Benjamin Gordon is a consultant at Corporate Decisions, Inc., Boston, and a recent graduate of Yale College.
Does the U.S. government have a coherent policy toward fundamentalist Islam? Fundamentalists themselves are convinced not only that Washington has a policy but that it is a consistent and aggressive one. Iran's former ambassador to the United Nations, Said Raja'i Khourasani, asserts that the American position "has not changed" over the years: "The language is always the same -- it is threatened or it is threatening."1 On the other side, scholars and diplomats tend to see incoherence in policy toward fundamentalists as they do about foreign policy in general. Richard Haass speaks for many when he holds that "public statements by administration officials about the purposes of U.S. foreign policy have been inconsistent or simply ambiguous.2
In fact, neither side is entirely correct. While there has been a coherent policy, it has changed over time. Since 1979, when Iranian fundamentalist Muslims overthrew Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Washington has undergone a series of subtle shifts in its policy toward fundamentalist Islam. From Presidents Reagan to Bush to Clinton, the U.S. government has migrated from rhetorical confrontation to timid outreach to outright accommodation.
The following analysis focuses on official U.S. statements about fundamentalist Islam.3 The statements deal with four main issues: the root cause of fundamentalist Islam; its role in democratization; the question of "moderate" versus "extremist" fundamentalists; and U.S. policy. By examining these statements, we can trace the evolution of official U.S. thinking; explain these changes, noting areas of consistency and inconsistency; and conclude with policy recommendations.
THE REAGAN AND BUSH FOUNDATIONS
Reagan administration. U.S. policy toward fundamentalist Islam incubated during the Reagan administration, which began a year after the 1979 revolution in Iran and ended just before a wave of fundamentalist electoral victories took place in the Middle East. Consequently, the Reagan administration had little need to develop a comprehensive policy on this subject. At a time when fundamentalist Islam wore a revolutionary face and sought power through acts of violence, an aggressive policy of containment against the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iranian-sponsored terrorist organizations sufficed.
Accordingly, administration officials alluded to fundamentalist Islam in simple and consistently hostile terms.4 Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy discussed fundamentalist Islam's "revolutionary and sometimes violent nature," as well as its "ideology of an extreme nature."5 Undersecretary of State Michael Armacost labeled the Islamic Republic of Iran a "messianic, radical state."6 Secretary of State George Shultz referred to fundamentalist Islam as a form of "radical extremism."7 President Reagan suggested using the Arab-Israeli peace process to engage Arab moderates against a rising tide of anti-Western fundamentalists.8 These allusions suggested a growing awareness of the challenge but they did not coalesce into a comprehensive policy.
Bush administration. The face of fundamentalism began to change in the late 1980s. Fundamentalist electoral victories in Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait came to a head in December 1991 in Algeria, when the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut--FIS) swept the first round of Algeria's parliamentary elections and appeared to poised to gain power in the second round. Seeking power through the ballot, not the bullet, these fundamentalists created a set of quandaries for American policymakers that remain in place today. When military rulers cancelled the elections in January 1992, the U.S. government was confronted with a dilemma: Should it insist on elections, even though they would likely bring the anti-Western (and probably nondemocratic) FIS to power? Or should it side with the less anti-Western but certainly nondemocratic military government? The Bush administration initially hedged its response. Asked how to define U.S. policy toward political fundamentalist Muslims in Algeria and elsewhere, Secretary of State James Baker avoided the topic: "I think we'd have to look at it on a case-by-case basis."9
Prodded by the events in Algeria, a policy began to emerge. On June 2, 1992, Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian delivered a speech at the Meridian House in Washington.10 As the first major U.S. government statement on fundamentalist Islam, it merits special attention. Shifting away from the simple confrontational approach of the Reagan administration, Djerejian offered something more ambiguous and pragmatic. He highlighted the "diversity" and "complexity" of "this renewed Islamic emphasis" and described fundamentalist Islam in cautiously optimistic terms, portraying the groups involved as "seeking to reform their societies in keeping with Islamic ideals." He emphasized that the movement was driven by "believers," adding, "We detect no monolithic or coordinated international effort behind these movements."
As for fundamentalists' gaining power through elections, Djerejian equivocated. Yes, he encouraged democratization as an alternative to authoritarian rule:
Those who are prepared to take specific steps toward free elections, creating independent judiciaries, promoting the rule of law, reducing restrictions on the press, respecting the rights of minorities, and guaranteeing individual rights will find us ready to recognize and support their efforts, just as those moving in the opposite direction will find us ready to speak candidly and act accordingly.
