Victory Without Soldiers? The futility of soft power in defeating militant jihadists

Weekly Standard, by Reuel Marc Gerecht, Oct. 26, 2015:

With the war in Syria becoming ever more complex and murderous, it’s worthwhile to revisit a guiding principle of Barack Obama: The use of American military power is likely to do more harm than good in the Middle East, and even in the region’s violent struggles, soft power is important, if not decisive, in resolving conflicts. If Islamic militancy is to be defeated, better ideas, advanced by Muslims, backed up if necessary by Muslim soldiers, must be the principal means.

We do not know whether the president sincerely believes in this military-lite, soft-power-heavy, Muslim-versus-Muslim answer to Islamic radicalism; he may well just care about his progressive agenda at home. A non-interventionist foreign policy, and all the intellectualism that surrounds it, may be only an afterthought, a byproduct of his determination to keep his liberal aspirations for America undiminished by arduous and expensive foreign adventures.

But we cannot ignore the fact that terrorist safe havens now cover a large swath of the Middle East and may soon extend once again across southern Afghanistan. Let us assume that the president sincerely believes that Islamic militancy must be defeated by ideas for it to be downed on the battlefield. Let us also assume that this Middle Eastern question will eventually compel some sustained attention from Republican presidential candidates, since one of them may well succeed Obama and confront the Syrian war, which is rattling both Europe and the Near East. A Republican president could choose to ignore the conflict, citing the same arguments Obama does, with a conservative twist. Republicans don’t appear any more eager than Democrats to send American forces again into Muslim lands. Vladimir Putin’s arrival has probably made punting an even more attractive bipartisan option, since changing policy in Syria could well pit the United States militarily, indirectly or directly, against Russia. Barring a massive terrorist strike against America launched from the Islamic State or elsewhere in Syria, even a half-million dead Syrians—double the current accepted number—and millions more made homeless will likely not push Americans to intervene.

But fear of entanglement aside, does the president’s view make sense historically? Have Muslims viewed militant irruptions as preeminently battles of ideas? Or have they seen such struggles as contests of swords and gunpowder? In the past, what have been the winning strategies against “violent extremism” in the Middle East?

Taming the zealots

Historical parallels to the Islamic State are imperfect. Although Islamic history has seen an enormous number of politico-religious rebellions, the vast majority failed to displace the ruling powers, and successful movements seeking explicitly to revive the early caliphate have been rare. The Islamic State in this sense is a product of modernity: It couldn’t have happened without the rise of modern fundamentalism, which zealously ignores—or delegitimizes—the history, the perceived moral compromises, of medieval and modern Muslim empires and states and returns the believer to the most virtuous age, to the community of the prophet Muhammad and the first four caliphs, the Rashidun, the Rightly Guided Ones.

But jihadist revivalism is a not infrequent occurrence. As Princeton’s Michael Cook noted in Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought, an important book for understanding historically the moral reflexes and agony of faithful Muslims:

It was the fusion of this egalitarian and activist [Arab] tribal ethos with the monotheist tradition that gave Islam its distinctive political character. In no other civilization was rebellion for conscience sake so widespread as it was in the early centuries of Islamic history; no other major religious tradition has lent itself to revival as a political ideology—and not just a political identity—in the modern world.

Focusing on the more extreme and successful examples of this religio-political zeal offers some insights into how such fervency fades. Islamic history offers no sure strategy for defusing zealotry, but it certainly records the methods that Muslims, and non-Muslims, have used to combat the fanaticism of believers at war with the status quo. And the principal method has always been military.



The closest modern parallel to the Islamic State is the Mahdist movement in Sudan and Egypt in the late 19th century. In 1881 Muhammad Ahmad bin Abdallah declared himself the Mahdi, the Guided One, the messiah in Muslim theology. He and especially his successor, Abdallah ibn Muhammad, who called himself a caliph, created a jihadist state in Sudan that aspired, at a minimum, to the conquest of Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia. Both men gathered to the cause tens of thousands of holy warriors, bedeviling the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia, the Egyptian-Turkish khedivate, and the British administration in Cairo. The renowned British general Charles “Chinese” Gordon fell victim to the Mahdi at the capture of Khartoum in 1885. The Ethiopian emperor Yohannes IV died in battle against the caliph’s army in 1889.

