I have admired the writings of Reuel Gerecht since he first surfaced as the pseudonymous Edward Shirley, praising his 1997 book, Know Thine Enemy, as a "quite brilliant spy's report." But even there I disagreed with his policy conclusions and I do again these days.
Gerecht has been quoted two days running in the Washington Post on the way the United States can defeat its enemies:
Sept. 11: "Bin Laden-ism can only be gutted by fundamentalists" such as the Muslim Brethren, he said. As U.S. officials promote democracy in Muslim countries, "it's inevitable the U.S. will engage the fundamentalists" because of their popularity in those societies.
Sept. 12: "It's hard to hand over individual authority to people who are illiberal. What you have to realize is that the objective is to defeat bin Ladenism and you have to start the evolution. Moderate Muslims are not the answer. Shiite clerics and Sunni fundamentalists are our salvation from future 9/11s." Transitions away from authoritarian regimes are messy and volatile but "Let it roll," Gerecht says.
Don't walk away. It's part of the process. It's trying to ensure the system is sufficiently open that fundamentalists burn themselves out. You have to rob bin Ladenism of that virulent elixir. If we don't go in that direction, we know all other roads go back to 9/11. You want in a Machiavellian way to have fundamentalists do the dirty work. You want them to take care of the people who slaughtered the children [in Beslan, Russia]. The only way to do that is to have them compete in the political system. It may come off the rails for a while in some places, but even if it does, you will be better off. You don't want fundamentalists to take states by coups d'êtat.
This is, from my perspective, a curious and unsatisfactory analysis, especially the statement that "Moderate Muslims are not the answer."
My signature statement since 9/11 has been that "Militant Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution." To which Gerecht effectively replies "Militant Islam is the problem and militant Islam is the solution," with a less extreme form defeating the more extreme form. This brings to mind the ideas of David F. Forte that won brief attention in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and to which my reply works for Gerecht's analysis as well:
Whereas Professor Forte sees the problem as a small group of active terrorists in al Qaeda; I see the entire fundamentalist movement constituting the problem. … To me, every fundamentalist Muslim, no matter how peaceable in his own behavior, is part of a murderous movement and is thus, in some fashion, a foot soldier in the war that bin Laden has launched against civilization. …
This difference between Professor Forte's and my views has immense policy implications. He can cheerfully advise Washington to work with the huge majority of Muslims to isolate a tiny fringe of violent ideologues. I grimly tell the policymakers that the problem is not just the miniscule element he points to but the much larger one of fundamentalists, which I estimate at 10 to 15 percent of the Muslim population.
In response to the above critique, Gerecht writes me that he has prepared a 20,000-words analysis of this very issue, with the working title "The Islamic Paradox." He also notes that he does not believe in "engaging" fundamentalists, even though the Sept. 11 quote in the Post suggests that. "Fundamentalists are not pragmatists, at least not in that sense." (September 12, 2004)
June 23, 2005 update: I wrote a column today in response to that 20,000-word analysis today at "Radical Islam as Its Own Antidote."