The ancient Chinese warrior Sun Tzu taught his soldiers to “know your enemy” before going into war. For if “you know your enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated”. The Americans and British alas still do not understand their enemy. Whether it is the governments, informed commentators or ordinary citizenry the lack of a comprehensive understanding of the Muslim world remains worrying. One could partly excuse why senior officials in 10 Downing Street and the West Wing had to rush to buy books on Afghanistan, Political Islam and Muslim Groups following the events of September 11th . However ignorance five years on cannot excuse the cataclysmic deficiency in current policy.
Though the majority of Muslims share a political narrative of decades old grievances against Anglo/American foreign policy, most have rejected the path of using mass violence against civilians. The fact that most have rejected such a path should not be confused with either support for the means or the ends of the US/UK project. However it is the failure to understand the mainstream demands of most in the Muslim world that has been the real failing of the War on Terror. For most people living in the West, you could be confused into thinking that most of those who oppose the Anglo American project want the extinction of all Non Muslims, the imposition of Sharia Law in Canterbury or Utah and the mass incarceration of the female species.
Yet careful study in the Muslim world of surveys, electoral results and yes even speeches by the minority who do support a strategy of violence has shown that the demands are in fact much more reasonable. The demand of seeking the removal of all foreign forces (bases included) and the cessation of western occupation and interference (centuries old) in the resources of the Muslim world is just a continuation of the anti colonial struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The demand of stopping the unadulterated support of Israel an entity that was responsible for wiping the unitary Palestinian state off the map in 1948 should be seen through a prism of mass injustice to the people of Palestine. Finally the demand to stop all support for the region’s tyrannical dictators and to allow the Muslim world to define its own political destiny can only be controversial to those that have graduated from the school of hypocrisy and expediency.
Of course Muslims will have several ideological objections to aspects of a secular society, in the same way that many in the west will profoundly disagree with several elements of Islamic governance. Muslims may want in an ideal world everyone to voluntarily embrace their core beliefs (as is the case with Communists and free market Capitalists), but this cannot be a demand, this is a decision that individual Non Muslims will have to make without coercion and in an atmosphere of trust and debate. In the same way demanding Shariah law in societies where the vast majority prefer a secular liberal way of life is just wish list politics. Ideological disagreements, wish lists or the use of vitriolic rhetoric by some should not be equated with tangible political demands.
Of course some in the western world will baulk at the above demands preferring instead a status quo riddled with insecurity. A report published by a Pentagon advisory panel, the Defense Science Board in 2004 systematically destroys this cosy rationale. The report states ”Today we reflexively compare Muslim ‘masses’ to those oppressed under Soviet rule. This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies — except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends.” The report says that ”Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies.” The report also says: ”The critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim world is not one of ‘dissemination of information’ or even one of crafting and delivering the ‘right’ message. Rather it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none.”
However it only suits those who seek perpetual war in Washington and London to constantly recite the mantra that there is no political solution to the current crisis. Calling your opponents fascist while being responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands in the Muslim world is hardly credible. The false choice portrayed by Messrs Bush and Blair to their citizens is to either appease the terrorists or defeat them. After five years of ideological, political and military failure, people in the West should realise that Tony Blair is occasionally right, there is often a third way.