Like the Islamic State today, the Mahdist realm was essentially a war-machine, which evolved into a semi-functioning state that lasted less than 20 years. Mahdist forces’ tendency to slaughter Egyptian and Sudanese administrators in the employ of the khedive complicated their efforts at government. Christians within their reach also fared poorly, though better than Christians have done under the Islamic State, which has ruthlessly ignored the sharia’s command to respect the life and property of Christians, an inferior but protected class under the holy law.

The Turco-Egyptian, Sudanese, and Ethiopian forces proved utterly incapable of containing the Mahdist holy warriors, who called themselves the Ansar, or the Helpers, a term also applied to those who welcomed the prophet Muhammad in Medina after his flight from a hostile Mecca. The British at first wanted to avoid a head-on collision with the Mahdist movement, deeming it too costly, but after the death of Gordon and the continuing advances and depredations of the caliph’s armies, General Horatio Herbert Kitchener was dispatched with a British Army of 8,000 men supported by 17,000 Egyptian and Sudanese troops. Deploying Maxim guns and modern artillery (and Winston Churchill on horseback), the British wiped out a Mahdist army of 60,000 men at the Battle of Omdurman on September 2, 1898. Within a year, the Mahdist movement was irretrievably broken.

As long as they relied on soft power, both the Muslim ruler of Egypt and the British administration proved unable to counter the religious appeal of the Mahdi and his successor in Sudan and southern Egypt. The khedive and the British believed, correctly as it turned out, that military success would destroy what we today would call a popular Islamist challenge.

Wahhabis Run Amok

West of the Indian subcontinent, Wahhabism has been the driving engine of Sunni jihadism since the 1970s. The rise of the Wahhabis in Arabia in the 18th century also offers parallels with the Islamic State. Muhammad ibn Adb al-Wahhab was born in 1703. By the 1740s, his revivalist movement, which arose in one of the most primitive regions of the peninsula, had caught the eye of religious scholars in Mecca, the great cosmopolitan pilgrimage city under the distant control of the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul. The Wahhabi creed, once married to the power of the tribal chieftan Muhammad ibn Saud in 1744, cleansed the Najd, the Saudi and Wahhabi heartland, of more tolerant preachers and scholars. The region became the incubator for a severe interpretation of Islam, at odds with the multicultural, relatively tolerant sentiments of the Ottoman empire. Wahhabi teachings, often skeptical if not dismissive of the great legal scholars of the past, ruthlessly reduce the sources of law to the Koran and the traditions of the prophet, the Hadith, that pass the requisite tests of purity.

An intolerant, often violent fastidiousness that sees lax and worldly Muslim practice as the same as unbelief is the hallmark of this doctrine. Wahhabism has a mania about idolatry, shirk, which makes its followers exceptionally hostile towards Shiites, with their adoration of the imams, the charismatic descendants of the Caliph Ali; of Sufis, who can see God in almost anything; and of Christians, with their obnoxious embrace of anthropomorphism and the Trinity. Wahhab put it clearly by citing a hadith in his declaration of faith, The Book of God’s Unity: “Whoever affirms that there is no god but God and denies all other objects of worship safeguards his blood, property, and fate with God.” In other words, if you don’t do that, you are fair game. The desire to purge Muslim society and subjugate or expel non-Muslims is an inevitable byproduct of this creed. The parallels with the Islamic State are obvious.

Saudi armies had conquered most of Arabia by the end of the 18th century. But the Wahhabi-Saudi thirst for power and pillage brought a reaction. Muhammad Ali Pasha—the great Ottoman Albanian lord of the Nile Valley, who’d modernized his armed forces and gained de facto independence from Istanbul—attacked. By 1819 he had destroyed the Saudi-Wahhabi state.

