Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Naïve Westerners Constantly Exaggerate Middle Eastern Moderation

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By Barry Rubin

There are three basic reasons why many Westerners are so gullible that they often overstate the moderation—or inaccurately claim that a major step toward moderation has taken place—on the part of radical states or groups. Among the beneficiaries of these errors are: Fatah, Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, Libya, Muslim Brotherhood groups, the PLO, Sudan, Syria, the Taliban, and others, including many individuals.

Such errors are dangerous for a variety of reasons. Advocating engagement with extremists strengthens them; reducing sanctions or not instituting them has the same effect. Those who oppose such groups are stigmatized and don’t receive the support they need and deserve. Acts of terrorism and advocacy of genocide are ignored. People do die as a result of these errors, though rarely are they those who made the mistakes.

Such misestimates take place for a number of reasons:

--Deliberate propaganda. The journalists, politicians, academics, or activists are in some way agents of the radicals seeking to mislead.

--Ignorance and carelessness: The conveyer belts of lies and mistakes simply don’t do serious research or are incapable of understanding these subjects.

-- Wishful thinkers: People who wrongly believe that they promote peace and international understanding, while reducing bias or the chance of conflict, by giving the benefit of the doubt to those about whom there should be no doubt.

--Dupes: Those who are genuinely fooled either directly or because they believe people who aren’t telling the truth.

--Doctrinaire disbelievers: Those who intellectually and culturally cannot believe that anyone would want to be an extremist, at least unless they had been mistreated or simply didn’t understand the advantages of moderation. This last group is an extraordinarily powerful force in Western societies today.

Let us learn to distinguish between goals, strategies, and tactics:

--Goals: The goal of every Islamist group is to seize state power and turn its country into a totalitarian regime. Usually, the broader objective is to make the entire Middle East into an Islamist state, generally along the lines of the Islamic caliphate that existed in Islam's early days. This also involves expelling Western influence from the Middle East, destroying Israel, and subordinating any non-Muslims in the local population.

--Strategy: The strategy set is the one that seems to leaders the best way to achieve this goal, limited by their ideology but taking into account current and local conditions. The two main strategies are armed struggle (defeating the government's army, terrorizing any competing populations and the general public) or political maneuvering which might include electoral politics. In both cases, the movement tries to build a mass base through sermons, classes, welfare activities, and other means.

--Tactics: These are short-term variable tools that serve the strategic guidelines and ultimate goals.

For instance, Hizballah wants to take over Lebanon. Currently, it is using electoral politics as a tactic to gain a strong foothold in the government. Another tactic is to lull the West into believing that it is no longer radical in order to reduce opposition and perhaps even gain support. An old tactic is to express radical views in Arabic but moderate-sounding ones in English.

Meanwhile, its strategy is to constrain its rivals within Lebanon and to build up its own state within a state, including a very large militia which is equipped with arms paid for and smuggled in with the help of Iran and Syria. Hizballah's goals remain the same.

Anyone who looks only at the most superficial tactics without understanding the goals, strategy, and even the tactics in a more sophisticated way will be fooled.

For an example, see here

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