I would like to use the excellent piece of Mahmood Mamdani to generate a set of dialogue and debate on Islam---political Islam, Islam and politics, religious conflicts, etc. In the piece below, Mahmood introduces his book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Origins of Terror, to this diverse audience.
Mahmood needs no Introduction, but let me do so anyway. The Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at the Dept. of Anthropology, Columbia University, Mamdani also served as the Director of the Institute of African Studies at SIPA (1999-204). His voice in contemporary debates carries enormous weight. His commitment to building academic institutions is strong. His concern to use his books to raise theoretical and political matters are consistent, as one can tell in Citizen and Subject which won the Herskovits Award, and When Victims Become Killers.
Contemporary Political Terror: Its Origins in the Late Cold War
I was in New York City on 9/11. With a name like mine, it did not take me long to realize that Islam had become a political identity in post-9/11 America. Soon after, I read that the Koran had become one of the most popular books on sale in American bookshops. The New York Times had the Koran on its best seller list. Astonishingly, Americans seemed to think that reading the Koran may give them a clue to the motivation of those who carried out the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center. It is as if the Iraqi people were to turn to the Bible for clues as to why official America is blasting them with bombs and mortars, among other projectiles. But the point is that Iraqi people are not turning to the Bible to understand American militarism.
Why the difference? I suggest one way of understanding the popular response in America is to look at the nature of the public debate in the U.S., for public debate plays an important role in shaping public opinion.
A debate has been raging within the U.S. establishment since 9/11. It is a debate inspired by two Ivy League intellectuals: Samuel Huntington at Harvard and Bernard Lewis at Princeton.
Samuel Huntington has argued that America must prepare for a clash of civilizations. From Huntington's point of view, the Cold War was a civil war within the West; Huntington says the real war is yet to come. That real war will be a civilizational war, at its core a war with Islam. From this point of view, all Muslims are bad.
Bernard Lewis, in contrast, makes a more nuanced claim: he says that there are good and bad Muslims, and the West needs to distinguish between them. For Lewis, good Muslims are secular; they keep their religion a private affair. In contrast, Bad Muslims are religious fundamentalists who tend to take their religion so seriously that they turn it into a guide for action in the public sphere. Lewis identifies a secular point of view with Western culture so completely that for him a secular Muslim is necessarily a Westernized Muslim. Bernard Lewis warns that America must not fight Muslims directly. Instead, it should organize, support and arm good against bad Muslims. It should seek to quarantine Muslims and trigger a civil war among them, so as to get the good ones to closet and confront the bad ones. A neo-conservative guru, Bernard Lewis was a major inspiration behind the Iraq War.
Their differences aside, Lewis and Huntington share two assumptions. The first is that the world is divided into two: modern and pre-modern. Modern peoples make their own culture; their culture is a creative act and it changes historically. In contrast, they assume that pre-modern peoples have an unchanging, ahistorical culture, one that they carry along with them. They wear their culture as some kind of a badge, and sometimes suffer from it like a collective twitch. It is as if they are periodically seized by it as some kind of a tropical or desert fever. The second assumption is that you can read a person's politics from his or her culture. I call these two assumptions Culture Talk.
The aftermath of the Iraq War has turned into a crisis for theory. Good and bad Muslim is not a permanent condition. In Iraq at least, good Muslims seem turning bad at an alarmingly rapid rate, too rapid for this to be the result of a cultural shift. It is increasingly clear that the designation of some Muslims as good and others as bad has little to do with their orientation to Islam, and everything to do with their orientation to the United States. Simply put, good Muslim is a label for those pro-American and bad Muslim for those anti-American.
Culture Talk is not only wrong, it is also self-serving. How convenient to see political violence as something wrong with the culture of one party rather than an indication that something has gone wrong in the relation between two parties!
The title Good Muslim Bad Muslim is meant to be ironic; by reading these labels as political rather than cultural, it invites the reader to question official America's labeling of some Muslims as good and others as bad. I don't deny the importance of culture, particularly political culture. But I do not think political culture develops in sealed cultural containers called civilization, without interaction with the outside.
My second observation concerns political terror. The notion of terror is increasingly susceptible to opportunistic uses. Like official America which labels its critics as bad Muslims, more and more governments have taken to describing political opponents as terrorists. But not all political violence is terror. Most guerrilla movements after the Second World War scrupulously distinguished between civilian and soldier, calling for a practice that would respect civilian life and property. In contrast, political terror makes light of the distinction between the civil and the military. There is an eerie similarity between al Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and the Twin Towers in New York and U.S. bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq. In all these cases, victims are not necessarily the target; victims may as well have been chosen by lottery.
