Can democracy grow in an Islamic desert?
By Jonathan Schanzer - Jerusalem Post (Book Review) - June 13, 2003
(No URL available)

After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy by Noah Feldman. Farrar Straus & Giroux.
260 pp. $24

At a time when American administrators in Iraq are eager to build bridges between Islam and democracy, Noah Feldman's enthusiastically optimistic views on the subject
just landed him a job at the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq. His task: helping USand Iraqi democrats draft a new Iraqi constitution.

A 32-year-old assistant professor at New York University Law School, Feldman holds a BA in Near Eastern studies from Harvard, a law degree from Yale, and a Ph.D. in Islamic thought from Oxford. He's reportedly fluent in Arabic, too. In the new book which drew him to everyone's attention, After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy, he takes a 'why not?' approach to Islam and democracy.
Using Western logic and pandering to a Western audience, he claims that both Islam and democracy are flexible ideas that can work together if Muslims put their minds to it.

That may be the case; millions of Muslim democrats have found a way to reconcile their faith with liberal governance. Unfortunately, in today's Muslim world, the more rigid traditionalists are often unwilling to compromise over the role of Shari'a in daily life,and to our chagrin, Islamic moderates are marginalized. So while Islamand democracy can work, and while it is in everyone's interest to find areas of overlap between the two, Feldman has in many ways ignored certain realities. He fails to draw from the hundreds of volumes ofIslamic jurisprudence produced over 1,400 years that often argue to the contrary, and fails to explain why democracy has yet to truly take root in the Muslim world.

As scholar of Islam Fatima Mernissi notes, many Muslims have traditionally 'fought against the advances of Enlightenment philosophy and banned Western humanism as foreign and 'imported,' calling the intellectuals who study it enemy agents and traitors to the nationalist cause.' This is certainly one of the biggest impediments - and something not even mentioned in After Jihad.

Among other problems, Feldman believes that 'unequal treatment of women, while reprehensible, should not be seen as an insurmountable barrier to democracy.' This kind of apologist thinking encourages Muslim democrats to ignore one of their greatest challenges. Feldman states that in Muslim theology 'everyone is equal before God.' Yet he neglects to mention that many interpretations of Islam hold a view of Christianity and Judaism as second-class religions (as seen through thepre-modern Dhimmi system, and even in some modern states like Sudan).Non-monotheists rank even lower; historically, many were slaves. These may be insurmountable obstacles in the struggle to synthesize Islam and democracy.

Moreover, Martin Kramer, an eminent scholar of Islam, points out that pre-modern, orthodox interpretations aspire to dominate other systems rather than work with them. Similarly, among modern Islamists, the Muslim faith is hailed as 'the final system, come to supersede capitalism and communism as the true key to power in this world. To fulfill its destiny, it must capture the state and rule.' Does this work with democracy?

In order to truly unite Islam and democracy, one must look at these and other tough questions. One must address the fact that there is no separation of mosque and state in the Koran, so a secular democracy might be seen as antithetical to many interpretations of Islam. The Koran also provides little guidance in the way of governance. While this could be seen as a blank slate open to the ideas of democracy, it has also resulted in the need for much interpretation by Islamic scholars. These interpretations are sometimes rejected and other times accepted by any number of the more than one billion adherents to the Islamic faith.

Given this incredible diversity, no scholar can back up Feldman's statement that 'the essences of Islam and democracy can be seen as compatible to the extent that both ideas are flexible.' The fact remains that some forms of Islam are flexible. Others, such as militant Islam, are decidedly not.

Indeed, militant Islam may be Feldman's Achilles heel. While he sees the ideas of Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and other radical Islamist ideologues as central to the problem, he drastically underestimates the longevity of the movement they created. Feldman believes we are living in an 'After Jihad' era; he actually believes that militant Islam is on the wane. He states that the attacks of September 2001 were a 'last, desperate gasp of a tendency to violence that has lost most of its popular support,' and that 'the notion that an Islamic state should be created through holy war is an idea whose time has passed.' Al-Qaida's May 12 bombing in Riyadh proves Feldman wrong on both counts.

