State of the Muslim World

Richard Landes’ colleague Husain Haqqani at Boston University explores the roots of a Muslim instability. This article appeared in the alumni magazine Bostonia.

Bernard Lewis wrote a book entitled What Went Wrong?, in which he explored the Muslim encounter with the West. Here Haqqani meditates on why it’s still going wrong. In the following, bold face is Landes, italics is from the Bostonia article.

Why They Hate Us: The Long Answer

Husain Haqqani

By Tricia Brick

Husain Haqqani argues that a lack of economic, intellectual, cultural, and technological productivity in the Muslim world has left a vacuum that has been filled by paranoia and inflammatory rhetoric.

Husain Haqqani recalls a Newsweek cover from October 2001: a Pakistani child brandishing a gun and the headline “Why They Hate Us.”

The photo is emblematic of a question that has haunted Haqqani, director of BU’s Center for International Relations and a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of international relations. “I have always wondered why the Muslim world is in the eye of virtually every storm, in my lifetime at least,” he says. “The Middle East is a cauldron. The India-Pakistan conflict has a Muslim dimension. In Russia, there’s Chechnya, another Muslim dimension.” Why is the Muslim world plagued by instability, undemocratic governments, and sectarian violence?

Haqqani has set out to find answers. He calls his project State of the Muslim World, and he draws broadly from such fields as anthropology, sociology, history, economics, and demography. He has written a series of articles exploring some of his questions, and he plans to begin writing a book this year.

Despite the diversity of the Islam-influenced world, he says, Muslims everywhere share membership in the Ummah, or community of believers. “There are many differences among Muslims, but there are also common streaks running from Egypt to Indonesia, and there is a sense of belonging together,” he says. “And yet, in the last few centuries, it has been a belonging together in decline. The Kuwaitis may be rich, but they know it is coming from oil in the ground, not from something they’ve accomplished. There is a lack of a general sense of accomplishment in modern times.”

He reels off a succession of surprising statistics in support of this argument: the GDP of the world’s fifty-seven Muslim-majority countries combined is less than that of France.

Mind you, this is what the Muslims produce for themselves… if you will, how they take care of their own people. The huge discrepency between production (GDP) and available capital (income) that characterizes the Arab world is what happens when a prime-divider elite can import everything it needs. No matter how wealthy the country inflated by petrodollars (new petroeuros?), the commoners get the scraps. It’s the sign of a culture of impoverization in which the eliites disdain productive activities and despise manual labor.

Those fifty-seven countries are home to about 500 universities, compared to more than 5,000 in the United States and 8,000 in India. Fewer new book titles are published each year in Arabic, the language of 300 million people, than in Greek, spoken by only 15 million. More books are translated into Spanish each year than have been translated into Arabic in the last century.

These are all signs of insularity, insecurity, incapacity to absorb criticism.

Haqqani is getting some help in pulling together the data. “On Fridays, I usually have a set of my students working with me on this project,” he says. “How many books are sold in Bahrain? Compare that with some other country comparable in size and resources.”

I’d advise a study of the media, the percentage of “conspiracy” narrative, the appeal to zero-sum emotions, the incidence of genuine self-criticism. Interesting question: how to quantify these qualitative phenomena?

Using these facts, Haqqani argues that a lack of economic, intellectual, cultural, and technological productivity in the Muslim world has left a vacuum that has been filled by paranoia and inflammatory rhetoric, fueling “a culture of political anger, rather than political solutions.” Angry rhetoric, he maintains, keeps Muslims in a constant state of fear that Islam and Islamic culture are in danger of being snuffed out, resulting in a persistent cycle of violence as Muslims respond to the perceived threat posed by both external and sectarian enemies.

Well, I guess that answers the implications of my suggestions. It’s so nice to hear a Muslim say this, because when I say it, my “progressive” colleagues call me a racist and a demonizer and my “liberal” colleagues edge away in the hope they won’t get tarred.