For a time, Egyptian rule was strong enough to check any Saudi-Wahhabi rebirth. But Egypt, always in a financial mess, lacked the resources to maintain sufficient forces in the Najd, and when the khedive eventually lost control there, a rejuvenated Ottoman empire, which had Westernized its armed forces, reestablished its sovereignty over most of the Arabian Peninsula. The British, the naval guarantor of the Trucial States (today’s small Gulf countries), checked Wahhabi plans to push east. Other Arabian tribal powerhouses, especially the pro-Ottoman Rashidis, who were slightly less hardcore than the Wahhabis, took advantage of Saudi tribal disunity and smashed Saudi forces at the Battle of Mulayda in 1891. Also, importantly, the Ottomans pushed back with soft power, backing clerics who waged an intellectual campaign against Wahhabi intolerance, the forerunner of what we now call takfirism, the practice of declaring “bad” Muslims infidels and thus subject to the sword.

Dark days for the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance continued until the charismatic Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud (1875-1953) rose to power, just as the Ottoman sultanate was ending. With the empire’s collapse after World War I, western Arabia saw a Saudi-Wahhabi advance. Taif and Mecca fell in 1924; Medina and Jeddah, the all-critical seaport of western Arabia, in 1925. Ibn Saud eponymously elevated the Kingdom of the Najd and the Hijaz into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

The Saudi-Wahhabi union might have perished several times had it not been for the movement’s lasting success at cleansing the Najd of opposing religious views. Even after the devastating loss at Mulayda, the Wahhabis survived because they’d culturally transformed the landscape of their homeland. As the historian David Commins has noted, “the Rashidi amirs .  .  . had no interest in uprooting Wahhabi influence. There would be no repetition of the Ottoman-Egyptian efforts to stamp out Wahhabism. By the 1880s, generations of Najdi townsmen [including the Rashidis] had lived in a Wahhabi milieu. The strict monotheistic doctrine had been naturalized as the native religious culture.”

Although the Saudis, with their well-financed global Wahhabi missionary activity, have done horrendous damage to Islamic civilization since they came to power in 1925, they also illustrate what is missing today in the fight against the Islamic State and other radical Islamists who are developing emirates throughout the Greater Middle East. When Wahhabi warriors—theIkhwan, or the Brothers—were chomping at the bit to invade Trans-jordan and Iraq in the 1920s, which would have dragged Ibn Saud into a war with Great Britain, and were slaughtering affluent “bad” Muslim subjects of the Saudi monarch, Ibn Saud attacked. He divided the Wahhabi ulama, or clergy, from the Ikhwan and drove those hardcore holy warriors out of Arabia, where they surrendered to the British. The power of the Ikhwan, who were ideologically quite similar to many of the jihadists of the Islamic State, was permanently broken.

Yet there is no Ibn Saud today. There are no conservative Muslims with the prestige and power to put down radical Islamic revivalists. The Saudis have no might that they can project far from their borders even though they have purchased an enormous amount of Western weaponry. The odds are good the Saudis will lose their struggle with the vastly outgunned Shiite Houthis of Yemen. And if that military engagement does go badly, it could traumatize the kingdom and even delegitimize the ruling family. Although the Wahhabi establishment remains loyal to the House of Saud, religious dissent among the ulama has been visible for years. It’s a tossup whether official Saudi religious authorities now have more influence among religious youth than militant dissident clergy. The Saudis’ ability to broadcast an effective, nuanced message abroad—the Wahhabism of the Islamic State is bad, but our Saudi Wahhabism is good—is, to put it politely, questionable. Money can buy only so much.

Meanwhile in Egypt, a kind of charade in the name of religious reform continues. President-for-life Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, an observant Muslim, likes to declaim about the need for a reformation within Islam and parade state-paid clerics from the state-controlled (and Saudi-financed) Al-Azhar seminary. But fundamentalism has become mainstream in Egypt, and violence aimed at an increasingly oppressive state is growing. Sisi is the past: Secular military dictatorship is one of the primary causes of the collapse of civil society and the radicalization of youth throughout the Middle East. The components of his political identity—Nasserite pan-Arabist, corrupt militarist, Egyptian nationalist, faithful Muslim—are a summation of the passions and conflicts attending Egypt’s startling decline since the 1950s. Sisi may have his fans in the United States, especially among House Republicans and conservative columnists, but despite his popular coup, he confronts the same dilemma as his predecessors Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak: How does a poor military regime, dependent upon American arms, stay afloat in an increasingly religious country, deeply uncomfortable with that dependency and with Egypt’s diplomatic relations with Israel? The answer for all three men: Intimidate thefundamentalists, while culturally accepting, if not encouraging, most of the social mores—the “Islamic values”—dear to the religious.

