Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Threat of Islam Extremists is beyond the Occident

Remember the Algerian hostage crisis in InAmenas early this year. An Al Qaeda affiliate led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar killed more Japanese and Asians than Americans and Europeans working at the natural gas joint venture site. This incident is symbolic to show that Islamic extremists are enemy to anyone beyond Christians and Jews. The threat of radical Islamists is universal. In high school and college world history textbooks, the authors focus primarily on the Islam-West clash as typically seen in the Crusade. Throughout the history, Islam and the West frequently antagonized each other in the Battle of Tours, the Reconquista of Iberia, the Fall of Constantinople, and the Siege of Vienna. Furthermore, 19th century colonialism has led to the spread of anti-Western sentiments in the Islamic world.

In view of long and bitter Islam-West conflicts, it is widely believed that Middle East Muslims hate Americans and Europeans, but not Japanese and Asians. This is a sheer myth as shown in the In Amenas massacre. In the eyes of radicals like Belmokhtar, any non-Muslim outsiders are kaffir aliens. Moreover, from a literal understanding of the Koran, most of the Japanese and Asians are more pagan to Musulims than Judeo-Christian Americans and Europeans, as both are not people of the Book. For example, many Japanese were brutally killed by Islamic extremists, even though they were not acting with Americans or Europeans, nor were they associated with Christianity, when they were attacked. The most noticeable case is the shooting of Japanese diplomats, in which Counselor to Britain Katsuhiko Oku and Third Secretary to Iraq Masamori Inouewere shot dead near Tiktit, shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

For further understanding of the threat of Islamic extremism, let me review Oriental history. Islam fought against kaffir civilizations other than the West. The most noticeable one is the destruction of Buddhist holy land in India. It is commonly understood that resurgence of Vedism as Hinduism among Indian rulers and grassroots drove Buddhism to fall. When Chinese (Tang) Buddhist monk Xuanzang stayed in India to study Buddhism philosophy under the reign of Emperor Harsha Vardana in the 7th century, Buddhism was already in decline. However, it isIslamic radicals who vandalized and delivered the final blow to IndianBuddhism.

Islamic invasion to India was intensified by the Ghaznavid Empire in the 11th century, which led to Islamification of the subcontinent and iconoclastic assault to Buddhist civilization. The most fatal raids were the destruction of venerable institutions of Buddhist intellect, including Nalanda University (where Xuanzang studied Buddhism philosophy andSanskrit) in 1193 and Vikramasila University in 1203 by Muhammad BakhtiyarKhilji during the Ghorid rule. Coincidentally, it was after 1,500 years since Gautama Siddhartha expired when the Latter Day of the Law begins, according to Buddhist theory in the early Middle Age. In this concept, the Latter Day, people respect Buddha’s teachings, but no longer follow them, which leads to the end of Buddhism and social disorder. It is the iron fist of Islam that devastated Buddhism and brought the Latter Day to the real world in India.

Strangely, unlike European knights, Buddhist kings and lords in Asia hardly thought of recapturing Siddhartha’s birthplace and other holy lands in India from Muslim seizure. This is partly because there were neither the pope of the Roman Catholic nor the Byzantine emperor of the Eastern Orthodox to urge kings and lords to organize a multinational coalition for religious cause in the Buddhist sphere. However the notion of theLatter Day of the Law spread among Buddhist nations across East Asia. The Latter Day theory had significant effects on the Buddhist thoughts in those nations.

In Japan, the impact was not just religious but political. It was widespread of anxiety to social disorder that led to the rise of samurais. War lords like Taira no Kiyomori and Minamoto no Yoritomo took over power from the emperor and aristocrats when Islamic warriors were expanding their dominions in India. Therefore, I would like to stress the point of my argument again that it is too dangerous to trivialize the threat of Islamic extremists only for Americans and Europeans, considering the above mentioned history. European launched the Crusade but Asians didn’t. That does not belittle the danger of radical Muslims.

Now, I would like to discuss the peril of Islamic radicalism in presentday context. Taliban is notorious for iconoclastic ravage to bomb the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. Having been detained for several years in Guantánamo, Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef published a memoir “My Life with Taliban” in the United States in 2010. According to his book, Japan sent an official delegation that accompanied a Sri Lankan Buddhist group to stop Taliban from devastating the Buddhas. The Japanese delegation even said that they respect Afghans as forefathers of Buddhist civilization, and requested them to preserve these venerable cultural heritages.