At the same time, this culture of anger prevents Muslims from examining the internal problems that plague the Islamic world, such as repressive governments, sectarian conflict, and a lack of democratic representation. “Muslims must rise and peacefully mobilize against sectarianism and the violence and destruction in, say, Iraq,” he wrote in the Gulf Times, an English-language newspaper popular in Qatar. “But before that can happen, Muslim discourse would have to shift away from the focus on Muslim victimhood and toward taking responsibility, as a community, for our own situation.”

This could make an enormous difference in Iraq, because despite the demonization of the West in Arab discourse, and its affirmation by BDS-impaired “critics”, what the US has offered Iraq — real independence if they can sustain it — is a fantastic opportunity. Of course, in the Muslim world Haqqani’s dream of peaceful mobilization against sectarianism and violence is a quasi-messianic leap of hope. It would help if Western progressives didn’t have Bush Derangement Syndrome so badly that they prefer everyone to lose if only they can blame Bush, and so feed the worst instincts in the Arab world.

But if there are bold Muslims who want to bring their people out of this land of self-defeating rage, no single dimension of their culture offers a simpler and more pervasive issue for reconsideration/reformulation than their collective discourse on Israel. This astonishingly uniform and harshly negative attitude not only features all of the elements of this larger discourse of grievance and rage, but each one of them appear in their most severe form. Indeed, I’d venture that anti-Zionism constitutes the “sacred narrative” of Muslim rage and fear, and only by reconsidering it, will Muslims be able to dismantle their prime dividers and enter the productive world of civil society.

Haqqani came to the United States after a career as a Pakistani journalist and statesman. He was Pakistan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka from 1992 to 1993 and was an advisor to Pakistani prime ministers Benazir Bhutto, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, and Nawaz Sharif.

Haqqani is the author of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, which was a bestseller in South Asia. He is also a practicing Muslim who studied in a madrassa, or traditional Islamic school, in Pakistan.

Although he hopes his message will reach Muslims, Haqqani believes that his research has something to teach Western policy makers as well. “Basically, I am saying that this is an entire section of the world that is reeling from the trauma of its decline,” he says. “How can the United States and other Western powers build relationships with the Muslim world without understanding what happens in the Muslim mind?”

Right on. It takes a great deal of courage to say this.

Instead our policy makers think of how they can appease the angry, resentful Muslim without having a clue about the doubt and anxiety that underlies that anger. Not a good idea.

The World's Most Wanted

A PDF summarizing the biographies of 14 high-value terrorists transferred to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay can be found here. Their collective life-histories provide a snapshot of the world of al-Qaeda. They mostly lived and operated in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Gulf and the United States. When things got hot several tried to flee to the UAE. Neither Iraq nor Iran are much mentioned in the life-histories of these individuals. This brings us back to the problem of what these men are: whether terrorists who constitute the conspiracy in themselves or merely actors in a larger plot.

Neither liberals nor conservatives — and especially “neoconservatives” regard terrorism as a problem arising solely from a demented few. Conservatives commonly regard terrorism as a form of proxy warfare by states or powerful organizations which want to hide in the background. Behind the terrorist there is a state; destroy the state supporter and the terrorist weakens or perhaps vanishes altogether. The liberal doesn’t regard the terrorist as an isolated actor either. He has a causal chain to advance too. Behind the terrorist is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Israel can be forced to concede land or better yet dissolve itself then the same effect predicted by the conservatives will result. The terrorist will weaken or perhaps disappear altogether.

Recently a third kind of causal relationship has been argued. Behind the terrorist is the ideology of radical Islam. According to this view hostility to the west would persist even if states which opportunistically support terror were toppled and even if Israel were to vanish overnight; in particular would continue to exist in Europe. This view derives from the pronouncements of the terrorists themselves who do not see their goals as limited to the destruction of Israel alone or even of America alone. Both are simply steps to the establishment of a planet under One Caliph. Today Birmingham, tomorrow the World.