Even before Sisi’s 2014 coup against a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president and an Islamist-dominated parliament, Egypt was an internally weak state, incapable of projecting its tired ideals, let alone its armed forces, abroad. Today, Cairo is broken and bankrupt, avoiding an administrative collapse only by means of Saudi cash. At best, Sisi is playing defense inside Egypt. The general’s open and growing sympathy for the Alawite Shiite regime in Syria—which surely puts him at odds with the vast majority of Sunni Arabs, his Saudi funders, and Al-Azhar’s ulama—reveals his concern that the Islamic State, with its narrative of revivalist violence and an increasing flow of arms across the porous Libyan-Egyptian border, is a serious threat to his rule. He’s probably right.

The Frightful Search For Virtue

The Islamic State is essentially a rebirth of the Kharijite schism. The earliest of Islam’s many schismatics, the Kharijites believed that the caliphate belonged to the most virtuous—not to descendants of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, or to the prophet’s tribe of Quraysh, which became the Sunni standard for succession. They practiced, or so it seems in the sources written by their enemies, an anarchic egalitarianism. In 661 a Kharijite killed Ali, the last of the Rashidun caliphs. According to the sources, the Kharijites were exceedingly violent. Overlaying Arab tribal customs onto the faith with extreme rigor, Kharijites could lawfully kill or enslave anyone—man, woman, or child—who failed to meet their demanding standards.

When the Wahhabis irrupted in the Arabian Peninsula, the Ottomans called the Saudi-Wahhabi warriors khawarij, or Kharijites. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the Islamic State, explicitly claims that by establishing a new jihadist realm in the heart of Iraq and Syria, core lands of classical Arab Islam, he has proven himself most virtuous by the gold standard in Islamic history—military conquest. Like the leader of any society so formed, Baghdadi runs the risk that others will see themselves as equally deserving through battlefield victories or, worse, see him as compromised if he starts losing. Another danger: Power tends to corrupt. Baghdadi and his inner circle may start to sin in the eyes of their followers. The original Kharijite movement was fissiparous: They were as likely to duel with each other as with non-Muslims. Although the arguments of the “secessionists” (the literal meaning of khawarij) have powerfully echoed through Islamic history, Umayyad caliphs had crushed the movement militarily by the early 8th century. Without success in war and unable to gain a sufficient number of new spiritual recruits, Kharijism faded as a serious challenge to the status quo.

We may hope that the Islamic State and other holy-warrior movements that have conquered lands will similarly evanesce—but even faster. Such movements are unlikely to die, however, unless they are defeated militarily. The Assad regime, which provoked the rise of jihadism through its savagery, probably cannot wipe out the Islamic State, even if powerfully reinforced by the Iranians, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Russians. It just doesn’t have enough manpower: The Shiite Alawite community, the backbone of Bashar al-Assad’s power, is only about 10 percent of the Syrian population, and the Russians and Iranians may not want to invest enough to end this fight.

So long as their own casualties remain low, both parties strategically benefit from continuing mayhem. The Russians are now indispensable in Syria; they have checked, if not checkmated, any future American or Turkish intervention against Assad; they have again spooked the Europeans and made themselves a player in a refugee crisis that is fraying the European Union, a Russian strategic goal topped only by the dissolution of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and, last but not least, Putin has diverted attention from Ukraine, the democratic Achilles’ heel for a despotic Russia, and reminded everyone, again, that he’s aggressive, unpredictable, faithful to his friends, and not easily deterred.

