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A New and More Dangerous Era

Anthony Dennis
Policy Paper No. 119

(In the book Muhammad's Monsters, David Bukay, (ed.),
AR: Balfour Books and Israel: ACPR Publishers, 2004, 300 pages.)


This essay discusses the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism in the post-Cold War era and explains why this ideology represents a threat to the safety and security of the West in particular, and the non-Muslim world generally. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union have had at least three major effects, each of which has been exploited by Muslim fundamentalist groups: These events created an ideological vacuum, a power vacuum and the largest weapons bazaar and black market in world history. Communism has been discredited and is viewed by the developing world as no longer worthy of emulation. Islamic fundamentalism is now the rival ideology of choice in opposition to the Western democracies. The collapse of Soviet power has also given rise to a power vacuum. Islamic parties have sprung up across the former Soviet Union as a result. Third, the disintegration of the Soviet empire and the concomitant loss of centralized control over its vast military arsenal have given the fundamentalists unprecedented access to weapons of mass destruction capable of making relatively small terrorist groups or nations into world-class military threats overnight. This is the world into which Usama bin Ladin and others have stepped, with ready cash in hand.

The transnational Muslim fundamentalist movement is characterized by a very specific domestic and foreign policy agenda. These groups seek the overthrow of their own governments, the establishment of an Islamic theocracy or religious dictatorship founded upon the adoption and strict application of the sharia, Islam’s legal code, and the eradication and expulsion of all non-Muslim influences. In terms of foreign policy, these groups adopt an implacably hostile and adversarial posture toward the West and frequently advocate violent action against it, including attacks on civilians, which actions are justified by references to Islamic religious duty. The fundamentalists have also engaged in disturbing acts of cultural destruction, or advocated the same, in order to rid their territories of non-Muslim landmarks.

The most salient characteristic of the fundamentalist cause, and the most relevant from a Western standpoint, is the fundamentalist movement’s extreme and violent hatred of the West. This hatred cannot be dissolved by political concessions. The fundamentalists hate the West for who and what it is. They hate the West’s secular culture, its music, art, literature, form of government and so on. There is nothing the West could ever do, no cognizable demands it could ever satisfy, short of stepping into a cultural gas chamber that would ever satisfy the essential demands of the Muslim fundamentalists.

President Khatami of Iran is attempting to reform the hard-line, fundamentalist government of Iran. His appearance is a hopeful sign. However, he faces an uphill battle and his reforms face many institutional and ideological hurdles. It is an open question whether he will have a lasting influence upon the political landscape of the Muslim world.

This essay concludes with several policy recommendations: Western governments should condemn the violent words and deeds of the fundamentalists, not their religious status. Western governments should support and rally around the concept of civil society rather than immediate elections. The West should not rigidly support calls for elections today which would only serve to betray democratic principles tomorrow. Fundamentalists who seek power in places like Algeria have already previously stated they would abolish democracy and elections once they were in power. In terms of defense policy, the West must understand that the deterrence doctrine will be completely ineffective in dealing with this adversary. The fundamentalists will not be deterred by the possibility of annihilation. Indeed, they view martyrdom as a desirable end. Finally, Western governments must be reminded that money does not always talk. Attempts to “buy the fundamentalists off” with economic aid will not work. Theirs is a different sensibility and sense of mission entirely. Money will not convince these groups to give up their dearly-held, core beliefs.

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