October 28, 2005

Perpetual Peace Continued

In his commentary on my discussion of democracy, terrorism, and perpetual peace, Eric addresses my contention about the appeal of Islamic terrorism in Europe:

Regarding the genesis of terrorist groups, "fully formed," in Western-style democracy, is this really crucial to the discussion? First, there is time for just such a growth - as many of these movements and ideologies are relatively new to the landscape of the region (western democracies) – so it is not beyond the pale that we might see some in the near future. If the attitudes and inclinations can be found in local populations to join these existing groups, it is more than feasible that at some point there will also be the initiative to form new ones.

It's a fair criticism, though I think that there needs to be some discussion of the forms that Islamic terrorism takes in Europe. With several notable exceptions such as the GIA bombings in France during the mid-1990s, 3/11, and the London bombings, the vast majority of the terrorist activity that occurs in Europe is essentially that of infrastructure - propaganda, recruiting, financing, and so on. This is one of the reasons why there's been so much apathy among the various European governments as far as acting against said groups: as long as their attentions were directed against distant foreign lands, most European authorities with the exception of the French (due to the bombings in Paris mentioned earlier) saw little reason to move against them pre-9/11.

Another thing that needs to be kept in mind is that immigrant communities always seem to be more dogmatic with regard to political causes in their own homelands then the people who are actually living there. Thus, it shouldn't come as any real surprise that there's far more support for Islamic revolution in Algeria among Algerian immigrants living in France rather than among the general population of Algeria itself. Those European Muslims who view Islamic extremists in a romanticized light and go to fight in Chechnya or more recently Iraq generally seem to do so out of a mixture of piety, adventure, and the dogmatic political mindset formed earlier. This seems to be more or less accepted within the increasingly alienated and unassimilated European Muslim community and the prior apathy of European governments towards these types of behavior has had the effect of putting the wolves in charge of the henhouse as far as many European Muslim enclaves are concerned, which is why there appears to be far more support among certain Muslim groups in the UK for acting against, say, the brownshirt wannabes in al-Muhajiroun than there is among the British political class.

However, if European Muslims ever started forming their own terrorist groups and attempting to implement an Islamic revolution on the Continent, they are going to risk disrupting and losing much of the support and infrastructure they have worked so hard to create. In the case of al-Qaeda, their leadership has recognized this from the very beginning, which is why attacks on the "far enemy" are intended to achieve specific results (like the Spanish withdrawl from Iraq, as a simple reading of Iraq al-Jihad will indicate - the 7/7 bombings in London should also be seen in this context) rather than to mark the beginning of an Islamic revolution in Europe, a distinction I think that is not to missed when discussing how many European Muslims are likely to support such actions. MI5 documents leaked to the British press following 7/7 indicate that there are ~10,000 active al-Qaeda supporters in the UK and possibly as many as 300 trained operatives - out of a Muslim population of more than 2,000,000. Now that's a pretty big security problem and one that the UK definitely needs to address, but it's also clear that for all al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers' ability to intimidate and frighten, they wouldn't be winning at the ballot box if elections were held tomorrow, even among the UK Muslim community.

And then, at what point do copycat organizations and cells gain the status of a new organization as opposed to outgrowths?

That's a difficult question, but I would say when it's no longer dependent on its parent group for direction, support, resources, and so on. This is extremely complicated by the fact that al-Qaeda is set up as an organization of organizations, with the result being that a chart showing the relationship between different groups and key individuals within them looks more like a conspiracy diagram than a valid chart showing the different relationships between various terrorist groups at first glance.

Does it really matter where they were born if such affiliated groups spread throughout the world anyway?

The internationalization and spread of local political struggles (and I want to say that the Palestinians were the first group to adopt this particular strategy in the 1960s) is a fact that has more to with the realities of technology and globalization than anything else. In the case of the Sikh insurgency in Indian Punjab, at its height it was active on several continents, though one seldom hears much of them anymore. Save for various communist groups (which owed more to their state sponsors than to anything else), prior to the advent of al-Qaeda and the internationalization of all local Muslim conflicts as some kind of ummah-wide battle the resolution of a conflict at the local level one way or another usually meant the end of the internationalization of the conflict, though inertia usually keeps the external branches operating for quite some time, as can be seen by the presence of IRA members in Colombia as more or less hired trainers of FARC.

Does the fact that this movement was originally an imported phenomenon mean that changing the country of origin’s political system will mean that the imported movements will wither on the vine?