In reply, Zaeef told the Japanese delegation bluntly to convert to Islam if they respect Afghans as their forefathers (“Japan offered to hide Bamiyan statues, butTaliban asked Japan to convert to Islam instead”; Japan Today/AFP; February 27,2010). The Japanese are too naïve, and liable to believe that Islam fanatics do not hate us while they do Americans and Europeans. But for extremists like Taliban and Al Qaeda, kaffirs are kaffirs.

In view of such intolerance to other religion and civilization, American conservatives and Indian policymakers are extremely skeptic to the Good Taliban Theory. Indians are highly alert to Pakistan’s ties with Taliban and still resented with the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. In addition, it is quite likely that their historical experience of Islamic invasion to the subcontinent has inflicted psychological impacts on their attitude to extremists. In 2010, MP (Lower House) Manish Tewari, then-Spokesman of the Indian National Congress (INC), stated clearly that he did not believe in good Taliban as two Sikhs were beheaded by them (“There is no good Taliban: Congress”; Economic Times; February 23, 2010).

Despite the request from the Obama administration, India is still concerned with giving legitimacy to Taliban if they are included in Afghan peace talks. After the meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in Delhi this June (“India's concerns over talks with Talibanwon't be overlooked”; New Indian Express; 24 June, 2013), Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said that the Singh administration would accept Taliban’s participation in Afghan peace talks as long as India’s red line is respected at he ASEAN Regional Forum in Brunei early July ("In change ofstance, India supports talks with Taliban"; Times of India; July 3, 2013). The red line is that the only legitimate government to represent Afghan sovereignty is democratically elected Karzai administration, not Taliban ("India's redline for Afghanistan Taliban"; Frontliner India; June 23, 2013).

However, oppositions like BJP criticize the idea of talking with terrorists (“BJP cautions US against peace talks withTaliban.”; Indian Express; July 24, 2013). Apparently, Indians are more sensitive to the danger posed by Islamic terrorists than Americans and Europeans. In his recent visit to Mumbai, Vice President Joseph Biden articulated that Taliban must cut ties with Al Qaeda, in order to ease anxieties of India. However, Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, comments that Biden must assure that the United States will not make a secret deal with Taliban after 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan (“Biden seeks to assure India onAfghanistan, presses on trade” Reuters; July 24, 2013).

In view of history and present day international politics, we must change commonly believed perception that the threat of Islamic extremism is for Americans and Europeans only.  Once I heard a Japanese TV anchorman suggested that Japanese people stay away from Americans to travel safely when they go to the Middle East. I have no doubt that Indians will laugh scornfully at such a poorly aware remark. They have historical experience in the horror of Islamic extremists, which is deeply embedded in their minds, and no less catastrophic than 911 terrorist attacks. Those religious fanatics are utterly merciless to kaffirs regardless of race and nationality. Remember In Amenas!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Failure of Morsi and Its Impact on Turkey

The fall of President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt inflicts serious damages to those who advocate democratic Islamism. The Arab Spring gave rise to them. Democratic Islamism is nothing new as AKP (Justice and Development Party) took office in Turkey long before the Spring. However, the coup d'état in Egypt has curbed the momentum for Islamic populism. Particularly, Turkish AKP’s vision of Islamist democracy was severely hit. Trends in both countries lead to the decline of Islamic populism in the Middle East. That is the vital reason why I am exploring the implications of anti-Morsi coup in Egypt to Turkey. Therefore, I would like to argue two points. First, why did the Morsi administration fail to govern Egypt? Second, what are the implications for Turkey and others who aspire Islamist democracy?

Morsi succeeded in toppling the long rule of police state under the Nasser, the Sadat, and the Mubarak administrations, since the 1952 revolution. However, Michael Hirsh, Chief Correspondent for National Journal, comments "Once again, an Islamist political party in charge has failed the simple test of finding its way into the modern world. Ideology trumped reality in an era when the reality of the global economy demands fast integration, openness, and adherence to basic economic principles." Islamists seize the power through the vote, but failed to govern the state. Iranians selected the most moderate Hassan Rowhani in the last presidential election because the Shiite theocracy has worsened Iran's economy and international position since 1979 . Other extremists like Hamas also have difficulties to govern the Gaza Strip. In Turkey, the Erdoğan administration faces civic protests, though the economy goes well (AfterA Rapid Rise, A Challenge To Political Islam”; NPR News; July 6, 2013).