Sectarian strife has only expanded Iranian influence. The mullahs would probably prefer Assad to win outright, but a certain Sunni threat, as in Iraq, keeps the Iranians in a secure avuncular position. The age of Iranian ecumenicalism, when the revolutionary movement tried hard to appeal to Sunni Muslims (Hassan Rouhani and his mentor, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, were big fans of this approach in the 1980s and 1990s), is over. We will have to see whether the Russians and the Iranians, through better weaponry and planning, can ramp up the lethality of the Alawite war-machine. Assad needs to slaughter on a much larger scale, and drive into exile millions more, before the Alawite future brightens.

Both Democrats and Republicans want to believe that the Islamic militancy developing in Syria will stay localized. Syria’s Islamic militants have a huge war to fight against enemies near at hand. Modern jihadism of the type we see in the Islamic State, however, will surely take aim, with increasing seriousness, at the United States and Europe. The Islamic State’s holy warriors are already far more globalized than the Afghan Taliban, who eagerly lent a hand to Osama bin Laden and have stayed loyal to al Qaeda, as al Qaeda has stayed loyal to them, through the arduous years since 2001. For such severe jihadists, globalization is as basic as the Koran and the magnetic conquest narrative of early Islam. And the Islamic State, unlike al Qaeda, now has thousands of Western Muslims within its ranks. That’s a lot of raw material to sift through and develop. And the European security services—especially the French DCRI and British MI5, the West’s frontline defense—are seriously stressed. We may choose to absorb future terrorist strikes by the Islamic State and respond just with bombs and drones. But if we decide we need to stop them, to deny them caliphates where they can conspire and multiply, we will have to put boots on the ground. We will not be able to leave prematurely, as we did from Iraq. Islamic history suggests we will have no other choice.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a contributing editor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

Pro-Islamist Advocacy Campaign Hits the Wall Street Journal



The Wall Street Journal is a respected newspaper, and many of its writers are reputable researchers. However, a piece titled “Egypt’s Islamists Will Rise Again” has been described by an observer as “a strike coming from a minority of intellectuals on the conservative side who do not understand the Middle East, though they claim they do, and produce more disorientation among the U.S. public than those apologists on the left,” and that “pieces that undermine the will of Egyptians to resist the Islamists and undermine the will of Americans to stand by them are, willingly or not, part of the Muslim Brotherhood effort to reach their strategic goals.”

The opinion piece authored by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA analyst serving as a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), suffers not only from wrong assumptions, but is also filled with factual mistakes.

Gerecht laments, “Egyptian liberals since the coup d’état against Mohammed Morsi, have an impression that the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘moment’ in Egypt lasted 12 months-after a long prelude that began in the 1920s.” This impression is wrong if one would listen to the leaders of the liberal, secular, and democratic movement in Egypt. If Mr. Gerecht had listened carefully to Egypt’s vast Arabic language network on free TV and immersed himself in bloggers’ analyses, he would have avoided writing his piece in the prestigious Wall Street Journal. Most Egyptian analysts who were part of the revolution- not the coup, as the former CIA member keeps calling it- know all too well that the Islamists were not uprooted from Egypt, even though their regime was dismantled. Gerecht’s warnings are in vain, for most Egyptians are alert and are bracing for the counter revolution.

The FDD fellow claims: “Conventional wisdom says that the Brotherhood was founded in opposition to British imperialism and Westernizing secular dictators.” This is the wrong interpretation of history. The Ikhwan were launched after the Ottoman Caliphate was destroyed by secular Turks. British occupation of Egypt started circa 1888, and the Brotherhood was founded in the mid-1920s, forty years later, with the desire to bring back the Caliphate. Removing the British from Egypt was not just a goal of the Ikhwan, but of most Egyptians. The Wafd party was the first secular patriotic movement to demand an end to British colonialism, a la the American Revolution. Geretch espouses the argument of the Brotherhood to explain why popular discontent grew against the regime: “The Brotherhood immolated itself after just a year of grossly incompetent government.” However, most Egyptians rose against the Islamists because of the suppression of basic freedoms. Read the signs held by thirty million demonstrators on June 30 and July 26; it was not about bread and jobs, it was about fascism and oppression.

