Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nothing is Scarier Than Being Quoted

By Barry Rubin

When you write a sentence, or present an idea, you never know how it is going to be reproduced by someone else. At times, especially nowadays, people may deliberately distort what you write in order to prove you are peddling some outlandish proposal that you are totally against.

Part of my problem is that I also get blamed by confused or careless people for things written by people who have a first or last name similar to mine. [I'm tempted to joke that I'm glad the current president doesn't use the first name "Barry" but I won't.]

There is no experience stranger than being passionately attacked for allegedly believing something when you hold the exact opposite viewpoint.

Recently, a number of places--I think with good intentions--quoted from a Bangladesh newspaper that reprinted a blog article of mine (why they don't go to the blog itself I just don't understand). The quotes were correct but my point misunderstood. Their claims grew out of the idea--theirs, not mine--that Muslims were some sort of monolith (or at least almost completely so), which is a mistake made by both sides in the debate.

The argument being made was over the claim that I somehow said it was naive of President Barack Obama to reach out to Muslims. I would never make such a claim.

Of course, Obama or any U.S. president should reach out to Muslims. That's not the point. What is essential here is:

--Which Muslims? He shouldn't put the emphasis on showing radicals that he means them well--Iran, Syria, Muslim Brotherhoods, the Turkish government--but work with the relatively moderate politically, meaning in the Middle East most Arab regimes and liberal reformers. Yes, I'm aware these last two groups are often at odds.

--In what way can we define the nature of the current conflict? It is not between "Muslims" and "others" but rather between Islamists who want to take over countries in order to transform those societies and those, at home and abroad, who don't want to see that happen. More specifically, within Muslim-majority countries, the conflict is between revolutionary Islamists and their supporters, on one hand, and on the other a large group of conservative-traditionalist Muslims and a much smaller group of liberal ones.

What is critical here is that millions of people whose religion is Islam hold political views that can be defined as patriotic-nationalist, Arab nationalist, communal loyalism, and other categories. This is discussed HERE.

--How should the United States reach out? Show that the United States is a strong ally, protector, and represents desirable things in cultural and economic terms, not by fawning, appeasing, or apologizing. That sends the message: If revolutionary Islamists by scaring and attacking the West are able to get them begging already, what can they achieve by killing a lot more people and seizing power?

For those interested in my fuller explanation, go HERE.

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