How Islamic ‘Islamic terrorists’?

It was bloodcurdling!

On Friday night when I saw on my television screen Islamic State terrorists mowing down unsuspecting Parisians, chills ran down my spine. Those Muslim killers, most of them French-born, slaughtered 132 people and wounded 350 others.

The same kind of horror had also struck me when I saw mangled bodies of Pakistani children and women crushed by bombs from American drones. It did, too, when I struggled to keep my eyes on the pictures of a pyramid of naked bodies in Iraq’s Abu Gharib prison; of a naked man cowering before a howling dog, its leash being held by a smiling American soldier; and other Iraqi prisoners tortured by CIA interrogators, limping or nursing their wounds.

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, anguishing over the Paris carnage, are making clarion calls for not only the obliteration of the IS but also the defeat of “radical Islam.” Rep. Peter T. King, Republican of New York, has reiterated his earlier calls for greater “surveillance” of American Muslim communities.

“We have to find out,” he said, “who the radicals are. We have to find out what’s going on in the mosques, which are often incubators of this type of terrorism.”

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson excoriated President Obama for refusing to call the Paris tragedy an act of “radical Islamic terrorism.”  Governors of more than half of American states have announced they would not accept Syrian refugees because those refugees may include Muslim terrorists. And the socialist French President Francois Hollande has declared “war against terrorism … against radical Islam.” A Fox News commentator echoed demands from an assortment of American media pundits and politicians to organize a global coalition to stamp out, not just the IS, but “radical Islam.”

Is the West really at war with “radical Islam”? And can Hollande and the proposed global coalition accomplish what George W. Bush’s “global war on terrorism” could not? The GWOT, which raged for a decade in many Muslim societies, did “smoke out” Al Qaeda from its caves in Afghanistan’s Hindukush Mountains, as Bush had vowed to do. But his administration could not have been gloating over its “mission accomplished” when it saw Al Qaeda, chased out of Afghanistan, was mushrooming in at least three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.

Anti-Western terrorism did not exist in Iraq until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country.

During my four research and reporting trips to Iraq in the 1990s and earlier, I came to know of Iraqis as among the kindest and most hospitable people anywhere. In 1991 Alexandra Avakion, a New Yorker working as a photographer for the Sunday Times of London, told me that she felt “embarrassed by [Iraqis’] generous hospitality” to her.

“Our [trade] sanctions have devastated the Iraqi economy,” she added, as we were traveling in a car from Baghdad to to Babylon. “A half-million children have died of malnutrition because of [the sanctions]. If they had done this to America, I would’ve thrown stones at Iraqi visitors to America.”

Well, cruelty can be infectious. The IS was born of the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq. The unwarranted and foolish American invasion and occupation of that country triggered mass slaughter and ethnic cleansing of its Sunni Arab minority by its Shiite majority, whom the Bush administration had brought to power in Baghdad. Outrage and anguish over the American and Shiite cruelties and injustices drove many Sunni Arabs into an alliance with Iraqi soldiers and commanders thrown out of their jobs by the American occupation force. And they formed the IS to avenge the nightmare they were suffering from the American invasion and the Shiite pogrom.

Similarly, Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group in Lebanon, was born in 1982 to resist the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terrorist organizations were created to fight the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Many of these militants are practicing Muslims, some belonging to the obscurantist Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam. Some are secular. They all say their struggle against their transgressors is their religious duty.

Historically, Muslims – religious and secular – have invoked Islam to inspire their coreligionists to join their movements against foreign aggression or domination. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a thoroughly secular and Anglicized Muslim statesman, harped continually on Islam to galvanize Indian Muslims behind his struggle to create the “Muslim homeland” of Pakistan.

“God is one,” Jinnah thundered before a mammoth Muslim crowd in 1946 in my hometown of Sylhet, Bangladesh. “We have one Quran. Our Umma [the global Muslim community] is one. O Muslims, unite like one man. Nobody on earth can stop your march to Pakistan.”

Pakistan would be created a year later.

An uncle who had attended that rally, told me years later that many in the crowd knew that the leader of the Pakistan movement almost never practiced Islamic rites and drank alcohol every day, even though drinking is strictly forbidden by Islam. Yet his references to Pakistan and Islam “made the crowd jump and spin, throw their umbrellas into the air, and shout ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great]. Some cried out of joy.”

Mahatma Gandhi, the would-be father of Independent India, was an Oxford-educated barrister like Jinnah. Unlike Muslim Jinnah, however, Gandhi was a deeply religious Hindu. And he had proclaimed that his goal was to make India a “Ram rajya,” a Hindu holy land.

Many societies have summoned their religions or secular ideologies to perk up what essentially have been ethnic, nationalist, anti-colonial and expansionist movements. Struggles against foreign occupation and domination, in particular, have almost always been waged in the name of religions, traditions and cultures. How different is the IS’s ‘Islamic’ campaign against the French and American aggression and hegemony from George W. Bush’s declaration that the 9/11 terrorists “have attacked our freedom”? Or Tony Blair’s assertion that Al Qaeda wanted to “change our way of life”? The IS’s use of the Islamic label for its fight against foreign aggression and domination is as misleading as Bush’s and Blair’s invocation of their secular values in waging war against a Muslim country.

IS terrorists remind me of my boyhood hero Khudiram Bose. Khudiram was a young anti-colonialist activist in India, who belonged to a radical Hindu nationalist group, the Jugantar. He was hanged by India’s British colonial establishment in 1908 for accidentally killing two British women in the town of Muzaffarpur in Bihar state. Hindu nationalists had been angered by a British magistrate’s harsh prison terms and death sentences to their fellow anti-colonialist activists. The Jugantar had assigned Khudiram and Profulla Chaki, another militant, to kill that magistrate when he would be traveling to a club in Muzaffarpur. One day when the magistrate’s special carriage arrived at the gate of the club, Khudiram threw a bomb into it. But that day two British women, instead of the magistrate, were taking that carriage to the club. Both were killed.

