Thomas Friedman's Civil War

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Do we want a civil war in the Muslim world?


Lots of people have been teeing off on Thomas Friedman's column advocating a "civil war" in the Muslim world (see here and here), but I want to focus on a slightly different angle. Friedman writes:

So please tell me, how are we supposed to help build something decent and self-sustaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan when jihadists murder other Muslims by the dozens and no one really calls them out?

A corrosive mind-set has taken hold since 9/11. It says that Arabs and Muslims are only objects, never responsible for anything in their world, and we are the only subjects, responsible for everything that happens in their world. We infantilize them.

Arab and Muslims are not just objects. They are subjects. They aspire to, are able to and must be challenged to take responsibility for their world. If we want a peaceful, tolerant region more than they do, they will hold our coats while we fight, and they will hold their tongues against their worst extremists.

I think Friedman misses two important dynamics here. The first, particularly in the instances of Afghanistan and Iraq, is simple fear. Personally, I'd be less inclined to "call out" the Taliban if I was convinced my headless body would be deposited in a nearby dump the next day. Especially in Afghanistan, where the population is spread pretty thin, there's not a lot of safety in numbers should you want to start an anti-extremist movement.

But the second dynamic is even less favorable to the U.S. and that's the extent to which the moderates don't much like the U.S. either. A recent poll from the University of Maryland illustrates the point: while there is a disgust of al Qaeda's methods (and thus, of radicalism) there's a basic agreement on al Qaeda's political objectives of forcing a change in U.S. foreign policy:

A study of public opinion in predominantly Muslim countries reveals that very large majorities continue to renounce the use of attacks on civilians as a means of pursuing political goals. At the same time large majorities agree with al Qaeda's goal of pushing the United States to remove its military forces from all Muslim countries and substantial numbers, in some cases majorities, approve of attacks on US troops in Muslim countries.

Your run of the mill moderate may be disgusted by al Qaeda attacks against America and may find the idea of slaughtering infidels abhorrent, but he may also think that we're getting what's coming to us and so isn't very motivated to get himself killed purging the radicals from his midst.

(AP Photos)

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