comments 91

On Salafists and Iron Fists

It’s truly remarkable that we live in an age where a cohort of extremist Islamophobes in the United States can produce a 14-minute film that destabilizes a fifth of the world, and consequently throws American foreign policy completely under the bus. I am of course referring to the massive protests that have taken over a large portion of the ‘Islamic world’ (I dislike that term, but it’s useful in its succinctness) in reaction to a film that purportedly (I haven’t seen it) portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a sexual deviant and fool. I won’t talk about whether free speech is a universal good and should be protected in this post (although, it unequivocally is). I want to reflect on the implications for American foreign policy, and whether the narrative of the ‘Arab Spring’ as evidence of an intrinsic and universal human longing for democracy emerging victorious over iron-fisted dictators will endure in the West.

The New York Time’s feature ‘Room for Debate‘ included a feature a couple days ago on this very issue (which featured my former Dean, and Director of Policy-Planning at the US Department of State, Prof. Anne-Marie Slaughter). Being an American diplomat is becoming significantly more complicated. In addition to the embarrassing setbacks of the US embassy cables leaked by Wikileaks, and the life-threatening nature of certain diplomatic missions, it is my suspicion that anti-Americanism will certainly trend upwards in the the Middle-East and North Africa region in the coming year, and may even become a chronic feature of public opinion in this region.

Democracy, with a capital ‘D’, is considered a sine qua non condition for other intrinsic qualities of a ‘good’ society as per Western liberal norms; societies where educated citizens, free presses, and free speech thrive. The assumption is that this is simply because, on average and over time, democratic polities will select policies that will lead to the greatest good (let’s forget about CA’s Proposition 8 for a minute). This set of beliefs was certainly prevalent in late-2010 and early-2011 when the protests began en force. Ben Ali and Mubarak fell, and Tunisia and Egypt were liberated. Certainly, there were a number of more pessimistic and scrutinizing analysts that noted the Salafist extremist specter looming across most of the region. Some argued that public discourse about the MENA region needed to move away from a chronic fear of Islamists (who come in many shape and colors), and focus on Salafists exclusively. But this didn’t happen.

Intervention in Libya was conducted by the United States by the book. You had UNSC Res. 1973, the Arab League’s mandate, and even civilian support from within the country. Libya was liberated, and Muammar Gadhafi fell (ok, that wasn’t by the book). And yet, a year later, you have Ambassador Christopher Stevens, a man dedicated to the cause of liberating the Libyan people, murdered in Benghazi by an enraged mob. It’s perhaps a little obvious to state that the subtlety that the United States’ government didn’t actively condone this offensive film is lost on many of these protesters. Regardless, this perception has catalyzed an extremist belt from Marrakesh to Jakarta in anti-American fervor.

Now, let’s pause for a second.

Suppose this represents the beginning of chronic anti-Americanism in MENA? Suppose these newly enfranchised peoples, even if their chains were broken by American air power and tomahawks, continue to perceive their faith under siege? Suppose they electorally punish any leader who many cooperate with the West? What then? I don’t think we’ll be seeing any Cold War-era regime change operations by the CIA, but I do think that the United States will fundamentally need to reconsider its approach to the region, especially public diplomacy efforts. The answer is certainly not a return to iron-fisted dictators.

This isn’t even an issue of the more moderate Libyans, Egyptians, and Sudanese marching in the streets, demanding the extremists to abate their misguided anger (as Prof. Slaughter argues in her ‘Room for Debate’ piece). Many of these ‘moderates’ risk would risk physical violence and other strife if they did these, and especially in places like Libya and Egypt, many people are just drained of all energy after the turbulence of the past two years. By and large, the moderates who came out and protested in the name of democracy largely seek normalcy in their day-to-day lives; vindicating American foreign policy is low on their list of priorities. Furthermore, ultimately, these protesters largely cannot be reasoned with given that the source of their anger is an American blasphemy so severe that it warrants death even for Europeans.

