Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Reaping the Whirlwind

Tom Friedman, in his New York Times column, addresses the recent wave of terrorist suicide bombings in the Arab world, and argues persuasively that this is one problem that cannot be blamed on the US or Israel. In fact, jihadist violence is a symptom of the stresses within the Arab and Islamic worlds:

In part the Arab-Muslim world is reaping something it sowed. Way too many Arab intellectuals and religious and political leaders were ready to extol suicide bombing when it was directed against Israelis. Now they are seeing how this weapon of nihilism - once sanctified and glorified - can be used against their own societies. It was wrong when it was used against Jews, and it is wrong when it is used against Muslims. You can't build a decent society on the graves of suicide bombers and their victims.

But these bombings are also signs of the deeper struggle that the U.S. attempt to erect democracy in Iraq has touched off. My friend Raymond Stock, the biographer and translator of Naguib Mahfouz and a longtime resident of Cairo, argues that we are seeing in Baghdad, Cairo and Riyadh the modern incarnation of several deeply rooted and interlocking wars. These are, he said, the war within Islam between Traditionalists and Rationalists, which dates back to Baghdad in the ninth century; the struggle between ardent Sunnis and Shiites, which dates back to succession battles in early Islam; and the confrontation between Islam and the West, which dates back to the Arab conquests of the seventh century and the Crusades.

As Friedman notes, Iraq is currently at the epicenter of these various struggles. It is where the jihadists are making their major stand and carrying out their most vicious atrocities. Despite their demonstrated aptitude for murder and destruction, al-Qaeda in Iraq is losing, for it has no answer to the spread of democracy:

Zarqawi and his Saudi and Egyptian allies are trying to defeat America and its allies in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, but Zarqawi & Co. are losing - and they know it.

Friedman makes the key point that the terrorists' only response to the spectre of democracy is ever more wanton and indiscriminate violence. They can slow the process of reform, but cannot stop it:

The jihadists "know that if democracy comes to this part of the world, the Zarqawis and their ilk are done," Mr. Stock said. "Because the majority of people do not buy their methods or most of their message. They don't want to live like the Taliban. If democracy manages to spread in the Arab world, it will not necessarily be pro-American, but it will definitely be pro-living, not pro-suicide. It will not be a cult of death, but a culture of life." A recent cover of a popular Egyptian magazine, Rose el-Youssef, Mr. Stock noted, shows two well-known female Arab pop singers under the headline: "Stronger than Extremism."

Finally, Friedman correctly notes that a positive outcome in Iraq is not guaranteed, and achieving it will be difficult. Should we succeed, however, we will deal a major blow to al-Qaeda and its ideology of hate.


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