But Djerejian also tempered his commitment to free elections: "We are suspect of those who would use the democratic process to come to power, only to destroy that very process in order to retain power and political dominance." In a line much quoted in subsequent years, he added an implicit reference to Algeria: "While we believe in the principle of `one person, one vote,' we do not support `one person, one vote, one time.'" On the fundamental choices -- between fundamentalist Islam and autocratic rule, and between democratic principles and status-quo pragmatism -- Djerejian did not take a clear stand.
In contrast to the Reagan administration, which equated fundamentalists and extremists, Djerejian indicated that all of the one are not necessarily the other. "Our quarrel," he stated, "is with extremism and the violence, denial, intolerance, intimidation, coercion and terror which too often accompany it." This curious list included three characteristics associated with military-terrorist groups (violence, coercion, and terror) and three with political groups (denial, intolerance, and intimidation). Djerejian then elaborated on the characteristics of extremist groups:
Those who are insensitive to the need for political pluralism; those who cloak their message in another brand of authoritarianism; those who substitute religious and political confrontation for constructive engagement with the rest of the world; those who do not share our commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict; and those who would pursue their goals through repression or violence.
Specific as they were, these guidelines failed to address the key question: At what point does a fundamentalist group become extremist? Is, for example, the FIS extremist? Djerejian's oblique definition permitted the Bush administration great flexibility.
As for U.S. policy, Djerejian rejected the cold war paradigm ("The Cold War is not being replaced by a new competition between Islam and the West") and dismissed the notion that fundamentalist Islam had replaced communism: "The United States Government does not view Islam as the next `ism' confronting the West or threatening world peace." He advocated a response to extremism rooted in material improvements of socioeconomic conditions, citing "the pursuit of viable economic and social development programs, privatization, and adequate educational and vocational training opportunities."
The Meridian address codified a clear Bush administration stance on some issues: fundamentalist Muslims were not influenced by Iran but homegrown and independent; their political actions were primarily reformist in nature; and they did not necessarily threaten the United States. In sum, the speech suggested an ambiguous accommodation of fundamentalism.
A CLINTON DOCTRINE?
The Clinton administration inherited the Meridian House approach and sought to refine it as fundamentalist Islam gained in strength from Algeria to Egypt to Jordan; and as the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles spurred new fundamentalist violence.
A first signal of the Clinton doctrine came during the April 1993 congressional testimony of Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism Laurence Pope.11 Pope separated the political ideology of fundamentalist Islam from the terrorist actions carried out in its name: "The misuse of Islamic political rhetoric . . . should not cause us to confuse in our own minds terrorism and Islam," he told the Senate. He went further before the House: "What we're talking about is terrorism and not political ideologies, and certainly not Islam." This shift in concern away from political ideology and toward terrorism foreshadowed the future direction of US policy.
An additional clue came during Djerejian's congressional testimony a month later,12 when he elaborated on issues raised in his Meridian House address and made some subtle changes. He offered, first, an explanation for the growth of fundamentalist Islam: "Experience suggests to us that political Islamic movements are to an important degree rooted in worsening socio-economic conditions in individual countries." Significantly, this interpretation attributed fundamentalist Islam's surge to factors in the domain of public policy.
Secondly, contrary to his Meridian House speech ("We detect no monolithic or coordinated international effort behind these movements"), Djerejian now acknowledged that outside powers do play a role in spreading fundamentalist Islam. His statement that "some of these extremists groups, especially in the Near East and in the Maghreb, are being exploited from without" marked a significant change in U.S. policy, suggesting the possibility that Washington might coordinate its policies on fundamentalist Islam with allied governments to confront such states as Iran and the Sudan.
Thirdly, whereas Djerejian previously had gone to great lengths to differentiate faith from actions, he now allowed that when it comes to extremism, intentions also count: "We have to look very carefully at various groups as to what their real political intent is on this very basic issue." This new emphasis on intent suggests a more critical look at fundamentalists. But Djerejian then went on to define extremists as those elements "that resort to violence, that resort to terrorism, that do not respect the democratic process." By isolating violent and nondemocratic actions, this definition seemingly avoided criticizing groups that sanction (but do not engage in) terrorism, oppose the peace process, or advocate anti-Western views.