Half a century later I, a Muslim boy in a neighboring state, would be chanting the widely popular Bengali-language song, extolling the Hindu nationalist’s “martyrdom”:

“Ekbar biday de ma ghure ashi

“Hasi hasi porbo phnasi dekhbe bharatbasi….”

(Farewell, Mother! Here I go on my journey/I will be putting on the hangman’s noose, smiling, for all India to see….)

Many places, schools, and monuments in eastern India have since been named after Khudiram. During our 1981 visit to the Victoria Memorial Museum in Kolkata (Calcutta), my wife and I saw Khudiram’s portrait hanging on a museum wall, alongside those of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, and other leaders of the Indian Independence movement. On my visit to the Victoria Museum last year, however, I did not see Khudiram’s portrait on that wall. Times have changed. India is now fighting militants struggling for the independence of Kashmir, Assam, Jharkhand, and other territories, and Indians call them terrorists. Also, since 9/11 Indian governments have been supporting the U.S. “war on terror” and, in return, the United States has denounced Kashmiri insurgents as terrorists.

The IS terrorists who enacted the Paris massacre obviously were riled by France’s recent military intervention in Syria and also, perhaps, by stories of French colonial occupation of their country after World War I. For many Syrians, the French have been the most hated Western nation. In the Syrian countryside, you can still hear anecdotes of French colonialists’ racial hubris and brutality. Pierre Janaszak, a radio presenter in Paris, saw a terrorist shooter on Friday yelling: “It’s the crime of [French President Francois] Hollande. It’s the fault of your president. He shouldn’t have attacked Syria.”

All the same, I call the Paris shooters terrorists, as do about everybody else. But given the source and nature of their violence, what would you call the Boston Tea Party, the Massachusetts Minutemen and the Sons of Liberty who fought the British during the American Revolutionary War? How would you label the bands of privateers who, during the Revolution, chased and bombed British navy ships from their bases in Boston, Portsmouth, Salem, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and elsewhere?

Americans and Europeans must, of course, fight the IS and other terrorist groups that may be attacking or threatening to attack their countries and people. But the West needs to remember two things. One, these terrorists are no more fighting for Islam than America was fighting for democracy in Iraq. Secondly, bombing from the air, putting American boots in Syria or Iraq, or outsourcing the anti-IS war to Kurdish guerrillas could heighten, rather than diminish, the terrorist threat to the West. It would be profitable to remember the lessons of the U.S.-led war on terror during the last 14 years.

If anything can effectively tackle the terrorist threat against the United States, Europe – and indeed Israel – that would be acknowledging and addressing the source of the menace: foreign aggression, occupation and hegemony.

♦ Mustafa Malik, who hosts the blog Muslim Journey (http://muslimjourney.com), is an international affairs commentator in Washington.

Fighting phantom terror

THE ISLAMIC STATE has sent new shock waves through the world by capturing more than 200 Syrian and Egyptian Christians. The terrorist group’s gruesome killing of other hostages has heightened concerns among many about the fate of these hostages.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration and the Iraqi government reportedly have shelved their long-publicized plans to try to retake Mosul. The second-largest Iraqi city has been under IS occupation since last summer. If true, the news would further embolden the IS terrorists. They probably will further consolidate their occupation of the Syrian and Iraqi territory, which is already larger in size than the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the IS campaign of terror goes on. The New York Times describes it as a “rampage reminiscent of Tamerlane or Genghis Khan.” The reporter Anne Barnard depicted the horror as “entire villages emptied, with hundreds taken prisoners, others kept as slaves; the destruction of irreplaceable works or art; a tax on religious minorities, payable in gold.”

The last time the Middle East saw such repugnant sights was during the American invasion of Iraq, spotlighted by Abu Gharib; and of Afghanistan, where American soldiers not only slaughtered countless innocent Afghan and Pakistani men, women and children, but showed little concern for the humanity of their victims. Nothing symbolizes the dehumanization of the Afghans as the pictures of U.S. soldiers peeing before rolling cameras on the corpses of Afghan guerrillas. The pictures, like those from Abu Gharib, weren’t isolated events. We know from leaked reports of CIA atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan that high echelons of the Bush and Obama administrations were aware of these war crimes or condoned them after learning about them.

Leave aside the morality of the two administrations’ insensitivity toward these Muslim peoples and their values. What worries me most is that this see-no-evil, hear-no-evil attitude is a stumbling block to the search for a solution to the U.S.-Islamic imbroglio. In fact the same attitude has led American policy makers to decide that the Muslim rage against America and the West is actually confined to a fanatic fringe of Muslim societies. Studies after studies have shown that more than 80 percent of people in most Muslim societies are seething with anti-American rage. The IS and other Muslim terrorist groups enjoy tacit or vocal support of large numbers of people in these societies.

Most Americans apparently don’t know about it because American politicians and flag-waving American news media are more interested in mud-slinging against Islam, variously described, than looking inward into America’s role in the confrontation. In a prayer breakfast three weeks ago Obama condemned the IS for “twisting and distorting” religion for their heinous acts. But he also reminded his audience that Christians had engaged in similar crimes in the past.

“[R]emember,” the president said, “that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Nobody questioned the validity of his remarks, but his words triggered an avalanche of fury among Western politicians and intellectuals. Rudy Giuliani blamed the president’s upbringing for his reference Christian extremism. “I do not believe,” added the former mayor of New York, “that the president loves America.”

Sen. Ted Cruz also didn’t dispute the veracity of Obama’s comments. But the Texas Republican blasted him for not mentioning Islam as the source of IS terrorism. “The words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ do not come out of the president’s mouth,” fumed the presidential hopeful, “The word ‘jihad’ does not come out of the president’s mouth. And that is dangerous.”

“Any use of the word ‘Crusade,’’ said the University of London historian Thomas Asbridge, “has to be made with great caution.” Asbridge, who has written a series of books about medieval history, didn’t say why “great caution” needs to be used in references only to the Crusades, but not to Muslim extremism.