Two-Thirds of Al-Jazeera Readers Think Pentagon Footage Fabricated


Unwilling to confront the numerous documented Pallywood and Hizbollywood fabrications, readers of Al-Jazeera expressed their belief in a recent poll that the Pentagon footage of the incident at the Straits of Hormuz was fabricated. 67% said they believe the U.S. footage is fake. Readers of Arab media are willing to accept the wildest conspiracy theories (Israeli involvement in 9-11, Zionist world domination), and changing U.S. policy to pacify them will not make the slightest difference.

Dan links to some raw video as does Lazar.

Why the Worst Is Probably Over in Iraq

There are two principal factors indicative of democracy’s success in Iraq. First, the Sunni Arab community prob-ably now knows that it will lose egregiously if it again seeks a head-to-head confrontation with the Shiite community. Arab Sunni hubris–the great catalyst for the mayhem and killing in post-Saddam Iraq–may finally be broken. It is difficult to believe there are any Sunnis, including the religious fanatics of al Qaeda, who now think they won the Battle of Baghdad in 2006-2007. Iraq’s Sunnis have also learned, as Fouad Ajami pointed out, what Palestinians learned long ago: the support of Sunni Arab states is overrated.[7] Despite Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s and Jordanian king Abdullah II’s alarms about a menacing Shiite arc forming across the region, these states could not forestall the Shiite triumph in Baghdad. Although journalists like to focus on a supposedly soon-to-close window of opportunity for the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to make concessions to Sunni Arabs, the situation may well be the reverse.[8] More likely, the Sunnis now have a never-quite-closing window, since the last thing they want is to restart a conflict that inevitably will lead to “unofficial” Shiite militias or an increasingly deployable and battle-hardened Shiite-led Iraqi army overrunning remaining Sunni redoubts in Baghdad.

..The second reason Iraq has seen the worst, survived, and is likely to remain a functioning democracy is that the Shiite center has held, actually gaining ground in 2006 and 2007. It is unlikely now to be felled by internecine Shiite strife.

Ex-CIA, AEI scholar Reuel Marc Gerecht is a top Seekerblog reliable source for insights into the Muslim world. You can readily audit some of his earlier analysis for accuracy by browsing these posts. Of particular interest is the April 2006 post “Iraq: Is it too late to secure Baghdad?”

In the closing two paragraphs [Reuel Marc] Gerecht posits what I think should be a clear Coalition objective — Secure Baghdad:

We are now in the unenviable position of having to confront radicalized, murderous Shiite militias, who have gained broader Shiite support because of the Sunni-led violence and the lameness of U.S. counterinsurgency operations. The Bush administration would be wise not to postpone any longer what it should have already undertaken–securing Baghdad. This will be an enormously difficult task: Both Sunnis and Shiites will have to be confronted, but Sunni insurgents and brigands must be dealt with first to ensure America doesn’t lose the Shiite majority and the government doesn’t completely fall apart. Pacifying Baghdad will be politically convulsive and provide horrific film footage and skyrocketing body counts. But Iraq cannot heal itself so long as Baghdad remains a deadly place. And the U.S. media will never write many optimistic stories about Iraq if journalists fear going outside. To punt this undertaking down the road when the political dynamics might be better, and when the number of American soldiers in Iraq will surely be less, perhaps a lot less, is to invite disaster.

The Iraqis and the Americans will either save or damn Iraq in the coming months. Quite contrary to the purblind charges of Michigan’s Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, the Iraqis really are doing their part–better than what anyone historically could have expected. The real question is, will Gen. Abizaid and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld do theirs?

I give Bush credit for the decision to go against “his generals” and “his secretary” to completely reverse U.S. strategy in Iraq. From rapid withdrawal [Abizaid, Casey, Rumsfeld] to “secure the population” [the “surge”]. Now a slow conditions-based withdrawal may be consistent with success.

In today’s “Why the Worst Is Probably Over in Iraq” Gerecht examines the layers of political calculation and power that are behind the present accommodation which has led the Sunni to abandon their “Will to Power.” Together with Gen. Barry McCaffrey on Iraq assessment, Dec 2007 we have an up to date and I think, accurate, assessment of Iraq possibilities. McCaffrey would agree with Gerecht’s “the worst is probably over”. Neither would agree that “the worst is definitely over”.

