The appalling sentence “Radical Islam is a fact of life. How to live with it,” appears on the green cover of the present issue of Newsweek magazine (international edition). You can read it either in Arabic or in English. The title refers to a worrisome article written by Fareed Zakaria, editor of the magazine. Islam is complex reality. Nearly one and a half billion Muslims live on our planet; they cannot be the same and no doubt only a minority is radical and linked to terrorism. However it was astonishing to read that we do not have to generalize even when it comes to radical Islam because “it’s time to stop treating all Islamists as potential terrorists.” It was March 2007 when I last felt the same kind of disappointment while reading in “Foreign Affairs” Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke’s article, “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood.” Their aim was to demonstrate that inside the Muslim Brotherhood along with an extremist wing there is a “moderate” group of new leaders. The American scholars totally trusted what they were told personally by some members of the movement. Unfortunately they forgot that the Muslim Brotherhood’s members are allowed to dissimulate, that is to tell lies if necessary to their survival.
Fareed Zakaria goes many steps further: he admits the existence of radical Islamists, like the Taliban and the Islamic courts in Somalia and Nigeria, and he writes we have to cope with them, but not in the same way the Bush administration did. If during Bush’s presidency “all Islamist groups were one and the same” and any distinctions or nuances were regarded as a form of appeasement”, now in Zakaria’s view “it’s also worth stepping back and trying to understand the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism” because “not all these Islamists advocate global jihad, host terrorists or launch operations against the outside world - in fact, most do not.” Then comes the shocking example: “Consider the most difficult example, the Taliban. The Taliban have done all kinds of terrible things in Afghanistan. But so far, no Afghan Taliban has participated at any significant level in a global terrorist attack Most Taliban want Islamic rule locally, not violent jihad globally.” I have a few questions: What about Afghanis? What about Afghani women? What about universal human rights? Does Mr. Zakaria mean that radical Islam can be understood as long as it stays away from us?
It is a very dangerous reasoning. Radical Islam may have some shades, but its fundamentals are always the same: jihad, segregation of women, hate of the other. For us, sanctity of life, in particular, and universal human rights, in general, must be a right for every single person on earth. It is impossible to accept that someone can consider an improvement the fact that in 2007, eight years after the decision of 12 Nigerian states to adopt sharia law, “the widely publicized sentences of mutilation and stoning rarely came to pass (although floggings were common).” Is not flogging a violation of human rights? However Mr. Zakaria considers as positive the appointment of Faisal Ahmad Shinwari as chief of justice of the Afghan Supreme Court even though “he has banned women from singing on television and called for an end to cable television altogether. He has spoken out against women and men being educated in the same schools at any age. He has upheld the death penalty for two journalists who were convicted of blasphemy.” Would Zakaria dare to repeat these words to the journalists’ families? I do not think so. Zakaria believes that if Shinwari had liberal views, he “would have little credibility within his country.” Would Zakaria dare to repeat these words to hundreds of Muslim liberal intellectuals who are risking their lives for freedom’s sake? I hope he would not.
The Bush administration has certainly made many mistakes with Islam and Muslims, first of all in recognizing the Muslim Brotherhood as a partner in dialogue and as a part of the democratization process in the Middle East, but I advise Mr. Zakaria to bear in mind Winston Churchill’s sentence: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”.