Saturday, November 29, 2008

'The Moderate Islamist'

David Solway

The counsels of our Islamic-appeasing intellectuals today may be summarized in the career of Alistair Crooke, founder of the Conflicts Forum and formerly a special adviser to EU envoy Javier Solana. In the London Review of Books (Vol. 29, No. 13), Crooke self-assuredly asserts that the hard-line approach to Islamism, along with the refusal to countenance the more amenable elements in the Muslim world, is “opening a space, not for moderate pro-Western secularists…but for those who believe that to build a new society you must first burn down the old one.” For Crooke, it seems the Arab world is crawling with pro-Western secularists just waiting for the opportunity to construct open, liberal democracies, confine the influence of the Koran to the mosque and the private sphere, recognize Israel’s right to exist within secure and defensible borders and neutralize the family compact paradigm that has governed the Muslim world from the beginning of its recorded history. Like so many others on the “rational Left,” Crooke is dreaming in jihadi-color.

No longer content to postulate a frivolous separation between “extremists” and “moderates,” Crooke and those like him have now come up with a super subtle distinction between “Islamism” and those “moderate Islamist movements” such as—wait for it—Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Anyone who has troubled to scan the charters of these organizations and follow their actions in a real-world setting would be right to wonder what planet the Crookes and Solanas et al. of the diplomatic Left are living on—a planet on which exotic beings like moderate extremists are part of the natural fauna. But we must have our nursery icons: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the moderate extremist.

Be that as it may, a “moderate Islamist movement,” the home of Crooke’s “thoughtful Islamist,” is an oxymoron that exists nowhere but in the fevered imagination of the professional negotiator, the political partisan and the ever-compliant media. For example, in a June 25, 2007 release, the BBC informs us that Hamas “espouse[s] a more moderate brand of Islamist politics” than al-Qaeda. This is like saying it’s better to be killed with a gun than a bomb. Moreover, the broadcaster insists that Hamas has “always shunned al-Qaeda’s advances.” He is obviously ignorant of the famous poster showing Hamas’ spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin posing beside Osama bin Laden, of Sheikh Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, a bin Laden operative, addressing a Hamas fundraiser in March 2006, and of the mounting evidence that the 2003 attack on Mike’s Place bar in Tel Aviv, carried out by suicide bombers holding British passports, was a joint al-Qaeda/Hamas operation—the two British-Muslim terrorists were members of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Al Muhajiroun and were hosted by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Logically speaking, what can the term “moderate Islamist” actually mean? Is there such a thing as a “moderate” Nazi, a “moderate” fascist, a “moderate” Bolshevik? If a “moderate” is one who continues to insist on the necessity of destroying Israel, coddling a nuclear Iran and pursuing the war against the West, what then is an “extremist”?

The diplomatic appeasement of the radical terrorist will only allow them to regroup, to prepare for further hostilities, to strengthen their military hand and to extend their reach far into the future
, as happened precisely in 1936 when a British-brokered détente permitted the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to gather his forces and unleash even more havoc in the region.

But Crooke and his fellow oracles are not to be deflected by reality: from their perspective, the West and especially the U.S. are responsible for the breakdown of order in Gaza by refusing to deal with Hamas; the unprovoked attack on Israel by Hizbullah in summer 2006 plainly had nothing to do with Iranian strategy but was really a “U.S.-backed war to destroy Hizbullah in Lebanon”; Western policy is alienating and radicalizing the as-yet uncommitted Muslim world; and the “domestic Israel lobby” in the U.S. continues to pursue its sinister intent toward abetting Israel’s “hegemonic ambitions.” The highlight reel hooey of such convictions might be almost entertaining if it did not cut the sinews of our preparedness.

Crooke, like many others, welcomes with unseemly warmth the Arab-Palestinian argument for a bi-national state as the only viable solution to the conflict in the Holy Land—in other words, the end of Israel as we know it—and blithely accepts the accusation that Israel has “salami-sliced” the West Bank with its “army posts, military zones, fences and Israeli-only roads”—the familiar anti-checkpoint argument that pretends there is no such creature as a Palestinian suicide bomber on his way to butcher as many Israeli civilians as a thoughtful Islamist can possibly take with him.

Whether they are simple-minded innocents or shrewd manipulators, Crooke and his ilk have cause and effect reversed: the checkpoints do not foment terrorism; terrorism created the need for checkpoints, as anyone with a brain in his head can see. No sooner had the checkpoint at the Ariel Junction—the scene of several drive-by shootings and suicide bombings in the past—been lifted than a shooting attack on Israeli civilians followed. Nor did terrorists take long to strike when the checkpoint at the Shuafat crossing in northern Jerusalem was dismantled; 20-year-old Rami Zoari was shot and died of her wounds shortly after.

Furthermore, Crooke’s reliance on UN maps and documents—the Monopoly money of today’s intellectual currency—to make his case is evidence of either credulity or bad faith. Crooke is also unwilling to admit what both the Israeli and Palestinian administrations know, that it is Israel with its checkpoints, intelligence services and anti-terrorist raids which keeps the weak and beleaguered Fatah regime from toppling as a victim to Hamas insurgency. Nor does he question the fact that some sixty years after the UN partition plan paved the way for the creation of the Jewish state, Israel remains unrepresented on maps and globes in Arab countries—a Fatah anniversary poster portrays the area where Israel should be screened by a portrait of Yasser Arafat, a keffiyeh and a rifle.

That he quotes favorably Hizbullah terror chieftain Hassan Nasrallah clearly reveals where Crooke’s real sympathies lie. How he might countenance the civil unrest, amounting to a mini-civil war, unleashed by Hizbullah in the streets of Beirut and in other parts of the country in May 2008, or parry the observation of Lebanese political analyst Antoine Basbous (Liberation 9, 2008) that Lebanon has been earmarked by Iran as the “scene of operations, a land of Jihad [where] imperialism and Zionism need to be defeated,” must remain in the realm of the ineffable.

Crooke would also have to embark on some difficult maneuvering to explain Hizbullah’s violation of the 1989 Taif agreement, which provided for the disarmament of the various competing militias. For although Hizbullah was renamed as a “resistance force” against an external foe in order to evade the terms of the proscription, its armed involvement in an internal conflict has put it in clear breach of the entente. “Even the Israeli enemy didn’t dare do in Beirut what Hizbullah has done,” said Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. But Crooke would surely find a way to exonerate one of his favorite terror groups. And Israel would doubtlessly figure as scapegoat.

Apologists like Crooke, to borrow the title of Aaron Klein’s new book, are only Schmoozing with Terrorists—and not to gather information, as did Klein, but in mindless sympathy with their aims. Unfortunately, the malediction of Isaiah does not seem to operate in the their world: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness…” Thanks to professional appeasers like Alistair Crooke, this inversion has now become standard procedure.

All of which makes me think of the old light bulb joke formula, of which I offer a concluding variant. How many Islamists does it take to change a light bulb? None. We do it for them.
David Solway is the award-winning author of over twenty-five books of poetry, criticism, educational theory, and travel. He is a contributor to magazines as varied as the Atlantic, the Sewanee Review, Books in Canada, and the Partisan Review. His most recent book is The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity.

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