Fawaz A. Gerges
A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America's Relations with the Muslim Worldby Emile Nakhleh
In A Necessary Engagement, the CIA's former point man on Islam makes a vigorous case for a renewal of American public diplomacy in the Muslim world. Offering a unique balance between in-depth analysis, personal memoir, and foreign policy remedies, the book injects much-needed wisdom into the public discussion of long-term U.S.-Muslim/i>
In A Necessary Engagement, the CIA's former point man on Islam makes a vigorous case for a renewal of American public diplomacy in the Muslim world. Offering a unique balance between in-depth analysis, personal memoir, and foreign policy remedies, the book injects much-needed wisdom into the public discussion of long-term U.S.-Muslim relations.
Intelligence insider Emile Nakhleh argues that an engagement with the Muslim world benefits the national interest of the United States. Therefore, the next administration should discard the terrorism prism through which the country has viewed political Islam since 9/11 and focus instead on the common interests of America and mainstream Muslims. Nakhleh investigates recent U.S. policy toward Islamic nations and offers the new administration a ten-point plan for rebuilding America's relationship with the Muslim world. The author demonstrates that winning over Arabs and Muslims requires a thorough knowledge of Arab and Muslim cultures and languages within our intelligence community, as well as a long-term American commitment of personnel and resources. While the success of these efforts will be incremental and hard to measure, Nakhleh believes that the current low standing of the United States in most Arab and Muslim countries can be reversed.
Stressing that effective public diplomacy must be a serious, coordinated effort pursued at the highest political levels, A Necessary Engagement charts a new course for future ties between the United States and the Islamic world.
Fawaz A. Gerges
"Nakhleh, former director of the CIA's Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, draws on nearly three decades of experience, current research and extensive polling to argue that the majority of Muslims strongly oppose terrorism and want good governance and a functional relationship with the U.S."Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"In an informative and revealing book, A Necessary Engagement, Emile Nakhleh, a former director of Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program in the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence, says that although midlevel U.S. officials knew better than to frame the war in black-and-white terms, ever-expanding the territory of the enemy, they had little say and input in decision-making. . . . Nakhleh paints a grim and stark portrait of the failures of U.S. policy makers to understand the most basic attitudes that Muslims have of themselves, each other and the West."Fawaz A. Gerges, The National Interest
"This book should be required reading for the non-expert who wants a real understanding of militant Islam and how the United States should deal with it. Even experts in Islam, foreign policy and public diplomacy would find it worth reading. The author has marshaled persuasive arguments and presented a systematic analysis that is carefully grounded in fact and sensible conclusions. . . . Nakhleh's years of careful study have been distilled into a highly readable 146 pages. Because of the nature of the issues he discussed, this book will be relevant to understanding our world for some time to come."William A. Rugh, Middle East Policy
"Nakhleh draws extensively on his government background in this slim, must-read volume, which combines cogent and balanced analysis with well-reasoned policy recommendations culminating in a useful 'blueprint' for US public diplomacy that offers some novel suggestions."Mona Yacoubian, Middle East Journal
"In this slender volume, Nakhleh examines the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world, presents cogent criticisms of U.S. assumptions and policies, and extends sound advice on how to undo what has been done through mistake, ignorance, or arrogance. . . . The book is optimistic, succinct, and timely."A. Ahmad, Choice
"[A]nyone reflecting on how the US policy towards the Muslim world should be developed would be well advised to read it."Harold Walker, Journal of Islamic Studies
William A. Rugh
Nakhleh, former director of the CIA's Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, draws on nearly three decades of experience, current research and extensive polling to argue that the majority of Muslims strongly oppose terrorism and want good governance and a functional relationship with the U.S. But, he writes, "The policies of the past six years have put the [U.S.] on a collision course with the Islamic world, and have undermined American credibility and stature worldwide." He offers several recommendations for engaging Muslim communities, starting with "enhancing government expertise in political Islam" and including "promoting multilateralism, a resolution of regional conflicts... intellectual exchanges... dialogue with adversaries and an end to wars of choice." Nakhleh defends the CIA from accusations that it failed to sound the pre-9/11 alarm ("the claim made by some neo-cons... is patently false") and strengthens the case that more often than not, politics trumped intelligence in the Bush administration. Indeed, the greatest irony may be that today, a majority of Muslims view the U.S. "as a threat to world peace." Incoming policymakers might want to take note. (Feb.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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A Necessary EngagementREINVENTING AMERICA'S RELATIONS WITH THE MUSLIM WORLD
By Emile A. Nakhleh
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2009 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePOLITICAL ISLAM AND ISLAMIZATION
On my visits to Muslim countries, which in the business are known as TDYs or temporary duty visits, I entered numerous mosques (my colleagues used to joke that my TDYs involved "mosque hopping" or "mosque crashing") and spoke to dozens of imams and 'ulama (religious scholars). My Muslim interlocutors in these countries included ordinary people, mainstream thinkers, writers, journalists, and academics, political party activists, NGO officials, "establishment" (mostly adhering to the government line) and nonestablishment clerics, pro-democracy advocates, radical thinkers and jihadists, businessmen, restaurateurs, taxi drivers, farmers, and booksellers. During these visits, I also met government officials and interacted with allied intelligence services in dozens of countries. The analysis of what follows is informed primarily by these many discussions and interviews.
