- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

The contradictions of the American policy posture on Islam since September 11 can be viewed from three distinct perspectives.
First, there is the extraordinary leadership of President Bush in highlighting the fact that Islam has fully shared the horror felt by its two sister Abrahamic faiths at what occurred in September. As a result of the president's stellar leadership, Islam and Muslims are today held in significantly higher esteem in America than has ever been the case in the past.
Second, there is the policy disposition which relates to ethnic profiling as part of the effort to destroy whatever al Qaeda and related terrorist cells remain in the United States. This orientation is troubling. That persons of Middle Eastern appearance, name or language should constitute primary targets of this crackdown is perhaps inevitable. What is not at all inevitable, however, is the fact that hundreds of such persons are now held in detention without charges and without the right to legal counsel. Sadly, such detainees seem in practice to be regarded as guilty until proven innocent. This, of course, stands in direct contradiction to all that is American. A clue as to how this has come about may be seen in a statement allegedly made by U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft. Reportedly, the chief law enforcement of the land, stated that "Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you." This alleged remark by Mr. Ashcroft may be understood by some to justify whatever violation of civil rights and individual liberty may be expedient in the war against terrorism.
Third, there is the policy posture that suggests Washington's agreement with the notion that Islam is inherently a "fanatic" religion. This belief was most recently given voice by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, echoing earlier comments by American officials.
The demonization of Islam is troubling in two respects. First, it may be understood to justify establishment of an American world empire. Any such American imperium would assuredly not prove to be in the long-term interests of the United States. This policy orientation, of course, reflects views which are expressed regularly by American neoconservatives.
The apparent association of Islam with fanaticism is related to an additional troubling phenomenon. This association suggests that both government officials and journalists have not understood how categorical and widespread the condemnation by prominent Muslim religious leaders of what occurred on September 11 has been. In fact, some of the most well-known of such leaders went so far as to issue a religious ruling stating that it was religiously permissible for U.S. Muslim soldiers to fight against fellow Muslims in Afghanistan. In issuing this particular fetwa, these courageous individuals risked their own lives given the presence in their societies of small but highly committed groups of terrorists. Can they and the multitudes for whom they speak be correctly categorized as "religious fanatics" simply because they resist any American imperium and the specific policies that flow therefrom?
For Muslims, of course, prime exhibits of objectional U.S. policy include unqualified American support for Israel, apparent countenancing of the death of some 500,000 Iraqi civilians as a result of the U.S. embargo on Iraq, and the presence of what some see as American army of "occupation" in the "holy land" of Saudi Arabia.
Moderate and radical Islamic groups are at loggerheads concerning the issue of military action against America. The moderates are categorically opposed to any such action. Nevertheless, they are in nearly total agreement with the extremists in their criticism of U.S. policy. Any major military action against Iraq to remove the thug who rules in Baghdad seems certain to cast gasoline on the embers of discontent which now smolder throughout the Muslim world. The inferno which may well result is most emphatically not likely to foster the defense of American national interests.
Like ancient Gaul, Iraq is divided into three parts: the Shiite south, the Sunni center, and the Kurdish north. Any heavy bombing of Iraq, especially if combined with a massive invasion of the country by American ground forces, may cause Iraq to collapse into its constituent parts. Anyone advocating such a military adventure should be prepared to answer a series of questions. To wit: What is the likely future of each of these former Iraqi entities? Is it really in the U.S. national interest to open the door to a possible absorption by Shiite Iran of the former Shiite south of Iraq, thereby placing Iran solidly on the northern frontier of Saudi Arabia? Or perhaps those advocating war with Iraq are secret supporters of the creation of a Greater Syria. Is it, in fact, in the American national interest to make possible the takeover by Syrian Sunnis of the Sunni center of the former Iraq? As far as the Kurdish north of what was once Iraq is concerned, the potential for radical destabilization of the entire region is perhaps the greatest. Any perceived possibility for the creation of a Greater Kurdistan would immediately draw both Turkey and Iran into the vortex, creating the probability of an outbreak of war between these two major Middle Eastern powers and longtime regional enemies. Is this scenario, too, really conducive to the promotion of American interests?
American officials and American policy still do not get it. The sad truth is that the contradictions of U.S. policy towards Islam, combined with possible military action against Iraq, are only too likely to bring any progress in the war against terrorism to a screeching halt. Worse, any such military adventure is likely to breed new terrorists.
Concerning Iraq, there is yet time to draw from the brink of war. But not a lot. And the clock is ticking.

Anthony T. Sullivan is an associate at the Center for the Study of the Middle East and North Africa at the University of Michigan. Louis J. Cantori is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide