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November 02, 2006

How Can A Progressive Talk To An Islamist
Posted by Ali Eteraz

It is inevitable that the tyrants (and oligarchs) in the Muslim world -- Musharraf, Mubarak, the Hashemites, the Ayatollahs, Zine el Abidine of Tunisia -- will be toppled. In some places, the vacuum will be filled with another tyrant. Yet we have finally realized that the short-term and superficial stability that a tyrant provides is "chump-change" in the face of the dictators' horrifying human rights records, and of their ability to create a vast class of militant Muslim revolutionaries (who then rage against us).

In other words, progressives have realized that the kind of people that should fill that vacuum ought to be people who a) value democracy b) value constitutionalism and c) value human rights. This is where you guys at Democracy Arsenal have been so important -- because you have been able to sell this simple idea. If there is one way to distinguish a Conservative from a Progressive in terms of foreign policy today it is this: a Conservative (Neo-Con) is willing to leave power in the hands of a Muslim tyrant while a Progressive thinks that is patently idiotic (but may not have any idea of what he or she wants instead).

The problem arises that it in large parts of the Muslim world (excluding Turkey), those who have the power to affirm propositions a, b, and c, tend not to look like us, act like us, or share our "liberal" values. If anything, with their social conservatism, they remind us of "backwater" hill-billies. With their protectionist economic policies, they remind us of the worst of the old school isolationists we guffaw over. With their stubborn adherence to their religion, and their use of religion as an identity, they remind us of the Christianists we here are trying to boot out of office. They aren't really down with gays, down with drinking, tolerant of Brittney, willing to turn a blind eye to swinger's clubs, nor encouraging of stripperobics, or what we like in our art. Ever since 1979, when these Islamists first showed their face, Progressives have had no idea how to deal with such people, and as a consequence, the Conservatives, by alternatively evoking them as fearful (Iran) and using them as mercenaries (Taliban) have been able to define foreign policy with respect to the Muslim world.

What Progressives need --  now more than ever -- is leverage with the democratic Islamists. But how in the  world does a Progressive get leverage over people who are so conservative?

We can't send them tapes of Velvet Underground. We can't show them good American porn. We can't offer them a Christianized liberation theology. They don't know who Coltrane or Miles Davis are (nor care). The method of culture-war that we used to stoke  the Soviet Bloc underground-democrats doesn't work with people so (freaking) conservative.

So then how are we going to get leverage? How to speak to them if they are just going to dismiss as a bunch of atheist hedonists?

The answer has two parts: i) social work, ii) money.

i) Social Work is easy. The Progressive ace in the hole has always been its populist impulse, its affiliation with the downtrodden, and its receptiveness to the actual material needs of people. We can talk to the conservative (but democratic and constitutionalist) Islamists by showing them the goodness of our actions.

ii) Money is hard. There are two major impediments to Progressives being able to use money to their advantage. First, we simply don't have that much money. Second, those of us who do have money have no interest in sending it to the Muslim world because no one wants to become subject to the latest version of P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Have you ever noticed how much money we give to African civil groups and how little to Muslim civil groups? It isn't because we like poor Africans more than we like poor Muslims. It's because we aren't going to get interrogated or inquisitioned. Gates and Soros pump money everywhere -- Africa, Latin America, India, China -- but not into civil service groups in the Muslim world. Today's Progresives have to fix that.

How, pray tell, am I expected to go to Pakistan and say to the democratic Islamists that people in America support them if these people have never received a single dollar of American "approval." Progressives have to look into the financial transfer laws currently in place and tweak them (a list of approved Islamists might be a start). Post 9/11, the assumption has been that all Islamists are terrorists. This is, like, so not true. Progressive insiders need to create a new list of 'approved' groups. If there is a legislative cause that Progressives insiders need to take up with the forthcoming Democratic house, it is this.


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This is exactly WHY we democrats are not running the House or Senate right now. Not because we have different ideas about dealing with what in this article is offensively termed 'Islamist' but because we don't have a (freaking) clue about Muslim culture. There seems to be a prevailing idea that Muslim society a) needs to change or have some kind of a reformation and b) they should be more like us. In fact, they did have a reformation just around the time we did and, in fact in response to it. It just wasn't the kind of reformation we assume they should have had. Instead of continuing with the open and free thinking society that was then prevalent in the Muslim world, 'western' expansion and oppression of Muslims guided their reformation in the opposite direction. Muslims sought solace in God and in more traditional, maybe even fundamentalist ways (see Karen Armstrong, Battle For God). All thanks to us in great part.

Now why exactly should we be so vein and conceited to expect others to change to be more like us? Isn't that the same as assuming our own infallibility? Instead of expecting them to change or listen to Louis Armstrong or even accept our money (a particularly specious device) why don't we make an attempt to actually understand their culture and their terms of reference, their reasonings etc. and then and only then create policies to deal with ongoing problems? That kind of approach is not only better than what is being offered by the Republicans at the moment, it is also a way to marginalize those extremists that this article mingles unsurrepticiously with the average Muslim on the street.

We need a change of approach, not some Anne Coulteresque dictum of 'us versus them' that is just a typical unthinking "I'm a liberal and proud" diatribe that merely encourages the Reps versus Dems discourse that typifies the vilification of the 'other' culture of the US. This is exactly why we are in this position - because we are not offering any culturally relative ideas to the (freaking) conservative stance of Us and Them.

Grow up Democrats and start listening to your conscience and think culturally. Face up to the fact that we cannot and should not change a culture, much less recreate it in our own image. Culture should change through its own momentum, not with our help and certainly not through our monetary incentives that only make other cultures see the US as relying on cash rather than ideas and certainly don't promote respect for other states. Let's rethink!

If there is one way to distinguish a Republican from a Democrat in terms of foreign policy today it is this: a Republican is willing to leave power in the hands of a Muslim tyrant while a Democrat thinks that is patently idiotic

Huh? You seem to have that backwards. Bush is the one pushing democracy, Dems are saying that's idiotic (like the commenter above, who seems to think Muslims aren't really interested in freedom and democracy).

Post 9/11, the assumption has been that all Islamists are terrorists.

That seems overly tendentious. The problem is not that Islamic groups are unfairly stigmatized as terrorist supporters, the problem too many Islamic "civil" groups are in fact also supporting terrorism. Hamas, Hizbollah, etc. do provide massive social services, but also undeniably carry out terrorist acts.


Bush is not pushing democracy. He's rolled back on the idea. Even AEI has turned against him b/c of his turn-around.

Ali: "They aren't really down with gays, down with drinking, tolerant of Brittney, willing to turn a blind eye to swinger's clubs, nor encouraging of stripperobics, or what we like in our art."

Are these, in your mind, the crucial components of American liberalism?

Just an FYI - if you're going to be sending money abroad, make sure the group isn't affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Via the Strategy Center:


Little Explored Offshore Empire of the International Muslim Brotherhood

Almost from the inception of the modern Islamic banking structure (early 1980s), the international Muslim Brotherhood set up a parallel and far-flung offshore structure that has become an integral part of its ability to hide and move money around the world. This network is little understood and has, so far, garnered little attention from the intelligence and law enforcement communities tracking terrorist financial structures.

The fundamental premise of the Brotherhood in setting up this structure was that it is necessary to build a clandestine structure that was hidden from non-Muslims and even Muslims who do not share the Brotherhood’s fundamental objective of recreating the Islamic caliphate and spreading Islam, by force and persuasion, across the globe...

...There has been some understanding of the Brotherhood’s relationship to Islamist groups, and of those ties even in the United States. In 2003 Richard Clarke said “the issue of terrorist financing in the United States is a fundamental example of the shared infrastructure levered by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda, all of which enjoy a significant degree of cooperation and coordination within our borders. The common link here is the extremist Muslim Brotherhood—all these organizations are descendants of the membership and ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.”[5] However, this understanding has not taken root in the intelligence, law enforcement and policy communities, nor has the financial network of the Brotherhood come under intense scrutiny.

Public records show the Brotherhood’s financial network of holding companies, subsidiaries, shell banks and real financial institutions stretches to Panama, Liberia, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Cyprus, Nigeria, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and beyond. Many of the entities are in the names of individuals who, like Nada, Nasreddin, al-Qaradawi and Himmat, have publicly identified themselves as Brotherhood leaders



Are these, in your mind, the crucial components of American liberalism?>>


In the eye of the average American, these are the things what it boils down to.

To me, its not important if an Islamist over there is sitting around and quoting Locke. That doesn't say as much to me as when I see him bumpin and grindin to I'm a Slave For You.

With their stubborn adherence to their religion, and their use of religion as an identity, they remind us of the Christianists we here are trying to boot out of office.

Wow... use of religion as an identity. What a bizarre concept! You mean there are some people whose deepest metaphysical and moral views actually form a major component of their identities? The barbarians! These guys need some hookers and Jim Beam right away.

Once we're done with the Mormons, whom do you think we should transform next? The Amish? The Mormons?

That last paragraph should have read:

Once we're done with the Muslims, whom do you think we should transform next? The Amish? The Mormons?

Ali isn't talking about changing a culture. What is important isn't taking religion out of a culture but bringing tolerance to all societies. One experience that will always stay with me was when I was teaching in Istanbul.I was teaching two girls who chose to wear the hijab. One day after class we got on the subject of music. To my utter surprise one of the girl's favorite bands was Bon Jovi. I just remember thinking that religion, or country...or even the hijab (which ali had a great post on the other day) doesn't define someone. Now obviously Turkey isn't the most conservative muslim country (the opposite actually), but this scenario plays out everywhere. A christian in Montana might despise alchol and a gay Lebannese man might want to go to clubs and have many sexual partners. What is needed is tolerance of each of our own individua preferences within society. That is not changing a culture, just respecting the diversity of it. for money... i think a great model for the money part of the equation is Muhammad Yunus and his micro-loan program in Bangledesh. Micro-loans would have a much more personal effect on the recipient and would be more empowering. Just my thoughts.....

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