Friday, January 08, 2016

Islam's diversity opens gates for victory over Islamism

Many people in the west are desperately trying to find an answer to the scourge of radical Islam.  There are at least two problems facing them:  many push back at the thought of identifying a religion with terrorism (which often finds people at the poles of bigotry or fecklessness); lack of thorough and uncluttered information about Islam and Muslims has prevented a more complex understanding.  There is an answer to both problems.

Muslims are as diverse as any other group of people.  Many not only reject Islamism (or Islam as a political ideology); quite a few are trying to combat it, often at their peril.  If we recognize that diversity, it is a lot easier to square the recognition of Islam's role in modern-day terrorism and tyranny with our liberal western values of not vilifying people because of their faith.

By now, many people understand that many Middle Eastern countries (e.g., Iraq) were post-World War II creations of European colonial powers that threw diverse populations together without regard to their distinctions--Shia and Sunni, Kurd and Arab, Kurd and Persian, etc.  There's more than--much more--and it can be the basis of a strategy for victory over Islamism.

Take Iran, for example.  To westerners, it might seem like a country divided at times across political lines, something that the government suppresses ruthlessly.  Few westerners know, however, that only about 60 percent of the country is made up of ethnic Persians.  The remaining 40 percent is divided among several national and often restive minorities.  Some, like the Azeri, have an independent nation as well (i.e., Azerbaijan).  Others (e.g., Kurds) have been fighting for one while being spread across multiple Muslim-majority giants.  The Baloch, once had an independent state of their own (Baluchistan), which has been occupied by Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan for decades.  These and other non-Persian groups aspire to be free of Iranian hegemony that suppresses their culture and forces an alien form of Islam on them.  Some have even taken action, such as the killing of 18 Iranian Guardsmen in 2007.

Pakistan is another polyglot state with restive minorities.  The largest part of Baluchistan is occupied by Pakistan; and although Baluchistan is rich in minerals and other resources, Pakistani plunder has left it the nation's poorest province.  Other national groups--Sindhi, Pashtun, and Gilgit Baltistanis--long for independence or at least autonomy and have their own independence movements.  Many of their operatives look to regional leaders like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for inspiration; and almost all look to Israel as a model and ally.

Finally. as ISIS has begun establishing itself in South Asia, there is division even among Islamists.  Many look at the Taliban as their indigenous movement and ISIS as a foreign entity that is attempting to take over their movement.

One of the biggest drags on western support (even clandestine) for these groups is fear by some in ruling circles that these efforts will "destabilize" the region and risk putting Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in ISIS or Taliban hands.  Both arguments are weak.  You can't destabilize something that is not stable to begin with.  Pakistan has faced Islamist attempts at a takeover at least since 2008; its intelligence service is already listed as a terror supporting organization by the United States and others.  We also have seen that ignoring nationalist movements like these only delays the struggle.  Do any of those fearful westerners see peaceful and democratic resolution of these conflicts in Pakistan's history.  And their nuclear arsenal is already at risk from both internal and external Islamist threats.  Hopefully, the United States and others have secured them in case the worst happens.  Finally, most people believe that a good part of those nukes are located in Baluchistan.  Wouldn't it be nice if they were controlled by friendly forces and not just those that tolerate us for convenience and personal gain?

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