By political terror, I mean systematic violence against civilians. That violence has come from both legal and illegal combatants. Its source has been both state and non-state actors. For this reason, I suggest we broaden the notion of terrorism to include state terrorism alongside non-state terrorism.
My third observation concerns political Islam. Contemporary, modern, political Islam developed as a response to colonialism. Colonialism posed a double challenge, external and internal, the challenge of foreign domination and of the need for internal reform to address weaknesses exposed by external aggression.
The key intellectual pace-setter in the development of political Islam was the Iranian thinker Jalal ad Din al-Afghani. Al-Afghani argued that foreign conquest was evidence of internal weaknesses in Islamic societies; he also argued that the answer was not for Muslims to ape the West but to draw on their own resources, history and culture, to modernize. Political Islam developed as a social and political movement in the 19th and 20th centuries, mainly in India, Egypt and Iran, and was manifested through various tendencies.
My main interest is in the post-war development of an extreme tendency identified with the Pakistani thinker Abu ala Mawdudi. Mawdudi came to be the standard bearer of the thought that placed political violence at the centre of political action. The shift from mass political action to violence unleashed by small conspiratorial groups involved a multiple shift of focus: from a link between external domination and internal reform to a single-minded focus on external enemies, from social and political reform to a preoccupation with taking power, from the formation of mass organizations to that of conspiratorial groups, and from mass-based politics to a focus on political violence sanctified as a highly militarized notion of jihad. This tendency in political Islam is a recent tendency, one that emerged in the post-colonial period.
When I read Mawdudi, I realized that his interest in Islam was as a political ideology preoccupied with the question of power. When I read the Sayyed Qutb, the Egyptian thinker highly influenced by Mawdudi, saying in the introduction to his book Signposts, that he had written it for a vanguard, I recalled Lenin's What is to be Done? And when I read Qutb's central argument, that one needed to distinguish between friends and enemies, for with friends you use reason and persuasion but with enemies you must use force, I thought I was reading Mao ze Dong's On the Correct Handling of Contradiction Among the People.
The terrorist tendency in political Islam is not a pre-modern carryover but a very modern development. Radical political Islam is not the development of the ulama, even of mullahs. It is mainly the work of non-religious political intellectuals. It has developed through a set of debates, but these debates can not be understood as a linear development inside political Islam. They were waged both inside and outside political Islam. They are both a critique of reformist political Islam and an engagement with competing political ideologies, particularly Marxism-Leninism.
Let us remember that the period after the Second World War was one of a decades-long secular romance with political violence. Armed struggle was in the vogue in national liberation and revolutionary movements. Many political activists were convinced that a thorough-going struggle had to be armed. The development of religious political tendencies that glorify the liberating role of violence is a latter-day phenomenon. These tendencies can be found on the fringe of political Christianity and political Hinduism, just as they can be found in the margins of political Zionism and political Islam. Could it be that rather than specifically Islamist or even specifically religious as in religious fundamentalism, political terror is best thought of as both religious and secular, a sign of the times?
Nonetheless, this should not detract from the fact that, more than any other, it is the terrorist tendency in political Islam that is now contending for the political centre stage. The heart of Good Muslim Bad Muslim seeks to answer this political question: How did Islamist terror, a theoretical tendency that preoccupied a few intellectuals and was of marginal political significance in the 1970s, become part of the political mainstream only a few decades? To answer that question, we have to move away from political Islam to official America, and back from 9/11 to the period that followed America's defeat in Vietnam, the period I call the late Cold War. My claim is also that this question is best answered from a vantage point inside Africa. This is why Good Muslim Bad Muslim is also an understanding of global politics from an Africa-focused perspective
The Late Cold War
1975 was a momentous year in the history of decolonization. The year the United States was defeated in Vietnam was also the year the Portuguese empire collapsed in Africa. The result was a shift in the center of gravity of the Cold War from Southeast Asia to Southern Africa. Who would pick up the pieces of the Portuguese empire in Africa, the United States or the Soviet Union?
The defining feature of the new phase of the Cold War was the existence of a strong anti-war movement within the U.S. opposed to direct military intervention overseas. Its hands tied behind its back, official America was compelled to design a strategy appropriate to the new situation. That new strategy was designed by Kissinger: if America could not intervene overseas directly, it would intervene through others. Thus began the era of proxy war, one that was to mark the period from Vietnam to Iraq.
