With the decline of Marxism-Leninism, fundamentalist Islam is now the world's leading anti-American ideology. To be sure, the fundamentalists lack some strengths the communists enjoyed. In particular, they don't have ballistic missiles and their ideology lacks universal appeal. But because they despise the West with near obsession, they probably now rank as our No. 1 enemy.
Not all observers agree. Many argue that fundamentalists pose no real threat to us since most are searching for such values as probity and individual responsibility. The trouble is that this ignores the politically ambitious spirit of fundamentalism. Its adherents claim to know God's truth and to have no need for elections. They 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 20th century totalitarian ideology. 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 respecting the faith. This, after all, is what the many Muslims who reject the ideology 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 in temperament and specific policies.
In recent months, the fundamentalist issue has come to a head in Algeria, an ex-French colony of nearly 20 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 religions of great importance to us. Should fundamentalists come to power, a vast exodus of Algerians and other North African refugees would set off for Western Europe, where their presence might prompt a reactionary, highly destabilizing backlash.
Secondly, a fundamentalist victory in Algeria would likely give fundamentalists a huge psychological and material boost – just what they need to gain power in other Middle Eastern states, most notably Egypt. This would have dire consequences for American interests in the region, such as shutting down the Arab-Israeli peace process and jeopardizing the free flow of Persian Gulf oil.
For these reasons, it is of utmost importance that fundamentalists not take power in Algeria. Unfortunately, the Clinton administration has followed a policy of appeasing the fundamentalists in Algeria. If would do better to adopt a tough policy similar to the French government's.
Understand that the fundamentalists mean us harm. Most hate Western culture, dismiss our accomplishments and threaten us. The French foreign minister is on the mark when he describes Algeria's main fundamentalist party as "terrorist, anti-European, and anti-Western". These people do not wish us well.
Stop trying to locate moderate fundamentalists. The United States tries to distinguish between "moderate" and "extremist" fundamentalists – a distinction without a difference. In fact, as Tunisia's pro-Western president noted, all fundamentalists share the same "final aim": "The construction of a totalitarian, theocratic state."
Pressure Iran and the Sudan to reduce aid to 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 fundamentalists to take power. As France's Prime Minister Edouard Balladiur said when referring 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 preferable to a fundamentalist regime since 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 non-fundamentalist Muslims' frustration, the United States has become, as Tunisia's president said, "the rearguard headquarters for fundamentalist terrorists." With almost no oversight, they collect and launder money here, provide communications links, and spew out propaganda.