The goal of these visits was threefold: first, to track the growth of Islamization and Islamic activism across many countries, to study their manifestations, and to identify the factors that drive them; second, to compare and contrast the growth of Islamic activism in different Muslim countries and to develop a useful sense of the stages of Islamic activism; and third, to analyze how Islamic activists from different cultures, races, and sects understand the phenomenon of Islamization and use it as a basis for their political, economic, and social activism. My research focused on seeking answers to a range of questions: What theological arguments do Muslims advance to justify their activism as Muslims and as citizens of Muslim and non-Muslim countries? Why do some activists turn to Islam as an identity anchor, whereas others turn to nationalism? What factors determine the type of religious ideology-moderate and tolerant or radical and intolerant-they espouse as a foundation for their newfound activism? At the conclusion of each visit, I made recommendations to senior policymakers on the long-term implications of Islamic activism and assessed whether such a phenomenon poses a short- or long-term threat to the United States and to friendly countries and regimes. As an intelligence officer, the author upheld the intelligence community's golden rule that intelligence officers do not make policy; they only inform it.
In talking to activists from various Islamic political parties-whether the Islamic Party of Malaysia, AKP in Turkey, Justice and Development in Morocco, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, the Islamic Movement in Israel, or Hamas in Palestine-I was especially interested in learning whether their commitment to participatory government and democracy represented a tactical ploy to get them to power or a strategic shift toward accepting "man-made" democracy. Some argued they were genuinely committed to a pluralist form of government in which minorities-religious (Sunni or Shia), ethnic, and racial-would be afforded equal opportunities; others were not so categorical. The key question our policymakers asked about Islamic political parties was, Were they committed to a gradual, peaceful process of change and have they disavowed violence and terrorism as a means of pursuing their political goals?
In my interviews with a variety of Muslim activists, mainstreamers and radicals, I attempted to trace the process of radicalization and how young people in a particular country or community make the transition from moderation and tolerance to radicalism, the factors that drive this transformation, and how some of them ultimately translate their acquired radicalization and "jihadization" into acts of terror. That is to say, how does a young man move from being a nonpracticing Muslim to becoming a devout and observant Muslim and from there to a stage where he could justify the use of violence as part of his jihad in the service of his faith and global Islamic causes? When I asked a young Pakistani why he was going to Kashmir to do jihad against the Indians, he answered, "Why not? Kashmir is part of Islamic jihad." Then I asked, if the opportunity presented itself for him to go to Chechnya to fight against the Russians, would he go? "Of course," he replied. I turned to his father for an explanation. He said that his son's "jihad" would help him serve Islam and would give him an opportunity to leave that small village and make something of himself. If he is "martyred" in the process, he would be rewarded in eternal life. This might be a typical case of how a young man goes through the process of transformation from being a "normal" or "unremarkable" kid to becoming a jihadist. He drops out or, if lucky, graduates from high school, cannot find a job, starts frequenting the neighborhood mosque, gets indoctrinated by an activist imam or a cleric about the "enemies" of Islam and the duty to do jihad, meets a like-minded group, and is given useful contacts, papers, and some cash to travel to Kashmir or other places to do jihad.
