Why political Islam is winning


Political Islam is “winning” because the intelligentsia in the West “began to declare that the building blocks of the Western system were outmoded and not worth defending.”

This is how Charles Hill, Diplomat in residence at Yale University and a former ambassador and adviser to presidents, put it in a recent article in the Politico blog: “Political Islam may well be incompatible with modernity, but what if it is precisely modernity that is failing in the world today, while political Islam is gaining?” Hill posed the question as a rejoinder to the statement by US Secretary of State John Kerry that “there is literally no place for their [Islamic State] barbarity in the modern world.” He goes on to argue that modernity is indeed losing, that, as Haaretz’s political caricaturist Amos Biderman put it, “The bad guys have already won.”

US President Barack Obama has described the carnage in France as “senseless attacks,” adding that “ultimately they will be forgotten by us.” He is wrong on both counts – they may be senseless to him and to us, but to the Islamists they make a lot of sense – and they certainly should not be forgotten by us if we want to prevent the Islamists from reaching their nefarious goals.

According to Hill, “Political Islam’s very purpose is not only to be incompatible with modernity, but also to oppose it, demolish it and replace it in every regard,” first in the Middle East and then in Europe and beyond.

Democracy, for Islamists, is an abomination and so are human rights, the acquisition and exchange of knowledge, diversity of opinions and freedoms for women.

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Significantly, Islamism also rejects the established order of states and national borders. On all relevant issues, the writer concludes, “political Islam stands in stark opposition to the established modern world order.”

Hill claims political Islam is “winning” because the intelligentsia, i.e. the politically influential (and often self-styled) intellectuals in the West “began to declare that the building blocks of the [Western] system – the state, sovereignty, defense, etc. – were outmoded concepts” and hence, by implication, not worth defending.

The main responsibility, in his view, rests on the shoulders of the US, “Which has shown itself to be politically unable to deal with the challenge posed by political Islam and what needs to be done about it.” The challenge, according to Hill, isn’t “counter-terrorism” or the “war on terror” but rather confronting the ideology and ultimate aims of the jihadists.

To make matters worse, “The recent American message to the world that the US will be comfortable stepping back from world leadership in order to do ‘nation-building at home’ – one of President Barack Obama’s favorite phrases – has left the international system not only leaderless but also rudderless.”

A self-declared Cassandra, Hill may in the view of some be overly alarmist (although let’s not forget: Cassandra was right), and some will argue that after all, President Obama did take military steps (somewhat hesitantly at first) to fight Islamic State, and that the so-called moderate Sunni Arab states, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have taken forceful steps against the Muslim Brotherhood and its various violent and poisonous offshoots.

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However, halting the spread of Islamist barbarism will take a much more determined and un-blinkered effort than anything we’ve seen so far – it will require an effort of almost Churchillian magnitude.

Moreover, while Hill doesn’t address this in his article, even if the West were to mount the kind of effort required to defeat the Islamist threat, fighting poison with poison, though often effective and even inevitable (for example, the alliance between the West and the despotic Soviet regime in the war against Nazi Germany), can ultimately engender menaces no less threatening.

The present de facto coordination between Iran and America against Islamic State, given Iran’s support for terrorism, its nuclear ambitions and geopolitical designs, is a clear and worrying example of this.

But returning to Islamic State et al, Israel, geographically speaking (though not politically, socially, culturally, etc.) is part of the Middle East, which means that it is also within the sphere of political Islam’s ideological and expansionist designs. Therefore, in addition to continually developing and enhancing our own military and technological capabilities, Israel must strive to reinforce its bonds with the US, which in spite of its (more navel-gazing than factual) decline is and will remain its main and unequaled ally. Congress, security cooperation and aid, basic policies (yes, even under Obama – just think Security Council) and last but not least, American Jews, form a stark contrast to Europe’s growing anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.

Of this we should never lose sight in determining our course of action with regard to policy and strategy visa- vis America. As Moshe Dayan once said: “Limit fronts of confrontation to the absolute minimum.” In other words, only to the really vital and essential issues.

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The fundamental precepts of our security policy have not much changed since 1948, and in fact have gained added relevance in recent years: security and the ability to “defend itself by itself” (but at the same time to strike a balance, if possible, between our historical and national aims), and the effort to reach some sort of modus vivendi with our neighbors, even if this falls short of the conclusive and genuine peace we would all like to achieve – but which will probably remain unattainable for a long time to come.

That said, the effort is well worth making anyway – whether in order to bolster our diplomatic front or even more so to avoid the double-pronged specter of a binational state, with the problematic prospect of an eventual Arab majority, or the alternative of an irredentist and Islamist Palestinian state devoid of an effective Israeli security control inside and outside its borders.

Considering the chaotic situation in our region and the overall threat posed by political Islam on the one hand, and the challenges closer to home on the other, Israel’s next prime minister – in all likelihood Benjamin Netanyahu – whether at the head of a center-right or preferably a national unity government, will thus have on his plate unprecedented issues of national and historic dimensions.

The author is a former ambassador to the United States.

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