News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Shattering the Monolithic Islam Myth

Monday, September 26, 2005

Shattering the Monolithic Islam Myth

The following article presents the most realisitic proposal I have yet seen concerning how to form foreign policy regarding Islam in the Mideaast and around the world. It is historically accurate and identifies one fact that few pundits and backers of the current administration simply do not know or downplay: there's a deep and rancorous divide between Sunnism and Shiism.

I would argue even further and note the many differences within Sunnism itself. But this article at least goes some way in recognizing that the US can and should identify these splits within Islam and play them to its advantage. Obviously, what foreign policy's goals will be are still not clear: is it hegemony in the region? assuring oil reserves? promoting aform of self-government that accords with local historical and cultural forces? These have yet to be defined. Yet, as the proposal put forth in this article is at least a start on how to achieve whatever goals do arise.

Again, I don't support everything in the article. I do support the simple historical recognition that there are major and irreconcilable differences within Islam, contrary to the regular cant on this forum that Islam is somehwo monolithic. As I have also written, exploiting these differences can take many forms.

I suggest that the "exploitation" go along the lines of 1) distancing the US from Israel 2) communicating with and supporting publicly moderate elements in Sunnism, and 3) reassuring Iran that it can have the energy resources that it requires 4) reassuring Iran that the US does not support an overthrow of the current regime and 5) encouraging moderate elements in Iran through a) economic incentives towards liberalization of internal political machinery, and b) private/public recognition of "secularist" groups and tendencies in Iran.
Splitting Islam
A Shi’ite-Sunni strategy for surviving the War on Terror
by James Kurth

The United States now faces a widespread, long-term, and potentially catastrophic threat from Islamism, and the terrorist bombings since 9/11 indicate that this threat is becoming global in scope. Moreover, as the earlier U.S. struggle with communism, another hostile global ideology, suggests, the threat may persist for several generations. And as the accelerating spread of nuclear technology portends, the stakes of this threat may involve the nuclear destruction of one or more of America’s great cities and perhaps even the very functioning of American society itself.

The current insurgency in Iraq, largely drawn from or supported by the Sunni population, is providing inspiration and training for Islamist insurgents elsewhere. Conversely, the global network of Islamist terrorists, which is also largely composed of extremist Sunnis, has been energized and legitimized by the insurgency in Iraq. The result is a global Islamist insurgency directed at the United States, its allies, and the West more generally. The folly of recent U.S. administrations, and most especially that of President George W. Bush, has placed us in this dangerous condition. But now that we are there, the central question is how can we get out?

Proposed solutions vary in a way that is familiar and predictable, that is, according to the different ideological positions of their proponents, with the usual suspects being liberals, traditional conservatives, and neoconservatives.

. . . . . . . . .

The United States did not create the Sunni-Shi’ite split in Islamism, just as it did not create the earlier Sino-Soviet split in communism. It can, however, put itself in a position to take advantage of the divide as it very likely will develop, as it did with the analogous split during the Cold War.

When the United States got out of Vietnam, it had to abandon its project of maintaining noncommunist regimes in Indochina. Within a half decade, however, communist Vietnam, a Soviet ally, invaded communist Cambodia, a Chinese ally, and then communist China invaded communist Vietnam. With the United States out of the picture, the communist states naturally fell into fighting among themselves. The United States, under the Reagan administration, was able to take advantage of these and other conflicts within the communist world. Similarly, if the United States gets out of Iraq, it will have to abandon its delusional project of establishing democratic regimes in the Middle East. Within a short time, however, the central conflict within the Muslim world will be that between Sunnis and Shi’ites. It will be the fate of the Sunnis of Iraq, and in the longer run perhaps the fate of the Sunnis of Pakistan, that will wonderfully concentrate the Sunni mind. In that context, the current focus of Sunni Islamists upon the United States will appear misplaced and indeed mindless.

The United States should never have invaded Iraq in its vain effort to impose an external and alien development upon the Muslim world. The best course it can now take is to get out of Iraq and to allow the internal and natural contradictions within the Muslim world to take their course. The wise strategy of any truly great power in extending its influence to other countries is not to try to erect utterly new and bizarre constructions that have no foundation in the local realities. It is rather to try to turn to its own advantage those local realities and the inherent tensions within and between them.
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