Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The ‘Context’ of Islamism

The GWOT is a classic example in which the ‘cause’ has been completely eclipsed by the manner of execution of the terror act of 9/11. Foreign presence in and control of regimes in Arab states, for reasons of energy security, furnished the context, at least partially. The Arab nationalist strand in this power play has been completely lost. Islamists have in the bargain gained ascendancy over popular Muslim opinion and consolidation in the popular opinion in societies subject to structural violence of the West. This has pushed the rational-secular aspect of sovereignty over Arab lands - that is amenable to political resolution - out of the reckoning altogether. In manipulating the terms of the discourse and changing the conflict markers, the West has displaced the ‘political’ in favour of the instrument of its strategic choice, the military.

The linkage between the problems in ‘Af-Pak’ and West Asia is in those fighting for change in Arab lands having made the former their base. The resulting instability has spilt onto the Indus plains and is threatening to expand further in case the military response is not buttressed by a political prong. This implies that the ‘context’ should also command attention. There is a self-interested misreading of the strategic equations in the GWOT. Presently, it is set to expand into Pakistan with it being pressurised for a similar militarised response at the risk of its national cohesion and stability. Keeping Pakistan alongside and on even keel is the imperative in light of the difference in magnitude of an unstable Pakistan as against that witnessed in Iraq earlier and of late in Afghanistan. The consolidation of al Qaeda and their local allies would be complete in such a case.

Strategic sense, in the sense of reading potentiality of power, power differentials and outcome possibilities, dictates that there would have to be some play in the ‘military only’ strategy for an element of the ‘political.’ It is expected that counterinsurgency improvements as per the 2006 pamphlet would bring about success. This is to ignore the ‘political,’ to which alone can be attributed the endgame in counterinsurgency. Addressing the ‘demand’ side in this war can only begin by a realignment in the US approach to Southwest Asia. Israel’s current actions only make the need for this reorientation more urgent. The roots of the conflict in South Asia being in West Asia, there is required a linking between the two as part of the unfolding Af-Pak strategy.

This would preserve Muslim societies - to begin with the Pakistani Punjabi - from devastation as civil war battlefields. Arguments based on the humanity of sparing these would not cut ice in a situation in which the credibility of the sole superpower and the most powerful military alliance, the NATO, is at stake. The strategic argument is that Islamism is growing. Quite like the power of the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Hamas in Gaza in face of Israeli military ministrations; only on a vastly grander scale. If the Enlightenment project has to be preserved, terrorism would first require to be starved of a ‘context.’

The legitimacy of a cause cannot be completely discounted by the nature of acts purportedly in its name. A philosophical counter to rescue the cause of ‘freedom’ from appropriation entirely by and solely for the ‘international community,’ such as this, should not be construed as condoning violence; but as a breakout of the information war shackles of the GWOT. What has been lost sight of is the support of the West to the authoritarian regimes in West Asia and North Africa. The origin of bin Laden’s counter was in the 1990s, challenging Western control and presence in his homeland. His followers from Egypt and elsewhere also have a similar argument with respect to the West’s support to oppressive regimes in their respective lands. While their manner of countering this, namely terror, has nothing to recommend it, solely concentrating on ending terrorism, a symptom of the problem, is not enough.

A holistic approach requires a melding of the Mitchell and Holbrooke missions and a transformation in the Arab world in favour of democracy. Though Bush’s manner of spreading democracy was found wanting, that should not end or de-legitimize the process and desired end state. Fear in the West is that the resulting regimes with an Islamist colour would be anti-democratic and against them, thereby endangering energy security that is at the core of the capitalist West’s national life. Since energy security is taken as a ‘vital interest,’ it is being defended militarily through the GWOT. This is resulting in a backlash with the Islamist argument against neo-colonialism finding echo in the anti-war discourse in Muslim societies.

Democracy can be used to defuse Islamism. For this it would first, be necessary for the West to remove its umbrella over authoritarian regimes in West Asia. Recognising this as the ‘root cause’ would help enable treating it politically. History may yet fault the Obama strategy for ‘Af-Pak’ for having failed to address this adequately.

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