Three Fundamental Mistakes in Dealing with Islam

We made three fundamental mistakes in our dealings with Islam. First, we assumed that the only politically acceptable answer was also the right answer. This is the most common mistake that politicians make.

Second, we established a construct of a moderate and extreme Islam that reflected how we saw it from the outside. This construct had no theological relationship to any actual belief or movement within Islam. Had we made the division into modern and fundamentalist, we would at least have been using words that meant something. Instead we used moderate and extreme in a military sense to mean hostile and friendly or neutral. But as a Vietnam era president and military command should have known, in a guerrilla war not everyone who isn't shooting at you is friendly or even neutral.

Our construct was black and white with few shades of gray. But the Muslim world is all shades of gray. The absolute choice we wanted them to make, "you're either with us or with the terrorists", was foreign to their culture and their way of life. Multiple layers of contradictory relationships and alliances are the norm in the region. You expect to betray and be betrayed, much as you expect to cheat and be cheated while bartering for a carpet at the souk. In a region where coalitions of Fascists, Communists and Islamists are doable, contradictions don't exist, all alliances are expedient and built on an expected betrayal. The rise of Islam itself was built on broken peace treaties. So it is no wonder then that in response to Bush's call, they chose both us and the terrorists. Appeasing America and the Islamists at the same time was their version of the politically safe middle ground, the path of least resistance and the only acceptable option....

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