These two signals have different consequences. By emphasizing violent actions, Pope isolated terrorist organizations and oppressive governments as extremists. Yet, Djerejian would seem also to include nonviolent fundamentalists. The first suggests a continuing accommodationist tack, the second implies a more confrontationalist approach.
A third signal came in July 1993 from Timothy Wirth, the State Department's counselor, who told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that "the misuse of Islamic political rhetoric by these groups should not cause us to confuse in our own minds terrorism and Islam"13 -- in effect reiterating Pope's separation of political ideology from terrorist activity. The shift from Pope to Djerejian and back to Wirth suggests that the Clinton administration at this point lacked a definition of extremism but leaned toward accommodation.
In subsequent congressional testimony,14 Djerejian used new terminology to describe the fundamentalist Muslim revival: "We reject the notion that a renewed emphasis on traditional values in many parts of the Islamic world must lead inevitably to conflict with the West." The phrase "traditional values" was a curious choice. It transformed the radical political ambitions of fundamentalists into the "traditional values" of Muslims; it reversed Djerejian's previous claim that "Islam is not the issue"; and it suggested that the U.S. government looks favorably on fundamentalism. Most surprising, with this phrase, Djerejian plunged the U.S. government into the world of interpreting Islamic practice and doctrine, not a customary role for a secular government. As we shall see, many other official spokesmen would take up his gauntlet.
To clarify the Clinton administration's outlook on fundamentalist Islam and confirm its accommodationist tilt, National Security Advisor Anthony Lake weighed in on the topic with two addresses. In October 1993,15 he pointed to violence as the defining issue in determining "extremists":
We will extend every expression of friendship to those of the Islamic faith who abide in peace and tolerance. But we will provide every resistance to militants who distort Islamic doctrines and seek to expand their influence by force.
Lake's vague distinction based on aggressive actions appeared to affirm the conciliatory definitions of extremism enunciated by Pope and Wirth. In keeping with this cautious treatment of fundamentalist Islam, he avoided labelling nonviolent fundamentalists as enemies of the United States. By criticizing "militants who distort Islamic doctrines," Lake added his voice as an interpreter of what true and false Islam might be.
A half-year later, in May 1994, Lake squarely argued against confrontation.16 This address, the key Clinton administration treatise on fundamentalism, explicitly criticized Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis, which sees world conflicts increasingly defined by cultural (and hence relatively immutable) differences.17 Lake proposed that "the fault line runs not between civilizations or religions. No, it runs instead between oppression and responsive government, between isolation and openness, and between moderation and extremism." He expressed more concern with the excesses of oppressive governments (such as the military rule in Algeria) than with those of their fundamentalist alternatives.
Amplifying his earlier remarks about "militants who distort Islamic doctrines," Lake now explained the real goals of extremists: "What distinguishes Islamic extremism is that it uses religion to cover its real intentions -- the naked pursuit of political power." By arguing that religion is a mere fig leaf covering political goals, Lake took on an even more direct role for himself as an arbiter of true Islam.
At the same time, Lake distinguished between extremism and fundamentalist Islam. He carefully chose his references to extremism: "secular Libya," "fundamentalist Sudan," and other explicitly anti-American states, such as Iran and Iraq, implying that the extremism follows from a state's or movement's opposing U.S. interests. He then added, cryptically, "We watch carefully from Algeria to Southern Lebanon, from the West Bank and Gaza to Egypt and Jordan, where extremists threaten to divert the region under the old path of violence." This unwillingness to define U.S. policy in key locations suggests the degree to which U.S. policy remains in flux. It also points to Lake's desire to avoid committing unambiguously to anti-fundamentalist and (more-or-less) pro-Western regimes in Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan, presumably hedging his bets in the case of Iranian-style revolutions in those countries.
Lake advanced an extremely benevolent interpretation of fundamentalism's nature, arguing that it did not pose an inherent threat to the United States. Recalling Djerejian's 1993 formulation, he rejected the notion that "a renewed emphasis on traditional values in the Islamic world must inevitably conflict with the West or with democratic principles." Going beyond Djerejian, he then enumerated those values: "Devotion to family and society, to faith and good works, are not alien to our own experience." He connected the fundamentalist enterprise with the search for democracy:
People in the region, as is the case around the world, are searching for ways to achieve responsive government, guarantee basic human rights, and guide their daily lives. That so many of them look to religion, to Islam, is neither unusual nor unique.
