10 November 2007

Combatting Muslim Extremism

I read this essay by Juan Cole in The Nation last week and found it useful in thinking about the place of "Islam" and "Muslims" in both American domestic politics and our foreign policy. He points out a number of things that really ought to be obvious such as: " Very few Muslims are either violent or fundamentalist; most are traditionalist, mystic, modernist or secularist." And: "In fact, the dozens of countries with majority Muslim populations are mostly strong allies of the United States." And so on ....

Cole is an accomplished scholar of the Middle East at the University of Michigan. His views are not "value-neutral" in any of the impossible senses that social scientists sometimes proclaim their work to be, but he actually bases his observations on knowledge rather than simply on fear, prejudice and ideology. Here are the concluding passages from the essay:

"American politicians should cease implying that Muslim nation and individuals are different from, or somehow more dangerous than, any other group of human beings, a racist idea promoted by the Christian and Zionist right. They should acknowledge that most Muslim nations are US friends and allies. A wise American policy toward the small networks of Muslim extremists would reduce their recruitment pool by the quick establishment of a Palestinian state and by a large-scale military drawdown from Iraq, thus removing widespread and major grievances. An increase in visible humanitarian and development aid to Muslim countries has a demonstrable effect on improving the US image.

The reconstitution of the United States Information Service as an independent body would allow better public diplomacy. Promoting American studies in the Muslim world, in its major languages rather than just in English, would help remove widespread misconceptions about the United States among educated Muslim observers. Increasing federal funding for Middle East studies at home would better equip this country to deal with this key region. More adept diplomacy with the Muslim states, most of which are as afraid of terrorism as we are, could lead to further cooperation in the security field. Better police work and cooperation with the police of Middle Eastern states would be much more effective than launching invasions. It would also help if we stopped insulting Muslims by calling their religion 'fascist.'"

I recommend the Cole essay in particular and the entire 19 November issue of The Nation more generally; the issue focuses on American, Islam & the Middle East.

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