Saturday, November 10, 2012

On The Term "Islamist"

By Hossein Askari
Courtesy Of "Asia Times Online"

United States administrations have considered "Islamists" the biggest threat to US national security. Why? To US thinking, the rise of Islamists to power in two or three Arab countries could quickly spread across the entire Middle East as US supported dictators are swept aside by invigorated and emboldened popular movements under the liberating banner of Islam. 

This could be accompanied by political instability, unprecedented anti-US policies, overwhelming hostility towards Israel, oil supply disruptions and higher oil prices, withdrawal of financial assets from US financial institutions, and dumping of US government securities that would increase the cost of financing US national debt. 

The euphoria of Islamists could in time spread to the rest of the Muslim world and Islamists and the West would be confronting each other for decades, if not for centuries, to come. The only thing preventing this catastrophic scenario is a group of "friendly" dictators who "share" the US quest for peace and stability! 

They, the lesser of two evils, must be supported, as the Islamists must be undermined and defeated. Policy nonsense built on a pile of even more nonsense that will lead to centuries of conflict and pain. 

What is wrong with this received wisdom? How should the US change its thinking and its policies towards the Middle East and the Muslim world to usher better relations?

The popular Western linkage of "Islamists" with the Islam of the Koran is a myth that must be broken and dispelled. Islam preaches the world is one; sanctity of life; religious freedom and tolerance; justice in all its dimensions - political, social and economic; communal selections of government and rulers; condemnation of corruption, hoarding, opulence and poverty; the importance of honesty, education, hard work and charity; society's requirement for economic prosperity based on good institutions; and Allah's absolute ownership over creation and human obligation, as trustee, to share the bounty with every generation. 

With the elimination of the myth that the opposition in Middle East countries represents Islamic teachings, Middle East rulers, in turn, will find it more difficult to use the threat of "Islamists" or "fundamentalists" as their justification for dictatorial rule. The West will not see Islam as the enemy but instead will discover the real reason behind anti-Western sentiments, Western support for illegitimate and oppressive rulers. 

The world must cease referring to the opposition in Muslim countries, be they radicals, disenfranchised, fundamentalists, terrorists or whatever, as Islamists. Just this simple step will rob radicals of a potent weapon, namely "the West is waging war against Islam". 

A second popular myth promulgated by Western politicians, corporate interests and lobbyists is that Middle East family rulers, "strongmen" and assorted other dictators are necessary to maintain regional peace and stability and to keep the oil flowing at a reasonable price. And as to be expected, this is a myth that Middle East rulers have embraced and espoused at every opportunity to garner the support of their foreign backers. 

While it is true that US backing, sophisticated weaponries, outsized armed forces, brutal intelligence services, harsh rule and oil-financed subsidies (from oil that belongs to the people but rulers portray as their generosity) appear to keep the lid on dissent and pre-empt the open participation of popular parties, they also foment and fester even more hostility and radicalism, garner support for Mislamists and resentment for foreign supporters of tyrants. 

This affords short-run stability but with turmoil that is absolutely sure to follow, with the only question being when? And when chaos and anarchy ensue they are blamed on Islamists and the policy of supporting tyrants is further re-enforced in Western minds. 

It is as if the West is trying to create a cleavage between Muslims and the rest of the world. Just look at Iran, Libya and Egypt. Yes, president Jimmy Carter toasted the Shah of Iran as an "Island of stability in" a troubled Middle East but how long did the stability last? When the lid could no longer be kept on, mayhem followed. 

Libya and Egypt were "stable" too. But again, all of a sudden and with little warning mayhem followed. It need not have to be this way. In all these countries, if torture and the barrel of the gun had not stifled change for decades, change would have occurred more gradually, in spurts and with instability, but not with the explosion that will always come after decades of repression and deprivation. 
Gradual change accompanied by some instability that is normal has been compromised for short-run stability, which will always be followed by explosion, mayhem and more widespread suffering. 

Western support for tyrants naturally results in popular hatred for foreign governments that support these oppressors. The world should cease all manner of support for these tyrants, which would in turn allow political change to occur more gradually, reduce the attraction of radicals, starve anti-Western sentiments and usher better relations. 

A third myth is that Islamists will hold back, or disrupt, oil sales and increase oil prices. As we have said before, all these countries must sell their oil to finance their expenditures or to build an adequate financial fund for future generations, as oil is a depletable resource. 

Libya sold its oil to all takers, as did Iran. It was the buyers who didn't want to buy from them - introducing sanctions and the like. Yes, there might be temporary disruptions but these will occur no matter what, as in the case of the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, the invasion of Kuwait, the liberation of Libya and on and on - no matter what the form of rule. 

Simply said, the West has created a confrontation that should never have existed in this day and age. The West pursues policies that nurture Islamists and radicals to provide recruits for terrorists of all shapes and then fears Islam. These rulers - every single one of them - are not worth saving. As we have said many times before in this series, they are all corrupt. 

They have little interest in building good institutions and supporting the rule of law. If they do, they would be out of power in favor of accountable governments and rulers. They are compromising the lives of millions of people who deserve a better chance. These societies will be held back in every way - socially, politically and economically - and as long as they rule, progress will be limited and anti-Westernism will thrive. 

Their only interest is to accumulate vast fortunes for themselves from the country's oil revenues, their families and their cronies who support them. They or their descendants will in time meet a violent end with much of the fallout on the West. 

Muslims should have little need for opportunists to interpret their religion (they should study it on their own), to deny them elected leaders and governments, to rob them of their national wealth, to refuse them the right to justice and to preclude even the hope of human, political, social and economic progress in the future. The West, and especially the US, can support progress in these oil-exporting countries just by ceasing its support for tyrants. 

No comments: