IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN AND ISLAMIMHO, with all due respect to Tony Blair, I'd say it's not a war, it's a clash of civilizations...
What is the nature of the threat? It does not derive from something we have done; there was no sense in which the West sought a confrontation. This is essential to the argument. The attacks of Sept. 11 came to most of our citizens as a shock that was utterly unforeseen. Countries like America and Britain were not singling out Muslims for unfair treatment; and insofar as Muslims were caught up in generalized racism towards those of a different race or color, such attitudes were on the way out, not the way in.
The extremism we fear is a strain within Islam. It is wholly contrary to the proper teaching of Islam, but it can't be denied that its practitioners act with reference to their religion. I feel we too often shy away from this assertion, as if it stigmatizes all Muslims. But if it is true—and it is—it has to be faced, not just because it is true, but because otherwise we don't analyze the problem or attain the solution properly. If it is a strain within Islam, the answer lies, in part at the very least, also within Islam. The eradication of that strain can be affected by what we outside Islam do; but it can only be actually eliminated by those within Islam.
Here is where the root of the problem lies. The extremists are small in number, but their narrative—which sees Islam as the victim of a scornful West externally, and an insufficiently religious leadership internally—has a far bigger hold. Indeed, such is the hold that much of the current political leadership feels impelled to go along with this narrative for fear of losing support.
This is a situation with practical consequences. Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as the West's battles. With a few notable distinctions, this is not perceived as a struggle for the heart and soul of Islam. Yet the outcome is surely vastly determinative of such a struggle.
I have my criticisms of Israel and my ideas of to how to make progress. But leave aside for a moment the details of the peace process. As I started to spend more time in Palestine, I was surprised to find it is often easier to raise money for the "resistance" than to fund the patient but essential process of Palestinian state-building. Israel can and should do more to push forward the necessary changes on the ground—the West Bank and Gaza—that can underpin the peace process. However, it is also true that if the Palestinian cause gave up violence emphatically and without ambiguity, there would be a peace agreement within the year. Not enough voices in the Muslim world are asking them to.
It is America today that leads the challenge to Iran and its nuclear ambitions. But let us be frank: Iran is a far more immediate threat to its Arab neighbors than it is to America. It is of course a threat to us, too, but this is partly because of what a nuclear-armed Iran would mean for the Middle East, rather than as a direct threat.
The problem is this: Defeating the visible and terrifying manifestations of religious extremism is not enough. Indeed I would go further: This extremism won't be defeated simply by focusing on the extremists alone. It is the narrative that has to be assailed. It has to be avowed, acknowledged; then taken on, inside and outside Islam. It should not be respected. It should be confronted, disagreed with, argued against on grounds of politics, security and religion.
Our people say, "How long are you seriously saying we should hold out?" If, in the 1950s, when faced with the threat of revolutionary Communism, I had asked you how long you expected us to fight it, you would have answered: As long as the threat exists. If I had said it may be for decades, you would have raised an eyebrow, as if to say: Well, if the threat remains for decades, what choice have we? In other words, you would have seen this as a clearly defined threat to our security that left us no alternative but to take it on and beat it. Of course, there were those who said "Better red than dead," but that was surely one of the least appealing slogans to the human spirit ever devised, and only a minority bought it. Most people realized the threat was real and had to be confronted, however long it took.
The difficulty with this present battle lies in defining what "it" is. After Sept. 11 the phrase "the war on terror" was used. People distrusted this, partly for its directness, partly because it seemed too limited. So we dropped it. Yet if what we are fighting is not a war, what is it?
Monday, September 06, 2010
From a column, based on his memoirs, published in The Wall Street Journal: