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An Urgent Task and cause for Optimism

Reader comment on item: The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?

Submitted by Peter J. Herz (United States), Dec 20, 2002 at 16:01

As a conservative Christian, former diplomat, and a political scientist, I read Dr. Pipes with interest. He is on target. Dr. Pipes notes two important facts, namely, the hostility of Islamist extremists (I avoid the term "fundamentalist" as a mere swear-word) and the political divisions among the world's billion or so Muslims. He is certainly right to warn about the continuing hostility of groups like Hezbollah.

I think American policy is basically on the right track, recognizing distinctions within the Islamic world and showing a determination to strike at groups like al-Qaida (I think this was first signalled in a speech Amb. Djerejian made back in 1992). But I think our foreign policy still shows the potential for being derailed by our willingness to embrace a number of bad governments across the Islamic world and the continuing use of the "fundamentalist" swear-word by some of our academic, media, and political elites (I can hear some Muslim aware of America's social history thinking, "Does this mean that America hates me because I doubt evolution, refrain from pork, and hope to make the haj one day?").

We also need to recognize the weaknesses of Islamist radicalism, as well as its virulence. Even if it wins in a dozen or so countries (by then, the rest of the Islamic world will probably being resisting in earnest), none will be wealthy and strong enough to form the nucleus of a bloc capable of challenging the U.S. The Ottoman Empire is long gone, and the peoples of its Anatolian-Balkan rump (which might include Bosnia and Albania as well as Turkey) can make a legitimate case for being seen as Muslim Europeans rather than as extensions of the Middle East or Central Asia. Future radical Islamist governments will also have to face the questions of providing for their own peoples, finding markets for their oil, and, after giving Israel the tired old choice of victory or extinction, explaining why their "armies of martyrs" became just that while losing territory. These same possible governments will also have to deal with longstanding national, ethnic, and sectarian divisions within the Islamic world itself. Fervor of any kind cools down sooner or later, and the same will happen with Islamist radicalism. Polls suggest that most Iranians favor reopening ties with the Great Shaitan, while other changes within the Islamic world could well lead other groups there to change enemies.

Also, I think the threat of Islamic immigration is overblown, while the possible attractions of our own civilization are shortcharged. The fact that both Evangelical Christians and secularists have already siphoned off part of our recent Islamic immigration suggests that this immigration is not really an "invasion", and even those Muslim immigrants who retain their ancestral religion are often admirers of our system of government, economic liberty, and social pluralism.


Peter J. Herz
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