Wednesday, June 25, 2008

better yet, don't talk to the Islamists

FP has a piece from Steven Cook, of the Council on Foreign Relations, discouraging alliances with Islamist groups, regardless of how 'moderate' they may be. Of course he brings up the headscarf controversy in Turkey:

If there was ever a problem in defining moderate Islam, however, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) epitomizes it. The party seems to be the paragon of moderate Islamism, undertaking a wide range of reforms and staking its political legacy on Ankara’s entry into the European Union. Yet, Turkey’s archsecularists and a fair number of analysts in the West regard the party with deep suspicion. Citing the AKP’s recent effort to lift the ban on women wearing head scarves at publicly funded universities as only the most egregious example, they argue that the party’s real agenda is to Islamize Turkish society. Whose side should the United States take here?

I am tempted to be sarcastic about this. Does Cook really think that allowing women who wear headscarves to attend public universities is evidence of being immoderate in one's religious views?

He also places an emphasis on attitudes toward suicide bombing as a litmus of moderation - frequently a disqualifier. The example of Qaradawi serves to underline what seems to be his suggestion: that seemingly 'moderate' Islamists/Muslims still want to kill Israelis.

Take Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an influential TV star in the Arab world. His weekly Al Jazeera show, Sharia and Life, attracts millions of viewers. Qaradawi holds progressive positions on family law, the status of women, and political reform. He recently told Egyptian government employees to “pray less” to improve their productivity. Many Arabs regard him as staunchly moderate. Yet the sheikh has also placed his theological imprimatur on suicide bombings against Israelis, arguing that since all Israelis serve in the military at one time or another, they are all legitimate targets. For those analysts who call for support of moderate Islam, it is hard to believe Qaradawi is whom they have in mind.

As Cook uses attitudes toward Israelis as a test in his own calculus of moderation, he should be careful not to discount the role that it might play in Arab audiences' calculus of authenticity. Suicide bombing/rock throwing are considered by some the only means the Palestinians have at their disposal for retaliation against Israeli aggression, and to speak out against suicide bombing might sound in some cases like speaking out against the Palestinians, leading to the scholar or politician or whomever losing credibility with Arab/Iranian (Rafsanjani is another of his examples) audiences.

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