Perhaps the best thing to come out of Bill Maher’s insipid critique of Islam is this piece by Rula Jebreal: Why America is losing the war on terror — and the Islam debate is so flawed. Jebreal’s takedown of American foreign / military policy in the Middle East is stinging and spot on. She starts with the stark reality:
An enemy that had comprised a couple of hundred desperate men hiding in caves in eastern Afghanistan when the “war on terror” got underway following the 9/11 attacks is incarnated today as 20,000 fighting men in the Islamic State movement. And far from hiding in caves, ISIS has brazenly raised its black flag over vast swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq – countries that, in 2001, had been two of the most secular societies in the Middle East.
It’s hard to summarize Jebreal’s analysis, but here are a few of her salient points:
On the rise of ISIS:
“How many mass rallies have been held against ISIS in the Arab world today,” asked Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post in October. A fair question, but the answer is an indictment of Arab rulers: There are precious few countries in the Arab world where citizens are currently free to hold a mass rally about anything. And the reason for that, of course, is that if citizens were at liberty to express themselves, they’d likely focus on mass unemployment, corruption and the authoritarianism of their rulers before they turn to the problem of ISIS.
The secret police of those same Arab countries have often been a central ally in the war on terror, enabling U.S. security services to outsource some of the abuse of suspects. But even U.S. institutions have engaged in interrogation techniques that would horrify many Americans — indeed, the Obama administration has worked hard to stop the release of a Senate investigation into torture by the CIA.
Detainee abuse is not a peripheral issue when discussing ISIS. The prison cells and torture chambers of the Arab world have long served as incubators of implacable jihadism, whether the jailers worked for Mubarak, the Saudi royal family, Saddam, Gadhafi or even the U.S. Modern jihadism, in the person of Sayyed al-Qutb, was born in Egypt’s prisons, which also produced al-Qaida’s current leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was said to have lost his toenails under torture in a Jordanian prison long before he became the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, while ISIS leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi spent four years in U.S. custody at Camp Bucca in Iraq.
On where our policy of supporting Egypt’s military dictatorship will lead:
The suppression of nonviolent opposition by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi makes a self-fulfilling prophecy of the “terrorist” threat he invokes to justify killing hundreds of unarmed protesters, and jailing more than 20,000 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party won Egypt’s first two democratic elections. Thus the cautionary tale in the story of Omar Mustafa, erstwhile member of the April 6 movement who had worked in the presidential campaign of the secularist Mohammed ElBaradei, and who died fighting in an Islamist militia in Libya. The idea that a popular political party can simply be violently stamped out is not only hopelessly misguided, it is extremely dangerous.
Absent any legitimate channels for expressing their views, many young Egyptians will conclude – as they have done in the past – that violence is the only effective option. The next generation of Zawahiris, Zarqawis and Baghdadis are right now honing their hatred in Egypt’s prisons. And while many Americans prefer to turn a blind eye or blame Islam, in the eyes of the victims we are deeply complicit.
On the direction America needs to take:
America’s intellectuals bear an urgent responsibility to question failed policies and move beyond a self-satisfied monologue about the problems of Islam — and to open a productive dialogue that includes Muslim voices speaking uncomfortable truths. Our common security depends on it.