I have before me the latest issue of Newsweek, an international news magazine published from New York by the same company that brings out Washington Post from Washington. The issue has its cover in bright green, and the headlines are in Arabic, not English, the first time a leading western magazine has done so with a story on what the writer, Fareed Zakaria, calls Radical Islam, which is actually only another term for Islamic terrorism. Radical Islam sounds much more attractive and chic, though it is the same thing as terrorism, which frightens people, particularly New Yorkers, who still have not forgotten 9/11.
Zakaria says that radical Islam is a fact of life?these are his exact words and they are on the cover?and we should learn to live with it. Then in a six-page story, he goes on to explain how to live with it, as if it was some kind of game. His main point is that ?we must stop treating all Islamists as potential terrorists? implying that there are good terrorists and bad terrorists and we should not mix the two. He also says that radical Islam has gained a powerful foothold in the Muslim imagination and unless we come to terms with it, we shall not be able to fight ?bad terrorists?.
Why should we learn to live with radical Islam, good or bad? Zakaria does not explain. How does he know, sitting in Manhattan and ferrying between New York and Washington, which is good terrorism and which is bad? This good and bad business was first started by the apologists for Nazis in the 1930'sbefore?and after?Hitler came to power in Germany.
Hitler never said that there were good Nazis and bad Nazis, but his apologists, the Neville Chamberlains of Britain and elsewhere did. They also said, as Zakaria says now, that the Nazis had gained a powerful hold on the German and European imagination and you must learn to live with it. Every generation has its Chamberlains?as also Churchills?and the Chamberlains always argue in favour of appeasement because it is always the easy way out.
The Zakarias of this world will soon argue that there is also good Taliban and bad Taliban, and you will be able to distinguish between them only if you sit down with them and ultimately come to terms with them. In fact, the process has already begun. Within two months of taking oath as US President, Barack Obama has started arguing that America is not going to win the war in Afghanistan and the only way out is to start talks with the Taliban. Whatever you might say about George W Bush, he never said that. He said that terrorism was indefensible and he would fight to the end. The American voters did not agree and he was replaced by a Chamberlain-type politician who seems to have thrown in the towel even before he has entered the ring.
What the Zakarias?and the Barack Hussain Obamas?of this world should do is to ask why there should be terrorists at all, why organisations like the Taliban should go about killing innocent people, burning Sufi mosques and girls? schools, and stage public beheadings at the slightest excuse. Extremists are always looking for extreme solutions. That is why they are called extremists. Otherwise, they would be editing magazines and participating in seminars while feasting on ducks? eggs and lobsters.
The Islamists do not believe that everything will be all right if only the Americans withdraw from Afghanistan or from Pakistan, and leave Islamists alone. The Taliban, good or bad, has no love lost for the Zakarias or for the Barack Obamas of this world. All they want is to be left alone to do what they do best or worst and we all know what that is. It is stupid to pretend that there are carnivorous tigers and vegetarian tigers and once you separate the two and come to terms with the vegetarian tigers, you will be safe. The good Nazis did not prevail over the bad Nazis. They slaughtered innocent Jews as enthusiastically as the bad Nazis. A Nazi is a Nazi, just as a Talibani is a Talibani. You must be a genius if you can sit in Manhattan or White House and distinguish between the two.
There is, however, some truth in what Zakaria says at end of his piece. He says that ?All Islamists, violent or not, lack answer to the problems of the modern world.? It is not only Islamists who lack answers; it is Islam that lacks answers to the problems of the modern world. Islam and modernity are simply antagonistic to each other. Which is why the Islamists, violent or otherwise, are always at odds with the modern world, and with modernisation, and which also explains why they are hostile to all societies?Hindu, Christian, Jewish?which have absolutely no problem with modernisation. In a sense therefore, the fight between Islam and other societies is a clash of civilisations?a civilisation that is hostile to modernisation and civilisations that are receptive to modernisation, and embrace it, often reluctantly, but ultimately do embrace it.
Who but a mad man goes about killing children because they are going to school or slaughtering women because they go to mosques for prayer. Who but a crazed man would destroy thousand-year old statues of the Lord Buddha, just because they are there? What kind of civilisation is this? And how can you come to terms with such a society and its leaders, even if you think they are not as ferocious as they appear?
You cannot come to terms with the modern world by destroying it. But this is precisely what the religious Luddites are doing. They are burning down schools and libraries, they have banned girls and women from going near any school, they are burning down mosques to prevent women from visiting them, as they recently did in Peshawar. They will soon burn down factories, destroy railways and telephone lines, as they did in Iraq. And our friends in New York say they are a harmless lot and all they need is a little love and understanding!
(The writer is a veteran columnist and eminent economist, who contributes regularly for Organiser.)