Their own neocolonialist attitudes and policies toward the Muslim world remain hidden to most Americans and Westerners in their dangerous blind spots.   Americans, especially American policy makers, need to remember that the IS, and its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq, didn’t exist before the uncalled for and catastrophic Iraq war. The IS, appallingly cruel as it is, emerged as the only defender of the members of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority who had survived the horrifying slaughter, ethnic cleansing and persecution by the successive U.S.-backed Shiite governments. Iraq’s sectarian Shiite leaders had collaborated with the George W. Bush administration in its invasion of Iraq. Most of them had returned to Iraq from exile “on the backs of American tanks,” said Columbia University scholar Rashid Khalidi.

In Afghanistan, Pashtun guerrillas, who organized as the Taliban militia, never had an argument with the United States until it invaded and occupied their country. In fact the CIA collaborated with Pashtun guerrillas, then known as the mujahedeen, or freedom fighters, during their 1980s war against the Soviet invaders. The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan not only made the Taliban hostile to America, but also led to the birth of the Taliban in Pakistan.

An of course, 9/11 was a direct fallout of the 1991 deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden, a Saudi citizen who was America’s ally in the Afghan war against the Soviets, was among the most vocal Saudi voices against the U.S. troop presence in “the land or Muhammad.” Expelling “the Crusaders” from the Muslim holy land was the first item on bin Laden’s agenda, as he outlined in his 1996 fatwa. Seventeen of the 19 plane hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens.

In April 2003 when America finally pulled out its troops and base from Saudi Arabia (under pressure from the Saudi monarchy, scared by 9/11), Al Qaeda groups in the Middle East celebrated it as a vindication of 9/11.

Western politicians and intellectuals are deluding themselves and their people by blaming Muslim terrorism on Islam, “radical Islam,” “Islamic extremism,” “a twisted [Islamic] ideology,” and so forth. Of course some of the Muslim terrorism stems from Muslims’ sectarian and ethnic fissures. But most of it has been a reaction to foreign occupation.

A study of Britain’s prestigious think tank Chatham House has found that foreign occupation and domination is the wellspring of modern terrorism: Palestinian, Lebanese, Tamil, Kurdish, Buddhist, Chechen, Kashmiri, and so forth. In one of the most comprehensive studies of suicide terror attacks during 1980-2004, Robert Pape found that 95 percent of them were targeted at what the terrorists considered foreign occupation of their or their allies’ homelands.

In his landmark book Dying to Win, the University of Chicago professor recalls that Arabs learned suicide terror techniques from Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka and Marxist Kurds in Turkey. He says terrorists use religion as an inspiration only when they have “a religious difference” with the occupying or hegemonic power.

I’m afraid that even if the Obama administration’s repeatedly articulated plans to “defeat ISIL ever materialized, that of itself wouldn’t diminish Muslim terrorism against America and its allies. The Bush and Obama administrations succeeded in expelling Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, only to see it spread to the Middle East and north and West Africa. America and the West have to come to grips with the root cause of the Muslim rage against them: foreign occupation and hegemony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terror bred by grievances, not Islam

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S speech at this week’s terrorism conference in the White House sounded to me like a broken record from the George W. Bush administration. Bush and his advisers attributed Muslim terrorism to Islam.

“Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him,” said John Ashcroft, Bush’s attorney general. “Christianity is a faith where God sent his son to die for you.”

President Obama, too, believes that Islam is a major source of Muslim terrorism. His aides have lined up a group of Muslim clerics, activists and governments to present a “moderate” interpretation of Islam to their fellow Muslims. But unlike his Republican predecessor, Obama is more sensitive about the sentiments of mainstream Muslims, who resent linking their religion to heinous acts like terrorism. Hence he camouflaged his reference to Islam with the phrase “distorted ideology.”

The Muslim “religion,” in the sense religion is understood in the West, has little to do with terrorism. I tried to explain in my last segment that Islam, unlike Western Christianity, doesn’t segregate a Caesar’s domain from God’s. All Muslim domains, private and public, belong to God. In practical terms, the Muslim public sphere is suffused with Islamic values and social outlook.

Of late that the Muslim public sphere has all but submerged under waves of anti-American and anti-Western sentiments. Surveys after surveys have shown that between 72% and 94% of populations in Muslim countries are hostile or antipathetic to America. Their antipathy derives mainly from U.S. foreign and defense policies toward Muslim societies.

Muslim societies are modernizing fast, while becoming more and more attached to Islamic values and Islamic cultural patterns. They’re more concerned about Islamic causes and the global Muslim community.

Obama’s attribution of Muslim terrorism showed his gross misunderstanding of Islam as well as the motives that propel some Muslims into acts of violence. The president came into office with very little grounding in international affairs, and has stuffed his administration with holdovers from the Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. He is, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, getting the same kind of off-the-wall, jingoist advice that doomed both previous administrations’ Muslim world policies.

Islam, as I said, is a both a private- and public-sphere religion. These days most Muslims are channeling their grievances against America or their own governments in the public sphere through the democratic process. They’re engaged in democratic movements and, when permitted, pushing their agendas through the electoral process. It signals a dramatic and healthy evolution of these movements since the late 1960s and early 1970s, when their watchword was “Islamic revolution.” Those days some of my Islamist acquaintances in Pakistan and Bangladesh espoused armed struggle against the “enemies of Islam” at home and abroad.

Among them is Motiur Rahman Nizami, the head of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party in Bangladesh, now on the death row for his alleged involvement in the killing of Bangladeshi independence activists in 1971. I met him in 2003 after the Jamaat had won the second-largest number of seats in a Bangladeshi parliamentary election, catapulting him to the post of industries minister.

His sparsely furnished office was tucked away in the Motijheel business district in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

Did the Jamaat “still believed in armed struggle?” I asked.

He smiled, and instead of answering my question directly, he said, “Democracy is the best tool for us to spread the message of Islam.”

Because Islamic spirit and values are spreading quite rapidly in most Muslim countries, mainstream Islamists everywhere have come to believe that they no longer need violent methods to pursue their Islamization agenda. They’re avidly participating in democratic activism.

