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Weakening Islamism is Vital to Improve US Image in the Muslim world
in 09-12-23



Weakening Islamism is Vital to Improve US Image in the Muslim world


By Tawfik Hamid  

In the December 1, 2009 issue of the WSJ Europe, Fouad Ajami - in an Op-Ed entitled "The Arabs Have Stopped Applauding Obama" - argued that President Obama's diplomatic approach to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world has not been successful. Poll results have shown that unfavorable views of the US are as high as 82%, 69 %, and 70% in the Palestinian territories, Turkey, and Egypt respectively. In fact, the Op-Ed stated that unfavorable views of the US in Pakistan have risen from 63% in 2008 to 68% in 2009 according to a recent Pew survey.


In addition, after President Obama came to office in 2009, the number of home-grown Islamist terror plots inside the US has risen dramatically compared to the previous years. The Year of 2009 represents the highest level of domestic home-grown Islamic radicalism in the US since 2001.


We must question why President Obama's approach with the Muslim world has not succeeded yet in at least having a more positive effect in improving the US image in several Muslim countries or in decreasing the rate of home-grown Islamic radicalism on the home front. One of the main reasons for this lack of success is that US strategic communications with the Muslim world was largely based on the assumption that the problem of Islamic Radicalism and hatred to America is primarily because of the US foreign policy with the Muslim world and thus changing this policy will change the latter. This can only work if the main problem was in the US approach; however, if the main problem was in the Muslim world, such an approach cannot succeed as it will be like trying to change the keys to open a room while the problem is in the rusty lock! In the latter situation, changing the lock - or in other words changing the Muslim world itself - is crucial to solving the problem.


Improving the image of the US in the Muslim world before the proliferation of the phenomenon of Islamism was a very different task compared to trying to improve its image after the phenomenon has proliferated. While traditional approaches of diplomatic, economic and social engagement had the possibility of working with the earlier situation, non-traditional ways to weaken Islamism are now needed for today's situation.


Islamism, or the broad collection of movements to impose intolerant forms of Islamic teachings and practices, has made many in the Muslim world unable to be satisfied with any political system that does not implement Sharia law in some form or fashion. Any Un-Islamic system is seen as an enemy to Islam that must be opposed through violent or even non-violent means. Dr. Al-Zawaherri (second in command of Al-Queda) was clear is his offer for the US to convert to Islam in order to stop terrorism against it.


In addition, Islamism has made many in Muslim societies dream about regaining the superiority of the historical Islamic Caliphate over the world. This is clearly observed on web sites and comments by many Muslims in the Muslim world. In this case, it is hard for many Islamists to accept a country like the US that is viewed as denying this position to the Islamic world.  


Furthermore, Islamism has aggravated criticism of the US as it advocates and supports values of freedom and liberty around the world that are seen by Islamists as "Un-Islamic" - particularly the values of freedom of religion, women's rights, gay rights, and more humane punishments for criminals (e.g., not stoning women for committing adultery).  Some may argue that Muslims are still very interested to come to the US even if they see it as "Un-Islamic". The answer is simply that many Muslims are attracted by the economical factors rather than the values of freedom and liberty in the US and the West.


The above complex situation illustrates that the US may need to address the challenge of weakening the Islamism phenomenon first in order to improve its image in the Muslim world as this phenomenon plays an important role in creating hatred of America. In other words, removing the obstacle that impedes improving the US image in the Muslim world or at least significantly reducing it is fundamental to succeed in this diplomatic mission.


Trying to satisfy the Muslim world by changing the US will not be effective unless the US is ready to end its values of freedom and liberty and adopt an Islamic Sharia system.


The US administration must realize that the problem of poor views of this country in the Muslim world could actually be predominantly in the Muslim world and not in America. In such a case, changing the latter or the Muslim world rather than the US is fundamental to improving the image of the US among Muslims. This also can lead to the conclusion that the US may need to work on changing the perception of the Muslim world to its foreign policy rather than focusing on changing its foreign policy to win the hearts and minds of Muslims. Sophisticated psychological and behavioral modification methods may be needed to achieve this.


In this context, it is also important to raise the point that the Muslim world is in far greater need than the US to improve its image in the world as its image has been painted by terrorism and barbarism especially in the last few years. 


In brief, no matter what the non-Islamic world does - short of submitting to the Islamic Sharia - the Islamists will never be satisfied completely. The US must either change itself to adopt an Islamic system to satisfy the Muslim world or alternatively assist in changing the latter. Weakening the Islamism phenomenon is vital to ultimately improve the image of the US in the Muslim world as Islamism is currently a - if not the - major obstacle to enhancing the US image among Muslims



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