Peak Islamism?

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Looking over Arab Barometer data from the past decade, Michael Robbins and Mark Tessler find that throughout the Arab world, “support for democracy remains high but support for political Islam has decreased” while “Islamic democrats – those who support both democracy and political Islam – are becoming scarcer across the region”:

Arab publics continue overwhelmingly to support democracy. In all but one country surveyed, three-quarters or more of respondents in the third wave of surveys (late 2012-2014) agree or strongly agree with the statement “A democratic system may have problems, yet it is better than other political systems.” …

Support for political Islam is substantially lower. In no country do more than half of respondents say religious leaders should have influence over government decisions.

It is often far less support, including just 34 percent in Algeria, 27 percent in Tunisia, 20 percent in Egypt and 9 percent in Lebanon. Moreover, support for political Islam declined over the past decade. Algeria has witnessed the most dramatic decline, with support for political Islam falling from 60 percent in 2006 to just 34 percent in 2013. A similar decline has occurred in Egypt, where 37 percent supported political Islam in June 2011 compared to 18 percent in April 2013, a 19-point decrease. Most other countries witnessed a similar decline, including Palestine (-15 points), Iraq (-11), Lebanon (-9) and Yemen (-7).

In Saudi Arabia, Caryle Murphy profiles the “post-Islamist generation” of young people who are fed up with religious politics:

Young Saudis “are looking for individual freedom and rights, not for religion,” said Mohammed al-Abdulkareem, an assistant professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, a conservative religious university in Riyadh. This “big change” began after the Arab revolutions, he said. “It’s clear to me that from the Arab Spring, people discovered the ideas of human rights and individual freedom and that these ideas were more effective and more successful to get a change in their governments,” he said. “Why would you expect that people would return to religious trends when … these trends and religious institutions didn’t pay attention to human rights and the freedom of the people?” …

The trend is encapsulated in a 27-year-old Saudi woman I met in Riyadh. Raised in a traditionally religious family, she wears the Islamic headscarf and is religiously devout — but she dislikes how her government has used her faith for its own ends. “Islam came to free people. Islam didn’t come to put them in jail,” she said. “And the government uses it to put people in jail and under their control. So they control us by Islam…. That makes a lot of people not even want Islam.”

The Collapse Of Arab Civilization?

That’s how Hisham Melhem characterizes the decades-long series of crises that led to state failure in the Arab heartland and the rise of ISIS:

Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism—the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition—than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays—all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf—which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos—and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world.

And in his view, neither Arab nationalism nor Islamism is a viable solution, being both “driven by atavistic impulses and a regressive outlook on life that is grounded in a mostly mythologized past”. He concludes:

The Islamic State, like al Qaeda, is the tumorous creation of an ailing Arab body politic.

Its roots run deep in the badlands of a tormented Arab world that seems to be slouching aimlessly through the darkness. It took the Arabs decades and generations to reach this nadir. It will take us a long time to recover—it certainly won’t happen in my lifetime. My generation of Arabs was told by both the Arab nationalists and the Islamists that we should man the proverbial ramparts to defend the “Arab World” against the numerous barbarians (imperialists, Zionists, Soviets) massing at the gates. Little did we know that the barbarians were already inside the gates, that they spoke our language and were already very well entrenched in the city.

ISIS And The Islamist Menace

by Dish Staff

Alex Massie contends that ISIS’s peculiarly evil worldview puts us at odds whether or not we choose to be:

Make no mistake, we may not consider ourselves at war with ISIS but they most assuredly reckon themselves at war with us. And with anyone else who does not share their murderous corruption of Islam. The world has rarely been short on horror but there is something especially horrifying about ISIS. If heads on pikes won’t convince you, what would be enough to persuade you this is an evil that must be confronted? And if not confronted today it will have to be confronted eventually. Because these are not people and this is not a worldview that will be content to carve out territory and then, once it has established its base, live quietly and peacefully ever after.

In the end, all the wrangling about cause and effect and who started what and who is to blame this or that becomes a form of dissembling dithering. In the end we are responsible. Not so much on account of the unforeseen consequences of past blunders but because we – the United States and its NATO allies – have the power, the equipment and the opportunity to do something about it.

