The successful air strike against al-Zarqawi is a positive deveopment in the ongoing global war on Islamist terrorism. Anytime a killer of al-Zarqawi's stature is taken out of circulation, progress is made. However, Radical Islam, the ideology behind Islamist terrorism, isn't the product of al-Zarqawi and his like. Rather, al-Zarqawi and his like are the products of Radical Islam.
Radical Islam, also known as Islamism, which should be distinguished from Islam itself, presents arguably the biggest threat to international peace and security in the opening years of the 21st century. By its very nature, it renders diplomacy useless.
Diplomacy entails the negotiation over disputes. The pursuit of diplomacy rests on the assumption that a given dispute is not irreconcilable. If a dispute is not irreconcilable, then the negotiating process can lead to common ground that bridges the parties’ differences in such a fashion that the core needs of all of the parties are met, even if some or many of their more ambitious or expansive desires are not.
However, the search for common ground cannot proceed unless the parties possess a minimal degree of tolerance. The parties must possess a willingness to live with one another, or the incentives must exist for them to develop such a willingness. In the former case, diplomacy can commence without delay. In the latter case, it likely won’t commence, much less succeed, unless the benefits reach a critical threshold necessary to shatter the inhibitions that preclude the parties' readiness to live with one another.
Radical Islam is currently at an evolutionary stage where its adherents do not wish to live with the "other." It is also currently at a stage of development where it seeks to suffocate any dissent by Muslims and non-Muslims alike through delegitimization, intimidation, and even brute force. The examples of Radical Islam’s intolerance of dissent are widespread and continuing to mount.
Radical Islamists have issued death threats against public officials, writers and intellectuals such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji and Salman Rushdie who have dared to speak out against their quasi-religious totalitarianism. They have attempted to bully Mukhtaran Bibi, a champion against rape and illiteracy, into silence. They have called for the death of Muslim pop star Deeyah for her video and song "What Will It Be" in which she appeals for women’s rights and empowerment in the Islamic world. Their mobs sought the execution of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan, whose only "crime" was his conversion to Christianity. They even attempted to compel Aftab and Sohela Ansari, a Muslim couple in India, to divorce after Aftab had uttered "talaq" [divorce] three times in his sleep.
Radical Islam is totalitarianism born anew, only this variant of totalitarianism comes in religious garb. "After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism," a Manifesto of prominent Islamic scholars declares. "Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world."
Currently, Radical Islamists’ often violent pursuit to create a totalitarian global Caliphate is not advancing unopposed among Muslims. A number of Muslims, who are increasingly concerned with the threat it poses, have been speaking out against it. "After years of being called a ‘whore,’ ‘devil’ and ‘bringer of shame’ by people who use Islam as their shield, I have decided to let this video speak for me," Deeyah explains adding, "I am tired of the people who clamor at the slightest hint of skin on a Muslim woman but who will not speak up when a woman is beaten and even murdered in the name of Islam." Zafarul-Islam Khan, an Islamic scholar, rejected the local Islamic leaders’ attempt to force the Ansaris to divorce stating, "This is a totally unnecessary controversy and the local ‘community leaders’ or whosoever has said it are totally ignorant of Islamic law." Precisely because it is encountering stiffening resistance among Muslims, Radical Islamists are seeking to clamp down on these heroes and heroines within Islam’s ranks. This is a dangerous development with potentially dire consequences if it succeeds.
Radical Islam is unadulterated and rigid intolerance. It seeks to strip people of their consciences. It seeks to deprive people of their most basic rights of free thought, free expression, and equality under the law. It seeks to impose ideological slavery and physical subservience on all who fall under its rule.
Because it rejects tolerance and opposes it, Radical Islam lacks the basic elements that make diplomacy and diplomatic compromise possible. It seeks to advance its totalitarian ideology as a matter of religion. This outlook greatly complicates the opportunity for compromise. Religion is a matter of faith, and not reason. Either one embraces its precepts or one doesn’t. Religion defines who one is. Changes on such fundamental issues can take decades, centuries, or longer to occur. The difference in time from the birth of Christianity to the Reformation is an example.
In contrast, in matters of reason, the application of logic to a set of facts or available information can lead one to change one’s thinking quite readily. The “costs” of doing so are much less than they are for one to change one’s religion or to modify it. This enhanced flexibility facilitates the compromises that make diplomacy effective. The lower threshold to change exists, because matters of logic concern what one does, not who one is. This outlook opens up even difficult disputes to compromise. President Nixon’s establishing ties with China or Presidents Reagan’s and Gorbachev’s breaking out of the Cold War’s ideological constraints represent two examples.
Even as diplomacy isn’t a solution for dealing with Radical Islam, this reality does not mean that war alone is the sole approach to addressing the global challenge it presents. Instead, the formation of an alliance with Islam’s moderates such as Ms. Manji could undermine Radical Islam’s quest for intellectual domination of the Islamic world. Denied of its ability to impose its will on the Islamic world, Radical Islam’s ability to harm the outside world would be much reduced.
However, even as the world seeks to forge a coalition with Islamic moderates, it is imperative that it also reject any attempts by Radical Islamists to stifle free expression, be it the controversial Danish cartoons or the Manifesto against Islamism. Indeed, the Danish cartoons might well represent a turning point for progress, if they stimulate reasoned discourse on why the outside world sees Radical Islam as it does. Dissent has fueled progress in the West. It can do so in the Islamic world, too.
Appeasement of Radical Islamists’ demands on the cartoons or attempts at free expression by Muslims who speak out against them would be disastrous. "Muslim intimidation needs to be faced head on," Ms. Manji declares. "Civilizational progress happens when individuals transgress, even blaspheme. Galileo offended the Church. So did Darwin. The concept of universal human rights offends most religions. Without offense, there is only silence."
Combined with a rejection of any kind of accommodation of the Radicals’ demands, this alliance with moderates can break ground for a long overdue Islamic Reformation in which moderation would ultimately triumph over extremism. At the same time, this alliance with moderate Muslims could shatter the Radicals’ propaganda that the outside world is at war with Islam. A broad coalition with moderate Muslims would demonstrate through example, not mere words, that it is the Radicals’ alone who wage a civilizational war along religious lines. In turn, Radical Islam would find itself increasingly marginalized among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. As it is marginalized, it would wither and die like all its totalitarian predecessors before it.
The need to take on this task is fairly urgent. Islam isn’t the proverbial problem today. Only the Radical Islamists' who seek to redefine Islam to fit their totalitarian ideology in pursuit of absolute worldly power are. But if Radical Islam triumphs in the Islamic world today and its Radicals succeed in turning Islam on its head to fit their quest for 21st century empire, it most definitely will be the problem tomorrow.
Don Sutherland has researched and written on a wide range of geopolitical issues.