Ig­nor­ing the re­li­gious roots of the fight risks victory

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY MICHAEL HAY­DEN

Not long ago I tes­ti­fied be­fore the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee on what the Com­mit­tee called “Is­lamist ter­ror.” The Com­mit­tee, un­like the Ad­min­is­tra­tion, chose to align that ad­jec­tive (Is­lamist) with that noun (ter­ror) in defin­ing a global prob­lem.

“Is­lamist ter­ror­ism.” The very phrase is con­tentious.

No one wants to make this prob­lem harder by un­fairly brand­ing and alien­at­ing a quar­ter of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and even in this con­struc­tion no one should be think­ing this means all of Is­lam or all Mus­lims.

But the revered Chi­nese strate­gist Sun Tzu did say some­thing about know­ing your en­emy and we risk con­fus­ing our­selves if we ig­nore the re­li­gious and ide­o­log­i­cal roots that some use to jus­tify their vi­o­lence against us.

In the Cold War, a lot of Soviet ac­tions could be ex­plained as ex­ten­sions of Czarist im­pe­rial am­bi­tions, but that didn’t stop us from study­ing Marx­ism in the­ory and Com­mu­nism in prac­tice to bet­ter un­der­stand that ad­ver­sary. Ideas count.

So how to do this now, in the cur­rent con­flict? For starters we should ac­knowl­edge that we are dis­cussing one of the worlds great monotheisms and that Is­lam, Chris­tian­ity and Ju­daism all trace their roots to the same deserts, that we are all peo­ple of the Book and that we are all chil­dren of Abra­ham. And the hu­mil­ity that should cre­ate needs to be re­in­forced by a re­al­iza­tion that as a largely Ju­daeoChris­tian cul­ture, we need our views to be in­formed by schol­ar­ship, of­ten Is­lamic schol­ar­ship.

But none of that means that Is­lam is ir­rel­e­vant to our se­cu­rity de­bate or that we are in­com­pe­tent or that it is some­how il­le­git­i­mate for us to dis­cuss it at all. This great monothe­ism is now sadly con­sumed by vi­o­lent in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal strug­gles that rou­tinely af­fect our own se­cu­rity. There are at least three wars go­ing on and the com­mon thread across all three is Is­lam.

The first is an in­tra-Sunni battle, Sunni based vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists against the Sunni states in the re­gion — ISIS against Jor­dan, ISIS against Egypt, ISIS against Saudi Ara­bia — with fun­da­men­tal­ists try­ing to con­struct an Is­lamic caliphate at the ex­pense of tra­di­tional Mus­lim states.

The sec­ond con­flict is Sunni-Shia, the con­tin­u­a­tion of a suc­ces­sion cri­sis fol­low­ing the death of the prophet that be­gan in 632. Here we have the so-called Shia Cres­cent — Iran, much of Iraq, the Alaw­ites in Syria, and Hezbol­lah in Le­banon — against the Sunni monar­chies and states like Egypt. The worst of the cur­rent vi­o­lence we are see­ing, like the hor­rific mosque bomb­ings in Ye­men, re­flect this strug­gle. And the re­cent Saudi in­ter­ven­tion there sug­gests this war will be­come more dom­i­nant and more vi­o­lent as we go for­ward.

The third con­flict is the broad chal­lenge of rec­on­cil­ing Is­lam with what we in the West call moder­nity. We should avoid cul­tural ar­ro­gance here since Chris­ten­dom went through a sim­i­lar cri­sis in the 17th cen­tury. At the end of the 30 Years War then, Europe broadly de­cided to sep­a­rate the sa­cred from the secular in its po­lit­i­cal cul­ture. I know that is an over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, but it is in­struc­tive, and it led to a growth in re­li­gious tol­er­ance that has char­ac­ter­ized the best of West­ern life since. It re­mains to be seen whether or not Is­lam will fol­low this same arc or if reli­gion will re­main the busi­ness of the state or — in an ex­treme form — re­place the state.

Much has been made about re­cent ad­min­is­tra­tion com­ments that what we re­ally have here is a lack of op­por­tu­nity and that many of th­ese is­sues could be solved by more jobs and bet­ter eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

There is ac­tu­ally some truth to that. When at the CIA, I was fond of say­ing that many ji­hadis join the move­ment for the same rea­sons that young Amer­i­cans join the Crips and the Bloods: youth­ful alien­ation, the need to be­long to some­thing greater than self, the search for mean­ing­ful iden­tity. But it also mat­ters what gang you join. And this gang, at its se­nior lev­els, es­pouses hor­rific vi­o­lence through ref­er­ences to the holy Ko­ran.

So this is a strug­gle over ideas, and un­for­tu­nately it is a strug­gle over which we have only limited in­flu­ence. We can try to set the con­di­tions for suc­cess, work­ing to em­power and pro­tect mod­er­ate voices. We also have to look to our own safety by re­sort­ing to force to kill or cap­ture those al­ready com­mit­ted to do­ing us harm.

But over the long term, the real res­o­lu­tion lies within Is­lam it­self. Here, the re­cent speech by Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi of Egypt to the schol­ars Al-Azhar Uni­ver­sity, the great seat of Sunni schol­ar­ship, is en­cour­ag­ing. The pres­i­dent told the the­olo­gians that they have to get their act to­gether and cor­rect and dis­credit what he views to be gross mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Is­lamic scrip­ture by the ji­hadis.

Over the hol­i­days, Mr. el-Sissi also at­tended Mass and wished his Cop­tic fel­low cit­i­zens Merry Christ­mas. Mr. elSissi is an ob­ser­vant, pi­ous Mus­lim so his words and his ac­tions should carry some weight and of­fer us some hope.

Mr. el-Sissi has gov­erned au­to­crat­i­cally, but on this ques­tion he has been for­ward lean­ing. There is some­thing for us both to learn and sup­port here. He thinks there is an is­sue within his reli­gion. Why would we ar­gue?

Gen. Michael Hay­den is a for­mer direc­tor of the CIA and the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency. He can be reached at mhay­den@ wash­ing­ton­times.com.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.