David Rothkopf identifies the threat of radical Islam as “the principal source of threat to our interests, the stability of the region, and to our allies.” He argues that the US’s Middle East policy should address this threat holistically, rather than on a case-by-case basis:

While the conditions and specific upheavals in each state in the Middle East are, as noted earlier, different, it is this battle that is responsible for the greatest amount of today’s unrest and violence. Whether it is Ansar al-Sharia in Libya or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza or al-Nusrah Front in Syria, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or the Islamic State struggling to establish its caliphate, it is clear today that extremist Islam is emerging as a threat so broad that it must be seen in its totality to be contended with.

Further, the ties of these groups to others operating in the periphery of this region — from the Taliban to the Haqqani network, from Boko Haram to Uighur or Chechen separatists — both underscore the global scope of the problem and the potential for significant alliances to help combat it.

Certainly, our traditional allies in the Middle East have come to see the problem as one. Consider the degree to which Israel and Egypt have cooperated to deal with Hamas. Consider that unifying animus toward the Muslim Brotherhood that has linked together not only those two former warring states but also Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.

Adam Taylor observes that ISIS’s extremist brand is catching on:

What’s really worrying is that despite all the confusion over its name, the Islamic State “brand” actually seems pretty solid — and worryingly global. It’s distinctive black-and-white flag was flown in London last week, and leaflets supporting it were handed out in the city’s Oxford Street on Tuesday. An American was arrested at a New York City airport this month after authorities were tipped off by his pro-Islamic State Twitter rants. The group has began publishing videos in Hindi, Urdu and Tamil in a bid to reach Indian Muslims. There are credible reports that the group is hoping to target Asian countries — and Indonesia is so worried that it banned all support for the Islamic State. The list goes on and on. Whatever you call it — the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, or something else — its brand is potent.

Indeed, even China is starting to worry:

China has been fighting a low-level separatist insurgency of its own in Xinjiang for decades and worries that foreign Islamic groups are infiltrating the region, emboldening the simmering independence movement. Uighur exile groups say China’s government overstates its terrorism problem and falsely paints protests that turn into riots as premeditated terror attacks. In any case, Beijing is likely alarmed by IS’s criticism of its treatment of the Muslim Uighurs and the group’s alleged plan to seize Xinjiang, no matter how far-fetched the idea might be. But just how actively authorities will deal with any IS threat remains to be seen.

Furthermore, Andrew Tabler cites “analysts and European and American officials” as saying that “hundreds, if not thousands, of ISIL and Al Qaeda operatives in Syria and the Islamic State are likely planning attacks either back home or elsewhere”:

These include Muhsin al-Fadhili, former head of Al Qaeda’s Iranian facilitation network; Sanafi al-Nasr, head of Al Qaeda’s Syria “Victory Committee”; Wafa al-Saudi, Al Qaeda’s former head of security for counter intelligence; as well as Al Qaeda founding member Firas al-Suri. Members of Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are also reportedly in Syria, indicating a growing opportunity for connectivity, coordination, planning, and synchronization with Jebhat al-Nusra and other jihadists. Taken together with national-based Jihadist units from China, the Caucasus, Libya, Egypt, Sweden, and beyond, the “Islamic State” is already the next Afghanistan or Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas in terms of a durable safe haven and training ground for global Islamic terrorism.

William Inboden believes the threatened Yazidi genocide opened Obama’s eyes to the scope of ISIS’s fanatical ambitions and is changing the president’s beliefs about terrorism, the Middle East, and American power:

I have written before about the close connections between religious persecution and national security threats. The vicious Islamic State campaign to exterminate Yazidis and Christians further reinforces this point. The Islamic State’s targeting of religious minorities is not merely a side effect of its territorial advances; it is central to the group’s identity and purpose. The worldview of the militant jihadist holds religious pluralism and religious freedom to be anathema, and the Islamic State perversely considers its own measures of success to include eliminating religious minorities. Just as the Islamic State’s persecution of Christians and Yazidis should have been an early indicator of the larger security threat it poses, the longer-term American response to the Islamic State will need to go beyond airstrikes to include a renewed diplomatic commitment to protecting and promoting religious freedom.