A second group of Islamists, known as terrorists, continue armed struggle to achieve their goals. They’re generally focused on resisting occupation and aggression by armed opponents. They include Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad in Kashmir, Riadus Salikin and the Islamic International Brigade in Chechnya, the ETIM in China’s Xinjiang province, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Levant, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Chad and Niger, and so on. All these terrorist groups see themselves fighting to liberate their peoples from foreign occupation or defend them against domestic persecution.

Obama was talking, specifically, about the Islamic State terrorism in Syria and Iraq. The IS emerged to defend Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, who suffered horrible persecution and ethnic cleansing from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Iraqi Shiite governments and Shiite militias and the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria. As many other terrorist groups do, the IS also has engaged in gruesome slaughter and brutal persecution of innocent civilians. The world shouldn’t tolerate such crimes.

The fact remains, however, that these terrorist groups have been fighting for political, not religious, causes. They’re inspired or instigated by political and social grievances, not by the Quran or some “distorted ideology” based on it. Whether their causes or methods of operation are justified (Nobody would justify the slaughter of innocent people), is another matter.

 

Pakistan ties: Old wine in old bottle

SADLY, the Obama administration appears to be trying to revive its failing Cold War policy to refurbish the strained U.S. ties to Pakistan. Ever since its inception, what remains of Pakistan after the secession of Bangladesh has been under the rule of its self-serving feudal-military-bureaucratic class. Today’s Pakistani prime minister and president belong to that class.

U.S. relations with Pakistan have been based on courting that repressive and exploitative class – and the governments that belonged to it – with perks, bribes and mostly military government assistance. Only two Pakistani prime ministers – Khwaja Nazimuddin in the 1950s and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s – ventured to break out of U.S. hegemony. The former paid for it with his job, the latter with his life.

In return for the subservience to Washington, the Pakistani military, which has lost all of its three wars with India, has been serving tenaciously as America’s mercenaries to fight its enemies – the Soviets (in Afghanistan) during the Cold War and anti-U.S. Muslim militants since 9/11.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who will be visiting President Obama in the White House on Wednesday, is also persuaded by American president to rent out the Pakistani armed forces to continue to fight America’s wars. But I don’t think that would work in the long run. The times have changed dramatically.

Except for a small and thinning layer of Westernized social parasites, Pakistanis today are pulsating with fervor for freedom and dignity, expressed in their smoldering rage against foreign hegemony and tutelage. Prime Minister Sharif can’t go too far in kowtowing to America without risking a public backlash of the kind that swept the former Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf off power and into exile.

Time to get over anti-Islamist paranoia

ANDREW J. BACEVICH says “the big story of Muslim self-determination is likely to continue unimpeded” and lead to the rollback of American hegemony over Muslim societies.  In his Washington Post piece, the historian recalled that when the British Empire was collapsing, it could turn over its “imperial responsibility” to the United States.  But Americans today, he adds, see “no readily available sucker to  to whom we can hand off the mess we’ve managed to create” in the Middle East.

I’ve long admired Professor Bacevich’s insights and agree that there doesn’t seem to be any takers of  America’s  “imperial responsibility” in Muslim societies. But I do see a whole lot of “suckers” jumping in to clean up “the mess” created in much of the Muslim world by American and European hegemons during past decades and centuries. They’re the same revolutionary youths who are liberating themselves from American hegemony as much as domestic autocratic tyranny.   And they’re struggling to reform colonial-era institutions that they see stifling their societies‘ natural growth and evolution from their indigenous, Islamic roots.

For years I have been discussing Muslim affairs with young and not-so-young Muslim activists, ideologues and plain folks in the East and the West.  A large majority of them don’t share the views of the so-called “Islamic extremists” such as the Salafis and Al Qaeda.  Many maintain, however, that Muslim guerrilla groups, known in the west as “terrorists” and “extremists,” have waged the “necessary” struggle to liberate Muslims from tyranny and subjugation. The history of the Protestant Reformation and other ideological movements shows that the extremism associated by the early phases of those movements tapered off when the conditions that bred them changed. In contemporary Muslim societies, those conditions are political suppression and foreign aggression and domination.

A majority of Muslims in post-colonial societies also don’t identify with Westernized Muslim elites. Quizzed closely, they typically say that they would just want to live as Muslims, adhering to basic Islamic laws and values; and want their societies modernized fast.  Moderates such as supporters of the Jamaat-i-Islami in South Asia and the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East believe in peaceful and democratic methods of Islamizing their societies.  Extremists such as the followers of the Taliban and Harkat al-Mujahideen in South Asia and the Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah in the Middle East have few qualms using force to achieve their goals.  But both Islamist categories want to change or modify the alien institutions and cultural patterns in Muslim countries.

They remind me of the Brazilian statesman, philosopher and social theorist  Roberto Mangabeira Unger.   He  argues that ideational and social change that brings fulfillment in life isn’t possible without freeing men and women “from their institutional chains,”  or the “context” that creates the pernicious social, economic and political institutions.  Unger taught Barack Obama at the Harvard Law School, but waged a media campaign last summer against the president’s reelection.

The professor says Obama and most Democrats are busy “humanizing” the Republican agenda, instead of trying to change the context, or the sources, of the economic and political malaise paralyzing America. Unger argues that “all that the Democratic Party has offered, at least since  the presidency of [Lyndon] Johnson  is a sugarcoating, a dilution, a humanization of the Republican program.” He calls the paradigmic shift  he’s proposing “the second way.”

Few of the Muslim intellectuals and activists I have come to know appeared to have heard of Unger, but they echo his thesis nonetheless. They’re calling for conceptual and institutional change in their societies and polities. They denounce, or just ignore, Western-style secularism, the Western concept of privatizing religion, the colonial-era legal framework, and so forth. And they say they would want new institutions (about which most only have vague ideas) to build modern, progressive Muslim societies. Those societies would be based on the key Islamic values of social justice, charity and brotherhood.

The popularity of Islamist guerrilla groups in the Syrian civil war is the latest manifestation of the appeal of Islamic values among everyday Muslims.  Earlier,  Iranians, Turks, Iraqis, Egyptians, Tunisians and other Muslim peoples have demonstrated their preference for social and political orders based on Islamic principles.

