The Big Pharaoh
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Monday, May 09, 2005

Chitchatting with Islamists
(Please read all)

Thanks all for your votes and comments (see previous post). It was a very lively discussion. The results are as follows:

Reuel Gerecht: 22% (24 votes)
Robert Satloff: 61% (61 votes)
I am not sure: 14% (15 votes)
Neither: 7% (8 votes)

I was not surprised to see some voters who didn’t agree with neither Gerecht nor Satloff, others were not sure. This shows that this issue is not clear cut and it should be thought about very carefully. Now, what was my vote? I didn’t vote in this poll because I wanted to vote for both Gerecht and Satloff! I wanted to derive things from both arguments and combine them into one.

Before continuing, I would like to point out that I hate using the word “Islamists” because it gives those people who want to use religion-contaminated politics in order to change my private life (whether through violence or nonviolence) a monopoly over Islam. It makes it as if those political activists are the only pious Muslims around and the liberals/progressives/secularists are infidels. This is not fair for Islam. There is a huge difference between Islam as a personal faith practiced by over 1.3 billion people and between those who want to apply 1400 years old rules today. However, since we don’t have an alternative in the English language, I will continue using this terminology.

Gerecht’s argument revolves around this notion: the US should open a dialogue with nonviolent Islamists so that those nonviolent Islamists would not turn violent and show up in New York and slaughter another 3000 Americans. In other words, the US should help nonviolent Islamists reach their political aspirations before they turn violent and create small Bin Ladens. I fully understand this argument and support it somehow. Islamists are here, they won’t go away even if the US didn’t open a dialogue with them. They have a huge popular base that progressives and liberals envy, and there is no escape from allowing this group to participate in the political life that might lead to their ascension to power.

Satloff’s argument is based upon the fact that violence should not be the litmus test of legitimacy because the agenda of nonviolent Islamists is dangerously horrible. I tend to agree with this point as well. As far as I am concerned, I am not really afraid of guns and bombs as much as I am afraid from someone who might eradicate the limited freedom I have (under Mubarak) in the name of religion. Nonviolent Islamists are just like Nazis and fascists without guns. They are dangerous and they are horrible. They might not show up in New York to slaughter another 3000 Americans, but they will definitely make my life as an Egyptian living in Egypt extremely uncomfortable. In addition to that, there are no guarantees that once nonviolent Islamists participate in politics and become powerful they won’t not turn ruthless in order to enforce their “Islamization” of the society. Khomenei talked about freedom and democracy when the Shah was around, when he took over, he executed his opponents in Tehran’s public squares.

So what should the US do? The US along with Europe should open a dialogue with nonviolent Islamists as well as liberals/secularists/nationalists, however, the West should combine this with what Satloff suggested, which is to ask for more than just cessation of violence. They should make it very crystal clear that they expect those groups to abide by the rules of civil liberties and religious freedom.

Will nonviolent Islamists ever accept civil liberties and religious freedom? No. So why am I suggesting so? Because I have a blog and I am expected to fill it with chitchat. So what do I really think the West should do? I think the West should open two things: they should open a dialogue with nonviolent Islamists and then they should also open their embassies for the asylum seekers who will want to escape from what might happen after this dialogue. Rest assured that I will definitely be among those who will show up at the embassies’ doors.


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