We can’t avoid it. There are a billion or so Muslims, and the rest of us are more or less dependent on what they do.
Oil and gas is one dependence, which we should not minimize despite the current dip in price.
Physical presence is another dependence, even in places where non-Muslims are large majorities and control government.
Israel’s 20 percent Muslim population, with Muslim dominant countries all around is one setting with a disproportionate influence on world politics. European percentages between 5 and 10, higher in major cities also weigh heavily, as shown by recent events in Paris, continued problems in Malmo and Marseilles, disturbances by Muslims and anti-Muslims in Britain, Germany, Netherlands, and elsewhere.
Of all the religions that have significant numbers of followers in important places, Islam is by far the most problematic. Pretending otherwise, or adhering to the norm that nothing negative can be attached to religion is a recipe for self-delusion and greater disaster.
We can quarrel about those cartoons in Charlie Hebdo and other publications. They offend Muslims like cartoons modeled on the Nazi stereotypes (also in Charlie Hebdo) offend Jews. Muslims are far more likely to respond violently is part of the story, even though the cartoons of Jews are equally in bad taste. We can cite Muslim violence as yet another indication of what is unacceptable, while asking if drawing cartoons is the best way to fight the war of civilizations.
Among the problems in assessing the magnitude of the Islamic problem is a lack of information about the intensities of Muslims’ belief and inclinations to violence.
The barbaric activities apparent in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other places may be the most serious problems facing western governments, given the capacity of the extremists to recruit enthusiasts, send them back to their homelands, and expand the chaos from present concentrations.
What is less clear is the incidence of secularism, nominal identification but moderate levels of belief, practice, and politics among Muslims, equivalent to what prevails among Christians and Jews.
Also unclear is the capacity of non-Muslims to act in ways to combat the extremism and contain its spread.
Israel’s military and other security organizations have acquired considerable experience, at great expense in resources and blood. It is not clear if American and European national leaders are equally capable, especially with respect to the greater problems of containing Islamic violence far from their own borders.
Muslims may be best positioned to deal with the dangers from extremism to themselves and others.
For some time now, the Internet has provided a platform for individual Muslims who set themselves apart from the stereotypes, condemn the backwardness of Muslim countries, praise Israel, and the successes achieved in science and living standards by western democracies.
Israelis are aware of sharp differences, even within individual families. Haneen Zoabi MK is among the most outspoken of Islamic radicals, while other members of her family have distinguished themselves as seeing the future in cooperation with Jews in a national culture that they value.
Even more promising than individuals are Muslim political and religious leaders who see the future of their countries and congregations threatened by the extremists.
Egyptian President al-Sisi has urged Muslim religious leaders to recognize the damage to their faith that comes from extremist preachers and the violence that they produce. Israel has learned to deal with a number of Muslim countries that make their own subtle contributions toward moderation, even while occasionally joining the anti-Zionist chorus.
You want complexity?
Shiite extremists, led by Iran are shedding their blood while fighting the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State, and causing trouble for Israel alongside its northern borders. Saudi families and the Saudi government have provided major resources to the most extreme of the Islamists, as well as various groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the strongest Sunni rivals of Shiite Iran, while Turkey is somewhat of a wild card, with aspirations to align with Europe, compete with Egypt for great power status in the Middle East, side with Islamists against Israel while continuing to do business with Israel, manage its own ethnic complexities while coping with unrest over its borders with Syria and Iraq, and a sizable influx of refugees.
Among the tasks of western leaders is to get what they can from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, and other Islamic powers, while recognizing the conflicts between them working against the extremism that is at least potential in them all.
Also on the agenda are what might come from active centers of violence in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and a few other places with restive Muslims.
Among the tasks of Israeli leaders is to deal appropriately with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, whose leaders repeatedly proclaim their intentions to destroy Israel, and do what they can to arm themselves in ways that seem directed at that task. It is appropriate to remind the world about the threats against Israel, and the likely consequences for other countries if it comes to serious violence.
Those who see an objectionable political disturbance in Benyamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress may require additional lessons in the greater disturbances associated with Islam.
There is a religious as well as a nationalist element in rejections by Palestinians of proposals made by Israel. Among the constraints, even for Palestinians who might qualify as partners, are the Islamists among Palestinian activists, including the most violent of them in Hamas and various Jihadist gangs. Beyond Palestine are crowds of Muslims, educated to chant their hatred of Israel, and to curse as traitors any Muslim willing to do business with Israel.
Anwar Sadat paid with his life. Mahmoud Abbas awards the designation of martyr, and names public sites in honor of Palestinians who die while killing Jews.
It isn’t a game for innocents.
So far the record of Barack Obama is less than encouraging. We’ll see in his last two years, then the books he writes afterwards, if he’s learned anything useful about Islam in his years at the top.
Reprinted with author’s permission from the Jerusalem Post