"Everyday Jihad"

“Everyday Jihad” is an example of the kind of scholarship 9/11 should have produced.

Interesting commentary by Michael Young on Bernard Rougier’s new book “Everday Jihad”.

Bernard Rougier is the kind of scholar of political Islam that 9/11 should have created. A Frenchman who teaches political science at the Université d’Auvergne in Clermont-Ferrand, he is fluent in Arabic and is willing to supplement his theoretical knowledge with analytical creativity and intrepid reporting. His “Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam Among Palestinians in Lebanon” looks at a fascinating, under-investigated microcosm of the Islamist landscape.

This looks very interesting, but probably a specialist’s book.

Blair: "tell me exactly what they feel angry about"

We have chosen as a society to put the civil liberties of the suspect, even if a foreign national, first… Their right to traditional civil liberties comes first. I believe this is a dangerous misjudgment. This extremism, operating the world over, is not like anything we have faced before. It needs to be confronted with every means at our disposal. Tougher laws in themselves help, but just as crucial is the signal they send out: that Britain is an inhospitable place to practise this extremism.

I recommend Tony Blair’s op-ed in the Sunday Times. As is his gift, he succinctly captures the illogic of excusing Islamic terror as “it’s our fault…” This is exactly the way I look at claims that Islamic terror grows out of Western foreign policy. And to those who claim “it’s about Israel” I invite you to read the Bin Laden/al Qaeda speeches and statements from 1990 through the present – note the first mention of Israel.

…This is part of a bigger picture, in which a considerable part of media and public opinion continues to blame us for causing the extremism.

I was stopped by someone the other week who said it was not surprising there was so much terrorism in the world when we invaded their countries (meaning Afghanistan and Iraq). No wonder Muslims felt angry.

When he had finished, I said to him: tell me exactly what they feel angry about. We remove two utterly brutal and dictatorial regimes; we replace them with a United Nations-supervised democratic process and the Muslims in both countries get the chance to vote, which incidentally they take in very large numbers. And the only reason it is difficult still is because other Muslims are using terrorism to try to destroy the fledgling democracy and, in doing so, are killing fellow Muslims.

What’s more, British troops are risking their lives trying to prevent the killing. Why should anyone feel angry about us? Why aren’t they angry about the people doing the killing? The odd thing about the conversation is that I could tell it was the first time he had even heard the alternative argument.

This extremism can be defeated. But it will be defeated only by recognising that we have not created it; it cannot be negotiated with; pandering to its sense of grievance will only encourage it; and only by confronting it, the methods and the ideas, will we win.

Don’t miss the entire essay. You may be surprised by the extent to which counter terrorism has been crippled in Britain by bad court decisions.

Greg Sheridan references Blair’s comments in his look at factors that are causing the west to loose the war “of information and ideas”.

The reason we are losing the battle of information and ideas is because the coherent religious and ideological position that al-Qa’ida represents has an extraordinary degree of support within the Muslim world. Even sentiments that don’t finally endorse al-Qa’ida often adopt a similar world outlook that embraces much of al-Qa’ida’s historical narrative and paranoid world view.

Most Muslims are moderates and abhor terrorism. But the minority that is extremist is a big one.

The flipside of al-Qa’ida’s success in the information war is our own dismal effort in this field. This does not mean endlessly telling Muslims how much we love them. Although in principle a bit of that is OK, as Blair implies it can be counterproductive by feeding an unjustified sense of grievance.

A better guide to the roots of our failure comes in a new report from US think tank the Rand Corporation, Building Moderate Muslim Networks. Rand recommends that the US, and by implication allied governments such as Australia’s, should consciously support, materially and morally, and where necessary create, networks of moderate Muslims across the world who reject Islamist extremism.

What is insightful about the report is its comparison of the shambles in the information war today with the effective information and political strategy the US and its allies ran during the Cold War.