The author admits that “countless Egyptians who had voted for Brotherhood candidates and its constitution turned against the Islamist group in massive demonstrations” and that “there is also little doubt that many in the Muslim Brotherhood were shocked by the size of these rallies.” However, he denies that the Brotherhood “has been routed by marches that we now know were planned by the tamarrud (rebellion) movement and the military.” In his neo-Orientalist view of Egypt and the Arabic tradition in U.S. bureaucracies, he sees Egypt’s poor “in the vast slums of Cairo” as only able to find a sense of community under the mosques. Geretch and a whole generation of failed Middle East studies in the United States are unable to make the basic distinction that Islam and Islamism are two different concepts. The poor may go to the mosque, but everything depends on who is in the pulpit, a Salafist or a Sufi.

Gerecht slams Egypt’s young liberals as he slammed Iran’s youth in 2009. He writes, “This is not Facebook Cairo, where alienated, deplorably educated, unskilled youth express their anger online and show their own kind of community by staging street protests.” The former intelligence officer dismisses the online kids because he thinks that “local clerics, let alone the cultish, secretive godfathers of the Brotherhood” have more influence among the poor and the lower middle class. On June 30 and July 26, Gerecht and his intellectual companions were proven utterly wrong. The masses listened to their youth inasmuch as they listened to the preachers. Islamologues in the West missed the coach on this one.

Gerecht claims that:

“In these precincts the poor, the Egyptian army, the security services, and the police-all unreformed since the fall of Hosni Mubarak-are viewed suspiciously, if not with hostility. The newfound love affair between the army and Egypt’s secular liberals, who in a year’s time came to the conclusion that they needed the military to check Islamist power, will likely do nothing to diminish the skepticism that Egypt’s devout have for army officers and their associates.”

The analytical mistake goes deeper, as many researchers have parroted the assertions of the Edward Saids and John Espositos of America, in that by nature the poor  are drawn to religious figures and thus even more to the fundamentalist ones. In the mind of Western apologia, Arab and Egyptian poor have no judgment of their own, and perhaps no instincts. In the reality lived on the ground in Egypt, ordinary people make a clear distinction between regimes and armies. The poor are the army. Moreover, in his assessment, Gerecht, like most Western admirers of the Islamists, dismisses 30 million Egyptian citizens who protested the Ikhwan. The country’s liberals do not appear to outnumber the Islamists, but this silent majority of Egypt is the greatest of all forces in the nation. Once it moved against the Brotherhood, the latter shrunk to their real size.

More dangerously in his article, Gerecht accuses the army and security services of being the origin of Mohammed Morsi’s “problems.” He goes ballistic against the enemies of the Islamists: military, police, business elite, and Mubarak era remnants, the very “enemies” identified by the Muslim Brotherhood propaganda internationally. It is awkward that the former CIA analyst uses the exact narrative of the international Ikhwan network and their friends in Western media.

Read more: Family Security Matters

Magdi Khalil, Director of the Forum for Democracy, Cairo and Washington, D.C.

Islam and the ballot box

IslamOnlyBy William J. Murray:

On January 30th the Wall Street Journal carried a column by former CIA Middle East specialist Reuel Marc Gerecht which made the preposterous assertion that Islam would become moderate in a democratic setting. Gerecht went so far as to state that Israel would eventually be accepted by its Islamist neighbors when they are all “free men voting.

The alarming nature of the column was the fact that this is the advice that has been given to presidents and Congress for many years, and the results have been disastrous, as can clearly be seen in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya and other Middle East nations.

I authored a very lengthy rebuttal to Mr. Gerecht which I knew would not be published by the Wall Street Journal, since their editors drink the Kool-Aid that makes them believe the ballot box will eliminate poverty and war worldwide — never mind the fact that Adolph Hitler was duly elected to office by the German people.

Because I believe it is so important to expose the thought processes of those in the establishment CIA and State Department who advise the White House and the Congress, I am reprinting my column in this edition of the Chairman’s Report. The headline of the column makes reference to the “Pickle Factory,” the insiders’ name for the Central Intelligence Agency. The name comes from code for the daily CIA briefings to the President which are called Pickles. ( changed the title to The ballot box will not tame Islamism.)

