Recent Articles of Interest (Feb. 20, 2006)
Sami Moubayed has written two excellent articles this week. In "Strengthening the line," he covers the the cabinet changes better than anyone else. In Men should unveil in Syria, he adds to the wonderful work he has been doing on the History of the Feminist Movement in Syria.
Andrew Tabler, a fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs (ICWA) and consulting editor for Syria Today Magazine (see side bar under “useful links”), has written an excelent analysis of the protests outside the Danish embassy on February 4. The piece, “Blowing off steam”, argues that the protests should not just be viewed as “Muslims on a rampage”, but instead as “an excellent case study in how authoritarian states under external stress can use certain ‘safety-valves’ to let off very real internal pressures in ways that strengthen the regime’s hand.” It is full of interesting pictures of the protests, burnings, and sleepy policy officers watching the blaze. He gets some excellent interviews with Islamists, Imams, and protesters to give you the feel that you were at the scene.
Andrew outlines increased Islamic sentiments in Syria over the last few years (especially following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003), and the Syrian state’s increased tolerance of this trend as it struggles to carry out economic reforms in an era of decreased state capacity (due to falling oil exports) and heightened international pressure. He ends by asking the question “Are the West’s pressures on Syria really weakening the regime and spurring the country toward liberal democracy, or simply pushing Syrians with growing Islamic sentiments toward the Syrian state and strengthening its grip on power?”
The report is in pdf, so unfortunately I can’t post it. But if you are interested in the full story, write him at email@example.com. He will send copies to those interested. It is great stuff. I could kill him for not letting me steal it for my site.
Francis Fukuyama has an important article criticising the Neoconservatives and suggesting policy changes for the US. He accuses the neoconservatives of being "Leninists" because of their faith in US military power and utopian belief that the Washington vanguard can reshape societies and governments by military means, without regard for the actual wishes of the people and without doing the hard work of inculcating liberal culture, nurturing the rule of law and institutions which can protect it.
By FRANCIS FUKUYAMA
Published: February 19, 2006
We need in the first instance to understand that promoting democracy and modernization in the Middle East is not a solution to the problem of jihadist terrorism; in all likelihood it will make the short-term problem worse, as we have seen in the case of the Palestinian election bringing Hamas to power. Radical Islamism is a byproduct of modernization itself, arising from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society. It is no accident that so many recent terrorists, from Sept. 11's Mohamed Atta to the murderer of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh to the London subway bombers, were radicalized in democratic Europe and intimately familiar with all of democracy's blessings. More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalization and — yes, unfortunately — terrorism....My main criticism with Fukiyama's assumption here is his belief that terrorism is a natural reaction to modernization. Yes, modernization is tough, confusing, and creats a backlash, but it is not the only, or perhaps even main, engine of terrorism. If that were the case, we would all be terrorists because we are all suffering from modernization, all the time. I hate figuring out my new cell phone, satalite TV, etc., and would like to shoot the salesman. I don't.
But greater political participation by Islamist groups is very likely to occur whatever we do, and it will be the only way that the poison of radical Islamism can ultimately work its way through the body politic of Muslim communities around the world. The age is long since gone when friendly authoritarians could rule over passive populations and produce stability indefinitely. New social actors are mobilizing everywhere, from Bolivia and Venezuela to South Africa and the Persian Gulf. A durable Israeli-Palestinian peace could not be built upon a corrupt, illegitimate Fatah that constantly had to worry about Hamas challenging its authority. Peace might emerge, sometime down the road, from a Palestine run by a formerly radical terrorist group that had been forced to deal with the realities of governing.
If we are serious about the good governance agenda, we have to shift our focus to the reform, reorganization and proper financing of those institutions of the United States government that actually promote democracy, development and the rule of law around the world, organizations like the State Department, U.S.A.I.D., the National Endowment for Democracy and the like.
Neoconservatism, whatever its complex roots, has become indelibly associated with concepts like coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony. What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world — ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about.
Robert A. Pape, in "Dying to Win: Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” Random House, 2005, has another explanation, which is compelling.
As the head of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism at the Univ of Chicago, … Pape is deeply skeptical about the notion that suicide bombers are the warriors in a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West. Papes’s survey reveals that there is nothing intrinsically “Islamic” about the suicide bomber. By his estimate, Islamist groups account for no more than 34.6 percent of the suicide terrorist attacks staged in the past twenty years. The real common denominator of the suicide terrorism campaigns, he argues, is that they are all, in one form or another, responses to occupation or foreign control of a national homeland. Religion, in his view, functions merely as an aggravating factor. The leaders who run the terror organizations are trying, above all, to drive out invaders. And terrorist leaders use the strategy because it is so often successful. Once they have attained their goals, the campaigns cease. It’s that simple.Of course there are many reasons for terrorism and no one explanation can hope to cover the waterfront. But Pape's explanation is important and has been ignored because it flys in the face of US policy and would be hard to impliment.
From all this, Pape draws a conclusion that many will challenge. The best way to counter the threat of suicide terrorism, he says, is to eliminate the conditions of occupation that give rise to the phenomenon in the first place. … Recent suicide bombers, he stresses, tend to come overwhelmingly from countries that are either occupied or affected by the strong military presence of a foreign power. .. If the United States and its allies want to neutralize the threat of al-Qaeda, Pape argues, they should disengage from the Middle East – completely removing their forces from Iraq and other countries of the Persian Gulf that have disproportionately contributed cadres to the cause of suicide terror in recent years. (This quote is taken from Christian Caryl's review article in the New York Review of Books, "Why they do It,”
Secretary Condoleezza Rice: "Roundtable With Arab Print Journalists" (February 17, 2006) is well worth the read. Rice covers all the thorny problems raised by Hamas' win, Egyptian delay of elections, Iran going to the security council, and Syria's relationship with Hizbullah. She gives thoughtful answers to difficult questions. What she has to say about Hamas, the Palestinians and democracy is particularly revealing and well done, considering all the anxiety that the US might take vengence on the Palestinians.