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Sol Sanders Archive
Tuesday, September 13, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

In its war of ideas with Islam, West still has no answers

A decade after 9/11 the U.S. still puzzles over how to deal with an Islam of 1.3 billion people, most of whom either cannot or refuse to move into the modern era.


This American [read broader Western] inability to find an ideological approach will enhance a threat to U.S. security long after troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The problem is profound, involving the history of Christendom’s relations with Islam for one and a half millennium. Recently new complications arise from declining Western populations seeking immigrant labor, welcoming large numbers of Muslims, again, often either unable or unwilling to integrate into a heterogeneous West. This aggravates external security, not least because many sophisticated Islamic leaders condone deception [taqiyya] about their aims. In a traditionally open, sometimes to the point of naiveté, American society, this adds additional burdens on law enforcement and the justice system.

Also In This Edition

Washington’s armed attempt to root out state-sponsored terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan not only has taken an enormous toll in lives and treasure, but produced war’s inevitable “collateral damage” used by the terrorists to misrepresent U.S. aims. In a world where simply the charge of “colonialism” precludes serious discussion between advanced and backward societies, Washington, even were it capable, cannot impose its values as it did after World War II on Nazi Germany and militaristic Japan.

Nor is there an economic determinist solution. Even where development has taken place — in Lebanon or Algeria or the Gulf sheikhdoms — cultural advancement is stymied, even retrogressing under tutelage of subsidized reactionary preachers. And although private capital [globalization] has brought industrialization quickly to many new corners of the world, cultural factors block what the economists used to call “take off” in the vast Arab belt and Persia despite incredible raw material resources [oil and gas].

A new test of Islamic renewal is underway in recently “liberated” eastern North Africa and, probably soon in Syria. Rebellion driven by the youthful demographic bulge has blown away the old despots. But the best organized to fill the leadership vacuum are political incarnations of Islamic totalitarianism led by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. That will further imperil Egypt’s 85 million, a third of the Arab world with a traditional claim to lead Muslims culturally, relying on foreign handouts after President Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of protected crony capitalism.

Nowhere is Washington’s conundrum more apparent than in current deteriorating relations with Turkey, now falling away from its post-World War II alliance with Western Europe and America in search of a new role as Mideast regional leader.

Although it never quite reached application elsewhere, the 20th century post-Ottoman Caliphate top-down, Leninist secular revolution, had been seen as a model for intellectuals as far removed as Iran and Pakistan. But Ankara’s contemporary Islamic politicians, building on an empowerment from a hinterland far from old cosmopolitan centers, have recast the Turkish model.

Their still unresolved relationship between Islam and modern government puts the whole question of where the Turkish experiment is going into question. The ruling AKP Justice and Development Party reached its current dominant position not least because of a thriving if always fragile fast-growing economy, benefiting long stagnant regions. But its political ambitions have conflicted with its economic model. Its militant advocacy of the Palestinian cause [including the radical terrorist Hamas in Gaza] has produced a nasty blowup with Israel.

A UN inquiry, as always, has only aggravated the falling out from what had been an opportunistic if mutually advantageous strategic and commercial relationship with new markets for Israel and technological transfers for the Turks.

Washington has been unable to defuse the escalating blowup between its two most important allies in the region.

Ankara’s strategies zigzag: for example, okaying NATOs’ antimissile deployment but denying Washington’s aim to protect Europe and the US from Iranian weapons of mass destruction, its vacillating role as conveyor of gas to Europe, its failure to win entry to the European Community, its refusal initially to join NATO’s war against Qadaffi. Ankara could even jeopardize NATO’s southeastern anchor with its flirtations with Beijing and Moscow, casting a new pall on the alliance’s always ambiguous future. Thus Turkey, once the poster child for Islamic accommodation, could become the most serious part of the West’s failed efforts to meet the longterm challenge which stretches out far beyond the immediate effects of 9/11.

Sol W. Sanders, (, writes the 'Follow the Money' column for The Washington Times . He is also a contributing editor for and An Asian specialist, Mr. Sanders is a former correspondent for Business Week, U.S. News & World Report and United Press International.

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