Angola was the first important American proxy intervention in the post-Vietnam period. Kissinger first looked for mercenaries to counter MPLA in Angola, as indeed the U.S. had done in Congo when faced with Lumumba a decade earlier. But mercenaries were few; those who came were a decade older. The mercenary intervention was a fiasco. Kissinger's next move was to give a nod to apartheid South Africa. The South African intervention was discredited internationally as soon as it got known. The Angolan fiasco led to a powerful anti-war response in Congress in the form of the Clark Amendment which terminated all covert assistance to anti-communist forces in Angola.
Whereas Kissinger developed proxy war as a pragmatic response to a changed context, the Reagan administration raised it to the level of a grand strategy, called the Reagan Doctrine. The Reagan Doctrine developed in response to the 1979 revolutions, namely the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua and the Islamist Revolution in Iran.
The Reagan Doctrine made two claims. The first was that America had been preparing to fight the wrong war. The war it had been preparing for was the war with Soviet forces on the plains of Europe, one that was likely never to take place. Meanwhile, it was losing the real war, against Third World nationalism. Reagan called on America to fight the war that was already on, against yesterday's guerrillas now come to power. From the Reaganite point of view, there could be no middle ground, no non-alignment, between the Soviet Union and the United States. So the Reagan administration portrayed nationalist governments newly come to power in southern Africa and central America as Soviet proxies that needed to be nipped in the bud before they turned into real dangers.
The intellectual argument for fighting militant nationalism was made by the neoconservative academic, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, at first in an article titled "Democracy and Double Standards" in Commentary magazine, later elaborated in a book of the same name. Kirkpatrick connected Soviet global expansion with Third World revolutions in a causal relationship by claiming that Third World revolutions are the result of Soviet expansion, and not of local historical forces fighting repression, and are thus illegitimate. She went on to draw a distinction between two kinds of dictatorships, left wing and right wing: she claimed that "totalitarian" left wing dictatorships were incapable of reform from within and so must be overthrown from without; in contrast, "authoritarian" right wing dictatorships are open to internal reform, a potential that needs to be tapped through direct engagement.
The intellectual importance of Kirkpatrick's argument cannot be exaggerated. It provided the rationale for why it is fine to make friends with right wing dictators while doing everything to overthrow left wing governments. In the process, it solved the moral problem associated with double standards. The self-serving nature of the Kirkpatrick notion is evident from a post-Cold War perspective. It is after all the left-wing regimes, from Soviet Union to China, that have been able to reform from within. Iraq, in contrast, was not allowed to reform from within - mainly because it was unable to defend its sovereign right to do so. If North Korea is today able to assert the sovereign right to reform from within, could this be because it possesses weapons of mass destruction which Iraq did not?
The Reagan Doctrine also turned around a second initiative, one that involved a shift from "containment" to "rollback," from peaceful coexistence to a determined, sustained and aggressive bid to reverse defeats in the Third World. To underline the historical legitimacy of this shift, it brought the language of religion into politics. Speaking before the National Association of Evangelicals, Ronald Reagan called on America to defeat "the evil empire."
Evil is a theological notion; as such, it has neither a history nor motivation. We need to be clear of the enormous effect, whether intended or unintended, of importing the notion of evil from theology to politics. The political use of evil is two-fold. First, one cannot coexist with evil, nor can one convert it. Evil must be eliminated. The war against evil is a permanent war, one without a truce. Second, the Manichean battle against evil justifies any alliance. The first such alliance was between official America and apartheid South Africa. In true Kirkpatrick fashion, the Reagan administration dubbed this alliance "constructive engagement."
Africa's First Genuinely Terrorist Movement: Renamo
It is through "constructive engagement" that official America provided political cover to apartheid South Africa as it set about developing a strategy for proxy war in former Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola. As the Reagan administration moved from "peaceful coexistence" to "rollback," so the apartheid government redefined its regional strategy from "détente" to "total onslaught."
The bitter fruit of constructive engagement was Africa's first genuine terrorist movement, called Renamo. Created by the Rhodesian army in the early 1970s and nurtured by the apartheid army after 1980, Renamo consistently targeted civilians to convince them that an independent African government could not possibly assure them law and order. At the same time, when terror unleashed by Renamo became the subject of public discussion, the apartheid regime explained it in cultural terms, as "black on black violence," as an expression of age-old tribal conflict, of the inability of black people to live with one another without an outside mediator.
