One of the persons following the Belmont Club discussion over whether it is necessary to confront political Islam as an anti-Western ideology is a Marine in Anbar province. His email to me has been reproduced in toto below. It is clear and eloquent. I am grateful for it, not in the least because it lends some substance to my hope that "because of the size of the stakes this whole question will be resolved, not by some politician but by the 'decision of crowds'." Here's his email in toto.
I was just perusing your site and caught the bit about the Hesher-Coughlin controversy.
I have been in a small city in Anbar province for four months now and it seems to me that the whole "is it a religion of peace or not" debate is largely misplaced. This is coming from a guy who once wrote, on his own blog, a post entitled "The Real Strategic Question" which I put as "Is Islam compatible with democracy?"
The Iraqis in Anbar have completely rejected Al Qaeda. A while back I told the police chief in my town that I thought the reason the terrorists are weak is because their ideas have been rejected. He said,
"In 2002 and 2003, we thought Al Qaeda was just another Muslim group. Now, you can go far out into the desert and talk to even a shepherd, and he will tell you that he hates Al Qaeda. One hundred years from now, you will be able to go into the desert and talk to a shepherd and he will still tell you that he hates Al Qaeda."
So, having rejected extremism, what is left? They are still Muslim in my town, but I wouldn't call them devout -- they go to the mosque and pray, and mention God in everyday conversations -- as do I to them -- and granted, I certainly don't know or interact with all of them, but I don't think that "moderate Islam" fully captures who they are. In fact, religion is almost irrelevant in the conversations I have with local leaders.
The real text to turn to in understanding what comes next is not the Koran but the Leviathan. The Iraqis have lived in a state of nature for the past 5 years, and in a state of nature there is no law, no order, no justice or injustice, only survival, period. And so, their ability to care about each other is stunted a bit. Not only that, but the history of Saddam's regime is that of playing people off against each other and destroying the trust between them. These are the crucial issues today in my town in Iraq -- social trust, how to incubate it, and especially how it relates to good governance. Nepotism and corruption are part and parcel of life here, as I imagine they are in many parts of the developing world, Muslim or not. Advancing democracy in Iraq is not a question of Islam, it's a question of helping the Iraqis move past the concept of "me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin, all three of us against everyone else." Perhaps it seems a gargantuan task, but so did defeating Al Qaeda in Anbar about a year ago.
That's how I see it from my neck of the woods. I recommend David Kilcullen's article "Countering Global Insurgency" and his advocated strategy of disaggregation -- which is really the opposite of trying to lump everything together as a "war on terror" or a "clash of civilizations". Perhaps other places are different. This is the other problem with trying to develop a unifying theme that sums everything up: each locality is dramatically different. I don't know if working with the tribes in Pakistan is going to work as well as in Anbar. In Anbar, many of the successful sheiks are semi-westernized, having studied in Europe at one point or another (like the one in my town) and Al Qaeda was essentially a foreign invention that wrapped itself into local grievances. In Pakistan, Al Qaeda has been there, really developing, for a long time. There is no one cookie-cutter solution.
I invite you to Google Kilcullen's "Countering Global Insurgency" and Raymond Millen's "The Hobbesian Notion of Self-Preservation Concerning Human Behavior During An Insurgency," and Art Chrenkoff's "Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder". These are by far the best and most relevant works I have read for what I do on a day to day basis.
Well, feel free to use this, if you'd like, Richard. You can use my name too for this one. By the way, here's the city website, which still needs a lot of work: www.barwanah.com