Three Fundamental Mistakes in Dealing with Islam [Excerpts]
We made three fundamental mistakes in our dealings with Islam. First, we assumed that the only politically acceptable answer was also the right answer. This is the most common mistake that politicians make.
Second, we established a construct of a moderate and extreme Islam that reflected how we saw it from the outside. This construct had no theological relationship to any actual belief or movement within Islam. Had we made the division into modern and fundamentalist, we would at least have been using words that meant something. Instead we used moderate and extreme in a military sense to mean hostile and friendly or neutral. But as a Vietnam era president and military command should have known, in a guerrilla war not everyone who isn’t shooting at you is friendly or even neutral.
Rather than learning what the Muslim world was, we had already decided what we wanted it to be. But our perspective was a foreign one. They might pander to it, but they would never dictate their own beliefs by it. We might talk of a moderate or extreme Islam, but that is our idea, not theirs. There is more than one form of Islam, they are not defined by their extremism or moderation. Nor by their approach toward violence. No more than we are.
Muslim theology is violent, because violence has always been a tool of its expansion. When we ask Muslims to disassociate themselves from violence, we are really asking them to disassociate themselves from Islam. And this they will not do. They will contextually condemn some acts of terror, depending on the identity of the perpetrators and the targets, and the impact of the acts on the nation and ideology of the Muslim or Muslims in question. But they will dub other acts of terrorist as valid resistance. The differences are not moral, but contextual.
The Muslim world is a gray zone full of alliances written on sand where every principle can be bent at need, but is dominated by a religion that pretends to be morally absolute. This is an inherent contradiction. And like most moral conflicts it is resolved through self-deception. Our absolute standards have no meaning when applied to the Muslim world. They have moral force, but little practical relevance.
Our third and final mistake was to believe that we held all or most of the cards, and were free to give away as many of them as we wanted to. But the more we thought we were calling the shots, the more we were shot at. Because we were not in control. The political, religious and armed conflicts we were engaged in were being fought on their terms, not ours. They began the war. They decided when to initiate the violence or call a halt to it. Their violence set the tone, we tried to defuse it. Our attempts to promote moderation in the Muslim world were reactive. It is the bomber who has the initiative once he chooses to act. And so we tried to teach the bombers not to bomb, while the bombers taught us to appease them.