The Islamic reassertion has spurred a lot of American paranoia about Muslims in America and Muslim countries.  The Obama administration wouldn’t even give arms to Syrian rebels fighting the murderous Bashar al-Assad dictatorship, which it wants overthrown, because Islamist guerrillas there have turned out to be the most effective and popular fighting force and could dominate the post-Assad Israeli society. “I am very concerned,” the president said in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Friday, “about Syria becoming an enclave of extremism.”

For many Americans, Muslims struggling to usher in what Unger would call a “second way” are “terrorists” by definition and need to be resisted or hunted down.  The Shari’a, or Islamic law, has become a dirty word in American media and public discourse, even though most of the Muslim world lives under it, even under secular, pro-American governments.

In the United States, many innocent, law-abiding Muslims have been under surveillance since 9/11 in case they’ve any form of contacts with Muslims suspected of terrorist proclivity.  American law denies Muslims designated “enemy combatants” by the administration the right to be tried in civil courts under American law.  Mosque building creates public hysteria in many neighborhoods.

The atmosphere  is reminiscent of the McCarthy-era hysteria about communism, which swept up American conservatives and liberals alike.  The icon of American liberalism Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota  joined the right-wing Republican Senator John Marshall Butler of Maryland to get the notorious Communist Control Act of 1954 passed by the Senate.  Other liberal Democratic senators who supported the Butler-Humphrey bill included John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Paul Douglas of Illinois, and Wayne Morse of Oregon.

What makes America work, however, is Americans’ sense of pragmatism. The paranoia about the Other usually evaporates when they fail to  prevail against it.  After a costly and dangerous nuclear arms race, the United States realized by the late 1960s that it can’t defeat  international communism, after all. And lo and behold, the rabidly anti-Communist President Richard Nixon did a U-turn and began normalizing relations with the Soviet Union and China.

Today, America —  even with its military might, costly nation-building projects and candy distribution among Muslim children — has all but lost the ground war against Islamist guerrillas in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It can now see that its drone war in several Muslim countries can’t  stem the spread of Islamist militancy. Al Qaeda, which had hunkered down in Afghanistan, and other militant Islamist groups have spread to large swaths of the Middle East and North and West Africa. Last week,  former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer pointed out that beginning with the Iraq war, “the bitter enmities between Al-Qaeda and other Salafist and Sunni Arab nationalist groups have given way to cooperation or even mergers.”

Sooner or later, I expect the United States — and the West — to do a U-turn in their confrontation with Islamism.  Meanwhile, Islamist and other Muslim groups are changing  “the context” of the evolution and modernization of their societies, and Islamic-Western relations.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Obama administration should, on a second thought, decide to begin the process. If not, I believe one of his successors to the American presidency will.

◆ Mustafa Malik is an international affairs commentator in Washington. He hosts the blog Islam and the West.

 

 

 

John Kerry: Same old same old

WELL, JOHN KERRY doesn’t have it, either!

I was curious to see if the new secretary of state’s “major speech” at the University of Virginia might finally signal a “change” in foreign policy, which President Obama had promised Americans during his first presidential run. Sadly, it didn’t.

John Kerry’s recipe to meet U.S. foreign policy challenges appeared to have been copied from the neoconservatives’ play book: trade, aid and democracy. All these have been tried. They didn’t work.

On international trade, the U.S. trade deficit has  ballooned under Bush and Obama. With China,  America’s most important trading partner, it has reached an historic high of $315 billion.

The United States has poured tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid, promoting secular education and bolstering security and military forces in countries that are breeding terrorists.  The idea, floated by fertile neoconservative minds, is that young Muslim men are turning to terrorism because of poverty and joblessness and anti-Western hatred engendered by madrasah education.  Despite America’s prodigious aid programs during the past decade,  terror is winning America’s “war on terror.”  Al Qaeda used to be holed up in Afghanistan’s Hindukush Mountains. It’s now spreading dramatically — so are other terrorist groups — in South Asia, the Middle East, North and West Africa, and elsewhere.   After fighting its longest war in history, the United States is getting ready to flee Afghanistan without realizing Obama’s repeatedly proclaimed vow to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” the Taliban.

Kerry’s other proposition, i.e. helping build democracy abroad, is based on another pie-in-the-sky neoconservative mantra, namely that democracies are peaceable and buddy-buddy with one another.  I wonder how the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could have failed to notice that democracy is transforming secular, and – with the exception of Iraq – pro-American regimes into Islamist ones that care less about American democracy or American interests?  Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey are among the examples.

Nobody would, of course, doubt Kerry’s sanity, but he apparently plans to defy Albert Einstein’s caveat against “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” But why?

The main source of the secretary of state’s predicament is not  himself, but his boss.  For all his soaring rhetoric, Obama came into the White House as a clean slate in international affairs.  He didn’t – and still doesn’t – have a vision of his own about America’s relations with the world.  Most naive and perilous has been the president’s lurch toward the right-wing foreign and defense policy aficionados who had helped create the mess abroad and whom he now expected to clean it up.

I was aghast to see him fill his key defense, intelligence and foreign policy posts with such right-wing diehards from the Bush administration as Robert Gates, Tom Donilon, John Brennan, James Jones, Dennis Ross, and others. Hillary Clinton also is a dyed-in-wool establishment figure.  Her traditionalist worldview was highlighted in, among other issues, her unwavering support for the disastrous Iraq war, which she has persistently refused to call a mistake. I was hoping, in vain, that the president would bring over to his administration such progressive and resourceful minds as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Aaron David Miller, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Ann Marie Slaughter and Robert Unger. His nomination of Chuck Hagel for the defense secretary post seems to have been an aberration. I would be surprised if the forward-looking and (still) morally inspired former senator from Nebraska can withstand the pressure of jingoism permeating in the administration.

No wonder the Obama administration, in international affairs, looked like a third, and now probably a fourth, Bush-Cheney administration.  Noam Chomsky aptly described the Democratic president  as a “moderate Republican” who is a “reactionary” on civil liberties issues.  It’s because Obama lacked, not only a grounding in foreign affairs, but the moral courage and commitment to break out of America’s outmoded foreign policy establishment.

