Counter-Jihad: The Specter Haunting Islam
by Stephen Schwartz
A specter is haunting Islam: the specter of counter-jihad.
"Counter-jihad" is unlike the term "Islamofascism," which originated with and is used by Muslim intellectuals – notwithstanding the squeals of Islamist radicals and their apologists, who claim it is a slur on the entire religion.
By contrast, counter-jihad was invented by a clever Catholic friend of mine – perhaps thinking of the Catholic counter-reformation. He uses the term to refer to proven Muslim moderates seeking to expel radicals from the leadership of Islamic communities in the West.
The radicals preach jihad, and by it they mean a campaign of permanent, armed violence against non-radical Muslims, as well as against non-Muslims.
What, then, would counter-jihad look like?
Counter-jihad means that authoritative and respected Muslim rulers and clerics, both Sunni and Shia, as well as spiritual Sufis, would take the initiative – from the top levels of the Muslim worldwide community or umma – to defeat the extremists that dominate American and British Islam.
Unfortunately for the world, radical Islam resembles Soviet Communism in many ways. Both have been totalitarian – and totalitarian social ideologies excel at keeping those they rule over under tight control, in Muslim communities in the West no less than in Muslim-majority countries. Indeed, I will argue that Islamist totalitarianism succeeds better in the West than in the Muslim world.
When Soviet Communism fell, it did so after shedding the blood of millions of innocent victims. But it had also suppressed a series of heroic uprisings from below. In 1921, anti-Leninist sailors rose up and were massacred in the Russian port of Kronstadt. During the Spanish civil war of 1936-39, indigenous Spanish liberals and reformers had to fight infiltration by Soviet police terrorists.
After the Sovietization of Eastern Europe, rebellion was a recurring problem for the Muscovite rulers of "their zone." In 1953, workers and young people were killed in then-East Berlin, fighting Soviet tanks with their bare hands. Three years later and 50 years ago this year – in an anniversary shamefully ignored by the West – ordinary people of every description, from intellectuals to peasants, rose up in the Hungarian Revolution, aimed at securing the independence of their country from Soviet direction. Thousands were killed by Russian arms and thousands more fled from Hungary.
Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia had managed to attain independence from Russian dictation by peaceful means – although he preserved communist governance at home. A similar process began with the emergence of the Solidarity trade union in Poland in 1989, but aimed at abolishing communism altogether. Still, neither Tito nor the Poles could alone undermine the Soviet system. And many people continued fighting Sovietism with weapons in hand – notably, the Nicaraguan contras, whose brave struggle coincided with the strikes and demonstrations of the Poles.
But the end of world Communism did not come from Poland or Nicaragua – it had to come from Moscow itself, which buckled under pressure from the U.S.
The "counter-revolutionary" or "contra" movements for liberation from Moscow provide a precious storehouse of experience for counter-jihadists seeking to end the threat of radical Islam to the world.
In Iran, for example, dissident students have turned their universities upside down in a bid to end clerical interference in their personal life. Iranian labor union members have paraded with signs calling on the government to forget Hezbollah in Lebanon and spend money improving people's lives at home. Iranian Sufis have repeatedly confronted government officials in mass protests against restrictions on their rights.
Saudi Arabia has seen a remarkable development in the commercial capital of Jeddah: women there now refuse to wear the face-covering known as niqab or, in the West, the veil. The women of Jeddah have effectively driven the Saudi religious militia or mutawwa, who previously patrolled the streets whipping those who were insufficiently pious, out of their city. Jeddah is now nicknamed "the San Francisco of Saudi Arabia" – not because of the bizarre sexual identity the West Coast city has acquired, but because, as in the 1960s, it is the center of new ideas and habits.
Millions of Muslims in Islamic countries yearn for an end to radicalism and hope the much-feared "clash of civilizations" can be avoided. They want their religion to enjoy a positive image in the world, much as Christian dissidents under Communism struggled for freedom of conscience.
Moderate Muslim clerics and intellectuals must now step forward to affirm their commitment to the values of the counter-jihad: an end to religious aggression by Muslim extremists, a renewal of coexistence with other faiths, general religious and political freedom everywhere. Muslim clerics and Sufi shaykhs can provide indispensable help in creating new alternatives to old and brittle structures. Instead of financing terrorism, Muslim charitable donations can support modern schools, including centers for religious debate within Islam, and between Muslims and non-Muslims.
But America still faces problems in this context.
First, the American and British Muslim communities are so thoroughly penetrated by radicals that moderate Muslims find almost no space in which they can express themselves. American and British Islam embody an extraordinary and shocking fact: in Muslim countries, mosques are typically the only places where free discussion can take place, since all other institutions exist to monitor and prevent expressions of discontent.
As perverse and weird as it must seem, there is now more freedom to discuss the future of Islam in Saudi mosques than inside American mosques. America has general freedom, but mosques are an island of conformity. Muslim countries have little or no civic freedom, but mosques are often a free speech area.
Second, America must act directly to oppose radical Islam by pressing consistently for change from the rulers of countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as by identifying and seriously assisting the proponents of counter-jihad.
Third, Western mainstream media will probably not help in the liberation of the Muslim world. Anti-Communist counter-revolution never got a fair treatment in the Western media, and with appeasers like James Baker and Lee Hamilton doing their best to put the genie of democracy back in the bottle in the Middle East, it is doubtful that the spreading counter-jihad will get any decent publicity before it prevails. I predict Americans will be caught by surprise when Saudi Arabia turns the corner to a normal system of governance, and if, as so many of us wish, the deluded Ahmadinejad falls in Tehran.
But capitalism and democracy will succeed in the Islamic world, even if the enemies of both free markets and political liberty, back here in the West, scoff at the concept. History does not move backward, even in the sands of Arabia. Counter-jihad may end the menace of jihad to the world.