Jewish Journal


October 1, 2009

Islamic Fundamentalism and the Struggle Against It


This blog has taken a brief High Holidays break; we are now back in business.

The New York Times website has an interesting innovation, a dialogue called The Conversation which involves their regular columnists discussing a current issue. Yesterday’s Conversation involves David Brooks and Gail Collins discussing Going to Extremism. As readers of his column would expect, Brooks offers some significant insights.

Here is the money quote:

I’ve always thought that Islamic extremism was different. To me, the most persuasive theory is that some people are caught between modernity and tradition and as an escape have invented a make-believe purism, which permits killing in the name of holiness.

Then came the Iraq war and the debate shifted. But over the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded that the problem has not gone away. There are still fanatics in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza and South Lebanon, and even Denver. In some ways extremism is on the wane but in other ways the poisonous infection has not been addressed.

American attention has turned to domestic issues, and yet it has come to seem more likely that the Obama presidency will be defined by its reaction to this extremism, as the Bush presidency unfortunately was.

There is the Iranian regime, the Taliban, the extremist forces in Pakistan. Events seem to be conspiring to create a series of confrontations in the years ahead. It seems more likely, especially after the past week, that there is simply no escaping the toxin.

And I’m not sure the Obama folks have any comprehensive strategy, other than trying to escape the whole mess. They’ll have to come up with one.

Despite the kerfuffle over Obama flying to Copenhagen for Chicago’s Olympic bid and the countless other silly issues that fill up the twenty four news cycle, this single issue—-how we respond to the extremism that infects so much of the world—-may be the most important one America faces.

Incidentally, The New York Times had another side of the debate in rather positive view of the war on Al Qaeda in Sunday’s Week in Review . It’s worth a read.

Many students of terrorism believe that in important ways, Al Qaeda and its ideology of global jihad are in a pronounced decline — with its central leadership thrown off balance as operatives are increasingly picked off by missiles and manhunts and, more important, with its tactics discredited in public opinion across the Muslim world.

Their views are not necessarily incompatible, we could be succeeding against Al Qaeda while also witnessing the spread of an intolerant and dangerous fundamentalism that simply can’t come to grips with the modern world.

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