This young man and others like him become ready recruits for terrorism. The jihadist-terrorist tendency is strengthened as the young man arrives at his destination and begins to interact with other jihadists, from Pakistan and elsewhere. Training, linkages with individuals and networks, and ideological indoctrination continue as the young jihadist becomes more engrossed in what he is made to believe is a rightful struggle in the defense of the faith. Many Muslim interlocutors correctly pointed out to me that jihad was not synonymous with terrorism. They argued that despite the fact that many non-Muslims equate jihad with terrorism, most Muslims view jihad as a religious effort-for example, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving-which aims at bringing Muslims closer to God. A Muslim journalist told me, "Jihad has nothing to do with terrorism."
Most of the Muslims I met, especially those who are members of political parties, movements, or groups or who work for NGOs, expressed strong interest in participating in a democratic political process and would like to see the American government exert more pressure on their governments to allow Islamic parties and movements to participate in elections openly, freely, and without harassment. I heard these calls for a stronger American push for democratization loudest in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Kenya. Islamic parties have already participated in elections in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, but in many countries-for example Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia-the governments and their security services tightly control the electoral process and prescribe only a narrow space within which Islamic political parties can operate. These regimes often speak in the language of democracy but resist genuine calls for political reforms. They paint all opposition-secular and Islamic-with the same broad brush and either exclude them from the political process or co-opt them into acquiescence. The terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 gave many of these regimes an excuse to silence all forms of opposition in the name of fighting terrorism, and they have used their antiterrorism rhetoric to garner Western support of their repressive policies.
Islamization and Islamic Activism
Beginning in the early 1990s, when I started my visits to Muslim countries, I began to sense a growing awareness among Muslims, individuals and groups, of their faith as a moral compass of their daily lives, a guide for their social interactions and political activism, and a basis of their worldview. Their Muslim identity became dominant over other identities and began to drive many of their political and other activities. The growth of this phenomenon, which has come to be known as Islamization, varies from one country to the next and from one Muslim community to the next. Islamization initially was more visible in Muslim majority countries but in a few years spread to Muslim minority countries. Islamic activists in different countries have offered diverse definitions of Islamization, depending on their religious ideologies, historical experiences, sectarian affiliations, and legal schools of thought to which they belong.
For many activists I spoke with, Islam is total way of life that encompasses faith, the world community, and the state, or what they call the three Ds in Arabic-din (faith), dunya (world), and dawla (state)-and some activists also maintain that Islam is the solution, or Islam hua al-hal in Arabic, to their social, political, and economic ills. "Islam is the solution" has been a major slogan in the election campaigns of several Islamic political parties, especially the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, and in some cases the Islamic Party of Malaysia. Some Islamic activists, especially the radicals, also believe that the political, military, and economic weaknesses of Muslims in the modern era are due to Muslims having strayed from Islam and followed non-Islamic ideologies and values and that the renewal and reform of Muslim societies can be achieved only through an Islamic system of government and law.
On a visit to Turkey in the mid-1990s, I had an interesting discussion with a leading thinker of the Islamic political party Refah about the nature of Islamization and its relevance to Turkish political life, especially as "laicist" or "secular" Turkey was striving to acquire membership in the European Union. He said he viewed Islam as the moral compass of Turkey regardless of the pervasive control of the military, under the direction of the Turkish General Staff, and that secular Kemalism, which was introduced by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, is an aberration, not the norm. He argued that Kemalism never took root beyond the thin sliver of university-educated elites in the urban centers of Ankara and Istanbul and that Turkey has always been an Ottoman Muslim state. Maintaining that Turkey has very little in common with Europe, he claimed that over the centuries the relationship between the two sides has been one of conquest and conflict and that Turkey should look south toward the Arab Muslim world, not to the Christian north. "Islamization is a good thing for Muslims," he said, because it helps them rediscover their Islamic traditions and heritage.