Prior to al-Qaeda, the answer was conditionally yes in many cases, in large part because the external wings of various groups usually served at the behest of the national leadership. If there's ever a solid peace agreement in Sri Lanka, I fully expect the Tamil Tigers' robust external networks to close up shop at the conclusion of the inertia period once Prabhakaran issues the order to disarm. A long-standing argument in support of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (we can debate whether this argument is correct some other time) is that the Palestinian terrorist groups will fold once the Palestinians receive statehood.

With al-Qaeda and its member groups however, this paradigm no longer holds true because there are always new battlefields to fight on. As a result, local groups have their organizations or agendas co-opted to serve an international agenda. That's why the external wings of Algerian Islamist groups are now being used as cannon fodder against US and Russian as well as French targets and why their domestic wings are now being sent as far afield as Mali and Mauritania. The GSPC, for instance, shot up a Mauritanian military base earlier this summer. How that is even remotely connected to their local goal of Islamic revolution in Algeria is beyond me and would have been unthinkable if not for this internationalization factor that al-Qaeda has brought into Muslim conflicts where beforehand there was none.

Dan is right that Salafism is one aspect of the political (and religious) culture of the Muslim world, but if its appeal can penetrate European democracies, its appeal would also likely survive the democratization of the Muslim world. Won’t similarly minded Salafists just keep on “exporting” from a democratic Muslim world – assuming there are no future home-grown movements in western democracies and elsewhere?

Quite frankly, it's not entirely clear to me that Salafism's appeal in Europe is due to the fact that it's winning on the merits. Rather, it strikes me that Wahhabi clerics (and much of institutional Wahhabism has taken on a Salafist bent in recent years) and their benefactors have made an aggressive and extremely well-financed attempt to establish themselves as the torchbearers of Islam in much of Europe, just as they are now attempting to do in places like Southeast Asia. Unlike the latter region, however, there isn't much of a tradition of resistance in Europe and as such many sincere Muslim immigrants who come from places like North Africa that have generally practiced more traditional forms of Islam and find that many of the imams, mosques, religious education materials, and so on are Wahhabi-financed. It precisely these types of concerns that have led the French to adopt religious regulation policies (and I am not merely speaking of the headscarf ban here) in their own country that would be unthinkable in Europe.

Leaving the issue of religion aside from the moment (and Jean-Yves Camus's article on Islam in France should give one a full grasp of just how complicated an issue this is), I think it would be foolish to ignore the fact that European Salafists tend to be both well-organized and extremely well-financed when attempting to understand their appeal.

So pointing out that Salafist jihadism is an export of the Muslim world, does not necessarily mean that it exists only because of an absence of democracy in that region. Further, even if it wouldn't have arisen in the first place if that society were democratic at the time of genesis, now that it has arisen (and we see that it can persuade those living in such free societies), can the cat be put back in the bag - even if the bag is embroidered with democracy? I remain unconvinced.

My own view is that an Ottoman Empire left at least somewhat intact after World War 1 would have been able to successfully suppress the current rise of Wahhabism (thus leaving Salafism without much of a theoretical or popular basis) the same way they had following its initial genesis, but that's neither here nor there.

As far as whether or not the spread of democracy will successfully inoculate the region against extremism, I would point out here again that in those countries in the Muslim world that do hold free elections none of them is in imminent danger of an Islamic revolution and most Salafist parties usually garner about the same share of the vote as far right parties do in Europe, thus suggesting that the Salafist philosophy leaves something to be desired at a popular level. Moreover, as long as Salafist groups are campaigning in elections they aren't blowing up cars or chopping off heads, which strikes me as a net plus in terms of their behavior.

There are other options for dealing with these groups, however, which have been more or less supported by Western governments in the name of stability since the Cold War, including the Egyptian mass detention and torture policy or the Algerian policy of more or less becoming as nasty as the people you're fighting. While Western governments never attempted to justify these tactics or see them as ideal, they were still viewed as a necessary evil as far as keeping the forces of radical Islamism at bay.

As an aside, Dan is absolutely right about the levels of apathy in some of those nations, and the impact this can have on the ability of these groups to operate with impunity. It appears that some of this is changing now - as indicated by Blair's controversial, yet ultimately necessary, moves to silence some of the most vehement proponents of jihadism. I’m not entirely comfortable with the implications of such illiberal policies, but at the same time the United Kingdom needs to take desperate measures to combat a very real threat in its midst that was left to fester for far too long. Hopefully, a balance can be struck, and necessary checks can be implemented on what is otherwise an unseemly level of executive power.

