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Saturday, July 9, 2016

For five decades the US recognized 'political Islam' as a major force in the Middle East. This only changed after 9/11/2001 because the US political class had been seeking an excuse to begin major military expenditures-Gulf News, Kabalan, Dec. 2008

Dec. 2008 article, Gulf News

12/11/2008, "Obama and change we can believe in," Gulf News, Marwan Kabalan, opinion, "Dr. Marwan Kabalan is a lecturer in Media and International Relations, Faculty of Political Science and Media, Damascus University, Syria."

"The president-elect can undo the damage done by the Bush administration by reorienting the US's Middle East policies."

"For the past six weeks, since the election of Barack Obama as US president, analysts have been speculating about the policy the new administration would pursue towards political Islam. The spectrum of opinion ranges between retaining the status quo to a complete overhaul of the current antagonistic policy.

Regardless of their differences, however, most foreign policy experts in the US agree on one thing: Obama cannot afford to ignore political Islam as the most dynamic movement in Middle Eastern politics.

Political Islam has been at the heart of Middle Eastern politics since the late 1940s. For a variety of reasons, it has constituted a source of political inspiration, legitimisation and popular mobilisation ever since. Throughout the past five decades the US made full use of this political phenomenon and its approach towards it differed widely, ranging from alliance to co-option to confrontation.

Throughout the Cold War, the US regarded Islam as a bulwark against communist penetration into the Middle East. Washington supplied Afghanistan's fighters with arms and money to drive the Soviets out of the country, helped Iran in the early days of the war with Iraq and supported Islamic conservative regimes from Indonesia to Morocco.

After the Cold War, political Islam fell from grace, but retained a role in regional politics. Washington overlooked the activities of some Islamists and provided sanctuary to their leaders - the case of Shaikh Omar Abdul Rahman, leader of the Egyptian Al Jama'a Al Islamiyya is a case in point.

The logic behind this policy was to use Islamists as a leverage to extract concessions from Middle Eastern regimes and consolidate US hegemony in the region. In addition, and by way of applying pressure on Arab governments to secure an (Israeli) peace and also to prevent a repetition of the Iranian scenario, Washington recognised Islam as a major political force and did not hide its intentions to co-operate with Islamist regimes as long as they did not pose significant threat to its two intrinsic interests: oil and Israel.
 
Turning point

It was the September 11, 2001 attacks, however, that changed the picture, turned major assumptions in US policy upside down and set the stage for confrontation.

The Bush administration came to power looking for an enemy to justify its aggressive foreign policy agenda and convince a wary public of major increases in military expenditures. In the early days of its tenure, China was the target, but 9/11 supplied the Bush administration with a more credible and much needed enemy to pursue its priorities. A new policy line was established and some US scholars volunteered to provide the logic for the long-awaited crusade.

Bernard Lewis became the arch ideologue of the administration on Islam and Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilisations" thesis replaced George Kennan's containment doctrine of the Cold War. With some ultra-conservative figures already taking top positions in the White House, those scholars gained unprecedented influence on the making of US policy.

Bernard Lewis, who was once described as one of the leading Western commentators on the Middle East and Islam, became a ringleader of a group of US scholars and analysts whose fortune improved after September 11. This group includes 

Mortimer Zuckerman, 
Martin Kramer, 
Edward G. Shirely, 
Judith Miller, 
Daniel Pipes, 
Peter Rodman, 
Amos Perlmutter, and 
Charles Krauthammer.

For decades, Lewis and company have been propagating a centuries-old antagonism between the West and Islam. In this respect, Islam was depicted as a monolithic political and cultural threat to the West. Hence, the Islamic revival of the late 20th century was seen as a "clash of civilisations, the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judaeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the world-wide expansion of both," Lewis wrote.

Some of Lewis's sympathisers went as far as to compare Islam to the totalitarian movements of the 20th century. "Islamic fundamentalism is an aggressive revolutionary movement as militant and violent as the Bolshevik, Fascist and Nazi movements of the past," Perlmutter argued.

September 11, 2001 presented these scholars with an opportunity to translate their theory into policy guides. Unfortunately, the Bush administration adopted much of their argument and acted accordingly. Since 9/11, the US has declared a war disguised under the term "war on terrorism". By doing so, it ran the risk of bringing the fallacy of the clash of civilisations thesis into reality.

Should Barack Obama change this policy? I think he should. But would he?"

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Comment: The endless so-called wars of Bush #1, #2 and Obama have been about impoverishing Americans, nothing else.





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