Pakistan, since decades has had some, you know, five or six different versions of the Islamic state that there is no unanimity as to what this means but regardless of that, the important thing to understand about Islamism is that it is a quintessentially nationalist ideology. It is a form of Religious Nationalism, a distinctly Islamic form of Religious Nationalism that exists all over the world and by no means an Islamic phenomenon. We in the United States of course have a very large, very powerful, very rich group of religious nationalist. Scholars sometimes refer to them as the Dominionist or Christianist, these are Christians who believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and who want to, as they put it, change the constitution so that it is more in alignment with the bible. By some estimates there are about a hundred million Americans who can be defined as Christian nationalist. They even have their own perennial presidential candidate. I’m speaking of course of Mike Huckabee who on numerous occasions during his own speech made comments along the lines that the Bible should be the principle foundation for not just American morality but our laws, our very social customs and norms. Of course Israel has a very large also a very powerful group of Jewish religious nationalist, they’re sometimes referred to as a Religious Zionist or Messianic Zionist. These are Jews whose obligation, as they explicitly state, is not to the secular state of Israel but to the biblical land of Israel. Indeed they think of the state of Israel as little more than a place holder in the eventual formation of the kingdom of David.
By no means is Religious Nationalism just an Abrahamic phenomenon if we were talking about just sheer numbers, then certainly the largest group of Religious Nationalists in the world are the Hindu Nationalists those who practice the ideology of Hindutva and who, more or less, coalesce around the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party in India which until quite recently until the previous election in India was on the political rise but received a devastating political blow, way to go India, in the most recent elections. But of course, they’re still very much around, still very much a part of the political landscape of India. All of this is, sort of, a long winded way to say that, you know, Religious Nationalism is a phenomenon that we see everywhere all across the world, but of course our focus quite lately has been on the Islamic world and the rise of Islamic Religious Nationalism or Islamism in places like Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, certainly Syria, Turkey, Egypt and, you know, what to do about it. Well, before I talk about what to do about it let me talk about the other rise of religious identities in Islam which I’ve talked about as Jihadism or Religious Transnationalism. Jihadism is the exact opposite of Islamism. Islamism is a distinctly nationalist ideology, right? So, no matter what you think about a group like Hezbollah, whether you think of them as a political party or a terrorist organization, the fundamental fact is that Hezbollah has no ideology, no agenda, no strategy beyond the borders of Lebanon. However you think about Hamas, whether you think of it as a social organization or a terrorist organization, the fact is, is that Hamas has absolutely no ideology, no agenda beyond the borders of what they consider to be historic Palestine.
They are distinctly nationalist organizations. Jihadist groups, the most obvious of them being al-Qaida, though al-Qaida is just one of many perhaps the most famous and most militant, but nevertheless just one of many Jihadist organizations around the world, are not just not nationalistic in other words not only are they trans-nationalist but they are anti-nationalist. Jihadist believes that the very concept of the nation state is anathema to Islam. Their ultimate goal is to get rid of all nation states. Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, it doesn’t really matter to them. They think that nationality itself is a sin. So, what they would ultimately like is to get rid of all borders, all boundaries to reconstitute the world as a single global order under their control, of course. In this regard, you know, to think of a group like al-Qaida and a group like Hamas as one and the same, as the previous administration did so often, is to just fundamentally be confused about the very landscape of political Islam. On the contrary, not only do these groups…or not only are these groups not the same but more often they tend to loathe each other far more than either of them loathe the United States. This is that undifferentiated enemy problem that the War on Terror, as defined by the Bush administration, created and made so difficult for us to actually deal with religious extremism in Muslim majority states. So, what do we do about these two phenomena that are very much a part of the larger phenomenon, the rise of religious identities around the world? Well, as I say in the book, I think that what we have to understand is that one of these groups we can deal with and one of them we can’t.
Groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim brotherhood, these so called Islamist groups want something concrete, they want something measurable, something achievable, and even if what they want goes completely against American foreign policy interest, even if what they want is inconceivable as long as…as far as we’re concerned, the very fact that they want something opens up the possibility of negotiation, of dialogue, and indeed as we have seen not just in Turkey but in Lebanon, in Egypt, when these so called Islamist groups are given the opportunity to take part in the political process, when they’re given an opportunity to make their voice a part of the marketplace of ideas and when the people themselves are given an opportunity to vote about whether they actually approve of these ideologies or not, we have seen a not just a dramatic decline in the extremism of their policies, we have seen groups like Hezbollah, like the Muslim brotherhood, and definitely like Hamas radically moderate their extremist ideologies in return for being able to take part in the political process and in some places like in Lebanon, in Turkey we have seen these Islamist groups who have been given the responsibility of governance be profoundly democratic, be profoundly capable of acting responsibly as part of the government which is why, as Jamie said, part of my argument in the book is that the way to deal with Islamism in the region is by giving Islamist groups a stake in the society with rules with, you know, limits but giving them an opportunity to take part in the political process because, you know, and that’s one thing George Bush was absolutely right. |Political participation does have the means of moderating radical tendencies and radical ideologies but that leaves the problem of these Transnationalist groups like the Jihadist and unfortunately with the Jihadist groups who don’t want anything measureable who don’t want anything concrete and indeed don’t want anything that can be had in any real or measurable terms, there is no room for negotiation.