Islamic activists who have been involved in territorial conflicts, either against their governments or against a foreign occupation, have viewed the rise of Islamization among Muslims as a vehicle to mobilize their human and financial resources in the fight for their territory, either to gain autonomy from the central government or to liberate it from a foreign occupation. Islamic activists in Mindanao in the Philippines, in Xinjian Province in China, and in Aceh in Indonesia, for example, have struggled for territorial autonomy, whereas activists in Chechnya, Palestine, and Lebanon (before the Israeli withdrawal in 2000) have worked to liberate their territory from a perceived foreign occupation. These activists viewed Islamization as a source of their territorial-nationalist jihad, not as a path to global jihad advocated by al-Qa'ida, Usama Bin Ladin, or his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Between the "territorial" activists and the global jihadists, there are some groups that focus on creating a Sharia-based society in specific regions of the world transcending individual states. These movements, which include Jema'a Islamiya in Southeast Asia, Hizb al-Tahrir in Central Asia and the Middle East, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, view Islamization as a vehicle in their struggle to establish Islamic communities in those parts of the world. They tend to be closer ideologically and operationally to the global jihad paradigm than to the nationalist jihads of Hamas, the Chechens, and others. Hizb al-Tahrir, in particular, strives for the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate.
Islamic activists in Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Jordan, for example, use Islamization to force their political leadership, which is ostensibly Muslim, to act more in accordance with Islamic law or Sharia. Muslim interlocutors in these countries have told me over the years that they strongly object to the "un-Islamic" behavior of their leaders; however, as these activists have come to realize that they could not dislodge their rulers from office, especially with the growing strength of the military and the security forces, they have turned their activism toward Islamizing their society from below. During a visit to Egypt, a Muslim Brotherhood member told me, "You Islamize society from below and the regimes will follow." The statement reminded me of the American baseball field story: "You build it, and they will come!" The governor of the Zamfara state in northern Nigeria gave a similar rationalization for his decision to institute Sharia in his state in the late 1990s.
In addition to mainstream Islamic activists, radical segments of Muslim societies have also pushed Islamization among their followers. As indicated in numerous interviews, "radical" is used in this context to reflect an exclusivist, narrow-minded, and rigid view of Islam and support for aggressive jihad, including the use of force. Several of the interlocutors who considered themselves radical claimed they did not engage in violence or illegal forms of jihad, but neither did they condemn the use of violence to further their cause. Other radical interlocutors justified the use of violence against perceived enemies of Islam. To these radicals, Islamization is a means to defend the faith in the face of the onslaught by the infidels. Radicals, whether in Indonesia or Uzbekistan, agreed on a few key points: many Muslim rulers and regimes engage in an un-Islamic behavior; Muslims are obliged to fight and overthrow such regimes and their Muslim supporters; jihad against unbelievers-Muslims and non-Muslims-is a religious duty that must be pursued by all means, including violence; opposition to perceived illegitimate Muslim governments often extends to the official clergy and state-supported mosques; and, while this jihad is country-specific, it is part and parcel of a global jihad against all enemies of Islam, near and far.
A critical difference between mainstream activists and radical jihadists is their approach to change. Mainstreamers often said that they believe in gradual change through peaceful means, including the ballot box, and that if they concentrate their efforts on social change, for example in the areas of education and judiciary, society will ultimately become more Sharia friendly. By contrast, radical activists-whether at Guantanamo or in a comfortable hotel lounge in Jakarta-make it clear they have given up on gradual change because entrenched regimes will not allow meaningful change to occur and that the electoral process in many Arab and Muslim countries is a farcical game designed to placate the populace while maintaining the regime's hold on power. To the radicals, the collusion between many Muslim regimes and the enemies of Islam-presumably the United States and Israel-have made them apostates who should be removed from power.
When I asked a radical jihadist at Guantanamo what he planned to do if and when he is released, he answered without hesitation that he would continue his jihad against the United States and pro-U.S. regimes, ticking off the names of Mubarak of Egypt, Saleh of Yemen, Musharraf of Pakistan, the two Abdallahs of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and Ben Ali of Tunisia. Other detainees at Guantanamo who were caught in the dragnet net after 9/11 did not share that jihadist's radical views against the United States or other countries. In a conversation I had with a Hizb al-Tahrir activist in Indonesia, he calmly told me over lunch that he justified the use of violence against the Americans and other enemies of Islam, even though such violence might lead to the killing of innocent bystanders. In his view, the United States and other Western countries have already employed this type of violence against Muslims throughout the Islamic world, including in Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Iraq.
Excerpted from A Necessary Engagement by Emile A. Nakhleh Copyright © 2009 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are saying about this
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Meet the Author
Emile Nakhleh was a senior intelligence service officer and director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program in the Directorate of Intelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency. He holds a PhD in international relations and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
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