To be sure, the Cold War is different from the war on terror. In the Cold War we confronted a central state enemy, the Soviet Union, which had state interests and could be deterred. But the similarities are also instructive: the West faces a confusing geo-strategic environment with new security threats and is involved, among other things, in an ideological conflict.

Moreover, moderate Muslims are being outmuscled. As Rand comments, Saudi funding has greatly enhanced religious extremism all over the world (which raises again the question why nobody, in the Labor Party or the Government, has followed up this newspaper’s revelations of Saudi embassy funding of extremists in Australia).

…Rand sets out a template for the US to follow in trying to build networks of moderate Muslims to help them stand against the extremists. I’m not sure its suggestions would work, but it recognises the nature of the problem and the fundamental fact we are, whether we like it or not, locked in a profound ideological struggle.

One of the many disturbing features of the US Pew survey on the attitudes of American Muslims is that younger Muslims are substantially more extreme than their parents or grandparents. This reflects the experience in Europe, and probably Australia, that far from the second generation being more integrated, as has happened with every other migrant group, it is becoming more prey to the appeal of extremist ideologies and more alienated from its host society.

It is important to emphasise that the US survey does show that most American Muslims are moderate and reject extremism, and that American Muslims tend to be more moderate than European Muslims or Muslim populations in most majority Muslim nations.

But the US poll is merely the latest from across the world to show that the extremist minority is a very big, and therefore dangerous, one. A poll by the British think tank Policy Exchange showed similar results. Although most British Muslims are moderate, among 16 to 24-year-olds, 37 per cent would prefer to live under sharia law than British law, while 36per cent believe a Muslim changing their religion to something else should be punishable by death and 13per cent support al-Qa’ida.

Similarly, a joint Asia-Europe Foundation and University of Malaya poll found that 98 per cent of Malay Muslims believe Muslims should not be allowed by law to change their religion, 31 per cent want sharia law to replace the Malaysian constitution, 12 per cent support suicide bombings and a clear majority dislike or hate Europe, the US and Australia.

You can buy the Rand monograph for $27 or download the entire study for free [PDF].

Iran: giving futility its chance

…finally, comes the largest dream of all: what Ahmadinejad does not shrink from describing as “a world without America.” Demented though he may be, I doubt that Ahmadinejad is so crazy as to imagine that he could wipe America off the map even if he had nuclear weapons. But what he probably does envisage is a diminution of the American will to oppose him…

Norman Podhoretz, author of one of the best essays on the war against Islamofascism: “The War Against World War IV”, addresses Iran in this WSJ op-ed. While I think Podhoretz has a good grasp of the threat of Islamization, of a nuclear Iran, I have to object to his adoption of Bob Woodward’s technique — stating as fact the internal motivations of his characters:

…But Ahmadinejad’s ambitions are not confined to the destruction of Israel. He also wishes to dominate the greater Middle East, and thereby to control the oilfields of the region and the flow of oil out of it through the Persian Gulf. If he acquired a nuclear capability, he would not even have to use it in order to put all this within his reach. Intimidation and blackmail by themselves would do the trick.

We don’t know Ahmadinejad’s ambitions; we don’t know if he will be in power in six months; we don’t know how much power he actually has or has had. Fortunately Podhoretz puts the rhetoric behind early in the essay. And he has some great quotes, to be archived for future recall. E.g., Bernard Lewis:

MAD, mutual assured destruction, [was effective] right through the cold war. Both sides had nuclear weapons. Neither side used them, because both sides knew the other would retaliate in kind. This will not work with a religious fanatic [like Ahmadinejad]. For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that [Iran’s leaders] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights.

Ayatollah Khomeini:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

“Moderate” Iranian president Ayatollah Rafsanjani:

If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession . . . application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.

How can well-educated people conclude that “we’ll just have to live with a nuclear Iran”?

I agree with Podhoretz that effective sanctions haven’t a chance of clearing the hurdle of China, Russia [and the Europeans]. And it is hard to argue with John McCain.

The only thing worse than bombing Iran, McCain has declared, is allowing Iran to get the bomb.

But bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities has a number of unpredictable unintended consequences — the obvious ones are outlined by Podhoretz. Is it possible that less inflammatory economic steps could bring the mullahs to truly negotiate? One example is to block gasoline imports to Iran? Iran can produce only 11 million bbl/day of gasoline, and thus must import at least half of its gasoline consumption — see the DOE report on Iran:

Iran’s economy is heavily reliant on oil exports and even though the country is earning high oil export revenues, gasoline import costs are also rising rapidly.

And WaPo [not up to date info]:

Because Iran’s refineries can pump out only 10 1/2 million gallons of gasoline a day, and Iranian motorists burn 17 million gallons, the gap is filled by gasoline purchased at full price from other countries.

We may get a reading on how the population takes to a big cut in gasoline consumption — the mullahs will begin a rationing program June 5 — intended to ramp up to a 30% cut. The tactic of cutting off Iran’s gasoline imports has a limited window of opportunity, as they are planning three new refineries and have already let contracts for expansion.

Blockading Iranian oil export terminals [like Kharg Island] might be effective — but the pain inflicted on allies such as Japan would probably make that tactic unworkable.

A year ago I wrote about Gerecht’s analysis, which I think is more thorough than Podhoretz’s, but similarly pessimistic about “less awful” choices than military strikes:

A long and thoughtful essay by ex-spook Reuel Marc Gerecht [7500 words]. This is a reasonably thorough look at the internals of the clerical regime, the external political situation [US, EU, Russia, China, etc.], and the bad choices available:

[1] Continue to talk and hope

[2] A military strike to damage and delay the day when nuclear-tipped missiles are targeting Iran’s neighbors. Gerecht correctly sees this bad choice as a series of as-required strikes to suppress repair of the war-making facilities.

I think Gerecht’s take is that the West cannot accept a nuclear Iran. While he sees the enormous political barriers to military action, I think he sees it as inevitable.

I recommend a careful read of Gerecht. Better ideas?

Netanyahu on Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and al Qaeda

“a regime that promotes genocide cannot receive American taxpayers’ savings . . . through European intermediaries”

Benjamin Netanyahu is campaigning in the U.S. for investors to divest from foreign companies that do business in Iran. I agree this would increase the heat on the mullahs. The problem is that divesting typically drops the share price you are selling, which makes fund shareholders grumpy. There are some state and federal legislative developments to exempt managers from lawsuits when they divest in this fashion – but the net asset value of the fund still falls.

Netanyahu sees little light between Hamas and Hezbollah – while al Qaeda differs only in the degree of medievalism to be imposed:

…He sees al Qaeda as existing on a continuum with Tehran’s Shiite fundamentalists: “They’re now competing with each other on the soil of Lebanon to gain paramountcy–al Qaeda in the north and Hezbollah in the south. But both of them practice suicide attacks, both of them have the cult of death, and both of them are absolutely uninhibited in the use of force against their chosen enemies. Now, is there a difference? Yeah, I suppose. I think one wants to send us back to the ninth century and one wants to send us back to the seventh century.” The Shiite extremists, Mr. Netanyahu quips, “give us two centuries extra.”

And certainly, Netanyahu understands the power of economic freedom — which I believe is more important than political freedom.

Because of the militants’ power to intimidate and the weak civic institutions in Arab societies, Mr. Netanyahu is wary of pushing those societies too quickly toward electoral democracy. He thinks it was a mistake to allow Hamas to compete in last year’s Palestinian voting. “But I think that one element that should be expedited as rapidly as possible is the democratization of markets. I think that expanding economic freedom is just as important–in some cases more important–in moderating societies than accelerated moves to political freedoms without the proper democratic institutions.”

I ask if he can point to any positive examples in the Arab world. “How about Dubai? How about the Gulf states? What you see there is quite remarkable. It also tells you that Arabs and Muslims are not inherently or genetically programmed to oppose free markets. That’s just nonsense. With the right system of incentives and economic freedoms, you see this explosive growth that I, frankly, admire. . . . We always said that if we have peace, then we’ll have prosperity. It may be the other way around.”