A recent issue of the London Observer published what they claimed to be a new letter from Osama bin Laden. Entitled "A Letter to America," the propaganda screed complete with three exclamation points at the end of sentences asserts a religious meaning to the al Qaeda war. It is, the author says, the purpose of their Jihad to impose Islamic law throughout the world. Their purpose is, he continues, to erase Israel. Finally, it is to eliminate Usury, the method by which the Jews control the American economy.
Meanwhile, the American government says that it cannot offend political correctness and therefore is prohibited from discussing any aspect of the religion of Islam. Hate crime publicity is one of the media flavors of the week as new FBI statistics are released. The number of anti-Muslim hate crimes (if they could be uniformly defined) is low and therefore "percentage increase" scare headlines are prevalent. "Up 1,600 percent" says AP, from a base of 28 incidents in 2000. If the pressure from the media is real to a bureaucrat or politician, the price of their timidity is real, too.
Daniel Pipes is correct in saying that America cannot defeat an enemy it cannot define.
Pipes identifies the price of submission to political correctness as (1) a failure to set our goal at marginalizing the ideology of militant Islam, (2) a failure to include in the battle plan non-violent supporters of violence such as the funders, preachers, apologists and lobbyists of this totalitarian agenda and (3) a failure to support those Muslims who reject the radicalization of their beliefs and want to offer the alternatives found in moderate and traditional Islam.
Even if they are afraid to define a militant Islam, there is nothing to prevent the government from defining a peaceful Islam. If our State Department cannot bring itself to say what is wrong, can’t it at least say what is right? Recent books give us an idea of how this might be done. Our examples of positive opportunities have three parts – Shi’a, Sunni and secular.
Shi’a. While the Shi’a branch of Islam is the religion of only about ten percent of all Islam, it is 95 percent of Iran. Perhaps two-thirds of the population is under 30 years of age and have no idea of government without the self-appointed ayatollahs. The radical mullahs created and control the A-team of terrorism - Hezbollah.
Just this past week, some 5,000 students at Tehran’s Sharif University demonstrated in support of prominent history professor Hashem Aghajari who had been convicted by an Iranian court of apostasy for challenging clerical rule. His Islamic law sentence included 74 lashes with a leather whip, eight year’s imprisonment and a ten-year ban on teaching. As a result of the protest, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the judiciary to review and rescind the sentence. The internal revolt of the young is already well along.
From the standpoint of public diplomacy, Iran has a 5,000 year history with the depth and richness of Persian culture available to support a legitimate examination of their central radical/moderate Islamic issue – the separation of a traditional church from a modern state. Opposition leaders claim that only two things are required of the Bush administration. The first is to have American leadership emphasize the common enterprise of the advancement of freedom. The rest can be found in Michael Ledeen’s new book, The War Against the Terror Masters.
Sunni. Public diplomacy could legitimately address the resentment of mainstream and traditional Muslims over the Wahhabi-Saudi usurpation of the Two Holy Places – Medina and Mecca. As described in Stephen Schwartz’s new book The Two Faces of Islam, moderate Muslims are looking for sufficient support to revive the ancient traditions of tolerance embodied in the hajj, the required visit to Mecca.
Within the Sunni world, especially in Turkey, the argument is being made that Mecca should not be subject to the rule of a single country but should become an international city-state comparable to the Vatican. A formal proposal to that effect would elicit a favorable response throughout global Islam, Schwartz suggests. Restrictions on pilgrims from all segments of Islam that are not Wahhabi have been prevalent under Saudi rule.
The traditional religious elements would support the transfer of supervising religious authority to Mecca itself where all traditions still maintain scholars. They would support the transfer of control from the descendants of Ibn al-Wahhab to those of the Prophet, someone from the Hashimite lineage. Such a city would be open to all believers and become a center where differences were tolerated and the nuances of faith debated. It is a false reading of the Koran, scholars have said, that all Saudi soil is sacred. It is only the cities of Mecca and Medina themselves that are given veneration. The rest is propaganda.
Secular. The Ba’athist parties of Syria and Iraq quarrel with each other except when they need to unite against a common enemy. Grounded in the thoughts of Hitler and Stalin as practiced in the 1930’s, they represent a failed secular alternative to modernity. The central danger from Iraq is not the re-supply and succor for terrorists. The central danger is that given enough time they will produce an atomic weapon. That weapon will not be used to blow up a major city. It will be used to threaten Saudi oilfields. Turning the Saudi oil treasure into a radioactive waste dump threatens the ruin of the global economy for generations and at one stroke puts Iraq in the caliph’s seat and at least Europe into the supplicant’s role.
The public diplomacy issue is what kind of Iraq will there be after Saddam? In his recent book The Threatening Storm, author Ken Pollack states that Iraq is the best endowed of any of its neighbors with both oil and productive agricultural areas. Prior to the Gulf War, it had the best-educated, most secular and most progressive population among the Arab states. Unlike many of the nearby states, Iraq has the resources to create a prosperous and stable society.
Some 70 percent of the Iraqi population is already urban. They have made the psychological break from village life and clan rule. This mostly secular and urban lower and middle class make up the bulk of Iraq’s population. They will not be satisfied without some form of democratic elections which give voice to their interests.
Pollack cautions that he does not mean a carbon copy of a Western democracy but rather a government respectful of the people, responsive to their aspirations and inclusive of the entire population.
If political correctness prevents the Bush administration from public comment on its true adversaries, it should at least consider making public its plans for enabling the best of Islam as well as disabling the worst.
Tom Huheey is a columnist who writes on Washington trends for specialized business publications.