With the media’s rhapsodic paeans to President Obama’s “historic” Cairo speech now receding into the background, this may be an opportune moment to take a sober look at America’s policies vis-à-vis the Muslim world and, no less important, at where Islam itself may be heading.
It is now clear that the president is either unable or unwilling to come to terms with the nature of the radical Islamic threat to America and the West. To him, the problem is a few violent extremists, a “small but potent minority of Muslims,” which leaves one wondering how a small minority got to be quite so potent. In any case, the West is dealing not with a few militants, or even with terrorism as such, but with a murderous, totalitarian doctrine couched in Islamic terms that has already become the dominant idiom in much of the Muslim world and its diaspora communities. Whether it is called “radical Islam,” “Islamism,” “Salafism,” or “Islamofascism,” it aims at nothing short of the conquest of the world for Islam, by violent means if need be. And not just any kind of Islam, but the most reactionary and intolerant interpretation of the Muslim faith.
It is an ideology that elevates violent jihad as a religious obligation for all Muslims, openly discriminates against non-Muslims and women, banishes democracy and secularism, and ordains the murder of apostates and homosexuals. This doctrine is preached today in tens of thousands of Salafi, Wahhabi, and Deobandi mosques and madrassas, and promoted by countless Islamist organizations, from the Muslim Brotherhood networks in America to the Taliban and its fellow jihadists in Pakistan. Extremism and terrorism are the results of this malignant phenomenon. The Taliban and al-Qaeda did not bring Pakistan to the edge of the precipice on their own; rather, 30 years of state-sponsored Islamization of Pakistani society made Islamism the threat it is.
While President Bush was also remiss in explaining to Americans that we’re in a deadly conflict with a violent Islamist doctrine that has deep and spreading roots among a quarter of the human population — rather than with terrorism, which is simply its symptom — Obama has seemingly chosen to act as an apologist for this ideology. There is no other credible reason for a man with an army of experts, researchers, and fact-checkers at his disposal to utter so many half-truths and outright falsehoods about what Islam is and what it is not. These include his touting ostensible Islamic contributions to music (an art form prohibited among the devout) and printing (regarded by the mullahs as the devil’s invention, and not available to Muslims until three centuries after Gutenberg), and his preposterous promotion of Saudi King Abdullah, ruler of the most religiously intolerant country on earth, as a champion of “interfaith dialogue.”
More telling still are Obama’s historically inaccurate portrayals of Muslims as being at “the forefront of innovation and education,” and his blaming colonialism and the Cold War for their falling behind. In fact, Muslims have not been at the forefront of anything since ijtihad (reason) was declared un-Islamic ten centuries ago and replaced by blind obedience to reactionary sharia dogma, which, in turn, ushered in a cultural and intellectual stagnation that is yet to be overcome. Indeed, the greatest Muslim minds over the centuries, from Averoes and Avicenna to Noble Prize physicist Abdus Salam, have invariably been persecuted and declared apostates by the guardians of Islamic orthodoxy. While colonialism is a favorite Islamist whipping boy for all real or imagined ills visited upon the Muslims, it was the result, not the cause, of the inexorable decline of Islam as a world power and civilization that culminated in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. Nor should it be forgotten that throughout most of its history, Islam has been a premier imperialist and colonialist power itself.
Perhaps the greatest failure of the president’s vaunted new approach to Islam is his reluctance to examine the profoundly oppressive and despotic nature of governance in most Arab and Muslim countries as one of the root causes of radical Islam. Worn-out clichés that Islam is “an important part of promoting peace” do little to explain to either Westerners or Muslims the nature of the conflict and how it affects their well-being. It is, of course, a well-known fact that radical Islam would have never reached critical mass without massive financial support and political sponsorship from states such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan. What’s less well-known is that many Muslim regimes that are considered moderate, or even American allies, have also aided and abetted Islamic extremism.
Egypt, the recipient of billions of U.S. aid dollars, is a case in point. Faced with a virulent Islamist threat from the Muslim Brotherhood, Cairo’s dictatorial rulers, from Sadat to Mubarak, sought to appease the Islamists by allowing them to play an ever-greater role in society. First Sadat promoted sharia as one of the sources of law and later proclaimed it the sole source of Egyptian legislation, providing the Islamists with a powerful weapon against their secular opponents. Mubarak then appointed the mullahs of Al-Azhar as the sole arbiters of what books should be published in or imported into Egypt. Predictably, anything that does not meet their medieval criteria is being censored, while books that discuss how many angels could be recruited for a war against Israel (120 million) are encouraged.
This is the same organization that, in President Obama’s words, “paved the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.” The inevitable result of such policies is evident in the mufti of Egypt’s open support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and in his Taliban-like fatwa that sculpture and sculptors are against Islam.
The inescapable reality is that the policies that have served the venal and corrupt Arab regimes well (by keeping their oppressed populations poor, uneducated, and ignorant) have served the violent religious obscurantism of the Islamists even better. Consider that not a single Western government had the courage to criticize the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 1990 when all 45 of its members voted for the “Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam,” which, de facto and de jure, denied most internationally recognized human rights to Muslims by making all rights and freedoms in Muslim countries subject to sharia as their “sole source.” To discuss our relations with the Muslim world in the abstract, as the Obama administration is now doing, without even mentioning the vast gulf separating most Muslim regimes from the rest of the world when it comes to the most basic aspects of modern civilization is disingenuous as well as futile.
The Bush administration was justifiably taken to task for refusing to recognize or do anything about the nefarious role played by state sponsors of extremism such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the spread of radical Islam. President Obama has already gone beyond that, with a policy of pandering and appeasement. History teaches us that tolerating the intolerant and appeasing the unappeasable results in more conflict and bloodshed.
– Alex Alexiev is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.