Lake suggested that fundamentalist Islam could play a productive role in reforming Muslim societies. His references to "tradition," "responsive government," and "human rights" suggested a bold step toward accommodation, marking a significant break from the past.
What does it mean for U.S. policy if the enemy is not fundamentalist Islam but an "extremism" based on violence? Washington should work to isolate the extremists: "In the midst of this challenge, the United States must join hands with willing nations and build regional bulwarks against extremism." In this context, he highlighted two Turkic states, Kazakhstan and Turkey, then emphasized the Arab-Israeli peace process as a mechanism to combat Islamic extremism.
THE ALGERIA TEST
While the generalists in Lake's office developed the skeleton of a policy toward fundamentalist Islam, two men in the State Department's bureau for Near Eastern Affairs fleshed it out for Algeria: Assistant Secretary Robert Pelletreau and Deputy Assistant Secretary Mark Parris. They delivered a cluster of related speeches between March and September 1994 that because of their similarity can be treated as a single whole. Together, they provide a practical elaboration on the philosophical statements of other administration officials.
During congressional testimony in March 1994,18 Pelletreau announced what amounted to a new policy on fundamentalist Islam. He began with a very benevolent interpretation of fundamentalism: "Under the name of political Islam, we see groups in countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa seeking to reform their societies according to Islamic ideals." With this, Pelletreau not only echoed Lake's "traditional values" terminology but spoke about the fundamentalists with unprecedented warmth.
Parris and Pelletreau disagreed on the extent of collusion between extremists. Parris announced that the government considered FIS a domestic movement, virtually unconnected with fundamentalists abroad ("Algeria's Islamic fundamentalist movement is primarily homegrown and home nurtured") and dismissed Iranian and Sudanese involvement as "not a significant factor in our view."19 Both Parris and Pelletreau maintained a concern with "agents of terror," but refrained from criticizing their international political supporters. In contrast, Pelletreau expressed a serious concern "over Iran's exploitation of Islamic extremist groups throughout the region and over Sudan's role in supporting such groups" and warned of "increasing coordination between such regimes and extremist groups." At the same time, Pelletreau did not suggest an active policy against extremists joining forces but he said only that "their resort to terrorism demands our vigilance."
Despite this apparent disagreement, Parris and Pelletreau concurred on the crucial distinction between moderate and extremist fundamentalists. In an April 1994 speech, Parris equated terrorism with extremism: "This wave of terrorism suggests that extremists are gradually eclipsing moderates in Algeria's loosely organized and disparate Islamist movement."20 He condemned aggression from both the Algerian government and the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armée--GIA): "The United States has publicly and privately condemned violence and human rights abuses from all quarters in Algeria." But, like Pelletreau, Parris exempted the FIS from criticism. In fact, while inheriting Pelletreau's violent/nonviolent litmus test, Parris's speech marked a breakthrough in the distinction between perpetrators of violent acts and its political support. To assess the relationship between terrorist fundamentalists and political fundamentalists, Parris said:
We have condemned those actions [of the GIA] as we have condemned acts of violence by all sides in Algeria. We have felt it important, however, to distinguish between those groups' activities and the activities of elements who had been active within the umbrella of the FIS before crackdown on its activities in January of 1992.
He went on to note "no evidence indicating that the FIS leadership abroad is currently in any way controlling the activities of those groups who have claimed responsibility for the acts which you referred to."
This new policy gauge might be called "the operational test": if political fundamentalists are operationally linked with terrorists, they deserve to be held accountable. Applying this test to Algeria, Parris claimed that the FIS and the GIA had become not allies but rivals. Parris then concluded that the FIS was not harming American interests.
The administration thus singled out aggressiveness as the distinguishing characteristic of extremists. In testimony in September 1994,21 Pelletreau called on the Algerian government to "negotiate a peaceful solution" with FIS, implying that the fundamentalist Muslim group is worthy of formal recognition by Algiers. In evenhanded fashion, he criticized both the GIA for acts of intimidation and the government for counterinsurgency excesses, but conspicuously did not mention FIS, suggesting that he considered FIS a force for moderation.
Continuing the odd practice started by Djerejian and Lake, Pelletreau offered his interpretation of "true Islam." The GIA's actions, he said, are incompatible with "the principles of Islam." He then went on to suggest that fundamentalists are fine, that violence is the only objection: "Islamist figures who are sincere about finding a nonviolent solution to Algeria's problems should clearly disassociate themselves from this type of blind fanaticism." Lake hinted at this distinction but Pelletreau broke new ground by making it explicit. The Clinton administration now had a clear policy of distinguishing moderate from extremist fundamentalists; and fundamentalist Islam was deemed a constructive force.