◆ Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Islam and the West.’.

 

 

Obama’s sermon on extremism

President Obama  told the U.N. General Assembly that Muslims must shun “extremism” and exercise “tolerance” for their adversaries. He was referring to the violence-prone protest rallies that the American film “Innocence of Muslims” has triggered in many Muslim countries. The amateurish video shows  the Prophet Muhammad in pornographic poses and other demeaning postures.

Some Muslim societies are indeed honeycombed with anti-American and anti-Western extremists. The problem is, you can’t eliminate a vice while nursing it.  Obama and many other Americans don’t seem to recognize America’s role in stirring Muslim extremism.

Muslim extremism and violence against America are fairly recent events. During the era of European colonialism, the Muslim world admired the United States for not colonizing a Muslim country and even criticizing European colonialism.  In 1957 I was a schoolboy in what is now Muslim Bangladesh. I remember folks cheering America in front of a television set after hearing the news of foreign troops withdrawing from Egyptian territory. I learned much later that the Eisenhower administration had led the U.N. effort to force Israel, France and Britain to vacate the Suez Canal area they had occupied the previous year, following Egypt’s nationalization of the canal.

Systematic Muslim violence against America was rare until 1979. That year Iranian revolutionaries attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage.  Through this indefensible action, they were venting their rage over the overthrow of their democratic government by the CIA in 1953 and the installation by the U.S. of a murderous monarchy they had just overthrown.  Ever since, Muslims have resorted to anti-American protests and violence with greater frequency in response to American policies they see trampling Muslim interests or dignity.

I attribute the current spike in anti-Americanism among Muslims to three main reasons. First, the post-Cold War generation of Muslims are better educated and far more politically conscious than their forebears, thanks to the quickening pace of modernization and globalization.  These Muslims have very little tolerance for foreign domination, and domestic political repression, for that matter. Secondly,  during the last two decades, the United States has waged three major wars against Muslim countries: Iraq I and II, and Afghanistan.

These American-led invasions and the prolonged occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan have enraged Muslims everywhere. Thirdly, modernization has,  strangey as it many seem to many Westerners, imbued Muslims with greater appreciation of their own cultural values. Yet America and the West continue to seek to impose their liberal value system on Muslims societies, infuriating many Muslims.  Western defense of  the film “Innocence of Muslims,” the Danish Muhammad cartoons, the novel The Satanic Verses, etc., are classic examples of this cultural aggression.  All these anti-Islamic materials have turned much of the Muslim world into a hotbed of extremists and terrorists.

Through the 1980s and 1990s U.S. administrations tried to tackle Muslim terrorism through legal tools, covert operations and torture by client governments.  Then came 9/11. Fifteen of the 19 terrorists who hijacked aircraft to attack America were Saudis. The core cause of this horrible crime, as I learned during visits to Saudi Arabia, was the 1991 deployment of U.S. troops on that “land of Muhammad.”

America was unhinged by 9/11.  Instead of pursuing the perpetrators of the crime, it plunged into a devastating war with Iraq, which had nothing to do  9/11; and a  pointless one against Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda, a foreign group, planned the attacks on the United States. Tens of thousands of innocent Muslims have perished in the two wars, which have spread anti-Americanism among Muslims as never before. And they have proliferated Muslim guerrilla groups committed to rolling back American hegemony over Muslim societies.

These guerrillas have forced the United States to pull out of Iraq without achieving any of its strategic objectives. In Afghanistan, they have frustrated U.S. efforts to defeat them, compelling Washington to plan the withdrawal of most of its troops from that country by 2014.

One would have hoped that the Obama administration would take a serious look into the colossal failure of its formidable military machine to suppress Muslim militancy. Instead, the administration has lurched into a reckless, illegal and counterproductive drone war in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The Predator and Reaper drones are purported to be targeting terrorists.  As I learned during two research trips to Pakistan’s tribal areas, local CIA informants all too often report their own adversaries or people simply venting anger at America as Taliban “terrorists.”  The result: an unmitigated disaster.

A group of American academics has just put out its findings from nine months’ research of  America’s drone wars.  Barely 2 percent of the drone victims were known militants, said the 146-page report.  Clive Stafford Smith, head of a charity working in Pakistan, told them that Pakistan’s “entire [tribal] region is being terrorized by constant threat of death from the skies.” People’s “way of life is collapsing,” he continued. “Kids are too terrified to go to school. Adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups.”

The first step toward dousing Muslim hostility to America would be to  review the U.S. policy and attitude toward Muslim societies.  As long as Americans continue to their aggressive policy toward Muslim countries and tolerate the demonization of Muslims and their faith, as the video “Innocence of Muslims” represents, sermons about virtues of tolerance and vice of extremism would be  greeted by Muslim youths with hoots of “hypocrisy.”

  •  Mustafa Malik is an international affairs commentator in Washington, who hosts the blog ‘Islam and the West.’

 

U.S. policy threatens Pakistan’s stability

Book Review: Middle East Policy, Washington, D.C.;  Fall 2011

By Mustafa Malik

THE QUESTION once again: Is Pakistan a ‘failed state’ that’s going to bite the dust?

Anatol Lieven is among the latest authors to try an answer. His book Pakistan: A Hard Country is a broad and detailed survey of the security, economic, social, political and ecological challenges facing Pakistan.  But he argues that a greater threat to Pakistan’s security is posed by the United States and India.

India has been Pakistan’s archenemy, with which it has fought three wars, two of them over the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, or Kashmir for short. Muslim Pakistan (including what is now Bangladesh) was carved out of  British India in 1947 on the principle – agreed to by its Hindu and Muslim leaders and the departing British colonial power – that the subcontinent’s Muslim-majority territories should become the independent state of Pakistan.  The rest of British India would be the independent Hindu-majority India. Pakistanis believe that India, which occupies two-thirds of the Muslim-majority Kashmir, is violating the foundational principles of the partition of the subcontinent.

