Parting the Veil II

Last Friday I published this post about an article which was sent to me to review, written by Shadi Hamid, Project on Middle East Democracy’s Director of Research, called “Parting the Veil.” As I noted then, the article is well worth the read: it is highly interesting and thought provoking. I cannot say that I agree with everything Hamid writes, but he makes some good points, and raises some interesting questions.

The main point the author makes is that the West – better, the US – should stop disenfranchising and isolating Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Hamid, there is only one way forward in the Middle East: and that’s by promoting Democracy there.

In essence, the author advocates a policy I would like to describe as neorealism. He rejects traditional realism, which sometimes advocates working with / supporting dictators and, instead, advocates that the US should accept reality as it is: Islamist movements are very popular in the Middle East, and it is in the best interest to work with them as much as possible – especially with the moderate elements in Islamist movements.

To read more of my take on Hamid’s article click here.

Some commenters asked whether I could put the article up: I could not – it’s got copyright etc. However, you can read the article online, namely by clicking here. I received the link, long after I had published the post, so that is why I decided to publish a new post, containing the link to the actual article. Be sure to read it – and my thoughts on it of course.

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4 Responses to Parting the Veil II

  1. Ginny Cotts says:

    Michael,

    Glad there is another voice advocating this approach. Had Bush heeded them in ’02, we would not have invaded Iraq. I don’t think he will listen to another voice with this message. Others who have since opened their ears and minds will be all the more inclined to agree.

    Ultimately, it comes down to when Americans will stop letting various power brokers convince them and Congress that we have a legitimate threat to use our military force on – when the real reason is protecting our economic and resource dependent empire.

    Until we stop the policy deception lying, no amount of scholarly understanding will prevail.

  2. Michaelvdg says:

    Ginny,

    Like you I found the article to be interesting, and Hamid made quite some great points – and convinced me, as I wrote, “that we should not easily dismiss Islamist movements,” but many questions still remain. I asked some of them in the post.

    We now have e-mail contact – he’ll respond to the points I made in e-mail, because we need clarity and – as always – there are ‘buts’ involved here.

    It’s not as easy as to say “well, you can’t go to war anymore.” Sometimes was is justified and even needed. The case of Iraq, for instance, is quite different from the case of Afghanistan. I think that people would agree that the war against Afghanistan / the Taliban was justified and that the West should work hard to bring stability to that country (which seems possible).

    Also, like Hamid argues, engaging in a dialogue with Islamists does not mean all Islamists. He points out that they have to, first, renounce terrorism, so dealing with Hezbollah and / or Hamas does not fall under the foreign policy he advocates.

    Again, having said all that, we can certainly no longer dimiss, say, the Muslim Brotherhood. They are anti-America, but who is not in the Middle East these days? And they’ll take over sooner or later anyway. It’s better to influence them while you can, and to let them get to power under your moderating influence, than to isolate them, have them come to power nonetheless and hate you even more because you worked against them.

    It’s really a very difficult subject. I often feel I’m not qualified enough to truly come up with “okay this is what we have to do,” but then, why not? Sometimes experts are wrong, sometimes amateurs are right. In the end, debate will creater better policies, and the more people who weigh in, the better.

  3. Well, much as I agree that cherry-picking who we like and who we don’t in the Middle East (witness the official reaction to the outcome of the Palestinian elections when a party we REALLY don’t like — Hamas — defeats those we merely don’t like — as the article notes, albeit not explicitly).

    But the 1000 pound gorilla in the room remains this: The Western presumption that a secular democracy can emerge from a Quranic state reveals a shocking lack of knowledge about Islam and the Koran.

    Mohammed ran the civil government in Medina after the Hajj (hegira or hejira), and there is NO DIFFERENCE between civil law and religious law in Islam.

    This is such a fundamental difficulty at the base of occidental “democracy” versus oriental Quranic law that our assumptions and expectations are utterly derailed by that reality …

    A reality that serious Western observers still don’t acknowledge — or else merely pay lip service to.

    It doesn’t help that the current US Administration can’t even handle religious pluralism within its own nation, let alone an alien religion with extraordinarily vast differences between sects and groups.

    The idea that there can be a separation between Church and State is a fundamentally Western concept, rooted in the tradition of Western Liberalism and the Enlightenment.

    It is also, alas, an historical aberration. There IS no difference, in Quranic law, and that very deeply and profoundly negates one of the bedrock principles that Western democracy is founded on: popular sovereignty.

    The Quran AUTOMATICALLY trumps the concept, and that is a titanic fly in the ointment.

    In other words: it may well be that the Quran (Koran) and western liberal democracy are fundamentally incompatible concepts. (Epistemology 101: base assumptions are far more important than is usually understood).

    Iran is a good example of the fundamental tension between the two, and the schizophrenia necessary to embrace both.

    (It doesn’t help that we fundamentally reject it as illegitimate, because of the vaguely remembered hostage crisis that ended the Carter Administration).

    Thanks for posting the link to the article, Michael.

  4. Ginny Cotts says:

    Michael,

    As Hart very appropriately pointed out “Epistemology 101: base assumptions are far more important than is usually understood.”

    If you are referring to my comments in this paragraph, “It’s not as easy as to say “well, you can’t go to war anymore.” I am very confused at how you jumped to that assumption. Although Afghanistan had some clear connections to the 9/11 attacks, so did Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan was arguably far stronger. (see Paul Thompson’s Terror Timeline). That war is actually just as questionable in the way it was carried out and the speed it was undertaken as Iraq. They just didn’t have as much to wreck or take over there. The abandonment of that conflict for Iraq underscores the administrations’ lack of concern about the Afghan role or status in terrorism, not to mention the drug trade. And that they really are not that interested in the WOT, other than as cover for the millitary empire they continue to build.

    The issue is not that we would ever take war off the table. It just has to be restricted, absolutely, to a REAL threat, not one manufactured by covert operations, the news media and any form of lying to the American citizens.

    Hart,

    I agree that there is a fundamental difference that would seem to be an insurmountable barrier. I think that the kind of democracy or government BushCo et al want to see is utopian.

    Two things. I have watched the struggle of Christian fundamentalists and moderates on the doctrine versus science clash for decades. How some of them get around the cognitive dissonance of believing the doctrine and being excellent scientists, thinkers, writers, etc. eludes me, they still do it.

    I agree Iran is a good example of the fundamental tension. The overthrow of their democratically elected president (who had been educated in Britain and believed in the principles of democracy) in ’53 by our CIA, and reinstallation of the despotic Shah, is the end all, beat all example of what we sabotaged in the ME by using our dirty tricks in their sovereign affairs – to let Britain keep abusing their Iraq oil contract.

    As Stephen Kinzer put it, it’s almost impossible to wrap your mind around what the ME would be like today, after 50 years of democracy in Iran, if we had kept out of their self government.

    In combining this, my scenario is that these countries have enough moderates who would, given some level of democratic government initially, keep moving it into some compromise that would work. Keeping in mind that I think the only way humanity is going to make it much further depends on the followers of the Judaeo-Christian religions coming to grips with how detrimental some actions on those doctrines have become to the world.