Islamic jihadists share many characteristics with neoconservatives, a Columbia University professor argues in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.
Mahmood Mamdani, a professor of government and anthropology, draws parallels between Islamic terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden, and those who subscribe to a neoconservative political philosophy.
Mr. Mamdani's essay, published in the journal's January/February issue, concerns two new books about contemporary Islam's relationship to the West. Mr. Mamdani criticizes one of the authors, Gilles Kepel, for not fully articulating the similarities between the jihadists and neoconservatives.
"Kepel misses key parallels between neoconservatives and jihadists," Mr. Mamdani writes. "In addition to the mix of interest and ideology, the two groups share global ambitions and a deep faith in the efficacy of politically motivated violence, and both count among their ranks cadres whose biographies are often tainted by early stints in the Trotskyist or the Maoist left." He continues: "Both jihadists and neoconservatives are products of the Cold War, when ideologically driven violence was embraced by all sides, secular and religious."
Mr. Mamdani does not specify which neoconservatives he is referring to and makes no specific distinctions between the two groups. The neoconservative intellectual movement, which grew out of opposition in the 1940s and 1950s to Stalinism and the Soviet Union among liberals who eventually split from those sympathetic to Communism, advocates aggressive military action against Islamic terrorism. Many "neo-cons" argue that democratic reforms in the Middle East will help to reduce terrorism. The influence of their ideas on the Bush administration has recently put the movement in the public spotlight.
A Middle East scholar who writes a column in The New York Sun, Daniel Pipes, said there was "nothing original about" Mr. Mamdani's argument.
"It shows the softness in the head of Columbia Middle East specialists that he can't tell the difference between a totalitarian movement and a movement in support of democracy and personal liberty," Mr. Pipes said.
The director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, Murray Friedman, who is author of the upcoming book "The Neoconservative Revolution," said the comparison Mr. Mamdani is drawing "makes no sense."
"Jihad seems to be projecting aggressive war against civilians, innocents, and children who have nothing to do with the public policy neoconservatives are advocating," he said. Some neo-cons, such as Irving Kristol, were initially supporters of Russian revolutionist Leon Trotsky, he said, but Mr. Friedman said he did not know of any who were Maoists.
Mr. Mamdani did not respond to a request for comment. The appearance of his essay follows the recent release of his book, "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror," which argues that American foreign policy, particularly support for the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union, is in large part responsible for spawning the Islamic terrorism that America is battling.
Mr. Mamdani is the Herbert Lehman professor of government in the university's anthropology department and the director of Columbia's Institute of African Studies, according to the institute's Web site. He has also taught at the University of Dar-es Salaam in Tanzania and Makerere University in Uganda. Next semester, Mr. Mamdani is to teach a seminar course titled "The Cold War and the Third World."
Mr. Mamdani has also been one of the most outspoken supporters at Columbia of a campaign calling for the university to divest its holdings from companies that sell military hardware or arms to Israel. At an anti-Israel teach-in in November 2002, Mr. Mamdani compared Israel's founding to Liberia's.
"The Americo-Liberians thought it their god-given right to civilize native Liberians who had never left home," he writes, according to a text of the speech provided by a campus organization supporting divestment. "Zionists who return to Israel see Palestinians as interlopers, squatters - without a right grounded in a Biblically-sanctioned 'civilized' history - who must now clear the way for the rightful owners of the land."
One of the complaints voiced by scholars such as Mr. Pipes and Martin Kramer, author of "Ivory Towers on Sand," against those who specialize in Middle Eastern studies at American universities is their hostility to America and Israel.
Columbia's administration, in its investigation into complaints that anti-Israel faculty members have intimidated students, has made clear it is not looking into the politics of its scholars. "Columbia is committed to advancing public dialogue on the issues of our time," a Columbia spokeswoman who was asked to comment on Mr. Mamdani's Foreign Affairs essay said. "Therefore, it supports the right of faculty to provide perspectives and commentary on them. But these views do not necessarily represent those of the university."