To be fair, the law professor is on target in other areas. He rightly states that the US can no longer afford to support Islamic autocrats; they are clearly obstacles to liberalization in the Middle East. He also correctly notes that 'where there
is both oil and a monarchy,' democracy will likely not thrive. Oil monarchies collect the money they need to survive 'from people outside the country. There is no fiscal connection between the government and the people.'

Another observation by Feldman is that Egypt's anti-Israel sentiment may be greater than anywhere else in the Arab world. The reason may reside in 'residual guilt at having abandoned the Palestinians' by way of the peace treaty with Israel signed in 1978.

Generally speaking, it appears that Feldman supported the US case for the Iraq war. 'A post-Saddam Iraq will inevitably become,' he writes, 'a laboratory for trying out the mobile idea of democracy in front of the whole world.' He even calls the US a 'midwife' for democratization. Feldman now has a chance to put his theories into practice. However, he recently told BBC that the US should support democracy in Iraq even if it is not secular in nature. If he holds to this, there is reason to believe that democracy in Iraq will fail. After all, the most successful Islamic democracy - Turkey - places a high premium on secularization. The Turks, as well as millions of other Muslim democrats, have demonstrated that Islam and democracy need not be antithetical - so long as humanism is given priority, in the end, over religious law.

The writer is a Soref fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.


Lurking in Lebanon
We know where al Qaeda is.
By Jonathan Schanzer - National Reviw Online - June 4, 2003

Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon announced on
Sunday that Lebanese authorities will not enter a
Palestinian refugee camp where al Qaeda operatives
are known to be, even at the height of the war on terror. Asbat al-Ansar (League of Partisans) was tied to a foiled assassination plot against the U.S. ambassador to
Lebanon in January and successful attacks against U.S. business interests. More recently, the group was at the
center of a bloody battle inside the Ein al-Hilweh refugee
camp. Eight people were killed and 25 others wounded.
But, as one Lebanese journalist notes, officials in Beirut are "acting as if the issue is of no concern to them."

Asbat al-Ansar also appears to have fallen off the
radar screen of the U.S. government, even though it
was among the first eleven international terror groups
listed in President Bush's executive order of September
23, 2001.

Asbat al-Ansar is a Sunni Muslim group that "receives
money through international Sunni extremist networks
and Bin Laden's al Qaeda network," according to the
State Department. Its cadres, numbering several
hundred, trained in al Qaeda camps or are battle-tested
from their service in the Afghan war. In 1999, the group
was behind an explosion at the Lebanese Customs Department, as well as an attack on a courthouse that
killed four judges. In 2000, Asbat attacked the Russian embassy in Beirut with rocket-propelled grenades. In
2001, Jordanian and Lebanese forces foiled an Asbat
attack on the Jordanian, U.S., andBritish embassies in

Despite these high-profile attacks, Asbat al-Ansar is
seen in Lebanon as only a local problem. The group is
based almost entirely out of Ein al-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp that is utterly lawless. It is lawless
because the Lebanese government sees refugee camps
as outside of its authority and refuses to govern them.
Indeed, the Lebanese fear the camps because it was the Palestinians that prompted Lebanon's civil war in the
1970s. It is also believed that the integration of the
mostly Sunni Palestinian refugees into the general
population would upset the delicate balance between Lebanon's Christian, Maronite, Shia, and Sunni sects.
Thus, not wanting to rock the boat, Lebanon has
instead chosen to allow an al Qaeda affiliate to
proliferate unchecked.

The most recent spate of violence prompted by Asbat
al-Ansar has now lasted for nearly a year. Tensions
stem from the fact that Asbat al-Ansar seeks to wrest
control of Ein al-Hilweh from Fatah, the traditional ruling
faction of the camp, led by Yasser Arafat's lieutenants.
"We . . . will turn Ein al-Hilweh and the rest of Lebanon
into a pool of blood to wash away your treason and
corruption and send you to hell," read a recent Asbat communiqu* to its Fatah foes. For months, Fatah
loyalists in the camp have been the targets of
shootings, grenade attacks and car bombs.