Contrary to CIA specialist, democracy will not “diminish” Islamic imperatives
How a Wall Street Journal column rationalizes delusional thinking at the Pickle Factory

By William J. Murray

The Wall Street Journal used a half page of its editorial space on January 30th to publish a totally illogical, if not delusional, column (Israel’s New Islamist Neighborhood: If Western history is any guide, the growth of democracy slowly diminishes religious imperativesby former CIA Middle East specialist Reuel  Marc Gerecht regarding the future “moderation” of Islam in the Middle East. It appears the Wall Street Journal’s editors, economic conservatives who can see no wrong in the human rights abuses in wealthy Islamic nations, wanted to highlight the column to justify U.S support of the Muslim Brotherhood in the takeover of half a dozen nations in the vicinity of Israel.

Gerecht asserts that:

“Israel may one day be accepted by its Arab neighbors and by its most deadly foe, Iran—but only when Arab and Iranian Muslim identities allow for it. At best, that change is decades away. Modern Islam’s great internal tug of war, between the search for authenticity and the love of modernity, must quiet before the Israeli-Palestinian clash can end.”

The key word in this paragraph is “modernity” which brings in the assumption that Islam will move out of the 7th Century and somehow accept a Martin Luther who will “fix” Islam with a reformation that will bring about the equivalent of same-sex marriages in the Episcopal Church.

On what does Gerecht base his assumptions? Later in the column he writes:

“Yet if Western history is any guide, the growth of democracy slowly diminishes religious imperatives. Representative government demystifies politics and ethics, as the here-and-now takes precedence over abstract aspirations. It makes the mundane transcendent. It promotes healthy division because it puts competing visions, even competing fundamentalist visions, to the vote. It localizes ambitions and focuses people’s passions on the national purse.”

Western history is no more a guide for modernizing Islamic nations through democracy than Stalinist history was a model to modernize China. It took over 500 years, from the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 until the ratification of the American Constitution in 1789, for cultural acceptance of democratic thought despite a Judeo-Christian religious base which promotes the dignity of the individual’s rights. Islam has no such history or character.

And to what “national pulse” does Gerecht refer? The Super Bowl? Europeans are less in touch than even Americans with any political pulse other than to demand even more benefits from their governments.

Reuel Marc Gerecht

Reuel Marc Gerecht

Apparently Gerecht sees a morally splintered Western society in which citizens have the power to vote themselves lavish entitlements as the model for the Middle East. His discussion of democracy shows his total lack of understanding that the words democracy and freedom have different definitions. Democracy is merely a process of selecting leaders and is in no way synonymous with freedom, as can be seen in the United Kingdom where even politicians are jailed for their Facebook comments which are deemed politically incorrect.

In that same paragraph be asserts that democracy “puts competing visions, even competing fundamentalist visions, to the vote.” When has this ever happened anywhere? Are the views of Orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Baptists, conservative Catholics or murderous mullahs put to the vote in Western democracies? This is nonsense.

Read more at Religious Freedom Coalition

William J. Murray is the chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based Religious Freedom Coalition and the author of seven books including “My Life Without God,” which chronicles his early life in the home of destructive atheist and Marxist leader Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

Daniel Pipes: Islamists are worse than dictators

Who is worse, President Mohammed Morsi,  the elected Islamist seeking to apply Islamic law in Egypt, or former President Hosni  Mubarak, the dictator ousted for trying to start a dynasty? More broadly,  will a liberal, democratic order be more likely to emerge under Islamist  ideologues who prevail through the ballot box or under greedy dictators with no  particular agenda beyond their own survival and power?

Mr. Morsi’s recent actions provide an  answer, establishing that Islamists are worse than dictators.

Intelligence Squared debate in New York City on Oct. 4, 2012.

Intelligence Squared debate in New York City on Oct. 4, 2012.

This issue came up in an interesting debate for Intelligence Squared U.S. in  early October when Reuel Marc Gerecht of the  Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Brian  Katulis of the Center for  American Progress argued, “Better elected Islamists than dictators,” while Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum  for Democracy and I made the counter-argument. Well, no one really argued “for” anyone. The other team did not endorse Islamists and we certainly did not  celebrate dictators. The issue, rather, was which sort of ruler is the lesser of  two evils, and can be cudgeled toward democracy.