What about a solution to the problem of extremist Islam? Pelletreau and Parris pointed to socioeconomic and political remedies. In April, Parris called for a process that involves "a broadening of political participation to encompass all factions, including Islamist leaders who reject terrorism." His goal -- the logical denouement of Lake's second address -- was to encourage the Algeria authorities to allow nonviolent fundamentalists to join the governing system while marginalizing violent fundamentalists.
Pelletreau repeated this call in September, encouraging in Algeria "a process which broadens political participation, prepares for an eventual return to elections, and protects the rights of all Algerians." Lest there be any doubt as to who should be included, he spelled it out for all to hear:
The U.S. government has thus repeatedly stressed to Algerian leaders at the highest levels the need for concrete steps to establish a dialogue with opposition elements -- secular and Islamist -- willing to work toward a nonviolent solution to Algeria's crisis.
Such language implied support for fundamentalist Islamists.
Parris and Pelletreau closely followed Lake and their other Clinton administration predecessors. They distinguished between nonviolent "moderate Islamists" and violent "extremist Islamists"; they attributed "traditional values" to Islamists; and they encouraged an accommodation of fundamentalist Islam. Pelletreau's use of the phrase "radical Islamists" was telling, for it showed how the Reagan definition of "extremist" as Islamist had come full circle. Now, to be classified as "extremist," it was no longer enough to be an Iranian-style Islamist; one must instead be a "radical Islamist."
PRESIDENT CLINTON JOINS IN
Bill Clinton remained silent on the subject of fundamentalist Islam during his first year and a half as president, taking up the subject first in late autumn 1994, after lower-ranking officials had tested the waters. First, his domestic agenda had run aground, due to the health-reform bill's failure and the Republican congressional sweep. Secondly, international events intervened. On the positive side, a landmark Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement provided an opportunity for Clinton to visit the Middle East, even as a resurgence in fundamentalist Muslim terrorism led to many deaths in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Buenos Aires. He did so during a major policy address before Jordan's parliament in Amman, delivered on the eve of the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement.22
Like his predecessors, Clinton defined extremists not as fundamentalist Muslims but as "the forces of terror and extremism, who cloak themselves in the rhetoric of religion and nationalism, but behave in ways that contradict the very teachings of their faith and mock their patriotism." Then, in seeming inconsistency, Clinton added that the extremists "stoke the fires of violence. They seek to destroy the progress of this peace [between Jordan and Israel]." This latter description would seem to include fundamentalist Islamists who abet terror and advocate anti-peace actions, including the very fundamentalist parliamentarians who had boycotted his speech. In classic Clinton style, the president appeared to do two things at once. He first preserved Lake's emphasis on acts of violence, but then defined extremists in terms of hostile beliefs as well as actions. Put charitably, Clinton's ambiguity fit well into the precedent set by other administration spokesmen.
Clinton identified the root of the problem as principally socioeconomic ("These forces of reaction feed on disillusionment, poverty and despair") and he advocated a socioeconomic response: "Our goal must be to spread prosperity and security to all." To forward this goal, he called on Congress to make available hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Jordan and other Middle Eastern states. The president praised Islam as a constructive force, going out of his way to link it with peace. He referred to King Husayn -- peacemaker of the moment -- as "Your Majesty, descendant of the prophet Mohammed," and lauded "the traditional values of Islam -- devotion to faith and good works, to family and society -- [that] are in harmony with the best of American ideals." While this "traditional values" reference sounds like an echo of Lake and others (who thereby ceded Islamic tradition to the fundamentalist radicals). Clinton's terminology in fact pointed to a reversal of recent policy. By associating "traditional values" with Husayn -- a nonfundamentalist Muslim if ever there was one -- Clinton seemed to be redefining this phrase yet again.
This impression was reinforced in March 1995, at a joint press conference with Morocco's King Hassan II.23 Clinton concluded his opening remarks by stating:
I'd like to express my own gratitude to the King for his enlightened leadership of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. I share his conviction that Islam can be a powerful force for tolerance and moderation in the world, and that its traditional values -- devotion to family and to society, to faith and good works -- are in harmony with the best of Western ideals.
