The Region: Beyond appeasement

If al-Qaida is the measure of all things, everyone is going to look moderate.

March 6, 2011 22:01
4 minute read.

BARRY RUBIN. (photo credit: courtesy)

In a moment, I’ll present what might be the most frightening paragraph in the modern history of US foreign policy. But first, here’s one that’s among the most deplorable. It’s from a Washington Post article: “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.”

What? While people like me have been warning about Islamist governments, the administration, European governments, the mass media and most academics have repeatedly assured us there’s no such danger.

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You mean they are just now realizing that the changes they’ve been cheering and even promoting in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Bahrain could end in Islamist regimes that are anti-American, promote terrorism, subvert neighbors, and want to wipe Israel off the map? Now we come to the paragraph I warned about: “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-Qaida that will guide the US approach to the region.”

Get it? Al-Qaida is bad because it wants to attack US embassies, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

But the Muslim Brotherhood is good because it just wants to transform Egypt into an Islamist state, rule 90 million people, back Hamas in trying to destroy Israel, overthrow the Palestinian Authority, help Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood overthrow the monarchy and sponsor terrorism against Americans in the Middle East.

I’m sure you can see the difference.

This is the nonsense the administration has been working toward for two years. It is the doctrine pushed by the president’s adviser on terrorism, elements in the CIA and White House ideologues. The State and Defense departments are probably horrified.

“‘We shouldn’t be afraid of Islam in the politics of these countries,’” said a senior administration official in the article. ‘It’s the behavior of political parties and governments that we will judge them on, not their relationship with Islam.’” That first phrase is correct. We shouldn’t be afraid of Islam in the politics of these countries. Islam has always been present in Egypt and Jordan, Saudi Arabia or post-Saddam Iraq, and even in Iran before its revolution, and Afghanistan not under the Taliban. But we should be very afraid of Islamism in the politics of these countries.

We should judge them on their relationship to Islam. Are they merely pious Muslims who advocate conservative social policies and protecting Islam’s institutional position in their countries? Or are they revolutionary Islamists who want to transform their societies and make Islam – in their strict, strident interpretation – dictator over every aspect of life? Note, too, the dangerous idea of letting the genie out of the bottle to see if it devours us. We should be able to tell this minute on the basis of the ideology, platform and methods of these groups.

Why put them in power as an experiment? Then after a few wars, massive terrorism, bloody repression and the destruction of the US position in the Middle East, these great geniuses can say: Oops! Well, now we have a good basis for judging them: They really meant what they said.

If al-Qaida is the measure of all things, then everyone is going to look moderate in comparison. At least they aren’t attacking Manhattan.

AND THIS is why we’ve been subjected to the whitewashing of the Muslim Brotherhood, to make it acceptable to the American people and Congress.

That’s why President Barack Obama unilaterally welcomed the Brotherhood into Egypt’s government before anyone asked him to.

Then there’s Iran, which is not really viewed as too much of a threat. Just a little containment will make Tehran behave. And the bloody, repressive regime in Syria is also okay in this worldview. Turkey is positively wonderful, since its Islamist regime gives the appearance of being moderate.

Why object to Hezbollah taking over Lebanon, or the Muslim Brotherhood playing a major role in Egypt? This gives the Islamists a chance to show they are moderate, and to be moderated by a taste of power.

Their definition of moderate is someone who is willing to participate in elections. If they knew any history, they’d be aware that both communists and Nazis participated in elections.

This policy approach is juvenile.

Strategy and tactics are means to a goal. If the goal is seizing power and transforming one’s country into a totalitarian nightmare.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi said it all in his critique of Osama bin Laden: Of course Islamists should participate in elections, he explained, because they will win. And so if Qaradawi openly advocates genocide against the Jews and chasing the West out of the region, these facts are censored out by much of the Western media. After all, he favors elections, and that’s all that matters It is bad enough that US and European policies do nothing in the face of the greatest challenge of our time, but to actively help enemies flourish is incredibly foolish.

This goes beyond appeasement.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies. He blogs at

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