The top objective for the United States in the region will be dispel the theory that American foreign policy is a neo-crusade against Islam. George W. Bush’s post-9/11 foreign policy certainly set this goal back by quite a bit, but it isn’t too late. It was heartwarming to see a series of images of Libyans apologizing for the atrocities at the Benghazi consulate, but this won’t be enough. Active efforts are needed. Given that freedom of speech is so widely oppressed in MENA, these extremists see the United States’ refusal to censor YouTube as tacitly sponsoring the creators of video. It does not matter that this sentiment contains nary a drop of truth, but behavior, especially irrational, emotional, and violent behavior, is driven by perceptions (Jamie Bartlett’s piece sheds some light on how conspiracy theories have driven behavior in the region). Invading a country is easy, but invading hearts and minds is difficult (as Afghanistan will attest). Let’s hope that the ‘Arab Spring’ hasn’t led to an ‘Anti-American’ fall.

Post-Script: I studied the Jyllands-Posten affair a few years ago, and the whole issue of visual representations of Muhammad being a cause for violent retribution is entirely misinterpreted by these extremists. The reason that visual representations or ‘idols’ of Muhammad are forbidden are because they would in practice encourage the deification of a mere human being at the expense of Allah, the one god. This is also a stipulation meant solely for believers of the faith, as why would a satirical or offensive depiction of the Prophet inspire devotion in a believer at the expense of Allah? Kafirs (unbelievers) are essentially unbounded by this requirement, and there is no theological basis for putting those who would draw Muhammad to death (correct me if I’m wrong). Unfortunately, this subtlety is completely lost on those who have been quick to violence. By fanatically wreaking violence on others, they have precisely deified Muhammad at the expense of their devotion to Allah.


  1. You are so cool! I don’t believe I’ve truly read through anything like
    this before. So wonderful to discover someone with a few original thoughts on this subject.
    Really.. thank you for starting this up. This site
    is one thing that’s needed on the web, someone with a little

  2. I just want to say I am just very new to blogs and certainly enjoyed you’re blog. Almost certainly I’m planning to bookmark your blog post . You surely come with perfect articles. Kudos for sharing your webpage.

  3. I absolutely love your website.. Excellent colors & theme.
    Did you develop this web site yourself? Please reply
    back as I’m attempting to create my own site and would like
    to learn where you got this from or what the
    theme is named. Appreciate it!

  4. We’re a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.
    Your web site provided us with valuable information to work
    on. You have done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

  5. Ahaa, its good discussion concerning this piece of writing here at this website, I have read all that, so now me also commenting at this place.

  6. Greate article. Keep writing such kind of information on your page.
    Im really impressed by your site.[X-N-E-W-L-I-N-S-P-I-N-X]Hello
    there, You have done an excellent job. I will certainly digg it
    and individually recommend to my friends. I’m confident they will be benefited from this website.

  7. I would like to take the opportunity of saying thanks to
    you for the professional instruction I have often enjoyed
    viewing your site. We’re looking forward to the actual commencement of my school research and the complete preparing would never have been complete without surfing your blog.
    If I could be of any help to others, I’d be ready to help by what I have learned
    from here.

  8. I would like to take the chance of saying thanks to you for the professional instruction I have usually enjoyed browsing your site.
    I am looking forward to the particular commencement of my school research and the whole planning
    would never have been complete without surfing your website.
    If I might be of any assistance to others, I will be delighted to help through
    what I have gained from here.

  9. Very good blog you have here but I was curious if you knew of any message boards that
    cover the same topics talked about here? I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get advice from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
    Many thanks!

  10. I don’t know if it’s just me or if perhaps everyone else encountering problems with your blog.
    It looks like some of the text in your posts are running off the screen. Can someone else
    please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them as well?
    This could be a problem with my browser because I’ve had this happen previously.

    Appreciate it

  11. A motivating discussion is worth comment.
    I do believe that you should publish more about this issue, it might not be a taboo matter but generally
    people do not speak about these subjects. To the next!

    Many thanks!!

  12. Hey are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog world but
    I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you require
    any html coding expertise to make your own blog?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  13. Wonderful beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend your
    web site, how could i subscribe for a blog web site?