Again, that term "traditional values": King Hassan II's brand of Islam is certainly not fundamentalist; nor is that of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.24
In the end, the U.S. government shifted from Reagan's confrontation to Bush's modest accommodation to Clinton's emboldened accommodation . . . and then retreated from the implications of that boldness. The Clinton administration's distinction between violent "extremist" fundamentalists and nonviolent "moderates" endures, but ceding "traditional values" to the fundamentalists may not. Ultimately, both the Bush and the Clinton administrations maintained the skeleton, if not always the flesh, of a policy advocating ambiguous accommodation.
CONTINUITY AND CHANGE
The Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations all acknowledged that fundamentalist Islam has religious and political aspects; all struggled to decide on the appropriate criteria for fundamentalist participation in free elections; and all opposed "extremism." More striking is the consistency with which the U.S. approach over time has shifted from confrontation to accommodation.
Under Reagan, the government adopted an aggressive stance in its assessment of fundamentalist Islam's roots and nature (radical, Iranian-exported, and rooted in culture); its distinction between moderates and extremists (all fundamentalists are extremist); and its policy response (containment of fundamentalism).
Under Bush, this stance softened. Fundamentalism has indigenous roots and socioeconomic causes; fundamentalists should participate in free elections; extremists are only those who engage in violent acts; peace, development, and democratization are the antidotes.
Clinton completed the shift, emphasizing fundamentalist Islam's indigenous, socioeconomic, and "traditional" qualities; advocating a fundamentalist role in democratization; distinguishing extremists on the basis of violent actions; and endorsing socioeconomic solutions.
Contrary to the assessment of Richard Haass, the U.S. government has maintained a coherent policy toward fundamentalist Islam; but, contrary to Said Raja'i Khourasani, it has not always been hostile to fundamentalism, but has shifted from confrontation to accommodation.
However internally cohesive its policy may be, the U.S. government's view of fundamentalism nevertheless rests on a shaky foundation. Erroneous assumptions lead to faulty analyses and flawed solutions. The government should reexamine three key distinctions: between Islam the religion and Islam the political doctrine; between moderate and extremist fundamentalists; and between socioeconomics and ideology.
Religion vs. political doctrine. Washington should distinguish the traditional religion of Islam from the radical political applications of fundamentalists. The Bush and Clinton administrations went to great lengths to exempt the religion of Islam from their criticism of Islamic terrorism. That's fine, but then they cloud this distinction by ascribing "traditional values" to the fundamentalists. The current brand of Iranian-style fundamentalist Islam is not new -- its predecessors include the Kharijites, Isma`ilis, and Fedayan-i Islam, to name three reactionary groups who also sought revolution -- but its objective is anything but traditional. Its defining purpose is to overthrow and radically to transform the existing order. The U.S. government must not cede the mantle of Islamic tradition to the revolutionary ideology of fundamentalist Islam.
Moderate vs. extremist. Violent and nonviolent fundamentalists are two sides of the same coin: both subscribe to a staunchly anti-Western ideology. As the mechanism by which radicals justify their violent actions, the ideology of fundamentalist Islam is directly linked with the tactics of military terrorists. The violence litmus test is woefully inadequate given the inimical views of fundamentalist Muslims toward democracy, the Arab-Israeli peace process, human rights, and virtually every U.S. objective in the Middle East. Instead, the test ought to include support for regional democracy and Arab-Israeli peace, as well as opposition to terrorism.
Socioeconomics vs. ideology. The U.S. government should swallow hard and acknowledge the deep cultural roots of fundamentalist Islam. As Samuel Huntington can attest, it is unfashionable to discuss culture in foreign policy. This step is particularly difficult for officials because it requires that they go beyond the traditional limitations of policy-making discourse. It is far easier to do what the past two administrations have done: attribute the fundamentalist rise to conditions of poverty and deprivation and attempt to respond with economic development and political liberalization. Dollars and democracy might alleviate socioeconomic grievances but there is no evidence that they will slow the rise of fundamentalist Islam. Indeed, fundamentalism has experienced some of its strongest growth in the middle classes of countries such as Egypt, India, and Indonesia. Meanwhile, a deeper set of issues lies neglected: the cultural, religious, ideological, and identity-driven aspects of the fundamentalist resurgence. Admittedly, Washington can do very little to affect these issues, but it is intellectually dishonest, as well as diplomatically risky, to deny them.
