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Supporting Sunni Salafi Islamists vs. Assad??

Reader comment on item: Fin de RĂ©gime in Syria?

Submitted by John in Michigan, USA (United States), May 24, 2011 at 12:55

Dr. Pipes has long warned of the dangers of creeping Islamism (violent and non-violent types).

In the current turmoil, its hard to keep the players straight, but if I understand Pipes current position, in Syria we are to fear the encroachment of Islamism 2.0 (Turkish style, work within the democratic system to subvert it, much less violent or even non-violent) more than the Islamism 1.0 (Salafist, Takfiri, decentralized, revolutionary, hyper-violent.)

As a pure question of identifying, weighing, and prioritizing threats, we are in agreement. The hyper-violent strain, when successfully challenged by counter-insurgent forces, tends to re-direct itself against fellow Muslims, thereby alienating the people it hopes to recruit, and hence, it burns itself out, whereas Islamism 2.0 seems to spread without opposition, and even sometimes with Western support and financial or other aid.

Still, it is a big step to go from identifying/weighing threats, all the way to actually (if I understand this right) supporting Islamism 1.0 in certain situations, such as Syria. How else to interpret statements like:

Western policy can make a decisive difference...Time has come to brush aside fears of instability..."It can't get any worse than the Assads' regime." Time has come to push Bashar from power, to protect innocent Alawis, and to deal with "the devil we don't know."

Presumably, one of "the devil[s] we don't know" would be the Sunni Salafis, who seem the most powerful faction of the opposition forces in Syria.

I am intrigued by the apparent preference, here and in the follow-up post "More on Regime Change in Syria", for Sunni Islamists over Alawis. The Alawi cult are a blood-soaked mess, and their de facto alliance with Iran is a problem, but the are not the global, long-term threat that Islamists are. Clearly Pipes knows this, yet he seems to favor an outcome with Sunni Islamists prevailing over Alawite Islamists. "Better the devil we don't know" is a nice sound bite, but it could easily backfire. I am thinking of US support for various Afghan Mujahideen who, after we stopped supporting them, became the Taliban (supported by our "ally" Pakistan) and al Qaeda (supports by our "friends" the Saudis and other Sunni elements).

I suppose we are to conclude that Sunni Islamists are less of a threat to American interests than Iranian Islamists, since the latter may have some form of primitive nuclear capability soon? Pipes writes:

"were (Sunni) Islamists to take power in Damascus they would terminate the Iranian connection, seriously impairing the mullah's grandiose ambitions."

Even it if means pushing Turkey even farther away from the US, EU, and Israel by opposing the emerging Turkey-Syria-Iran relationship? Supporting a formation (Islamism 1.0) that appears to the public as much more violent than Islamism 2.0 could easily backfire, even if objectively, the later is the greater long-term threat.

Pipes should clarify and greatly expand upon his points, if in fact that is what he means.

Submitting....

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