The logic of terror was opposed to that of guerrilla war. If guerrillas were like fish in water, to use Mao's words, the point of terror was to drain the water and isolate the fish. The more the guerrillas, or the governments they formed, enjoyed popular support, the more terror wreaked untold damage on life and livelihood.
The U.S. responsibility for Renamo was not direct but indirect. I could not find any evidence of direct U.S. support to Renamo, even if Renamo did have its Washington D.C. offices in the same building as did the Heritage Foundation. The State Department even detailed Renamo atrocities in its annual reports. The U.S. responsibility was political. Without an American political cover, it would have been impossible for apartheid South Africa to organize, arm and finance a terrorist movement in independent Africa for over a decade - and to do so with impunity.
Putting Lessons into Practice: Contras
Constructive engagement was, in retrospect, a period of tutorship for official America. This became clear in October, 1981 when President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive No. 17, authorizing $19.7 million for the CIA to create a paramilitary force for attacks in Nicaragua.
The U.S. created and wielded the Contras just as apartheid South Africa did Renamo. Official America's tolerance of terror, previously shy and permissive, turned brazen and active. Under CIA tutelage, the Contras blew up bridges and health centers, killed health personnel, judges and heads of cooperative societies. The CIA manual for Contras, titled Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare, openly advocated "the selective use of violence."
The point of terror was not to win civilian support but to highlight the inability of the government to ensure law and order. Perversely, the point was to intimidate the population and discredit the government. It was to convince the population that the only way to end terror was to hand over power to terrorists. This certainly is the main - though not the sole - explanation of how the Sandinistas lost power in Nicaragua. This lesson in the electoral uses of terror was learnt by others, including Charles Taylor in Liberia and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone.
I would like to pause for reflection before moving to Afghanistan. I have been recounting the history of terror during the late Cold War. Terror was a strategy the U.S. embraced when it had almost lost the Cold War in 1975. Mozambique and Nicaragua were the founding moments of that history. Renamo and Contras were the pioneer terrorist movement, created as South African and American proxies. Neither was an Islamist movement, let alone being reloigious. Both were secular in orientation. The development of a religious proxy - terror claiming a religious justification - was characteristic of the closing phase of the Cold War in Afghanistan.
Rollback on a Global Scale: Afghanistan
The Afghan war was the prime example of "rollback." Unlike the Contra war, the Afghan war was fought on the Soviet border. This longest war fought by the Soviet Union outside its borders was also the biggest CIA operation during the Cold War.
When President Reagan signed National Security Directive 166 and authorized stepped-up military assistance to Mujahideen in March of 1986, the objective was no less than to defeat the Soviet Union. In the history of terror during the last phase of the Cold War, the Afghan war was important for two reasons. First, the Reagan administration ideologized the war as a religious war against the evil empire, rather than as a war of national liberation. In both Mozambique and Nicaragua, apartheid South Africa and Reaganite America had mimicked national liberation movements, claiming that these were wars of national liberation. In Afghanistan, however, there was no such claim. Instead, the CIA marginalized every Islamist group with a nationalist orientation, fearing these groups may be tempted to negotiate with the Soviet Union. Consistently, the CIA supported the most extreme Islamists, particularly terrorists committed to a fight to the finish, one that would "bleed the Soviet Union white."
Second, the Reagan administration privatized war in the course of recruiting, training and organizing a global network of Islamic fighters against the Soviet Union. The recruitment was done through Islamic charities, and the training through intelligence agencies supplemented by militarized madrassas. The militarized madrassa was a perverse mutation never before seen in Islamic history. These madressas taught Islam as a total ideology, at its core a political ideology with a military thrust.
To take one example, the University of Nebraska received a $50 million grant from USAID to produce children's textbooks. Here is a question from a 3rd grade mathematics book, presumably for 9 year olds: "One group of Mujahideen attack 50 Russian soldiers. 20 Russians are killed. How many Russians fled?" The 4th grade math book follows with this question: "The speed of a Klashnikov bullet is 800 meters per second. If a Russian is at a distance of 3200 meters from a Mujahiddin and that Mujahiddin aims at the Russian's head, how many seconds will it take for the bullet to strike the Russian in the forehead?"
The militarized madressas trained both the Afghan refugee children who were later recruited into Taliban and the Arab-Afghans who were later networked by the organization called Al Qaeda ("the Base"). Formed towards the end of the war, al Qaeda has inherited the self-righteous language of fighting a war against evil, only that it now brands the the world's lone superpower as the embodiment of evil in the world.