In brief, U.S. policy ought to delineate clearly the differences between religious tradition and political radicalism; reject the fallacy that fundamentalism contains both pro-Western moderates and anti-Western extremists; and stop assuming that fundamentalists share American values. Washington should drop its current policy of ambigious accommodation in favor of a tougher, more realistic approach that recognizes the profoundly radical and anti-Western outlook of fundamentalists. A consistent approach to all forms of fundamentalist Islam, from the most establishment to the most violent, will permit the U.S. government to develop an intellectual framework for containing the influence of anti-American extremists.
1 Charles Holmes, "Coming to Terms with Islam,"The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Mar. 5, 1995.
2 Richard Haass, "Paradigm Lost," Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 1995, p. 52.
3 Also known as "Islamism," "radical Islam," "militant Islam," and "political Islam." All these terms refer to movements commited to rule by Islam's sacred law (the Shari'a) and subscribing to a staunchly anti-secular and anti-Western ideology.
4 Although Reagan conducted a major foreign-policy venture in conjunction with Hekmaytar and the fundamentalist mujahidin in Afghanistan, actions in this area never led to a policy on fundamentalist Islam.
5 Richard W. Murphy, "Middle East Peace: Facing Realities and Challenges," U.S. Department of State Bulletin, Sept. 1988, p. 44.
6 Michael H. Armacost, "U.S.-Soviet Relations: Testing Gorbachev's `New Thinking,'" U.S. Department of State Bulletin, Sept. 1987, p. 36.
7 George Shultz, "The Future of American Foreign Policy: New Realities and New Ways of Thinking," Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Department of State Bulletin, Jan. 31, 1985 (published Mar. 1985).
8 Charlotte Saikowski, "Mideast Agitation Spurs US, Arab Diplomacy,"The Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 20, 1985, 1.
9 James Baker, "Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; U.S. Foreign Policy," Federal News Service, Jan. 6, 1992.
10 Edward Djerejian, "The U.S. and the Middle East in a Changing World; Address at Meridian House International," U.S. Department of State Dispatch, June 2, 1992.
11 Laurence Pope, "Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Terrorism in America," Federal News Service, Apr. 21, 1993; Pope, "House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing," The Reuter Transcript Report, Apr. 21, 1993.
12 Edward Djerejian, "Capitol Hill Hearing with Defense Department Personnel, Excerpt of the Hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa of the House Foreign Affairs Committee," Federal News Service, May 12, 1993.
13 Tim Wirth, "Hearing of the International Security, International Organizations and Human Rights Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; US Anti-Terrorism Policy," Federal News Service, July 13, 1993.
14 Edward Djerejian, "U.S. Policy on Recent Developments and Other Issues in the Middle East; Statement before the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East of the House Foreign Affairs Committee," U.S. Department of State Dispatch, July 27, 1993, printed Aug. 9, 1993.
15 Anthony Lake, "From Containment to Enlargement," Vital Speeches, Oct. 15, 1993, p. 13.
16 "Remarks by Tony Lake, National Security Adviser to the President, at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy," Federal News Service, May 17, 1994.
17 Samuel Huntington, "The Clash of Civilizations," Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, pp. 22-49.
18 "Robert Pelletreau, Assistant Secretary of State, Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East," Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony, Mar. 1, 1994.
19 Mark Parris, "Capitol Hill Hearing, House Foreign Affairs, Africa Subcommittee Hearing Regarding the Situation in Algeria and Current U.S. Policy Options," House Foreign Affairs Committee, Federal News Service, Mar. 22, 1994.
20 Mark Parris, "Update on the Crisis in Algeria; Statement before the Subcommittee on Africa of the House Foreign Affairs Committee," U.S. Department of State Dispatch, Apr. 4, 1994.
21 Robert Pelletreau, "U.S. Policy Toward North Africa; Statement before the Subcommittee on Africa of the House Foreign Affairs Committee," U.S. Department of State Dispatch, Sept. 28, 1994.
22 "President Clinton Addresses Joint Session of Jordanian Parliament," Federal News Service, Oct. 26, 1994.
23 "Transcript of Remarks by President Clinton and King Hassan II of Morocco in Press Conference," U.S. Newswire, Mar. 15, 1995.
24 Indeed, at the 23d congress of foreign ministers of the OIC, "speaker after speaker" condemned fundamentalist Islam, "which they think is against the principles of Islam." BBC World Service, Dec. 9, 1995, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: Near East and South Asia, Dec. 13, 1995.
Related Topics: Radical Islam, US policy | Benjamin Gordon | March 1996 MEQ
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