A few weeks ago, Fareed Zakaria questioned our mostly military response to radical Islam. Readers, both at the Huffington Post and at Newsweek, posted hundreds of comments passionately opposing or supporting Mr. Zakaria's thesis. His text deserves more than that. It brings new ideas into the pivotal issue of our foreign policy. Following or rejecting Mr. Zakaria's suggestions can define how many American soldiers will or will not die in Afghanistan over the next few years. Furthermore, by changing our approach to Hamas and Hezbollah it can affect our ability of finally resolving the never-ending Israeli-Arab conflict. For these reasons, I find it troubling that this column by Mr. Zakaria resonated poorly in the mainstream media.
The weakness of Mr. Zakaria's column is in putting an emphasis on radical Islam as a conglomerate of political formations, not on people who under some circumstances fell for extreme ideas. From his other writings, we know that Mr. Zakaria understands the cultural and psychological background of Islamic fundamentalism. Unfortunately, he did not explore these arguments in this column.
When talking about political formations we tend to depersonalize them; especially when they are coming from a cultural context that we do not know nor understand, and even more so if they are openly hostile to us. We do not see people that we could reason with; we see demons that we need to annihilate. When we focus on people, we see others who think and feel as we do. We compassionately look at their economic hardship. We can relate their political standings to situations in our culture and in our history when we dealt with instances of radical fanaticism.
One may say, "That sounds great, but there is no way to reason with them." For the best response to this argument one does not need to go to Afghanistan, just turning on Fox News will do it. Can one reason with Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity? Their TV shows are inspired by news, and aspire to be analytical. Their intentions are noble -- they want to better our country and they would like to ease the hardship that a proverbial average American endures. They refer to some basic canons of our tradition that resonate with the beliefs and feeling of most Americans. However, they make shortcuts, they jump over boring analysis in search for a sometimes difficult truth; they resource to quick wit and demagogy in propagating opinions that the majority of viewers admire. They give their viewers an illusion of being informed, when in fact they pick and chose only facts that they can interpret to support their narrow-minded ideological agenda. Objectively, they misinform the public. One can see this as a moral issue. I see this as a money issue, as the under-informed and undereducated person is simply losing in the global marketplace. In other words, objectively, it is in the best interest of both every viewer of these shows and the society as a whole to ignore these shows. The reality is the opposite. One may ask how it is possible that in our world-leading nation such intellectually shallow shows grew to be so popular and influential.
Ideologists of radical Islam spread their views using the same methods as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. They just appear incomparably more ridiculous and violent because they operate in a distinct tradition. However, witch-hunts in Salem are a part of American tradition, too; as well as lynch mobs, occurring regularly almost up to modern times. If we add other "achievements" of the Western culture, like the Inquisition or atrocities of the WWII, we can see that Muslims are walking the same path that we had walked before. We made it from there to here, and so will they. We can leave them alone. Those very few who turn to terror can be treated the same as other criminals. All the other radical Islam fundamentalists, as it was with all kinds of extremists in Western tradition, are their own greatest enemies.