Engage Muslim support or lose the war on terror

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When a monstrous crime like such as the bombings in London occurs, attention must obviously be naturally should focus – or should focus – on the actual perpetrators. The suspected London bombers were These were almost certainly Sunni Sunni Islamist extremists allied to al-Qaeda. They are, of course,appear to have been British Muslims, British and terroristsand hostile to Western culture, but none of this these facts as such either defines them as a group or does not explain their reasons for carrying out actions like such as the the attacks. in London.

The response of Britain and Britain’its allies requires not just better intelligence and increased ruthlessness, but also greatly improved focus on their our most dangerous enemies – something that the Bush administration has not only singularly failed to provide, but has gone out of its way to obstruct.

These Sunni A loose network of Islamist extremists groups represents by far the greatest security threat to the Westwest. Fighting them it will require a very considerable redeployment of resources and also restrictions on immigration and certain civil rights. The days when London could be called “Londonistan” by islamist emigres? must be ended for good.

The radical danger from these groups people stems not only from the future threat of catastrophic attacks, but frombut also from the possibility that terrorism could exacerbate existing tensions between alienated white and immigrant ethnic minority working class populations to the point where European democracy might one day be in is endangered.

In portraying the struggle against Islamist terrorism as a kind ofwar, the Bush administration is, therefore, correct, and European critics who envisage it as a mere struggle against criminals are wrong. The key questions, however, are: “What kind of war?” and “How can it best be fought?”.

In the wake of 9/11the September 11 2001 attacks, not just the Bush administration but many other Americans treated such questions from Europeans as an impertinence.|h paid insufficient attention to the fact that it was America that had been attacked. After the London bombings, any such attitude from Washington would itself represent the grossest insolence. If the British are to make very serious sacrifices and run very serious risksas a result of British supporting for US strategy, then it is essential that they have confidence in that strategy. They British have to be sure that American actions in the Middle East will not unnecessarily increase radicalism among British Muslims.Any other relationship is not that of an ally but of a vassal. It corresponds neither to British national interests nor to British national honour, and will not, in the long run, be politically sustainable.

So far, the Bush administration – abetted, alas, by most of the US political establishment – has failed in its first and most obvious strategic task: that of splitting the opposing camp. and weakening support for the enemy.By deliberately obscuring the differences between Sunni religious extremists, Arab nationalists, Shiite ?Shia religious parties, Iranian nationalists and Palestinian radicals, the administration has done the gravest disservice to America and America’its allies.

In place of a wise and comprehensive diplomatic and political strategy, the administration, aided by Tony Blair, the British prime minister, has advanced the promotion of democracy. as the centrepiece of its approach. But there is absolutely nothing in modern historyto suggest that democratic institutions as such necessarily act as a barrier to successful extremism, especially when to socio-economic weakness is added a sense of national humiliation. Nazism, fascism and Italian militarism allNazism emerged from a failed democracy.

Promoting democratic development can be part of a strategy, but not if it is used as an excuse to ignore the other parts. Improved western security is essential and, in certain cases, preventive military actions and assassinations directed at terrorist planners in the Muslim world are also justified. But in the end, defeating the terrorists, whether in the greater Middle East or the Muslim diasporasof in Europe, isutterly dependent on Muslim help. Gaining new new Muslim allies is therefore a central part of any effective counter-terrorism strategy.

Ever since 9/11September 11 2001, Iran has been a keypotential ally in the fight against the Sunni extremists, who are Iran’s enemies too; and but the present US approach to Iran has acute limitations.of the present US approach are demonstrated by the impasse into which US policy towards Iran has fallen.

By failing to offer serious incentives to Iran, Washington helped ensure the failure of the European attempt to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear programme.though the US has no strategy of its own as a substitute for this attempt.By the nature of its pressure on Iran, Washington increased nationalist support for the existing regime. By trying to influence Iranians not to vote in restricted but still relatively free elections, Bush helped ensure a high turnout and the victory of an anti-American candidate. And by trying to block the planned gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India, the US is rejecting an opportunity to give Iran a greatly increased stake in regional stability and peace.

In the American intellectual establishment, there are now signs that the bloody quagmire in Iraq is leading to greater wisdom. To turn this into a radically different US strategy in the Middle East will be extremely difficult in terms of US domestic politics. But this is absolutely necessary if the US is to retain the ability – and the moral right – to ask British citizens to die for that strategy.

The acute limitations of the present US approach are demonstrated by the impasse into which US policy towards Iran has fallen. – even as the US-backed government of Iraq is desperately seeking Iranian support. By failing to offer serious incentives to Iran, Washington helped ensure the failure of the European attempt to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear programme – though the US has no strategy of its own as a substitute for this attempt.

By the nature of its pressure on Iran, Washington increased nationalist support for the existing regime. By trying to influence Iranians not to vote in restricted but still relatively free elections, which while restricted, Bush helped ensure a high turnout and the victory of an anti-American candidate. And by trying to block the planned gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India, the US is rejecting an opportunity to give Iran a greatly increased stake in regional stability and peace.

In the American intellectual establishment, there are at long last signs that the bloody failure in Iraq is leading to greater wisdom. To turn this into a radically different US strategy in the Middle East will be extremely difficult in terms of US domestic politics. But this is absolutely necessary if the US is to retain the ability – and the moral right – to ask British citizens to die for that strategy.
The writer, author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation

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