The U.S. did not create right wing Islam. I have already argued that such a tendency came into being through intellectual debates, both inside political Islam and with competing secular ideologies, such as Marxism-Leninism. The American responsibility was that it turned a hitherto ideological tendency into a political organisation - by incorporating it into America's Cold War strategy in the closing phase of the Cold War. Before the Afghan jihad, right wing political Islam was an ideological tendency with little organization and muscle on the ground. The Afghan jihad gave it numbers, organization, skills, reach, confidence and a coherent objective. The U.S. created an infrastructure of terror but heralded it as an infrastructure of liberation. As reported by Cooley, a veteran reporter, among others for The Christian Science Monitor, the first time the World Trade Centre was bombed in 1993, the suspects were not only trained in the Afghan war, the bomb they exploded was also made according to chemical processes prescribed in a CIA handbook.
A Democratic Empire
The peculiarity of Western empires is that they are different from both pre-modern empires and the contemporary Soviet empire. The American empire is a contradictory project that governs citizens at home and rules over subjects abroad. Internally, the United States combines press freedom with an internal opposition. The lesson of Vietnam was that it was the internal opposition in the U.S. which circumscribed the unleashing of U.S. power. Post-Vietnam administrations held the press responsible for losing the war. Starting with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, every administration made a concerted attempt to control the press.
This was possible for several reasons. The official claim that the press was guilty of focusing only on American atrocities was given credibility by the killing fields in Cambodia and the fact that the press, which had been preoccupied with "our atrocities" was taken by surprise when it came to "their atrocities." Add to this the changing ownership of mass media when some of the giants were bought over by defense companies and entertainment complexes, and you begin to get some idea of the kind of influences that brought us an "embedded" American press during the Iraq War.
The Legacy of Reagan
There is a similarity worth noting between the period that preceded 9/11 and the period that has followed it. In both periods, American administrations have ideologized the unleashing of terror on innocent civilian populations as a necessary part of fighting evil, either "the evil empire" or "the arc of evil." Whereas the Christian right in the U.S. bonded with right-wing political Islam in the period before 9/11, it has been busy bonding with right-wing Zionism in the period after. There is no doubt that the scale of Israeli state atrocities, packaged in the American media as part of "the war on terror," an inevitable response to "their terror," has ballooned since 9/11. Like post-Holocaust Israel, post-9/11 America also justifies the unleashing of state terror as preemptive self-defense. Both claim that all violence they use is preemptive self-defense, but any violence used against them is "terror".
America's special relationship with Israel has confounded many an observer. The higher the cost of America's Israel policy, the more its motivations seem obscure to an external observer. Some have explained it as an expression of state interests, defined either by geopolitics or by the disproportionate representation of Jewish persons in American policy-making circles. Others have seen in it the influence of the market, either defined by the oil lobby or the disproportionate interest of entrepreneurs of Jewish origin. Yet others see it as evidence of the nature of American civil society, with the disproportionate influence of the militant Zionist lobby organized through AIPAC, buttressed by the growing strength of the Christian Right in the Republican Party.
Yet, neither state reasons nor the weight of special interests in the state or civil society quite explain why there is not even the trace of public debate in America when it comes to Israel. Internationally, one state stands in defense of practically every UN resolution that affects it. In the international community, Israel stands for the exercise of power with impunity. Israel defies the international community consistently, not because it is the world's sole superpower but because it is backed up by the world's sole superpower.
At the same time, the George W. Bush administration's relationship with Israel is not simply a replay of the political cover the Reagan administration provided apartheid South Africa for nearly a decade. The fact is that, within America, it is easier to criticize the U.S. government than it is to criticize Israel. The same American liberal who will uphold your right to criticize any government in the world, including that of the U.S., will consider criticism of the state of Israel as potentially anti-Semitic, in the words of the current Harvard President, in effect if not in intent.
Why do American liberals not use the same standards for the state of Israel that they would not hesitate using for every other state in the world, including the United States? What explains the special nature of the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel? I want to suggest that both the Christian and the Zionist right have tapped into an enduring historical sensibility. In other words, the Israeli point of view appeals to American common sense.
One effective way of underlining the American historical sensibility is to grasp its radical difference between the American and the African political experience in the modern period to understand how these have shaped radically different perspectives. America and Africa signify two radically different historical trajectories. Whereas post-apartheid Africa represents the conclusive defeat of settler colonialism, contemporary America reflects its unquestioned triumph.
