March 10, 2005

Why does our War on Islamism target anti-Islamists?

One of the recurrent ironies of the the Bush policy is how it constantly beats up the anti-Islamist elements in Islamic countries. Deposing the secularist Baath regime in Iraq in favor of the Grand Ayatollah is only the best known example. Lately, Syria has moved high on our target list, even though the ruling family of Syria, the Asads, are Alawites, a minority sect so heretical that most Muslims don't even consider them Muslims. Because of their precariousness, the Alawite-led Syrian government encourages, according to the U.S. government, religious toleration and pluralism, while discouraging (sometimes with artillery barrages) Muslim fanaticism.

Now, it is frequently argued that American support for religiously moderate Arab dictators like Mubaruk in Egypt encourages Islamism, but, of course, we've never liked the Syrian dictatorship, so, by this logic (such as it is), they should be the perfect solution for us. But, of course, there are fewer perfect solutions in the Middle East than even in the rest of the world.

The best argument for Bush's policy of encouraging Islamic extremism is the get-it-out-of-their-system theory, the idea that the only way the Arabs will learn that Muslim fanaticism is a bad idea is by letting the Muslim fanatics runs their countries for a few decades. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But it sure seems like an expensive way we are going about implementing such a tricky and fragile strategy.

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