more in the real world to create what exists now, nor how many people who are Muslims oppose this movement in Iran, Arabic-speaking countries, Turkey, and other places. One mistake–made by President Obama in his Cairo speech among other places–is to extol Islam as the main political identity people who are Muslims should have.
It is like the situation in the Cold War when the Soviets and their supporters were well-organized and well-financed but the social democrats, liberals, and conservatives opposing them were not. Not only the U.S. government–through covert and other means–stepped into the breach but so did lots of organizations, foundations, non-governmental organizations, and others.
In the era of Islamism there are a lot of major problems in terms of its opponents’ responses.
First, any Western, non-Muslim financing or help to those groups would be used to discredit them.
Second, in a bizarre manner Western societies favor the radicals, giving them a good press and praise.
Third, moderate Muslims are penalized and ignored.
Fourth, the ability to critique precisely what is radical in Islam and what is wrong with Islamism is handicapped by the successful effort to brand any attempts at making such distinctions as “Islamophobia” instead of a sensible fear of revolutionary Islamism. It is equivalent to branding any such attempt to critique Communism as anti-Sovietism or as a mindless antagonism to liberalism or pure reactionary views. Communists tried such techniques but they only worked to a very limited extent.
Fifth, part of the last three problems is due to the far left’s (often pretending to be liberal) alignment with radical Islamism (the current world’s most powerful right-wing ideology), despite the latter’s repression of women’s rights, desire to murder gays, and opposition to just about everything else the left is supposed to believe.
Sixth, who cares that Islamist organizations that are mere covers for radical activities issue a statement decrying an Islamist terror attack simply because it was staged by some other group, wrong place, or at an inconvenient time? Let them campaign against radical, violent, and intolerant interpretations of Islam or be exposed for who they really are.
Here’s something amazing in the 2011 Pew Research Centerpoll about American Muslims. One question was: “How concerned about possible rise of Islamic extremism in U.S.? Sixty percent said “Very, somewhat” in 2011; 35 percent said “Not too/Not at all.” The main point Pew concluded from this is that there wasn’t a big change because it was down 1 percent from the 2007 poll.
But the very loud alarm bell is ignored. If 60 percent of American Muslims say they are concerned doesn’t that say that there is a huge problem here? Perhaps a problem many of them would be willing to help deal with if given help and encouragement?
Another question produces truly amazing results. “Have U.S. Muslim leaders done as much as they should to speak out against extremists?” A remarkable 48 percent said, “Have not done enough” compared to 34 percent who said they have “Done as much as they should.” In other words, half of American Muslims don’t think their own leaders have worked hard enough to counter extremism!
If American Muslims say—despite their self-interest and peer pressure—that half their own leaders haven’t done enough why shouldn’t the rest of the country come to the same conclusion? And why shouldn’t changing that situation be a major priority rather than being swept under the rug as if no problem exists?
This, then, is the dilemma and why young people like Tsarnaev brothers will be indoctrinated with extremist Islam with almost no alternative offered on the other side. If groups that are Muslim Brotherhood fronts are going to be treated by the American establishment as normative, moderate Islam, what space is there for any real moderate Islam?
If the enemy is not going to be defined as radical Islam or Islamism or some other phrase that identifies the issue, then how can anyone campaign against such doctrines?
The West has paralyzed itself and, ironically the first people who are going to suffer are Muslims who are not Islamists and not radicals. The proper allies and those to whom sympathy is to be extended is not Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, the radical Islamists in Syria, the sophisticated Islamists in Turkey, CAIR, and such groups but their enemies within the Muslim community.
That is the lesson of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack. Otherwise, there will be many more Tsarnaev’s just as there have been repeated “conversion” experiences to become radical terrorists in case after case in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and many other countries over the last decade.
With a massive pro-Islamist, pro-terrorist propaganda machine on one side and almost nothing on the other side how could someone expect anything else to happen?
If you are interested in reading more about Egypt and radical Islamist movements, you’re welcome to read my book Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics online or download it for free.
If you are interested in reading more about the role of Islam in the Middle East today you’re welcome to read my book Tragedy of the Middle East online or download it for free.
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——————– Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His next book, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, written with Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, will be published by Yale University Press in January 2014. His latest book is Israel: An Introduction, also published by Yale. Thirteen of his books can be read and downloaded for free at the website of the GLORIA Center including The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East and The Truth About Syria. His blog is Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.