Dit is die beleid, Dom

John L. Edwards

US foreign policy and political Islam today are deeply intertwined. Every US president since Jimmy Carter has had to deal with political Islam; none has been so challenged as George W. Bush. Policymakers, particularly since 9/11, have demonstrated an inability and/or unwillingness to distinguish between radical and moderate Islamists. They have largely treated political Islam as a global threat similar to the way that Communism was perceived. Egter, even in the case of Communism, foreign policymakers eventually moved from an ill-informed, broad-brush, and paranoid approach personified by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s to more nuanced, pragmatic, and reasonable policies that led to the establishment of relations with China in the 1970s, even as tensions remained between the United States and the Soviet Union.

As Islamist parties continue to rise in prominence across the globe, it is necessary that policymakers learn to make distinctions and adopt differentiated policy approaches. This requires a deeper understanding of what motivates and informs Islamist parties and the support they receive, including the ways in which some US policies feed the more radical and extreme Islamist movements while weakening the appeal of the moderate organizations to Muslim populations. It also requires the political will to adopt approaches of engagement and dialogue. This is especially important where the roots of political Islam go deeper than simple anti-Americanism and where political Islam is manifested in non-violent and democratic ways. The stunning electoral victories of HAMAS in Palestine and the Shi’a in Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood’s emergence as the leading parliamentary opposition in Egypt, and Israel’s war against HAMAS and Hizbollah go to the heart of issues of democracy, terrorisme, and peace in the Middle East.

Global terrorism has also become the excuse for many Muslim autocratic rulers and Western policymakers to backslide or retreat from democratization. They warn that the promotion of a democratic process runs the risk of furthering Islamist inroads into centers of power and is counterproductive to Western interests, encouraging a more virulent anti-Westernism and increased instability. Thus, for example, despite HAMAS’ victory in free and democratic elections, the United States and Europe failed to give the party full recognition and support.

In relations between the West and the Muslim world, phrases like a clash of civilizations or a clash of cultures recur as does the charge that Islam is incompatible with democracy or that it is a particularly militant religion. But is the primary issue religion and culture or is it politics? Is the primary cause of radicalism and anti-Westernism, especially anti-Americanism, extremist theology or simply the policies of many Muslim and Western governments?


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