There are, then, a number of important lessons here:
–Islam and revolutionary political Islamism are not identical. Islamists have a real advantage over liberal reformers in recruiting Muslims but Muslims often choose not to be Islamists. They can give their loyalty to a tribe, state, ethnic group, the idea of a moderate democratic alternative, or a traditionalism that mistrusts Islamism.
–Islamists are not fated to win everywhere. Each country is different.
–The weakness of reformers–including political incompetence, factionalism, and lack of funding—is as big a factor as the revolutionary Islamists’ strength.
–The next era in the Middle East will be dominated by the debate over whether Islamism is the way to go. Islamists will radicalize the regional scene, carry out terrorism at home and abroad, and inflict repression on their own people wherever they get power. But remember that even at the height of Arab nationalism—in the 1950s and 1960s—that movement inevitably produced Arab Muslim enemies, people who didn’t want to knuckle under to President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt or the Ba’th Party that ruled in Iraq and Syria.
Finally, it is precisely because a battle is going on—a battle for control over Islam; a battle for control over each country— that Western policy is important. That is precisely why Western policy should help liberal reformers, traditionalists, or pragmatic militaries, depending on specific circumstances, and not Islamists.
If Islamists were winning everywhere and no one could stop them, Western policy wouldn’t matter and the Obama Administration could claim that it is on the side of history—anti-American history, but still history. But because Ibish is basically correct, that policy is not only disastrous but also tragic.
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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