Tell me again how we’re winning the war on terror:
Across the Middle East, young people like Mr. Fawaz, angry, alienated and deprived of opportunity, have accepted Islam as an agent of change and rebellion. It is their rock ’n’ roll, their long hair and love beads. Through Islam, they defy the status quo and challenge governments seen as corrupt and incompetent.
These young people — 60 percent of those in the region are under 25 — are propelling a worldwide Islamic revival, driven by a thirst for political change and social justice. That fervor has popularized a more conservative interpretation of the faith.
The long-term implications of this are likely to complicate American foreign policy calculations, making it more costly to continue supporting governments that do not let secular or moderate religious political movements take root.
Washington will also be likely to find it harder to maintain the policy of shunning leaders of groups like the Brotherhood in Egypt, or Hamas in Gaza, or Hezbollah in Lebanon, which command tremendous public sympathy.
Indeed, as Islamist movements have swelled, governments across the Middle East have chosen both to contain and to embrace them. Many governments have aggressively moved to roll back the few democratic practices that had started to take root in their societies, and to prevent Islamists from winning power through the voting booth. That risks driving the leaders and the followers of Islamic organizations toward extremism.
At the same time, many governments have tried to appease popular Islamist fervor. Jordan recently granted a Muslim Brotherhood-aligned newspaper the right to publish daily instead of weekly; held private talks with Hamas leaders; arrested a poet, saying he had insulted Islam by using verses of the Koran in love poems; and shut down restaurants that had served alcohol during Ramadan, though they had been licensed by the state to do so.
We could do a lot of good fostering democracy and moderation in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, right now our policies in the Middle East are self-defeating. Sometimes we’re fighting young Muslims (like in Iraq), other times we’re ignoring them completely (like in Iran) or we’re propping up the corrupt governments they’re fighting against (like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt, among others). All of these undermine the credibility of the western world–and western values–and leave radical Islam as one of the only means of social reform.
Conservatives love to mock liberals for wanting to address the root causes of terrorism. Look, radicals who plot or try to carry out terrorist attacks should be captured and brought to justice, if not outright killed. But at some point, all of those radicals made a choice to follow radical Islam. They make a decision that radicalism was the only remedy to their problems.
If we eliminated the problems that drive people away from democracy and moderation and toward Islamic extremism, we would have to worry about far fewer terrorists down the road.
We need more than a strong military to defeat radical Islam. Not every problem is a nail, so we should have more tools than just a hammer. In light of the massive demographic shifts in the Middle East, we should be looking toward where these young Muslims are headed and what we can do to steer them in the right direction, lest we lose them to extremism forever.