    The account helped me a acceptable deal. I had been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast offered bright
    clear concept

  14. I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out right here.
    The sketch is tasteful, your authored subject matter stylish.
    nonetheless, you command get bought an shakiness over that you wish be delivering the following.
    unwell unquestionably come more formerly again as exactly the same nearly very often inside case you shield this increase.

  15. I have been surfing online more than 4 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
    It’s pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all website owners and
    bloggers made good content as you did, the web will be much more useful than ever before.

  16. Ivy

    Hi! Quick question that’s completely off topic. Do you know how
    to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when browsing from
    my iphone 4. I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that
    might be able to fix this issue. If you have any recommendations,
    please share. Many thanks!

  17. I was recommended this blog by my cousin. I’m not sure whether
    this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my problem.
    You’re wonderful! Thanks!

  18. Hey there! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Thanks for the auspicious writeup. It if truth be told used to be
    a enjoyment account it. Look complex to far introduced agreeable from you!
    By the way, how can we be in contact?

  20. I constantly spent my half an hour to read this blog’s articles all the time along with a
    mug of coffee.

  21. Hey would you mind letting me know which hosting company you’re working with?

    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different internet browsers and I must say
    this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you suggest a good
    internet hosting provider at a reasonable price? Thanks, I appreciate it!

  22. Hello, i think that i saw you visited my site thus i came to “return the favor”.I’m trying to find things to
    enhance my web site!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!!

  23. Greetings from Carolina! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to
    browse your blog on my iphone during lunch break.
    I love the knowledge you provide here and can’t wait to take a
    look when I get home. I’m surprised at how quick your blog loaded on my cell
    phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, fantastic blog!

  24. I simply want to mention I am just all new to blogging and site-building and really enjoyed this web blog. Very likely I’m planning to bookmark your blog post . You surely come with superb article content. Regards for revealing your website.

  25. I simply want to tell you that I am newbie to weblog and really loved your web-site. More than likely I’m going to bookmark your site . You surely have impressive well written articles. Bless you for revealing your blog.

  26. I simply want to mention I am very new to blogging and seriously liked your web page. Almost certainly I’m going to bookmark your blog . You really come with impressive stories. Thanks for sharing with us your web-site.

  27. I simply want to mention I am just newbie to blogs and absolutely liked you’re web site. Most likely I’m going to bookmark your blog . You certainly have excellent articles and reviews. Regards for revealing your website page.

  28. Hey there! Do you know if they make any plugins to help with Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good results. If you know of any please share. Thanks!

  29. I just want to mention I am very new to blogging and site-building and actually loved you’re web site. Likely I’m likely to bookmark your site . You actually come with fantastic articles. Kudos for revealing your web site.

  30. Hello! This post couldn’t be written any better!

    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous
    room mate! He always kept talking about this.
    I will forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read.
    Thanks for sharing!

  31. I just want to mention I am newbie to blogging and really enjoyed this website. More than likely I’m planning to bookmark your website . You absolutely come with beneficial well written articles. Thanks a lot for sharing your blog site.

  32. I am really enjoying the theme/design of your website. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility problems? A small number of my blog audience have complained about my website not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Safari. Do you have any recommendations to help fix this issue?

  33. We absolutely love your blog and find most of your post’s to be
    just what I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content in your case?

    I wouldn’t mind producing a post or elaborating on a lot of the subjects you write in relation to here.
    Again, awesome site!

  34. Link exchange is nothing else except it is simply placing the other
    person’s weblog link on your page at proper place and other person will
    also do similar in support of you.

  35. I am not sure where you’re getting your information, but great topic.

    I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more.
    Thanks for fantastic information I was looking for this information for my mission.

  36. You could certainly see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always go after your heart.

  37. If you want to cleanse your body, lose eight, or get detoxed, 5 day juice plan is a great way to achieve it. In addition to these benefits, the juice fast also offers additional benefits like lots of energy, peaceful and relaxed state of mind, increase in concentration and focusing on any tasks, and overall improved productivity. You will also feel more emotionally balanced and mentally clearer.

