Letting Radical Islam Die On The Vine?

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In last week's Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria had a very well written opinion piece called Learning To Live With Radical Islam (and let's face it, Fareed Zakaria is really the only compelling reason to read Newsweek anyway.)

Zakaria's article was released with impeccable timing, as this past week President Obama himself expressed the possibility of reaching out to the Taliban in Afghanistan as part of the solution to the Afghanistan campaign.

Both men cite the successes of the U.S. in dealing with former Sunni and Shi'a radicals in Iraq as at least part of the motivation for their concepts, and that we need to separate the local jihadists from the global ones.

Zakaria makes a very compelling argument for isolating local jihadists and letting their radicalism "burn out" so to speak. For instance, he points out that in Nigeria:

After the end of military rule in 1999, 12 of Nigeria's 36 states chose to adopt Sharia. Radical clerics arrived from the Middle East to spread their draconian interpretation of Islam. Religious militias such as the Hisbah of Kano state patrolled the streets, attacking those who shirked prayers, disobeyed religious dress codes or drank alcohol. Several women accused of adultery were sentenced to death by stoning. In 2002 The Weekly Standard decried "the Talibanization of West Africa" and worried that Nigeria, a "giant of sub-Saharan Africa," could become "a haven for Islamism, linked to foreign extremists."

But when The New York Times sent a reporter to Kano state in late 2007, she found an entirely different picture from the one that had been fretted over by State Department policy analysts. "The Islamic revolution that seemed so destined to transform northern Nigeria in recent years appears to have come and gone," the reporter, Lydia Polgreen, concluded. The Hisbah had become "little more than glorified crossing guards" and were "largely confined to their barracks and assigned anodyne tasks like directing traffic and helping fans to their seats at soccer games." The widely publicized sentences of mutilation and stoning rarely came to pass (although floggings were common). Other news reports have confirmed this basic

Residents hadn't become less religious; mosques still overflowed with the devout during prayer time, and virtually all Muslim women went veiled. But the government had helped push Sharia in a tamer direction by outlawing religious militias; the regular police had no interest in enforcing the law's strictest tenets. In addition, over time some of the loudest proponents of Sharia had been exposed as hypocrites. Some were under investigation for embezzling millions.

Zakaria's point seems to be a simple one: that people will always choose order over chaos, and in the Muslim world "order" often simply means Sharia. Later, in time (and the loose examples that Zakaria uses tend to make it seem like it will be sooner rather than later) the people and government will softly "rebel" and the strictest interpretations of Sharia will fall off on the wayside, and things will moderate of their own accord. Unfortunately, history is filled with examples that prove Zakaria's examples are really not the norm, but part of his argument defies a historical examination: that in this modern age, radical Islamism cannot exist long term and will eventually fade and die as a system of government due to its own nature.

It is a compelling and attractive position, and comes back to the core argument that by pulling back our overseas deployments we will no longer be the invaders on foreign soil, angering the locals into jihad, and that the global jihadists will lose support once the locals don't have foreigners walking around to piss them off.

The question then becomes, how much presence is too much? The existence of an embassy alone was enough to set off the Iranians in 1979. There were only a handful of infidels within spitting distance of the Taliban in the late 90's when foreign jihadist training camps flourished after the Taliban's rise to power in the mid 90's. Rhetoric about global jihad continues to grow in Indonesia. And everywhere that any form of Sharia rules supreme, the boogeyman of Palestine is always available to whip up some nationalistic/religious fervor among the natives.

The reality of the situation is that while the local Islamists in Muslim countries may not support a global jihad themselves, history has proven they are more than willing to tolerate the presence of global jihadists among them, and that's all it takes.

Everyone can agree that the problem of how to combat the global Islamists is more complicated than it seemed back in 2002. However, there is danger in the concept that by pulling back forces now, it is guaranteed we will make more friends than we will enemies. Rather we need to recognize that there are not individual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is only one war, it is global, and the battle will ebb and flow through different campaigns, of which Afghanistan and Iraq are only two of what will certainly be more. During this war, anywhere on the globe that radical Islam creates the atmosphere that allows global jihadists to exist, we will be forced to be at odds with it, no matter how "localized" the phenomenon is.

I am at my core a "live and let live" sort of guy. Zakaria seems to be saying that the vast majority of Muslims out there are too, and I don't have a problem believing that. The problem is, their religion doesn't have much "live and let live" about it, and as long as a Muslim in Asia is willing to tolerate living next door to someone who believes in delivering the war to our doorstep, we're going to have this problem. How we decide which threats are local and which are global in the next couple of years is going to frame the success of the war, and in large part the security of the nation.

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