Mr. Katulis blamed dictatorships for  fostering “the sorts of ideologies” that led to Sept. 11, 2001, and Mr.  Gerecht insisted that military juntas, not Islamists, generally are “the  real danger.  The only way you’re going to get a more liberal order in the  Middle East is through people of faith” who vote Islamists into office. Mr.  Katulis argued that elected Islamists change and morph, becoming less  ideological and more practical. They evolve in response to the rough and tumble  of politics to focus on “basic needs” such as security and jobs.

In Iraq, Mr.  Gerecht professed to find that “a tidal wave of people who were once  hard-core Islamists  have become pretty profound democrats, if not liberals.” As  for Egypt, he noted approvingly but inaccurately  that “the Muslim Brotherhood is having  serious internal debates because they haven’t figured out how to handle [their  success]. That’s what we want. We want them to fight it out.”

Mr. Jasser and I replied to this catalog  of inaccuracies (military juntas led to Sept. 11?) and wishful thinking (true  believers will compromise on their goals? a tidal wave of Iraqi Islamists became  liberals?) by stating first that ideologues are “dictators on steroids” who  don’t moderate upon reaching power but dig themselves in, building foundations  to remain indefinitely in office. Second, ideologues neglect the very issues  that our opponents stressed — security and jobs — in favor of implementing  Islamic laws. Greedy dictators, in contrast, short on ideology, do not have a  vision of society and so can be convinced to move toward economic development,  personal freedoms, an open political process and rule of law (for example, South  Korea).

Mr. Morsi and the Muslim  Brotherhood have followed our script exactly. Since taking power in August, Mr. Morsi sidelined the military, then  focused on entrenching and expanding his supremacy, most notably by issuing a  series of orders on Nov. 22 that arrogated autocratic powers to himself, and  spreading Zionist conspiracy theories about his opponents. Then he rammed  through an Islamist-oriented constitution on Nov. 30 and called a snap  referendum on it for Dec. 15. Consumed with these two tasks, he virtually  ignored the myriad issues afflicting Egypt,  especially the looming economic crisis and the lack of funds to pay for imported  food.

Read more at the Washington Times

REILLY: Dangerous illusions about Islamism

By Robert R. Reilly, Washington Times:

Ideas have consequences, as Richard Weaver famously wrote. If one misconstrues the ideas of the Islamists who are coming to power in the Middle East, one inevitably will misjudge the consequences. Take Reuel Marc Gerecht’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Islamist Road to Democracy.” In it, Mr. Gerecht, a former CIA hand now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says the Islamists are winning but we shouldn’t worry. The West went through worse and came out democratic. In fact, he says, the Middle East has suffered from Western communist and socialist ideologies, which left Islam as the last refuge. So what did we expect? They will work it out on their own terms. This transition may not be pretty to watch, but in the long run, it will “evolve” organically to real democracy. In fact, Mr. Gerecht says, “[The Islamists] are the key to more democratic, liberal politics in the region.”

Come again? Mr. Gerecht admits his thinking is “counterintuitive,” but it comes closer to missing reality altogether. How do you miss a target this big? Mr. Gerecht’s misplaced optimism is based on two things: misconceptions about the West – particularly the historically unjustified view that upheaval ultimately and necessarily leads to improvement – and a profound misunderstanding of the Islamist Shariah agenda.

Mr. Gerecht thinks we in the West got so tired of killing one another in religious wars that we secularized ourselves and became democratic. The same can happen in Islam, even though “Islam hasn’t seen the sustained barbarism that plagued” Europe. This construction of history is faulty in two ways. This is not the way democracy developed in the West, and the history of Islam is not as sanitary as he implies.

As the outcome of religious wars in other civilizations has shown, alternative pathways to democracy were and are available. Secularism did not, as he suggests, bring forth liberal values – rather, liberal values produced secularism. The idea of freedom of conscience preceded secularism and was based on the very Christianity that he holds accountable for the killing. Also, the conception of a secular state is uniquely Christian.

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