The Islamist Threat Isn't Going Away
by Michael J. Totten
My latest column appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It's behind the pay wall and is reprinted here with permission.
First, it's simply not true that attitudes toward Americans have changed in the region. I've spent a lot of time in Tunisia and Egypt, both before and after the revolutions, and have yet to meet or interview a single person whose opinion of Americans has changed an iota.
Second, pace Mr. Romney, promoting better education, the rule of law and gender equality won't reduce the appeal of radical Islam. Egyptians voted for Islamist parties by a two-to-one margin. Two-thirds of those votes went to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the other third went to the totalitarian Salafists, the ideological brethren of Osama bin Laden. These people are not even remotely interested in the rule of law, better education or gender equality. They want Islamic law, Islamic education and gender apartheid. They will resist Mr. Romney's pressure for a more liberal alternative and denounce him as a meddling imperialist just for bringing it up.
Anti-Americanism has been a default political position in the Arab world for decades. Radical Islam is the principal vehicle through which it's expressed at the moment, but anti-Americanism specifically, and anti-Western "imperialism" generally, likewise lie at the molten core of secular Arab nationalism of every variety. The Islamists hate the U.S. because it's liberal and decadent. (The riots in September over a ludicrous Internet video ought to make that abundantly clear.) And both Islamists and secularists hate the U.S. because it's a superpower.
Everything the United States does is viewed with suspicion across the political spectrum. Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, the director of Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, admitted as much to me in Cairo last summer when I asked him about NATO's war against Gadhafi in Libya. "There is a general sympathy with the Libyan people," he said, "but also concern about the NATO intervention. The fact that the rebels in Libya are supported by NATO is why many people here are somewhat restrained from voicing support for the rebels." When I asked him what Egyptians would think if the U.S. sat the war out, he said, "They would criticize NATO for not helping. It's a lose-lose situation for you."
So we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't. And not just on Libya. An enormous swath of the Arab world supported the Iraqi insurgency after an American-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein. Thousands of non-Iraqi Arabs even showed up to fight. Yet today the U.S. is roundly criticized all over the region for not taking Assad out in Syria.
Posted by: Beavis 2012-10-27