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Running from Iraq

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Don't imagine it will reduce the jihadist threat.

Oct 23, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 06 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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In these critics' distorted perspective, the singular provocation of the Iraq war trumps all the other well-known spurs to jihadist fury: the American flight from Beirut after the bombings in 1983, the American flight from Somalia after "Black Hawk down," the attack on the U.S. embassies in Africa, the USS Cole, 9/11, the continual bombing of Iraq under the Clinton administration, the economic sanctions against Saddam's regime that Muslims saw as choking the Iraqi people. The Iraq war, as the critics see it, overwhelms the American attack on the Taliban and bin Laden, the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan, bin Laden's survivor charisma, the Pakistani madrassa machine, General Pervez Musharraf's retreat from Waziristan, the Saudi Wahhabi multitentacled missionary-money machine--still the most influential conveyer of anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and anti-Christian hatred in the world--the existence of Israel, the Israeli retreat from Lebanon in 2000, Palestinian suicide bombings, the resurgence of Hezbollah, the triumph of American pop culture in Muslim lands, the Satanic Verses, Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, the Western assault on traditional sexual ethics and the God-ordained male domination of the Muslim home, the constant, positivist legal assault on the Holy Law, American and European support for Muslim dictatorships, the Western-centered, Western-aping, increasingly brutal Muslim regimes that have transgressed against God ever since Napoleon routed the mameluks outside Alexandria in 1798, and the unbearable Western military supremacy that reversed a millennium of nearly uninterrupted Muslim triumphs. To these critics, the Iraq war somehow is uglier than the whole cosmological affront of the modern world: Western Christians, Jews, and atheists on top; Asian Buddhists, Confucians, and Shintoists gaining power; the Hindu pantheists rising; and the Muslims, Allah's chosen people, descending.

All of this is downgraded before Iraq. It is particularly astonishing to see Iraq-centered critics discount the role of Pakistan and "post-Taliban" Afghanistan in fueling jihadism. It is arguable that Pakistan--not mentioned in the NIE's "Key Judgments"--has now replaced Saudi Arabia and Egypt as the intellectual breeding ground of jihadism. And what has been going on in Pakistan for decades has almost nothing to do with Iraq. European and Pakistani holy warriors no doubt cite Iraq as one of America's sins, but beneath these declarations lie volcanoes rumbling from pressures much closer to home.

In the hands of the Iraq-centered critics, too, a century-long history of ideas drops by the way. Sayyid Qutb--probably the most influential intellectual force behind modern Sunni holy war, who demanded of his followers that they look inward to fight the internal rot brought on by the meretricious appeal of Western ways--is pushed into the background. Qutb knew that Israel's victories over the Arabs were just a symptom of a deeper Muslim weakness. His followers, like many less violent members of the Muslim Brotherhood, did not rise in indignation when the Israelis annihilated Gamal Abdel Nasser's armies in 1967. That was condign punishment for an Egyptian leader who'd fallen from the faith. Like the great medieval, hard-line jurist Ibn Taymiyya, who rose in anger at Muslims' aping and tolerating Mongol ways, Qutb declared war not against "Western imperialism" but against the Muslim infatuation with the West. He helped devise the ethics that in just two generations would allow young Muslim men to slaughter women in Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Madrid, London, and New York.

The Iraq-centered critics turn the wisdom of Qutb on its head, by looking for the sources of Muslim anger in American actions, principally in Iraq. Many of Bush's harshest critics now begin every counter terrorist discussion with polls of the Muslim world. For them, a successful counterterrorist foreign policy ought to improve our image among Muslims.

Under Bush, these critics say, American foreign policy has become harsh and insensitive to Muslim feelings. Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, secret CIA prisons, and other nefarious acts have supposedly given the United States a bad name among Muslims--as if we hadn't already squandered our credibility by failing to be a "fair and honest broker" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These events have supposedly tarnished democracy and strengthened dictatorship in the region. Yet the most powerful force in Egypt trying to force democratic practices upon the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak is the Muslim Brotherhood, and there is no evidence the Brotherhood wants democracy less because of American action in Iraq. Iraq may be going to hell in a hand basket, but it is an enormously dubious proposition that the powerless of the Middle East think better of their dictators because of the turmoil there.