The Muslim Brotherhood may have won the election, but they are political amateurs. Kori Schake, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, comments that in a society after the collapse of an authoritarian regime, incapable groups often take power, and they have little experience of building a national consensus (American Freedom and Egypt's Coup”;Foreign Policy – Shadow Government; July 3, 2013). Nathan Brown, Nonresident Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argues furthermore that the Morsi administration failed to make coalition with other political parties. They clung to their own ideology rather than managing realities, and ruined opportunities for partnership with potential allies. The Muslim Brotherhood made bad decisions to become a dominant political party rather than a leading political organization. As a result, Morsi was distrusted, or even hated among the Egyptian public. The Muslim Brotherhood was overconfident to govern the state despite their lack of experience, simply because they won the election (“Where Does the Muslim Brotherhood Go From Here?”; New Republic; July3, 2013). This lesson for Islamists, mentioned by Brown, sounds somewhat identical to the Seiken Koutai (power rotation) of 2009 by the Democratic Party of Japan, which resulted in miserable failure to govern the state.

Regretfully, Morsi became an elected dictator as he despised consultation and public consensus, both of which are important aspects of democracy. Democracy is composed of human rights, the rule of law, and public participation; and election is just one of those components (“Whencoups advance democracy”; New York Daily News; July 7, 2013). Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, comments that the Muslim Brotherhood was measles for Egypt. Morsi imposed religion, and did not improve the economy, though that was the vital issue for the Egyptian people. But the Brotherhood’s secret cell structure is still formidable enough to plot possible terrorism. See the video below.

Then, let me discuss the second question, which is the implication for Turkey. Since the inauguration of Mohamed Morse in 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan founded a strong tie with Egypt to prevail the vision of a "more democratic and more Islamist-leaning Middle East". As a consequence of the coup d'état, Turkey has become isolated in this region. The war in Syria intensifies tensions with the Assad administration. Also, relations with pro-Assad Iran are aggravated. The Kurdish problem worsens the relationship with Iraq. Moreover, Turkey itself has repeated coup d'état in the postwar era when civilian rule does not work (“Egypt’scoup is a serious blow to Turkey’s vision of a more democratic Middle East”;Financial Times; July 4, 2013).

The military backlash against Morsi poses critical impacts on Turkey’s domestic politics as well. The Turkish government toughens law enforcement against street protesters in the wake of Egyptian coup. The Turkish judiciary also calls for universal jurisdiction against the Egyptian army’s human rights abuse, associated with the coup. However, the West was concerned with Morsi’s poor governance capacity, and takes equivocal attitude to the coup d'état. In the eyes of Turkey, that appears a double standard, and Turkish people even talk about a Western conspiracy to oust Morsi. As a result, Turkey’s relations with the West are cooling down (“Egypt coup rattles Turkey’s Erdogan”;Financial Times; July 11, 2013). Currently, AKP’s Turkey is isolated from both the West and Middle East neighbors. Things are developing opposite to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s blueprint of a Turkey at the heart of the Afro-Eurasian sphere.

Whether in Egypt, Turkey, or any other countries in the Middle East, the Islamist paradoxes are witnessed, that is, they took power by popular vote but betrayed democracy. It is poor governance capabilities of non-the military government that allowed repeated coup d'états both in Egypt and Turkey. Even though the coup saved Egypt from falling into a failed state, such dependence on military coup d'état stalls the progress toward real democracy and good governance.

How should the global community respond to such vicious cycles of failed civilian rule and military dictatorship?Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, mentions that the fact that the military can dispose an elected government so easily implies that the real and long lasting power lies in the armed forces. If the military depose a democratically elected government, it can depose another. In order to stop such a cycle, Kagan insists that the United States send a message to the interim government to urge early transition to democracy, including aid suspension (“Time to break out of a rut in Egypt”; WashingtonPost; July 6, 2013). Once Kagan’s prescription works to end military rule, the United States and the global community can use soft power, primarily by empowering the grassroots to promote well-aware policy debates.

Like Egypt, Turkey has also had coup d'états in its postwar history. However, Turkey’s AKP is more experienced and competent to govern the state than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In addition, thanks to a good economy, the wealthy establishment give some support, though they detest Islamic populism. Despite Islamist backgrounds, Erdoğan’s AKP tries to associate itself with European conservatives like Christian Democrats. Though the Erdoğan cabinet takes strong stances against civic unrest, the EU's Copenhagen Criteria on humanrights and the rule of law will deter radicalization of AKP and human rights abuse. When those built-in-stabilizers do not work, and the military do not tolerate instability, Turkey may fall into another Egypt. If that happens, every effort for Middle East democracy up to the present will fall back. This is a tremendous disadvantage in the War on Terror. Therefore, the United States and the global community must endorse smooth and quick transition to democracy in Cairo.