  38. Hello there! Quick question that’s completely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My blog looks weird when viewing from my apple iphone. I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to resolve this problem. If you have any suggestions, please share. Thanks!|

  39. You could certainly see your enthusiasm in the article you write.
    The world hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t
    afraid to say how they believe. Always go after your heart.

  40. magnificent points altogether, you simply gained a brand new reader. What would you suggest in regards to your post that you made a few days ago? Any positive?

  41. I think other site proprietors should take this web site as an model, very clean and magnificent user genial style and design, let alone the content. You are an expert in this topic!

  42. I do believe all of the ideas you’ve presented for your post. They are really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are too quick for starters. Could you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

  43. I have figured out some important things through your blog post post. One other thing I would like to talk about is that there are numerous games available and which are designed mainly for toddler age young children. They incorporate pattern acknowledgement, colors, family pets, and shapes. These typically focus on familiarization instead of memorization. This keeps little kids occupied without sensing like they are learning. Thanks

  44. I’ve read a few good stuff here. Certainly price bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how much effort you set to create such a fantastic informative website.

  45. hey there and thank you for your info – I have definitely picked up something new from proper here. I did however expertise some technical points the usage of this web site, as I skilled to reload the website lots of occasions previous to I may get it to load properly. I had been brooding about in case your web hosting is OK? Not that I am complaining, however slow loading circumstances times will sometimes affect your placement in google and could damage your high quality score if ads and ***********|advertising|advertising|advertising and *********** with Adwords. Well I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and could look out for much more of your respective fascinating content. Ensure that you update this once more very soon..

  46. I have been exploring for a bit for any high-quality articles or weblog posts in this kind of space .
    Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this web
    site. Studying this info So i’m happy to convey that I’ve a very
    excellent uncanny feeling I discovered exactly what I needed.
    I so much surely will make sure to don?t put out of your mind this site
    and provides it a look on a relentless basis.

  47. That is a good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.
    Simple but very precise info… Appreciate your sharing this one.
    A must read post!

  48. You really make it appear really easy together with your presentation however I to find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand.
    It sort of feels too complicated and extremely large for me.
    I am looking forward on your subsequent submit, I will try to get the grasp of it!

  49. Thanks so much for giving everyone such a brilliant opportunity to read in detail from this blog. It is usually so terrific plus stuffed with a great time for me and my office colleagues to search the blog no less than three times a week to learn the fresh items you have got. Of course, I am just actually amazed considering the wonderful tricks served by you. Certain 3 areas in this article are definitely the very best I’ve ever had.

  50. The first thing I did when i got it was a paper test, after i wiped off all the oil/wax it was coated in for storage/shipping. it cut well, then reoiled it. There was a few scuffs on the blade up near the point but they didn’t really concern me, I took off the handle to see the full tang, and getting the bamboo pegs out was sort of a difficult task for the first time, they were in there tight, and getting the handle away from the tsuba was very hard because of how tight it is, (same goes for putting it back on). all in all, a very well made sword, beautifully decorated tsuba, i looked at a lot of different functional swords 200 dollars and less before I decided on this one, and I’m happy I did. even with the scuffs, I still look forward to getting a display stand and displaying this thing. There is a tiny dent on the front tsuba guard, (the piece between the tsuba and the blade that can’t even be removed (at least I couldn’t)) however it’s so small it’s hardly noticable unless the light hits it just right, so it doesn’t bother me.

  51. Unquestionably consider that which you said. Your favourite reason appeared to be on the internet the
    easiest factor to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly
    get irked whilst other people consider issues that they just do not understand about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out
    the entire thing without having side effect
    , other people could take a signal. Will likely be back to get more.


  52. obviously like your website but you have to check the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very troublesome to tell the truth nevertheless I’ll certainly come back again.

  53. I appreciate, cause I found just what I was looking for. You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

  54. Thanks for every other informative website. Where else may just I get that type of information written in such a perfect manner? I have a project that I’m simply now running on, and I have been at the glance out for such info.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.