In the case of the UK, I'm still convinced that most of the more notorious offenders can be locked away under some flavor of incitement, conspiracy, or immigration charges. Abu Qatada, who is named in Spanish court documents as al-Qaeda's chief representative in Europe, was living on welfare while in possession of over $100,000, for instance. If I had to venture a guess, I think that a major portion of the issue of protecting democracies from likes of Qatada and his cohorts, for instance, is less a matter of implementing illiberal legislature as it is a robust willingness to enforce our own laws. It isn't like it's any great secret as far as who the resident bad guys are in the UK - it's been public knowledge in French counter-terrorism circles going at least as far back as 1994-1995 when the CIA was still regarding bin Laden as a terrorist financier.

Regarding the issue of state sponsors, Dan is right that many of these organizations benefit from some form of support from, or haven within, states (or failed states, frequently) and in that sense, denying them these bases is important. But as Dan alluded to (I think), doing this through invasion and democratization in all such areas would probably be beyond our means, as well as abilities. I would add that, as per above, democratization might not achieve our desired ends regardless.

Maybe, maybe not, but that is something you have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. You can't solve everything with a hammer, which is why a military solution isn't always the best option to pursue with regard to terrorism. You can't solve everything relating to terrorism through negotiations either, which is why you can't take the hammer off the table as an option. However, when and if we do invade I think there's a fair moral argument to be made that we should at least try to restore and/or establish a democracy in our wake. As I think I've noted in my previous discussions with Eric, I don't favor the spread of democracy by military force.

Wealthy individuals and clandestine cells can still operate within states that do not officially sanction such behavior - even democracies. In some instances, these groups rely as much on the support of local populations as they do on central governments within states.

Wealthy individuals in the United States that seek to sponsor the killing of foreign nationals, either for the perceived benefit of the US or a third party, can be jailed here for violating the Neutrality Act among a host of other laws as I understand it. Ditto goes for the clandestine terrorist cells. If either want to operate openly in Western democracies, they have to so in a clandestine and illegal manner. This wasn't, until recently and then very half-heartedly, the case of say Saudi Arabia where Salafist philanthropists like Yasin al-Qadi, Adel Batterjee, et al. operated rather openly and as upstanding members of the community. Even today, men like Safar al-Hawali, whose fatwa calling for jihad against US forces in Iraq has probably sent hundreds of young Saudis to their deaths, continue to operate openly in the Kingdom, if for no other reason than that elements of the Saudi government secretly sympathize with their view (which is my own view) or because they fear that acting against them will serve to further destabilize the monarchy (which I gather is the official line).

Pakistan is a good example in this regard. I don't doubt that Musharaff would like to see LeT and other groups rolled up, but he lacks the political latitude to act in such a manner and risks creating a violent schism in his country if he were to crack down in a serious way. He also almost lost his life, on more than one occasion, in retaliation for such efforts. Arguably, Pakistan isn't much of a democracy per se, but would more democratic fortifications in Pakistan solve this? Wouldn't any elected government in Pakistan face the same issues as long as there was indigenous support for jihadists?

I'm going to break with the consensus view here and say that while General Musharaf's efforts have been extremely admirable and far more than I would ever have thought he could ever achieve, I do not think that he wants the Pakistani jihadi groups rolled up so much as he desires to subordinate them to the Pakistani state (rather than the Salafists and their Deobandi allies, who think that things should be the other way around). Certainly he has no interest in them becoming involved in any kind of international struggle or throwing in with someone like bin Laden (though this strikes me as fait accompli at this point) who wants him dead and his government overthrown. However, he still wants to preserve the Pakistani jihadis as a means through which to use against India if he has to and a simple look at the difference in military balance between the two powers should explain easily enough why he wants whatever assets he can get. Towards that end, he seems to have deliberately sought to undermine and splinter various jihadi organizations in order to break them free of al-Qaeda's influence and bring them back under his control, but he has always deliberately refrained from shutting down the training camps or other terrorist infrastructure that he believes could be of use to him at some point in the future.

