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Why Outreach to the Muslim World Is Always Doomed to Failure

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Posted on January 21 2011 12:57 pm
Seth Mandel is the former managing editor of four New Jersey-based newspapers, where he won awards for his coverage of the Middle East and Russia. He has appeared on Shalom TV's current affairs roundtable. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @SethAMandel

Efraim Karsh has a typically incisive analysis of President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world in the current issue of the Journal of International Security Affairs. It is not foremost our Western culture or democracy or our friendship with Israel or even our military presence in the Arab world that drives the Islamic–and especially Islamist–world to seek our downfall. It is, Karsh argues, our status:

“In the historical imagination of many Muslims, bin Laden represents nothing short of the new incarnation of Saladin, defeater of the Crusaders and conqueror of Jerusalem. In this sense, the House of Islam’s war for world mastery is a traditional, indeed venerable, quest that is far from over. If, today, America is reviled in the Muslim world, it is not because of its specific policies but because, as the preeminent world power, it blocks the final realization of this same age-old dream of a universal Islamic community, or umma.

It is the failure to recognize this state of affairs that accounts for the resounding lack of success of Obama’s policies toward the Middle East and the Muslim World.”

Karsh reminds us just how spectacularly the outreach has failed. Iran has tightened its clenched fist, Turkey has turned further Eastward, the Palestinians have become even more intransigent and unwilling to compromise or even negotiate, Lebanon’s government has collapsed at the will of Hezbollah, Syria and Pakistan have failed to return our gestures of goodwill, and on and on.

Karsh knows his subject; he is the author of Islamic Imperialism, which chronicles the Muslim world’s expansionist history. And his argument holds up–if Muslims were only interested in protecting their home turf, they wouldn’t be attacking erstwhile territories of their empire. And if they were only interested in current and former territories of the caliphate, they wouldn’t be putting their expansionist energies into France, Britain, and Germany.

“We will replace the Bible with the Quran,” London-based Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad is quoting as telling an audience two months after 9/11. Karsh writes:

“This goal need not necessarily be pursued by the sword; it can be achieved through demographic growth and steady conversion to Islam. But should peaceful means prove insufficient, physical force can readily be brought to bear.

Nor is this vision confined to a tiny extremist fringe, as President Obama apparently believes. That much is clear from the overwhelming support the 9/11 attacks garnered throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, the admiring evocations of bin Laden’s murderous acts during the 2006 crisis over the Danish cartoons, and polls indicating significant reservoirs of sympathy among Muslims in Britain for the ‘feelings and motives’ of the suicide bombers who attacked London in July 2005.”

These are perhaps the two most important–and misunderstood–points about Islamic expansionism. We should by no means believe that all Muslims are violent or want to spread Islam by the sword. But a very large number still want to spread Islam, if that option is available. It is here where the moderates and extremists (two inexact categories, to be sure) meet. That is where the Muslim Brotherhood comes in.

The Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) operates in 70 countries worldwide, including in countries like Egypt where it is banned.

The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Egyptian schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna, with the purpose of establishing Shariah law. As the Ikhwan multiplied and established a foothold beyond the Arab world, it never wavered from its goal of Shariah. Some affiliates of the Brotherhood are terrorist organizations, like Hamas; others are dedicated to stealth jihad, such as the Muslim Association of Britain.

The many Brotherhood front groups in the U.S. fall into the latter category. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is the most well known, both for its ubiquitous media presence and its access to government and law enforcement (though it is becoming increasingly infamous for its campaign to get American Muslims to avoid working with police and FBI, or else be branded as snitches and blacklisted). The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) functions similarly, while the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), based in Virginia, was established by Anwar Ibrahim (currently Malaysia’s outspokenly anti-Semitic opposition leader) as a Brotherhood think tank.

This fits neatly with Karsh’s thesis. And since the Brotherhood’s admitted raison d’être is to establish Shariah law, Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world is pointless. Islamist leaders around the world don’t care whether the U.S. (or Britain, or France, or Germany, or Spain, etc.) speaks kindly to them, for we must be replaced by any means necessary.

Those means can certainly be peaceful, if possible. The media have succumbed to pressure from Brotherhood groups like CAIR to whitewash any potentially negative storyline about Islam, and the ACLU will happily play along as well. Mark Steyn once made this point–that it isn’t a lack of assimilation of the Muslim community that should worry us, but rather how quickly they figured out how to co-opt liberal interest groups.

Obama’s belief that the Muslim world is in need of outreach gets it exactly backwards. One way to get it right would be to ditch the idea once and for all that the “Muslim world” need be addressed at all. When I interviewed Jonathan Spyer for NRB, he made this point. Though in the interest of keeping a reasonable word count that part of the interview wasn’t published, here’s what he said:

“My view is that Western governments should not relate to anything called the ‘Muslim community’ at all; not in Britain, not in France, and not in the United States and not elsewhere. There are citizens of the United States, or there are citizens of Britain or France who are Muslims, just as there are citizens who are Christian and citizens who are Jewish. And those citizens have certain rights and certain obligations which should be entirely identical to those of other citizens.”

Karsh and Spyer adeptly demonstrate that Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world cannot mollify territorial expansionists, nor is it consistent with our professed devotion to equality under the law. If American officials finally understand this reality, the failure of Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world will have at least provided, as the president loves to say, a teaching moment.

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