The global war on terror cannot be won through counterterrorism alone; it also requires convincing the terrorists and their sympathizers that their goals and methods are faulty and failing. But how is this to be done?
By focusing on the ideological and religious sources of the violence, say I: “the immediate war goal must be to destroy militant Islam and the ultimate war goal the modernization of Islam.” I have not worked out the detailed implications of this policy, however.
Which explains my delight on finding that the RAND Corporation’s Cheryl Benard has done just this, publishing her results in a small book titled Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies (available in full on the Internet at the RAND website, www.rand.org).
Benard recognizes the awesome ambition of the effort to modernize Islam: If nation-building is a daunting task, she notes, religion-building “is immeasurably more perilous and complex.” This is something never tried before; we enter uncharted territory here.
Civil Democratic Islam covers three topics: rival Muslim approaches to Islam; which approach contributes most to a moderate version of Islam; and policy recommendations for Western governments.
Like other analysts, Benard finds that in relation to their religion, Muslims divide into four groups:
• Fundamentalists, who in turn split into two. Radicals (like the Taliban) are ready to resort to violence in an attempt to create a totalitarian order. Scripturalists (like the Saudi monarchy) are more rooted in a religious establishment and less prone to rely on violence.
• Traditionalists, who also split into two. Conservatives (like Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq) seek to preserve orthodox norms and old-fashioned behavior as best they can. Reformists (like the Kuwaiti rulers) have the same traditional goals but are more flexible in details and more innovative in achieving them.
• Modernists (like Muammar Qaddafi of Libya) assume that Islam is compatible with modernity and then work backwards to prove this point.
• Secularists again split into two. The mainstream (like Atatürkists in Turkey) respects religion as a private affair but permits it no role in the public arena. Radicals (like communists) see religion as bogus and reject it entirely.
The author brings these viewpoints to life in a smart, convincing presentation, showing their differences on everything from establishing the pure Islamic state to husbands having rights to beat their wives. She rightly dwells on values and lifestyles, finding dissimulation about polygamy far less commonplace than about the use of violence.
Which of these groups is most suitable to ally with? Modernists, says Benard, are “most congenial to the values and the spirit of modern democratic society.” Fundamentalists are the enemy, for they “oppose us and we oppose them.” Traditionalists have potentially useful democratic elements but generally share too much with the fundamentalists to be relied upon. Secularists are too often hostile to the West to fix Islam.
Benard then proposes a strategy for religion-building with several prongs:
• Delegitimize the immorality and hypocrisy of fundamentalists. Encourage investigative reporting into the corruption of their leaders. Criticize the flaws of traditionalism, especially its promoting backwardness.
• Support the modernists first. Support secularists on a case-by-case basis. Back the traditionalists tactically against the fundamentalists. Consistently oppose the fundamentalists.
• Assertively promote the values of Western democratic modernity. Encourage secular civic and cultural institutions. Focus on the next generation. Provide aid to states, groups, and individuals with the right attitudes.
I agree with Benard’s general approach, doubting only her enthusiasm for Muslim modernists, a group that through two centuries of effort has failed to help reconcile Islam with current realities. H.A.R. Gibb, the great orientalist, condemned modernist thinking in 1947 as mired in “intellectual confusions and paralyzing romanticism.” Writing in 1983, I dismissed modernism as “a tired movement, locked in place by the unsoundness of its premises and arguments.” Nothing has changed for the better since then.
Instead of modernists, I propose mainstream secularists as the forward-looking Muslims who uniquely can wrench their co-religionists out of their current slough of despair and radicalism. Secularists start with the proven premise of disentangling religion from politics; not only has this served the Western world well, but it has also worked in Turkey, the Muslim success story of our time.
Only when Muslims turn to secularism will this terrible era of their history come to an end.