As for the issue of whether or not further democratic fortifications in Pakistan would solve this, I tend to think that if the country weren't a banana republic when it wasn't being run by the military would certainly be helpful towards counter-acting the jihadis' appeal. Bin Laden, for instance, seemed to regard Benazir Bhutto (whatever her flaws) as enough of a threat to try and destabilize her government on multiple occasions if her claims are to be believed. As far as helping to weaken indigeneous support of the jihadi groups, a major way to go about doing that (in addition to the more practical steps like shutting down their training camps) would be to set up a stable education and social service system. Keep in mind that for all their alleged support, those Pakistani political parties that are the most tied at the hip to jihadi organizations such as Jamaat-e-Islami or the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islami are not exactly electoral giants inside of Pakistan. Indeed, the figures they normally receive were at least partly the basis for my earlier comparison of the actual levels of Salafist support as being akin to those of far right parties in Europe. Doesn't make the rest of the country populated by liberal democrats, but it does sort of deflate the view that there's a huge constituency inside Pakistan just itching to become Iran 2.0.

As another example, in Indonesia we know that it is the dynamics of democracy itself that makes the ruling coalition hesitant to go after Jemaah Islamiya. This ruling coalition relies on Islamist parties to maintain a majority stake in the legislature, and cracking down on Jemaah Islamiya might cost them their control. So they skirt the issue. Limiting state sponsors and denying safe havens are important and a worthwhile goals, but democratization is not necessarily adept at achieving these ends where local populations create powerful disincentives.

Actually, the Indonesian police did a phenomenonal job at the rounding up the initial Bali bombers and much of the senior JI leadership through good old-fashioned police work once the political will was unleashed to support them in that effort. The problem is that most of the Indonesian political class is still in denial about the nature and scope of the threat rather than that they are unable to do anything about it for political reasons. The former Indonesian vice president, Hamzah Haz, who was the closest thing that JI had to a man in the government, was soundly defeated in the last elections and even the most vocal Salafist parties aren't openly supporting JI - they're still arguing that it doesn't exist, or if it does then it isn't a threat to Indonesia. If you want to find a locale where JI does operate in a manner free of government intrusion, I suggest you look not in Indonesia but rather the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) enclaves in the southern Philippines, where all manner of unsavory characters come together in a country that I believe is upwards of 80% Catholic and, like Pakistan during its democratic periods, mostly a banana republic.

Here, I think Dan is taking some shortcuts. Yes, people can "argue" that even mature democracies show some of these tendencies identified by Mansfield and Snyder as existing in immature democracies, but the point of the authors was that such immature democracies act on them more frequently than mature democracies (and even authoritarian regimes). They are using statistical evidence to support these claims, not just making an argument. So, while some people may make facile arguments about the United States and other mature democracies, these do not necessarily undermine the conclusions of the authors. Not unless someone can show statistically that mature democracies are just as bellicose and likely to start wars as immature ones. I’d like to see that evidence. I would also add that Dan’s link to the work by Matthew White is discussing wars between two democracies, whereas Mansfield and Snyder were discussing the war-like tendencies of emerging democracies in general – not exclusively their penchant to go to war with other democracies.

It was more a side observation than anything else. I'm interested in learning more about the authors' views and definitions, in particular as far as how they compare with those offered by Fareed Zakaria in The Future of Freedom, which I found extremely interesting.

Finally, to clarify, I am not embracing the Cold War paradigm of support for authoritarianism. I am in favor of supporting democratic reforms, and other institutional growth such as independent judiciaries and better regulated, and in some cases more open, economic markets. But with this in mind, we should still pay attention and put emphasis on the pace of change (especially in the realm of electoral expression) and the necessity that such change should ideally occur in tandem with other institutional growth.

The reason I noted the Kirkpatrick Doctrine was that much of what is described above seemed to be major factor in kernel form as far as why (among other reasons) the US sought to support authoritarian governments (usually in the context of Latin America) under the rationale that they were more likely to have the kind of institutional growth described above than their communist counterparts, with the case of Chile under Pinochet usually being cited as Exhibit A. As I noted in the last post, I'm not interested in re-fighting the policy battles of the Cold War and I should definitely clarify that I'm talking about how we should interact with authoritarian regimes once they're in place, not the idea that we should seek to install authoritarian regimes on the grounds that they should be considered preferable to communist or more recently Islamist governments. The recent reforms that US has been pushing for in the Middle East, particularly in countries like Egypt, should probably be viewed within the context of the former rather than the latter understanding of gradual democratization.

Posted by at October 28, 2005 05:09 AM | TrackBack (17)
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