In 1988, when I was a physics graduate student doing research at Brookhaven National laboratory, I befriended a young Israeli physicist.
He was a typical young Israeli researcher – bright, friendly and secular.
Besides physics, we prominently discussed one other issue, the propensity for violence in Muslim communities and their relative backwardness. In my mind, the context was Pakistan vs. India and Muslims vs. Hindus in India. And in his mind it was Palestinians and the extended Arab clan in the region vs. the Jews.
We managed to keep in touch. We met again in 1994. When the conversation turned to the above topic, there was one marked difference: my friend asserted that the difficulties Israel faced in the region were of “political” origin. But I said that its origins were religion based, implying that political accommodation was fundamentally not possible, without first addressing the underlying religious origin of the conflict.
I knew better.
As I have discussed in my book, Defeating Political Islam: The New Cold War, Hindus and Muslims who were connected by language, culture, ethnicity, history and cuisine in South Asia had yet evolved very differently, and remarkably, so have the British Muslims of Pakistani origin, in contrast to the Hindus of Indian origin. The dynamic driving these Muslim communities could most consistently be understood only by invoking the religion of Islam.
Being a secular Jew, my friend’s thought process was a sign of the times in Israel. However, fast forward to 2011 when we met again, he had changed his stance and agreed with me that the Arab/Muslim animosity was indeed religion-based.
His change of heart, in the larger context was symptomatic of the transition underway in Israel. Indeed, Israel as a whole has been turning more “hawkish,” in the words of many learned western analysts. Unlike these armchair analysts, the transformation of the Israelis were based upon the reality they could no longer deny or explain away.
However, the Americans and the Europeans, living far away, presumed that a political approach to dealing with Palestinian’s suicide attacks on Israel, Pakistan’s intransigence and the Taliban threat in Afghanistan will be fruitful, if you throw enough resources at it. Several hundreds of billions of dollars later, trying a development strategy in West Bank and Pakistan and the Coin strategy in Afghanistan, the premise has proved to be fatally flawed.
Indeed, this political strategy has failed miserably in the Middle East and the AfPak region. Looking back, the reasons are all too familiar, evidence based analysis and policy-making was put in the back-burner and a wishful thinking of what-works-for-me-works-everywhere philosophy took over.
Now comes an I-anticipated-so new revelation: what – the man on whom the West has invested so much political capital – President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt said in 2010: that the Jews be expunged not only from Israel, but “any Arab or Muslim land.”
The point is any leader of a sharia-favoring political Islamic entity such as the Brotherhood has to a have a different world view and an aspiration, not much different from that of Osama Bin Laden, although the means of achieving it may differ. If you scratch deep enough, you find it; Mr. Morsi is exposed, but why should it be a surprise?
Having studied how sharia’s influence drove Pakistan into becoming a fountain-head of terror, I had cautioned how our policies may lead to the creation of Arab versions of Pakistan. In practical terms, sharia is no law, let alone a divine one, as its interpretations in the form of edicts or fatwas is full of contradictions. As it has turned out in the Middle East, Pakistan and elsewhere, one can get any fatwa of one’s liking, all you need is a dollar and a cleric who can take it. Pity those Muslims and non-Muslims who have been conned into believing a bogus law called the sharia!
The West’s policy of engaging Islamists has come full circle. Moreover, a U.S.-educated engineering PhD no less, Mr. Morsi has ensured that no Islamists can ever be reasoned with, let alone be negotiated with.
We are now at the onset of an inevitable and official Cold War with political Islam, with emancipation of Muslims from the clutches of sharia as a goal, for the sake of all of us.
Just like the communism-repressed former Soviet Union.
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