Question: Is it in the interest of Arab and Muslim countries to fight Al Qaeda and militant fundamentalism?
And another question: does it serve the American interests now to fight Al Qaeda and militant fundamentalism?
The answer to both questions is yes!
These “basic,” self-evident questions were raised by the “channeled” clamor created by some opponents of moderation in the Arab world against any reformative or moderate enlightening voices on the claim that America is “fighting what you are fighting.” Proof of this is a report by the RAND Corporation published in March 2007 entitled “Building Moderate Muslim Networks.”
The essence of the report is that through its major intervention in the Middle East and the indefinite ensuing impacts of such political and military intervention, America is in fact fighting a “war of ideas” and that to substantially win the battle, it has to fight the opponent in another battlefield—the battleground of ideas. The opponent here is fundamentalism that produces adversary ideas.
The report, authored by a panel of researchers, clearly identifies the ideological opponent, which is the fundamentalist current, militant or not, that resists modernization and civilization, links the idea of religious confrontation with the West under the banner of a crusade, and looks for all possible means to realize the fundamentalist dream in the form of society and state.
To win this war of ideas, the report concludes that America has to back moderation in the Muslim world, contribute to building moderation networks, to be firm in determining whom to back and whom to fight and not to be lax regarding the criteria of moderation. (In his thorough reading of the report, researcher Dr. Basim Khafaji referred to a body of such criteria set by the RAND report relating to the position towards women, non-Muslim minorities, violence or jihad and the notion of Shariaa.)
According to the report, moderate Muslims were divided into traditionalists on one hand and Sufis and liberal Muslims on the other, who are subdivided into those who are in power and civil society groups.
In this way the report proceeds in line with the concepts and criteria of the authors.
It is neither the first nor the last such report by American research centers and think tanks. There are dozens of research papers that will be presented by this and other organizations; however, ultimately they do not have the authority to decide but are part of the interactions of American decision making and the building of pressure in a given direction.
Regardless of being “right-wing,” as indicated by some observers and of the major roles attached to it by some, RAND is one of 1500 American think tanks.
These centers certainly have different political orientations. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, for instance, is also a major organization, but has a different orientation to RAND.
What is useful, however, about all this talk is that American research centers do not stop thinking about and searching for solutions, and offering ideas to decision makers as well as the public opinion. They, of course, look at things from an American perspective, which is their own business. However, from my perspective, the problem lies in the political opportunism and the way that some of us read such reports.
There is a crisis of trust between the Islamist current and its opponents, and this adversity is not limited to liberals or secularists in general but extended to some Islamists who offer non-mainstream opinions.
In the midst of the clamor made by some of those who “celebrated” the RAND report, a crucial conclusion that they wanted to establish would catch the attention of any rational person: all voices of moderation in the Muslim world are tools used by the Americans, if not explicit agents, and that they are probably paid by American embassies. Probably, and at best some of them are naïve and easily deceived by people like the authors of the report.
So in a moment of rage, an opponent is excluded and their legitimacy disregarded based on one of many reports released by one of many research centers in America.
This behavior may be accepted as part of an argument and confusing an opponent because once the dust has settled, everything becomes clear. But if it exceeds confusion and reaches the level of belief, then we are facing a real problem that has to do with the future of Muslims and Arabs. After all, there will be no future when moderation is sentenced to death.
America has its own interests and if it allied itself with the Afghan “Mujahideen” against the Russian Communists yesterday, today it is fighting the militant current and pursuing [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar in Afghanistan. Hence, is it acceptable for today’s Islamists who rejoiced at the report to be told that yesterday’s jihad was simply an implementation of American plans and that those who backed the Afghan jihad, raised funds for this cause or recruited youths to take part in the jihad are simply American agents and executors of American plans whether they knew it or not?!
Of course the answer is no, and any one who is fair would say no. The Arab youth who took part in the Afghan fight against the eastern camp were sincere, and the Afghans believed they were liberating their country from the Russians’ power and the pro-Russian regime in Kabul. However, they were ultimately rendering a great service to America by striking the Russian bear and denying its expansion into the domains of American interests.
If that is what is said and one is reminded of America’s alliance with the Afghans and the Mujahideen and all those who backed them against the Russians, one will angrily say that it was only a temporary convergence of interests!
This is the truth and is irreproachable. However, what makes the situation so different in comparison today? Now, I would not say it is pure convergence of interests but perhaps it is fortunate that it is Muslim moderation, enlightenment and reform that converge with America’s interests “now” just as it was fortunate yesterday for the interests of the Mujahideens and Islamists to have converged with those of America against the Soviet Union.
This, however, is stated for the sake of argument. Otherwise, it was Muslim moderate reformists, intellects and politicians who called for the emancipation of women, the establishment of a modern rational state, freeing Muslim minds and abandoning old historical burdens and conflicts over a century ago, long before RAND even existed.
Furthermore, can clerics like Sheikh al Qaradawi, who is known for his hatred of America, be considered someone who carries out RAND’s agenda? Al Qaradawi follows a different course to the inflexible approach to fiqh when it comes to women, their political rights and dress-code. The late Grand Sheikh Shaltut of the al Azhar Mosque and others were more such examples. Did Sheikh Ali Abdul Raziq carry out the agenda of RAND whilst he saved the notion of the state from politicians’ religious exploitation in his famous book “Islam and the Bases of Governance” (al Islam wa Usul al Hukm)? As he preached a new concept of the application of Shariaa and called for the “suspension” of Islamic corporal punishments, was Dr. Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Imam Hassan al Banna, who has been denied entry into America a number of times based on the pretext that he is an “undeclared” extremist, executing an American agenda?! Furthermore, was the recent invitation to “modern” preacher Amr Khaled, who was chosen among the “Top 100” of 2007 to visit America, among the RAND recommendations?!
This oversimplifying mentality that wants to “assassinate moderation” in agreement with RAND’s statements is also an aggressive mentality that, as it franticly seeks to distort moderation and its people and issues, is like cutting off one’s nose to spite the enemy!
Anyhow, politics follows a logic that is different to another logic and America is trying its best to experiment with all ideas that serve its interests in the Arab and Muslim region, including dialogue with Islamist parties, especially as some Islamists surprised the Americans with their political flexibility, such as the Iraqi Islamic (Brotherhood) Party, which took part in the “American” political process. The talk of relations between America and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere are no longer a secret. A leading Muslim Brotherhood figure in the Gulf openly told me, “Yes, we are in contact and engaged in dialogue with the Americans.”
Are these Islamists traitors?! Are they, knowingly or unknowingly, executing this American agenda that seeks to “build moderate Muslim networks”?!
In brief, it is easy to distort the reputations of those who differ and it is easy to tickle public sentiments but it is very difficult to build internal Muslim moderation as this would entail confronting a great heritage of inflexibility, interests based on this rigidity, generations made to believe that such rigidity is Islam, and, above all, the lurking souls and strong willingness to distrust and reject. Moderation is the victim of all of that.
RAND can say what it likes; whoever wants to cite its report is welcome to; and let they who want cast stones of distortion do so. Ultimately, there is an inevitable question and a clear choice—moderation and enlightenment or annihilation and destruction: this is the crystal-clear truth.