Islamic Fundamentalists are the New Big Threat to the West
by Daniel Pipes
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[N.B.: The following reflects what the author submitted, and not exactly what was published. To obtain the precise text of what was printed, please check the original place of publication.]
With the decline of Marxism-Leninism, fundamentalist Islam now stands as the world's leading anti-American ideology. To be sure, the fundamentalists lack some strengths the communists enjoyed: in particular, they don't yet have ballistic missiles and their ideology lacks universal appeal. Yet because they despise the West with fervor and near-obsession, they probably now rank as our number-one enemy.
Not all observers agree with this analysis. They argue along with Jonathan Powers that fundamentalists pose no real threat to us, for most of them "are moved by a down-to-earth search for values" such as probity and individual responsibility. Trouble is, this reading ignores the politically ambitious spirit of fundamentalism. Its adherents claim to know God's truth and have no need for elections. They freely impose their views on others and repress dissident voices. To improve their own society, they turn it upside-down; to spread their brand of virtue, they dispatch armies across borders. Sound familiar? It should, for it's just another of the twentieth century's totalitarian ideologies.
This said, two cautionary points need to be emphasized: The problem facing us is not Islam (a religion) but fundamentalist Islam (an ideology). We can oppose the ideology while at the same time respecting the faith; this, after all, is what the many anti-fundamentalists Muslims do. Second, fundamentalists do not comprise a single movement. While they share certain beliefs ("Islam is the solution") and opinions (such as anti-Western attitudes), they differ widely among themselves in temperament and in specific policies.
In recent months the fundamentalist issue has come to a head in Algeria, an ex-French colony of nearly thirty million inhabitants in North Africa. Fundamentalists there have mounted a virtual civil war against the government, a Third Worldist regime on the mend. The stakes in Algeria are high because what happens there could have a major impact on two regions of great importance to ourselves. Should the fundamentalists come to power, a vast exodus of Algerians and other North African refugees would set off for Western Europe, where their presence might well prompt a reactionary and highly destabilizing backlash. Second, a fundamentalist victory in Algeria would likely give fundamentalists a huge psychological and material boost, or just what they need to win power in other Middle Eastern states, most notably Egypt. This would have many dire consequences for American interests in the region, such as shutting down the Arab-Israeli peace process and jeopardizing the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf.
For these reasons, it is of utmost importance that fundamentalists not take power in Algeria. Unfortunately, the Clinton Administration has followed an policy of appeasing the fundamentalists in Algeria. It would do much better to adopt a tough policy similar to that of the French government. This means:
Understand that the fundamentalists mean us harm. Most fundamentalists hate Western culture. They dismiss our accomplishments ("Western civilization is not a civilization but a sickness") and threaten us ("The struggle between the emergent civilization of Islam and the decadent civilization of the West will occupy the centrestage of history for most of the 21st century"). The French foreign minister is on the mark when he describes the main fundamentalist party in Algeria as "terrorist, anti-European and anti-Western." These people do not wish us well.
Stop trying to locate moderate fundamentalists. The U.S. government tries to distinguish between "moderate" and "extremist" fundamentalists, a distinction without a difference. In fact, as the pro-Western president of Tunisia notes, the "final aim" of all fundamentalist is the same: "the construction of a totalitarian, theocratic state." None of them are democrats; ballots might bring them to power but once there, they will not go quietly.
Pressure Iran and the Sudan to reduce their aid to the Algerian insurgents. These fundamentalist states provide important help-including political counseling, diplomatic support, money, and arms-to their ideological brethren in Algeria. We and our allies have many instruments with which to close down this support.
Support anti-fundamentalist Muslims. In the case of Algeria, we should join the French government in making it clear that we don't want the fundamentalists to take power. As France's Prime Minister Edouard Balladur has said, in reference to Algeria: "you have to choose between the ability of the authorities to control the situation or the coming to power of Muslim fundamentalists." The French authorities admit that "The current authorities are not a model of democratic government," but back them anyway because they are far preferable to a fundamentalist regime, and for two good reasons: the existing government threatens neither our interests nor the human rights of Algerians as much as would its fundamentalist successor.
Shut down the fundamentalist infrastructure in the United States. To the intense frustration of non-fundamentalist Muslims, the United States has become (in the words of Tunisia's president) "the rearguard headquarters for fundamentalist terrorists." With almost no oversight, they collect and launder money here, provide communications links, and spew out propaganda.
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