Obama admin prepares for possibility of new Islamist regimes in Middle East
posted at 11:47 am on March 4, 2011 by Bruce McQuain
Apparently the moon pony contingent is slowly fading from prominence in Washington DC and the administration is preparing for what now seems most probable outcome in the Middle East – the new “post-revolt” regimes may be distinctly “Islamist”. Note the word – not “Islamic”. Most of them are that already. The term used in the Scott Wilson Washington Post column is “Islamist”. And Williams says:
The Obama administration is preparing for the prospect that Islamist governments will take hold in North Africa and the Middle East, acknowledging that the popular revolutions there will bring a more religious cast to the region’s politics.
However, apparently they want to diminish any concern by pretending that such an outcome isn’t really that significant:
The administration is already taking steps to distinguish between various movements in the region that promote Islamic law in government. An internal assessment, ordered by the White House last month, identified large ideological differences between such movements as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Qaeda that will guide the U.S. approach to the region.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of Islam in the politics of these countries,” said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal policy deliberations. “It’s the behavior of political parties and governments that we will judge them on, not their relationship with Islam.”
That speaks to a basic misunderstanding of the role of Islam “in the politics of these countries”. Unlike Western countries, there is no “separation of church and state” in an Islamic country. Islam is about politics, governing, the law, you name it. It is as much a political system as it is a religion. And that’s why assurances such as those the White House is putting forth here are just not accurate. The “behavior of political parties and governments” are going to be fundamentally grounded in … Islam.
That takes us to the term “Islamist” which most have used to distinguish the broader religion of Islam from those who have hijacked it and made their version an aggressive theocratic and expansionist version of the religion. “Islamist” includes the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and Al Qaeda as well as other murderous and anti-Western groups throughout the Middle East.
However, WaPo wants to assure you that it’s just not as bad as you think:
Islamist governments span a range of ideologies and ambitions, from the primitive brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, a movement with Islamist roots that heads a largely secular political system.
Unmentioned, of course, is Turkey’s new belligerence and aggressiveness toward Israel and its seeming turning away from the West and apparent desire to be a, if not the, power broker in the Middle East. The “largely secular political system” in Turkey is much less so than it was a decade ago when that party took power and it is likely to be even less so as it retains it.
But, you say, what’s made the administration suddenly take off its rose colored glasses and begin assessing anew the probable outcome of these revolts?
None of the revolutions over the past several weeks has been overtly Islamist, but there are signs that the uprisings could give way to more religious forces. An influential Yemeni cleric called this week for the U.S.-backed administration of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to be replaced with Islamist rule, and in Egypt, an Islamist theoretician has a leading role in drafting constitutional changes after President Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power last month.
A number of other Islamist parties are deciding now how big a role to play in protests or post-revolution reforms.
David Warren made the point that no “Walesas or Havels” have emerged in these countries to steer the revolutions down the path of democracy. And that’s true. But the Islamist equivalents are emerging – and attempting to subvert the revolutions to their own ends. And, as Warren points out, they have an advantage:
As we should surely have observed by now, whether or not the Islamists command Arab “hearts and minds,” they are not only the best organized force, but the most ruthless. They are also in possession of the simplest, most plausible, most easily communicated “vision.”
They don’t have to do much selling of their vision, they have the institutions and traditions of Islam to turn too and it just isn’t a very big leap from “Islamic” to “Islamist”. Democracy and freedom, on the other hand, have no such institutions, traditions or leaders to turn too. So when figuring probability, it is clear which scenario enjoys the most probable outcome.
Having been forced to accept the obvious, don’t expect the administration to give up all its moon ponies. There will still be plenty of rationalization which ignores the fundamental differences between what “secular” in the West means, and what it means to Islam. You can expect to see “Islamism” and “Islamist” defined down:
Paul Pillar, a longtime CIA analyst who now teaches at Georgetown University, said, “Most of the people in the intelligence community would see things on this topic very similarly to the president – that is, political Islam as a very diverse series of ideologies, all of which use a similar vocabulary, but all quite different.”
Yeah, “Death to Israel” doesn’t mean the same thing in Egypt that is does in Gaza. And Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban don’t necessarily represent what an “Islamist” regime would look like, do they? And don’t forget, as they continue to try to throw Turkey around as an example of “not so bad” – Turkey has been slowly changing from a true secular democracy to an Islamist state. And the change has not been a good one for the interests of the US.
The White House has an internal study that it is studying and is still believing that there are good Islamists and bad Islamists:
The report draws sharp distinctions between the ambitions of the two groups, suggesting that the Brotherhood’s mix of Islam and nationalism make it a far different organization than al-Qaeda, which sees national boundaries as obstacles to restoring the Islamic caliphate.
The study also concludes that the Brotherhood criticizes the United States largely for what it perceives as America’s hypocritical stance toward democracy – promoting it rhetorically but supporting leaders such as Mubarak.
“If our policy can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, we won’t be able to adapt to this change,” the senior administration official said. “We’re also not going to allow ourselves to be driven by fear.”
Really? Have you been watching the timidity with which this President has faced the change in the Middle East and N. Africa? This sudden equivocation about “Islamists” is a statement of fear. A firm stand against the Islamist movement taking over any of these countries vs. standing up for secular democratic movements in those lands is evidence of fear. The equivocation about the word and the accommodation the administration seems ready to make with some “Islamists” says all that needs to be said.
There’s a reason “Islam” and “Islamist” are defined in a particular way. What the administration is trying to do is blur those lines substantially in order to make what was and has been unacceptable to the US suddenly acceptable (at least to the degree to which “Islamists” appear “secular” to these rocket-scientists).
We have been at war with “Islamists” for a couple of decades. Is this redefinition of “Islamist” the first sign of our capitulation?