Lieven analyzes, extensively, Pakistan’s serious economic crises, never-ending ethnic and sectarian strife, and growing water shortages. He considers the problem potentially the gravest threat to Pakistan’s survival.  He demonstrates his best insights on the question of Pakistan’s stability, especially whether terrorism is going to undo the problem-ridden state.

A professor at King’s College in London, Lieven examines four kinds of terrorism roiling Pakistan.  First, the Pakistani Taliban and allied groups are crossing over to Afghanistan and fighting the U.S. and NATO forces there. Secondly, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa wage campaigns of violence in India to vent their rage at the Indian occupation of Kashmir, and most Pakistanis approve of their action. Thirdly, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, which belong to the majority Sunni Muslim sect, are striking Shia Muslim targets in Pakistan. Finally, the Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad and other militant groups are also attacking Pakistan’s military forces and civilian institutions because they have branded the Pakistani military and civilian government America’s “slaves” for joining the U.S. “war on terror” against militant Muslim groups in Pakistan.

Embarrassed by this kind of criticism, which is also widespread among the Pakistani public, the Pakistani government and army brass, as well as the United States, are arguing that Pakistani military forces are actually defending Pakistan against these militants. They cite militant attacks on Pakistani installations.  Americans add that these militant assaults, together with economic and other problems, threaten to make Pakistan a “failed state.”

The author agrees that militant violence has been a major part of the bloody mayhem Pakistan is going through in the anti-terror campaign.  “By February 2010,” he points out, “according to official figures, 7,598 civilians had died in Pakistan as a result of terrorist attacks, Taliban executions, military action or drone attacks. It is worth noting that this figure is two and a half times the number of Americans killed on 9/11.”

But Pakistanis view America as the source of the whole phenomenon of terrorism and social turmoil in their country. The Taliban didn’t begin to organize and Al Qaeda didn’t exist in Pakistan before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. “Before 9/11,” Lieven quotes a Pakistani activist as saying, “there was no terrorism in Pakistan. Once America has left Afghanistan, our society will sort itself out.”

In reality, despite their violence, the Anti-American and anti-Indian militant groups enjoy wide support among military ranks and the public.  And the Pakistan army, the author says, “has been forced into alliance with the US which a majority of Pakistani society – including soldiers’ own families – detest.”

Most Pakistanis have been anti-American because of America’s support for Israel, perceived hostility to Islam and invasion of Iraq and, especially the neighboring Afghanistan.  Afghanistan provides Pakistan its “strategic depth” again India, and Pakistanis are always leery about foreign hegemony over Afghanistan. Also, Pakistan is the home of twice as many Pashtun as live in Afghanistan, who are fighting to expel NATO forces from that country.

Many Pakistanis recall the massive American aid and arms supplies to Afghan Mujahedeen in their struggle to roll back the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and they “see Afghan Taliban as engaged in a legitimate war of resistance against [the U.S. and NATO] occupation, analogous to the Mujahidin war against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.”

The Taliban’s violence against Pakistani military and other institutions are, however, resented by many Pakistanis.  Educated Pakistanis become outraged when they see the Taliban forcing their puritanical form of Islamic religious and moral code on Pakistanis, meting out brutal punishment to villagers for violations of that code. Yet most Pakistanis don’t consider them or their violence a threat to the stability of the state.

The author argues that terrorists can’t destabilize the Pakistani state “unless the US indirectly gives them a helping hand.” By indirect U.S. action, he apparently means U.S. drone attacks on militant targets and other American anti-terror operations within Pakistan. He quotes a 2009 cable from then U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, to the State Department, warning that U.S. drone and other attacks on Pakistani targets “risk destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governing crisis in Pakistan.”

Significantly, the author also mentions the possibility of Pakistan being destabilized by direct U.S. invasion, maybe in collaboration with India. He doesn’t explain how and why America may invade Pakistan, but warns of its dire consequences. No conceivable gains “could compensate for the vastly increased threats to the region and the world that would stem from Pakistan’s collapse, and for the disasters that would result for Pakistan’s own peoples.”

On the question of possible U.S. invasion of Pakistan, Lieven echoes the fears of many Pakistanis, which some of them shared with me during research trips through Pakistan.  Among them were a retired army colonel and a political activist. The retired army officer, whom I interviewed on condition of anonymity, said that “the hue and cry [in the United States] about terrorists stealing our so-called Islamic bomb” has been a “ruse to take out our nuclear weapons and facilities.” He recalled that in the mid-1980s Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the government of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to join Israel on an operation to dismantle Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.  He feared that if Mossad now revived its scheme, “it may have a partner” in New Delhi.

Muhammad Sirajul Islam, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) activist and resident of Karachi, voiced the same concern and added that the United States and Israel have never reconciled with “what they call our Islamic bomb.”

The roots of Pakistan’s belligerency and warfare with India lie in the dichotomy of self-image between Muslims and Hindus on the subcontinent. In undivided British India, Hindus were three-fourths of the population, Muslims making up most of the other fourth.  Hindus in general resented Muslims’ separate cultural niche and their demand for constitutional safeguards for their political representation and economic interests.

Without such safeguards, Muslims argued, “the brute majority” of Hindus in a majoritarian democracy would relegate them to permanent Hindu subordination.  The Hindu leadership didn’t agree to the Muslim demands, and Muslims forced the partition of the old country to create a Muslim state. Most Hindus were furious at the partition, and some continue to nurture their hostility to the Muslim state.

Since partition, India has assumed a hegemonic posture on the subcontinent, to which Pakistanis isn’t reconciled.  This historic Muslim-Hindu animus has been at the root of Pakistani-Indian hostility.

I’m more optimistic than the author about Pakistan’s future and its relations with the United States and Pakistan.  I see Washington beginning to realize that its goal of eliminating Muslim anti-American militancy through military means is a pipe dream.  Already, that realization has led to the Obama administration’s decision to begin pulling out American troops from Afghanistan, without being able to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” the Taleban, which President Obama had vowed to do.  The administration also has all but given up on getting the Pakistan army to root out Taliban and Al Qaeda groups within its borders. In frustration, Washington has suspended a third of its annual aid package ($800 million) to Pakistan.

The United States is likely to better appreciate Pakistan’s strategic importance once it no

longer has boots on the ground in Afghanistan and anti-American militancy continues to percolate in South Asia.

The belligerency between Pakistan and India has already begun to abate. For one thing, Pakistan’s acquisition of a nuclear deterrent as of itself has made a large-scale Indian invasion of Pakistan almost inconceivable.  Secondly, the unrelenting secession movement in the Indian-held Kashmir and India’s cool relations with Muslim Bangladesh, which it helped create, would make New Delhi extremely wary of a cataclysmic military campaign against the hornet’s nest of Muslim Pakistan. In Kashmir, India has tried all tricks to suppress the 22-year-long Muslim uprising and has to come to terms with the Kashmiris’ aspiration for some kind of self-determination.

Thirdly, my research has revealed that the memories of wars and the partition of the subcontinent, which have bred much of the India-Pakistan hostility, are fading among both Pakistanis and Indians.  The generations that were most traumatized by those hostilities have mostly departed from the political scene.  The lingering tensions between the two states, albeit much diminished, are now fueled by the Hindu nationalist movement in India and the army and some militant Muslim groups in Pakistan. The new generations of Pakistanis and Indians are more interested in peace and business between the two countries.

Thus while official bilateral trade between Pakistan and India amounts to only about 1 per cent of their respective global trade, Pakistani towns and bazaars, especially near the Pakistan-India border, are flooded with Indian goods. Indians’ interest in Pakistani music and literature, and the popularity of Indian movies and music in Pakistan, among other things, signal an inexorable trend toward normalization of relations between the two countries.

During its five millennia of their recorded history, peoples of the subcontinent have alternated many times between periods of relative harmony and hostility. While the boundaries between their states are likely to endure, the dark period of their mutual hostility spawned by the 1947 partition appears to be yielding gradually to new era of relative political, trade and economic harmony.

•Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog site Islam and the West: http:/islam-and-west.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aiding Arab freedom serves U.S.

(Published in the Columbus Dispatch, April 30, 2011)

By Mustafa Malik

Democratization of Arab societies “would be a disaster” for the West, warns Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis. Yet he predicts that Islamic political parties are “very likely to win … genuinely fair and free elections” in the Arab world.

One of the West’s best-known historians of Islam, Lewis has echoed what many American intellectuals and politicians are saying in private. And sometimes in public.  Democracy, they argue, brought Hamas “terrorists” to power in Palestine and has given Hezbollah “terrorists” a lock on the Lebanese government.  Democracy has replaced Iraq’s staunchly secular and anti-Iranian — albeit autocratic — regime with a pro-Iranian pseudo-theocracy. And in Turkey, an anti-Israeli government rooted in Islam has replaced an ultra-secularist and pro-Israeli ruling establishment through free and fair elections.

Ironically, Lewis had personally lobbied former President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and democratize it and other Arab societies.  Many Americans supported that campaign. The new drive to sit out Arab democratic upheavals is also shared by many Americans, especially politicians and pundits. Among them Nicholas Goldberg, the editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times.

“It would not be beneficial to the United States for the Middle East to be democratic,” Goldberg wrote. Democracy would replace the current pro-Western Arab governments, especially in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, with anti-Western Islamic regimes. That would force the West “to pay a fair price for petroleum, which would shake the foundation of the [Western] economic system.”

Both the Arab democratization campaign of the last decade and today’s opposition to Arab democracy have a common goal: resisting Islamic forces from seizing the reins of government. Both are based on a dire misperception, i.e. that Islam-oriented regimes would necessarily endanger U.S. or Western interests.

It’s a tribute to the West that most of the Muslim and non-Muslim societies that once fought hard to throw off Western colonial yoke have adopted or are pursuing Western political institutions – political parties, elections, parliaments, press freedom, and so forth.  Yet these societies remain deeply rooted in their own traditions and heritage.  In fact the post-colonial Muslim and non-Muslim generations in the East are showing greater appreciation of their indigenous traditions than did their forebears who were brought up under Western colonial rule.

Thus in Muslim countries such as Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and Sudan, Westernized ruling elites have given or are giving way to political forces rooted in Islam. In others such as Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Pakistan, India and Indonesia, political parties anchored to native traditions are on the rise and forcing the adaptation of their Western-oriented state laws to native traditions.

Islam is the bedrock of Muslim social and cultural traditions. Indigenization of a Muslim society’s political process means its adjustment to Islamic values and lifestyle. Decades of Western cultural and military campaigns have failed to stem this trend. Western antipathy or indifference toward Arab pro-democracy movements wouldn’t do it, either.

But the very concern that Islamic political activism would threaten Western interests is also unfounded. Sure, anti-Americanism is agitating many Muslim minds, and it sometimes triggers terrorism. But contemporary Muslim anti-Americanism has been spawned by the American invasion, occupation and domination of a host of Muslim societies, not by Islam.

At all events, if mighty imperial armies couldn’t suppress anti-colonial movements in earlier times, today’s feckless and tottering Arab autocracies can’t ride out the greatest Arab populist upheaval in a millennium. (The Arab nationalist movement of the early twentieth century was confined mostly to military and political elites.)

The Arab spring has given America and the West an opportunity to protect their interests in that region by cultivating the revolutionary forces that are going to shape the policies and agenda of tomorrow’s Arab states.

The Obama administration needs to drop its policy of supporting some Arab pro-democracy movements and ignoring others.  It should adopt a bold and principled policy of defending and aiding all populist Arab struggles. Democratic or populist governments in the Persian Gulf may ask the West to “pay a fair price for petroleum.”   A fair price would be cheaper than the high price that could be demanded by governments alienated by American apathy or indifference toward the struggles that would have brought them to power.

♦ Mustafa Malik is an international affairs columnist in Washington. He conducted field research in a host of Middle Eastern and South Asian countries as a senior associate for the University of Chicago Middle East Center.