two must-reads from the WSJ:
Islam’s Imperial Dreams: Muslim political ambitions aren’t a reaction to Western encroachments
As a historical matter, the birth of Islam was inextricably linked with empire. Unlike Christianity and the Christian kingdoms that once existed under or alongside it, Islam has never distinguished between temporal and religious powers, which were combined in the person of Muhammad.
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It is in recognition of this state of affairs that Zawahiri wrote his now famous letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, in July 2005. If, Zawahiri instructed his lieutenant, al Qaeda’s strategy for Iraq and elsewhere were to succeed, it would have to take into account the growing thirst among many Arabs for democracy and a normal life, and strive not to alienate popular opinion through such polarizing deeds as suicide attacks on fellow Muslims. Only by harnessing popular support, Zawahiri concluded, would it be possible to come to power by means of democracy itself, thereby to establish jihadist rule in Iraq, and then to move onward to conquer still larger and more distant realms and impose the writ of Islam far and wide.
Something of the same logic clearly underlies the carefully plotted rise of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, the (temporarily thwarted) attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to exploit the demand for free elections there, and the accession of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. Indeed, as reported by Mark MacKinnon in the Toronto Globe & Mail, some analysts now see a new “axis of Islam” arising in the Middle East, uniting Hizballah, Hamas, Iran, Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood, elements of Iraq’s Shiites, and others in an anti-American, anti-Israel alliance backed by Russia.
Whether or not any such structure exists or can be forged, the fact is that the fuel of Islamic imperialism remains as volatile as ever, and is very far from having burned itself out. To deny its force is the height of folly, and to imagine that it can be appeased or deflected is to play into its hands. Only when it is defeated, and when the faith of Islam is no longer a tool of Islamic political ambition, will the inhabitants of Muslim lands, and the rest of the world, be able to look forward to a future less burdened by Saladins and their gory dreams.
Critics of the Iraq war have offered no serious strategic alternative to the president’s freedom agenda, which is anchored in the belief that democracy and liberal institutions are the best antidote to the pathologies plaguing the Middle East. The region has generated deep resentments and lethal anti-Americanism. In the past, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this policy created its own unintended consequences, including attacks that hit America with deadly fury on Sept. 11. President Bush struck back, both militarily and by promoting liberty.
In Iraq, we are witnessing advancements and some heartening achievements. We are also experiencing the hardships and setbacks that accompany epic transitions. There will be others. But there is no other way to fundamentally change the Arab Middle East. Democracy and the accompanying rise of political and civic institutions are the only route to a better world–and because the work is difficult doesn’t mean it can be ignored. The cycle has to be broken. The process of democratic reform has begun, and now would be precisely the wrong time to lose our nerve and turn our back on the freedom agenda. It would be a geopolitical disaster and a moral calamity–and President Bush, like President Reagan before him, will persist in his efforts to shape a more hopeful world
Read all of both articles.