Counter-Terrorism: September 12, 2005

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Theres growing agreement in the Pentagon that the key problem in the war on terror is poor leadership in the Arab world, in particular, and the Moslem world in general. Youre not going to hear an official announcement on this subject, but a quick look at the history of the Islamic world since World War II shows one constant; poor leadership. There are exceptions. Turkey, starting in the 1920s, sought to reform and modernize its governmental and cultural institutions, including a clear separation of church and state. Malaysia, after a chaotic beginning (in the 1950s), sorted itself out and created an efficient government (especially by Moslem standards) and adopted much of the English common law used when Britain was the colonial ruler of the area. This included a rather incorruptible, especially by local standards, judiciary. This gave Malaysia a big economic advantage, and led to rapid economic growth, despite some loud political squabbles. Islamic radicals never got a foothold in Malaysia, although some exist there. But Malaysians in general, and local counter-terrorism forces in particular, are not hospitable to Islamic terrorists.

The situation is quite different in most other Islamic countries, especially the Arab ones. Corruption and inefficient government have been the norm for Islamic states since World War II (and long before that when they were ruled by the Turks). This has led to poor economic performance, and an unhappy population. The current world wide Islamic terrorist threat began, three decades ago, as a movement to clean up corrupt governments in Islamic nations. That proved impossible to do, except in Iran. There, the uncharacteristically well organized (by Moslem standards) religious establishment took advantage of the chaos created by an Iraqi invasion in 1980, and basically hijacked the government. The religions leadership elbowed aside the democrats, and replaced the aristocrats who had recently been overthrown. 

In the rest of the Islamic world, the people in power know how to stay in power. While the details varied somewhat from country to country, the winning formula was a combination of propaganda and terror. Some rulers relied more on one, than the other. Saddam Hussein, for example, used a lot more terror, although he turned out the propaganda like a champ. On the other extreme you have nations like Saudi Arabia (a monarchy), which uses propaganda and cash to keep control. Egypt uses more persuasion and propaganda to keep president for life Mubarak in office. Egyptian police were quick to move when Islamic terrorists did try to operate. The police operations were aided by a media campaign that painted the terrorists as evil men, worthy of any punishment they got. 

One unfortunate side-effect of this approach is that these Islamic tyrants help keep themselves in power by promoting Islamic terrorism, as long as it takes place elsewhere. While most Islamic governments say, especially in English, that they are against Islamic terrorism, they tolerate popular support for it. This is particularly the case if the victims are Israelis. Political leadership in Islamic nations failed miserably in dealing with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Time after time, Moslem leaders shot themselves in the foot when it came to Israel. Meanwhile, they cranked up the propaganda machine to create more and more outrageous lies to explain away their incompetence. In effect, they painted themselves into a corner with their tacit, and often open, support of the Islamic terrorist goal of destroying Israel by any means available. For many Moslems, it was difficult to separate encouragement for terrorism against Israel, and preaching against using terrorism against other infidels (non-Moslems). And this often led some Moslems to believe that terrorism against their own corrupt rulers was justified. 

This conundrum is at the core of the problem Moslem nations are having dealing with Islamic terrorism. When those terrorists act up locally, its easy enough to mobilize public support against them. But that anti-terrorist attitude is worn lightly, and fades as soon as the local terrorism is eliminated. Actually, Islamic terrorism helps keep all these Moslem tyrants in power. The antics of the terrorists distracts Moslems from the problems they are having in their own neighborhoods. Thats why the invasion of Iraq was so strenuously denounced by nearly every Moslem leader. Establishing a democracy in Iraq would make it clear to Moslem people throughout the Middle East that Arabs could handle democracy, and prosper without a strong man to maintain order. 

The Pentagon actually has an excellent record, going back over a century, in dealing with guerilla, terrorist and irregular warfare. Its not been politically correct to dwell on that, but thats another story. The problem with the current campaign against Islamic terrorism is that the cause of it all is within the Islamic community, and changing perceptions in the Moslem world takes time. The U.S. government know this, and knew it on September 11, 2001. It was stated back then that the war on terror would be a long one. Everyone nodded in agreement at the time, but the fact of the matter is that Americans tend to lose patience with any war effort (a custom going back to the American Civil War) after about three years. 

The Islamic world has been screwed up for centuries, and you cant expect to fix it very quickly. Attempts to improve the quality of Moslem government, and quality of life for Moslems began to grow in the 19th century. Out of the ashes of the Ottoman empire in the 1920s, there arose several vigorous attempts at reform. The Turks established a democracy. Iraq tried a constitutional monarchy. By the 1950s, all the Moslem nations were free of colonial rule, and independent. Most went with democracy, and most ended up with dictatorships. Democracy doesnt really take hold unless everyone, especially the most powerful families (the potential warlords and tyrants) agree to play by the rules. This did not happen in most of these new Moslem nations. 

After decades of falling for the our problems are caused by colonialism and imperialism line, more and more Moslems are openly pointing out that, for most of the past thousand or so years, most Moslems were ruled by other Moslems, and the cause of their own problems. Moslem journalists and academics are now saying out loud, what many kept to themselves for a long time,  that the problems in the Islamic world were created by internal, not external, forces. But the predominance of public opinion still clings to the its not our fault model. Many Moslems will go to great lengths, and very twisted logic, to explain how Islamic terrorism cannot exist. 

That fantasy has been severely damaged by what is going on in Iraq. Given a choice, the Iraqi people voted, literally, for democracy. In response, Islamic radicals openly declared democracy un-Islamic, and unleashed a terror campaign against the Iraqi people. All this does not fit with the party-line Moslem dictators have been feeding their people for generations. 

Moslem dictators are afraid of Islamic terrorists, as well they should be. Al Qaeda has openly declared these tyrants are their main target. Going after the West is, for al Qaeda, an attempt to deprive Moslem tyrants of a strong ally. But how do Moslem dictators fight Islamic terrorists without seeming to admit that Western plots and intrigues are not the cause of Moslem woes. Well, the Moslem dictators are doing it. This leads to, by Western standards, some bizarre reporting and editorializing. 

People have always been willing to die for what they believe in. They will do so even if what they believe in is false or illogical. In the last century, over a hundred million people have died because of bizarre fascist and communist beliefs. The Islamic radicals are not nearly as well organized, or as popular, as those two movements. But the Islamic terrorists are out to kill, and they will keep trying until they are destroyed, or deprived of popular support. 

 


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