Disconcerting Trends in Pakistan & The Debate Within Political Islam


gedmin clinton.jpgRadio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Director Jeffrey Gedmin has just authored a disconcerting brief on his recent observations of Pakistan’s political and social scene for the journal World Affairs that I encourage folks to read.
Nations that block Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are from my perspective on the wrong side of history and don’t get that efficient social network building — while scary to some countries who fear their own people — are also dynamic sources of power and innovation that can greatly benefit those nations.
Turkey and China block YouTube. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I had access to all three — twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and the same was true in Qatar and UAE.
Gedmin reports that Pakistan has now shut down access to Facebook along with 1,000 other websites including YouTube. So much for modernity getting a chance in a country to which we are sending $1.5 billion a year.
But Gedmin has an extremely important passage that has nothing to do with social media and everything to do with the rich terrain of what is unfolding in the arena of “political Islam.”
Gedmin writes:

I visited the home of the deputy head of Pakistan’s version of the Muslim Brotherhood, a member of the parliament who also directs a prominent think tank. Khurshid Ahmad counts as a moderate in Pakistani politics. He rejects the Taliban vision for Pakistan, condemns suicide bombings (at least in conversation with me) and says the September 11 attacks were a crime. He also blames America for many of his country’s ills, sympathizes with the plight of Iranian mullahs and wants a Pakistan where religious leaders play an active role in governing. For the foreseeable future the real battle for Pakistan’s soul remains a struggle not between liberals and jihadists but between Islamists of different stripes.

Gedmin is exactly right — and this is something very few Americans realize or acknowledge. I’m impressed with Jeffrey Gedmin’s openness on this as he is a serious thinker in the neoconservative establishment and was the institution builder behind what was once the dynamic “New Atlantic Initiative” at the American Enterprise Institute.
The kind of debate Gedmin got a peek at between members of the Muslim Brotherhood, themselves quite different in focus and objective depending on which nation they call home, and either Taliban representatives or Selafist groups is going on throughout the Arab and South Asia regions.
I saw this ferment on full public display at the recent Wadah Khanfar-orchestrated 5th Aljazeera Forum in which some Muslim Brotherhood adherents were publicly rebuking both the Taliban on one hand and then Iraq’s more secular Ayad Allawi on the other.
I’m really pleased that someone with Gedmin’s stature and network “gets this” as we need to begin to figure out strategies to deal with political Islam in a way that doesn’t stupidly and inappropriately relegate all of them to al Qaeda-like status.
I’m hoping to encourage Jeffrey Gedmin to speak to the New America Foundation and do an interview for The Washington Note next time he is in Washington and over from Prague.
— Steve Clemons


14 comments on “Disconcerting Trends in Pakistan & The Debate Within Political Islam

  1. Sweetness says:

    Posted by WigWag, Jun 07 2010, 9:01PM – Link
    But here’s the thing, Wig: SA is big. It’s got a lot of oil. It
    contains the two holiest places in Islam. It’s not going anywhere.
    So very, very few people really care what it does to its “citizens”
    as long it keeps that oil flowing.
    They can even provide state support to religious fanatics who
    send 19 guys to kill 3,000 Americans on American soil.
    No one on the left gives a shit. It’s a shame, they’ll say, and
    maybe in 100 years or so, they’ll liberalize, but who are we to
    interfere? Besides, there is that small matter of dah oil. (H/T to
    JohnH for that insight.)
    Sure, progressives will say, “Yeah, I don’t like SA, either,” but it’s
    just a tut-tut. It’s almost like they’re saying “What can you
    expect from people who dress in sheets?”
    I agree: it took North Carrollina 150 years or so to stop wearing
    sheets. It’ll take Saudi Arabia at least that long to figure it out.
    After all, they don’t have a Washington or a Jefferson in their
    history to goad them toward becoming a liberal democracy.
    And that sun! Wearing sheets make a lot of sense when you
    have to deal with that sun.


  2. larry birnbaum says:

    It’s true that to succeed in the world we must first see things as they are. So in the context of Pakistan this guy is I guess a moderate. Put him on an American scale… he’s way past wanting explicit acknowledgment that the country was founded on religious principles and should be governed according to those principles — which is kind of where the religious right in America sits. He’s at the level of, religious leaders should have some way to exercise regular political authority. This is the Iran model. Of course he can see as well as we can that what has happened in Iran is that this has degraded into a pure religious dictatorship with phony elections. He may even understand that this is inevitable. He nevertheless thinks that would be in the best interests of Pakistan and its people.
    So yes, we must be realistic in addressing people who are in the grips of dangerous ideological delusions. We must deal with them. But I think one thing we learned from the Cold War is, while we must deal with these people, we must not for one minute shade the truth of the fact that they are in the grips of a dangerous ideological delusion in either our own thinking or in our public discourse.


  3. JamesL says:

    Whither Twitter? The following from Juan Cole June 7 wouldn’t have anything to do with Pakistan would it? No. “Pakistan” isn’t even mentioned.
    “The congress nevertheless went on with its work, but on Sunday the Interior Minister (Hanif Atmar) and the head of the National Directorate of Security (Amrullah Saleh ) were forced by President Karzai to resign over the security lapse. Jon Boone of the Guardian reports that these are not just everyday ordinary resignations. Rather, they appear to be examples of Karzai getting rid of relatively independent and highly competent officials, possibly in favor of corrupt cronies.”
    “The Guardian talked to a Western security expert who is that Atmar and Saleh were beginning to perform, and were key to the US and NATO plan to train the country


  4. Don Bacon says:

    We send these ungrateful wretches $1.5 billion a year and we get this in return.
    news report
    Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan condemned Israel on Monday for its recent deadly attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
    Afghanistan, that’s no free ride either. Condemning Israel is not going going to go over big with the US Congress. The US may have to rethink its support for Turkey as a full EU member?


