Radio 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.”
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