But Fatah is not the only target. Attacks are also aimed
at other secular factions in Ein al-Hilweh, such as the
Syrian As-Saiqa and the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Civilian targets similarly
find themselves in Asbat's crosshairs, such as UNWRA
|(the U.N. entity that provides aid to the camp), and the
camp's open vegetable market. Indeed, any entity that
is not Islamist in nature is a potential target.

Recently, Asbat al-Ansar operatives were believed to
be behind higher-profile attacks outside the camp.
Lebanese authorities arrested 22 suspected Asbat
members for an April bombing of a McDonald's restaurant
in a Beirut suburb. Some of the wanted men escaped, however, and now enjoy refuge in Ein al-Hilweh, knowing
that the authorities will not enter.

The Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar reported that Asbat
also attempted to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Vincent Battle, while he was visiting Tripoli in January. The militants reportedly tried to fire an armor-
piercing missile at the ambassador's car.

In one of the camp's wildest stories, it appeared that
North Korea was also attempting to benefit from the lawlessness of Ein al-Hilweh. In February, the
Lebanon Daily Star reported that a North Korean agent
named Jim Su Kim was arrested and held by the
Lebanese army for questioning. Was Kim trying to work
with al Qaeda's Lebanese operatives?There was no
follow-up in the Lebanese press, and no official
statement from Beirut.

In recent weeks, however, the focus has shifted back
to the camp. Two weeks ago, Abdullah Shreidi, the leader
of an Asbat cell, was ambushed by Fatah gunmen as he
drove home from a funeral. Shreidi was taken to a hospital
and was stabilized. But Shreidi's compatriots feared
another Fatah attack. In an unbelievable account,
An-Nahar reports that the militants

. . . managed to switch electric power off in the
camp at nightfall Sunday, and punched a big hole in the hospital's rear wall that allowed twelve of them to sneak
into the operating theater. They held doctors and nurses
at gunpoint in the corridor while others lifted their leader
onto a stretcher and smuggled him out from the intensive
care unit. . . Appeals for O-positive urgent blood
donations rang out from neighboring mosque minarets
to help Shreidi."

The Lebanese government remained on the sidelines
while tensions mounted. Soon, fresh battles erupted.
Five hours of clashes on May 19 resulted in eight deaths
and 25 wounded. During the fighting, machine guns,
mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades, and even
armor-piercing missiles were used. Finally, a cease-fire
allowed for both sides to bury their dead. An uneasy
calm remains today.

As analysis emerged from Lebanon, some groups cited
a "lack of official determination in the country to disarm Palestinians" — a direct incrimination of Lebanon's lack
of involvement in the camps. Even Lebanon's
parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri, stated that Lebanon "cannot remain idle."

But Lebanon continues to remain idle, burying its head
further in the desert sand. While chaos continues inside
Ein al-Hilweh, Lebanese troops linger on the camp's
perimeter in what can only be seen as a ceremonial
presence. More must be done.

For its part, the U.S. government can push Lebanon for
more action. Until now, Washington's focus has been on
the Iranian-funded Hezbollah, even though Asbat al-Ansar
is Lebanon's arm of al Qaeda — the primary target in the
U.S. campaign to stamp out global terror.

In the end, Asbat al-Ansar may be one of the few
instances of "low-hanging fruit" in the war on terror.
Unlike other al Qaeda operatives, who hide in the
shadows, we know who these people are and where they
live. Asbat al-Ansar is, therefore, easier to destroy.

Lebanon, however, allows this group to grow by ignoring
it. If this continues, Asbat al-Ansar may come to pose a
greater threat. Indeed, it could become a launch pad for
other al Qaeda attacks in the future.

Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref fellow at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is working on
a study entitled "Al Qaeda's Affiliates: Exploiting Weak
Central Authority in the Arab World."

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?