  5. Don Bacon says:

    Quoting a US professional propagandist on press freedom anywhere is an amusing proposition.
    If “Pakistan is teetering on the brink” with a “descent into chaos”, as Gedmin claims, it is primarily due to massive US interference in its affairs. Oh, but a “A designer from Lahore joked over dinner that if U.S. officials could solve the problem it might actually put a dent in the country’s notorious anti-Americanism.” Very funny.
    Gedmin really stuck his neck out on this one. “In this way the Obama administration got it right.” This is news? What else do we expect a US propagandist to say?
    “Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty – Free Media in Unfree Societies” — so if RFE operates in Pakistan then Pakistan is by definition unfree. Ungrateful, too. “So much for modernity getting a chance in a country to which we are sending $1.5 billion a year.”
    Why do Pakistanis hate us when we send them so much money? Could it have a teensy little bit to do with the “AfPak” war we are extending into their country, complete with explosive Hellfire missiles entering their households?


  6. Dan Kervick says:

    “Saudi Arabia is in ONI’s substantial category and is on RSF’s internet enemy list.”


  7. Dan Kervick says:

    Yeah, I’m not so sure about this supposedly greater level of internet freedom in Saudi Arabia:


  8. rc says:

    “… as we need to begin to figure out strategies to deal with political Islam in a way that doesn’t stupidly and inappropriately relegate all of them to al Qaeda-like status.” (SC)
    What happened? Did some just turn the lights on in Washington after 10 years of GWB’s Dark Ages?


  9. Dirk says:

    It’s hard to debunk all the falsehoods in just the short excerpt you include along with his other views, but let me just say:
    o Pakistan did temporarily ban facebook in response to a “contest” to draw Mohamed. This “contest” was in response to the veiled threats against the South Park creators. The temporary ban has been lifted by order of the courts:
    o Pakistan also had banned Youtube because of blasphemous content. This site has also been restored, although some 1200 pages remain blocked.
    The first is misguided but somewhat understandable and the second is silly and wrong. In both cases either the responsible authority saw the error of its ways or the courts stepped in and corrected the errors.
    There are troubling trends in Pakistan, (ie. the religious youths intimidating secular students at a major Lahore university – sorry read it in the German press) but the courts and military remain strong and mostly secular – as in separation of Mosque and state, as do most people in Punjab province.
    I love the innuendo in Gedmin’s piece: “… condemns suicide bombings (at least in conversation with me).”
    As far as your “he is a serious thinker in the neoconservative establishment and was the institution builder behind what was once the dynamic ‘New Atlantic Initiative’ at the American Enterprise Institute.” Well, I just don’t know where to begin… Apparently he was a big supporter of the Iraq war, in Germany, during his “Atlantic Initiative” days and pretty much was laughed, hounded out of the country.


  10. Paul Norheim says:

    Hi Steve,
    you know that I would prefer to agree with you here… But I have
    to say that I think WigWag and Nadine are more to the point
    regarding the conditions in Saudi Arabia.
    I notice that you prefer to focus on and encourage the positive
    signs, evidence of the slow progress within a society that is
    pretty extreme overall, compared to Western standards and
    values agreed upon in most parts of the world. But the obvious
    fact is that the West doesn’t want to put any significant pressure
    on SA as long as the oil flows. When we are no longer
    dependent on Saudi Arabian oil, you don’t have to be a prophet
    to predict that there will be an avalanche of media critique from
    the West against the medieval values, institutions and laws
    determining the Saudi society in the 21. century. I think it is
    crucial that some of this criticism and pressure should come
    right now, and not when there is no more oil there, and we
    don’t need them anymore. At that time, I would not be surprised
    if the most noisy criticism will come from the corner that
    prefers to keep silent now.
    As for the last part of your post – the Gedmin quote and your
    subsequent comment: thanks for bringing important nuances
    into the discussions of a terrain that is too often painted in
    black and white.


  11. Saad Kidwai says:

    Just to let everyone know that Pakistan has again
    opened access to Facebook and Youtube. The reason
    why they were blocked were on a court order. court
    in Question was the Lahor High Court which is
    similar to any of the state supreme courts in the
    US. Although i agree that banning this was wrong
    but i don’t think this was because of the
    islamists but because of a very activist judge in
    the LHC.
    I disagree that the battle in Pakistan is between
    the islamist. if it were the case then why havnt
    people voted for any of the religious parties in
    mass like in egypt where the brother hood almost
    won the majority in parliment.
    I have to say i have always agree with the
    analysis on the blog but this is the first time i
    will have to record my dissent.
    by the the way as a pakistani my family has always
    supported and voted for the MQM


  12. Don Bacon says:

    And the US shuts down Helen Thomas, an 89 year old American institution, for insensitive discourse.


  13. nadine says:

    Saudi Arabia also forbids the practice of any religion but Islam. There is not a single church or synagogue in Saudi Arabia. Non-muslims are not allowed to set foot in Mecca or Median. Jews are not allowed into the country (though they make exceptions for celebrities like Tom Friedman). Radical Wahhabism is the official state religion with full control over the educational system.
    Like Wigwag says, if only the rest of the Muslim world was as progressive as Saudi Arabia.


  14. WigWag says:

    “Turkey and China block YouTube. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I had access to all three — twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and the same was true in Qatar and UAE.” (Steve Clemons)
    It’s great that when he


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