Fareed Zakaria’s comments on Charlie Rose tonight are especially relevant. His comments on the threat that militant Islamism actually poses to US national security and the supposed danger of “talking” to HAMAS are particularly interesting in the context of this blog. Firstly, he takes the view (with which I agree) that the global Islamist movement is on the decline, especially its most radical and terroristic components (al-Qaeda, and so forth). He essentially states that the terrorist aspect of world affairs is a distraction from wider, and more important, geo-political concerns such as the “rise of the rest.” An interesting point that he raises is the fact that al-Qaeda is increasingly latching itself onto local conflicts (that have no real part in the “global jihad”) in Central Asia, Iraq, and elsewhere and helping to exacerbate them by encouraging violence because its core ideology doesn’t have the same salience in the wider Muslim world. So it finds these hot spots where grievance has existed previously and makes things worse while taking credit for the fighting. He goes on later to mention that the reason he believes that the United States has not had a major terrorist attack or the growth of a major Islamist movement has been because the American Muslim population is well integrated and that the local basis of grievance does not exist in the United States as it does in many Muslim countries, where ethnic, sectarian, and economic matters are easily exploited and pushed in the direction of violence. So much for the survival of our civilization being at stake! (Note that Zakaria is not a Middle East specialist (unlike Lewis and Pipes), but an IR generalist with realist leanings and a focus on globalization. Zakaria’s frame of analysis is a much broader one in which the Middle East alone is not the pivot of world affairs, a far more reasonable position than Lewis’s or Pipes’s who both, for reasons of personal advancement (and not national or civilizational interest), present the region as if all world affairs were determined there. All this, though, is not to diminish the important of the MENA region.)
Secondly, he says to those who look so negatively on talking to HAMAS and Syria that “just because you talk to them doesn’t me you endorse their world view,” asking “who else do you talk to?” if you are attempting to secure a peace deal. Arguably, there are few actors actually seeking a “peace process” (it is not in the interest of various regimes, both Middle Eastern and Western), but his point is valid to a great degree. On the other major issues Zakaria discusses (most of which do not deal with the MENA region) he is as insightful as ever. I will post the video link when I find it online.