Saturday, December 30, 2006

Islamist Extremism and the Battle for Global Values

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has a powerful essay in the January/February 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs. Blair argues that the war against terror is more than a military stuggle -- it is a global campaign for Western-led values of tolerance and liberty, and ultimately a battle about modernity itself.

Blair notes that not all of Islam is implicated in the global campaign for values. The real challenge to the West lies in Islamist extremism, which reached its most destructive stage on September 11, 2001:

On 9/11, 3,000 people were murdered. But this terrorism did not begin on the streets of New York. Many more had already died, not just in acts of terrorism against Western interests but in political insurrection and turmoil around the world. Its victims are to be found in the recent history of many lands: India, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and countless more. More than 100,000 died in Algeria. In Chechnya and Kashmir, political causes that could have been resolved became brutally incapable of resolution under the pressure of terrorism. Today, in 30 or 40 countries, terrorists are plotting action loosely linked with this ideology. Although the active cadres of terrorists are relatively small, they exploit a far wider sense of alienation in the Arab and Muslim world.

These acts of terrorism were not isolated incidents. They were part of a growing movement -- a movement that believed Muslims had departed from their proper faith, were being taken over by Western culture, and were being governed treacherously by Muslims complicit in this takeover (as opposed to those who could see that the way to recover not just the true faith but also Muslim confidence and self-esteem was to take on the West and all its works).

The struggle against terrorism in Madrid, or London, or Paris is the same as the struggle against the terrorist acts of Hezbollah in Lebanon, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories, or rejectionist groups in Iraq. The murder of the innocent in Beslan is part of the same ideology that takes innocent lives in Libya, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen. And when Iran gives support to such terrorism, it becomes part of the same battle, with the same ideology at its heart.

Sometimes political strategy comes deliberatively, sometimes by instinct. For this movement, it probably came by instinct. It has an ideology, a worldview, deep convictions, and the determination of fanaticism. It resembles, in many ways, early revolutionary communism. It does not always need structures and command centers or even explicit communication. It knows what it thinks.

In the late 1990s, the movement's strategy became clear. If it was merely fighting within Islam, it ran the risk that fellow Muslims -- being as decent and as fair-minded as anyone else -- would choose to reject its fanaticism. A battle about Islam was just Muslim versus Muslim. The extremists realized that they had to create a completely different battle: Muslims versus the West.

That is what the September 11 attacks did. I am still amazed at how many people say, in effect, that there is terrorism today because of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. They seem to forget entirely that 9/11 predated both. The West did not attack this movement. It was attacked.
Read the whole thing. Blair is the West's most eloquent spokesman for the cause in which we fight. Most useful -- and what we need more of -- is Blair's tremendous clarity of purpose regarding the nature of our adversary and his profound sense of security in the goodness of our cause. The battle for global values does not stop with security, he argues, but includes all the dimensions of international interdependence in the contemporary era of globalization.

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