This triumph has been written in the history of American citizenship. To bring it to light, one needs to ask: Who is an American? The answer has been shaped by two major struggles, the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. The Civil War followed the 1857 Dred Scott decision which ruled out free blacks from being citizens of the United States. The Civil War changed the locus of citizenship in the U.S., from individual states to the union. It created a single - but not an equal - citizenship for blacks and whites in the country. Post-Civil War America was still a nation of white settlers.
The Civil Rights movement changed that and more. The post-war period was marked by a double shift. The dominant presumption before the Second World War was that whites were Christians; from this point of view, the heritage of Christianity was defined in opposition to that of Judaism. The idea of a single Judeo-Christian tradition was post-Holocaust America's anti-dote to anti-Semitism, why this is an idea with a weak historical depth.
Contemporary America is a multicultural community that has come to grips with its racial and religious diversity, but not yet with its settler origins. For those interested in changing the American point of view, it is important to acknowledge the important ways in which the American historical sensibility has been shaped by its settler experience. At the core of the settler experience lies a persistent insensitivity to native interests. This much is clear if we compare America's response to two political projects that followed two historical catastrophes, slavery and the Holocaust. I am thinking of Liberia and Israel.
Liberia was an experiment enthusiastically championed in America by both former slaves and former slave owners. Israel too is a cause championed equally enthusiastically by both the most anti-Semitic sections of the Christian right (such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) and the most ardent Zionists. Like Liberia, Israel too has united victims and perpetrators of a previous social catastrophe - both claimed to be civilizational projects.
In Israel, as in Liberia, the civilizational project has been forged in the Diaspora, with civilization understood as a settler product that must be brought to natives, by force if necessary. Americo-Liberians thought it their God-given right to civilize native Liberians who never left home. Their notion of civilization was forged in the land of slavery, and was punctuated with the very artifacts denied them in captivity: the top hat, the green dollar, the White House, and so on. Zionists who return to Israel see Palestinians as interlopers. Squatters without a right in a Biblically-sanctioned civilizational history, they must clear the way for the rightful owners of the land.
America's response to major catastrophes - first slavery, then Holocaust - has crystallized a tendency among Americans to see overseas settlements as a solution, rather than a problem. The American solution is a return home, but a return so marked by a callous disregard for the interests of those already home, those who never did leave home, that in each instance homecoming has tended to turn into a settler-colonial project.
American cosmopolitanism is stamped with the experience of settler colonialism. The South African experience shows that a settler history need not turn into an original sin, hanging like an albatross around a collective neck. It can be overcome - provided America has the moral and political courage to look its original crime, the appropriation and genocide of native Americans, in the face. Only then will America dare see the truth of settler projects as so many ways of coping with internal social dislocations rationalized as so many civilizing missions to the world at large.
The African experience shows that the claim of a civilizing mission can take many forms. Apartheid South Africa claimed to be "the only democracy in Africa," just as Israel today claims to be "the only democracy in the Middle East." This is not entirely a hoax; but neither is it the whole truth. Surely, many natives in Dar-es-Salaam or Kampala or Lagos had fewer rights than did some natives in Jo'berg and Durban, just as Palestinians in Israel have greater rights than do many natives in the Arab world.
The larger truth, though, is that the civilizing mission was never meant to include all the natives. The regime of rights or democracy was never meant to be generalized to all natives. Like the colony of Liberia or apartheid South Africa, Israel too is a contradictory unity, a democratic despotism in a contiguous space. >From this point of view, it is no different from the civilizing mission that Western powers brought to their colonies in an earlier era. Not only did this civilizing mission shut out the vast majority of the colonized from the project of modernity and democracy, it turned around to stigmatize those natives who resisted the exclusion as being anti-modern and untrustworthy of democracy.
The state of Israel is a state. It is not a religion, nor a people. It should be submitted to the same scrutiny as any other state, not just for the sake of the Palestinian people, or the Israeli people but, now, more than ever, for the sake of humanity.
I would like to conclude with several recommendations.
First, we need to expand our notion of terror, to include both state and non-state terror, legal alongside illegal combatants. Historically, both have been linked in a spiral of violence. Both the U.S. and al Qaeda came out of the winning side in the Cold War. Both employ a religious vocabulary in politics, justifying the self as righteous and demonizing the other as evil. When used in politics, the notion of good and evil serves to justify the use of power with impunity and without accountability.
Second, there is no denying the unmatched strength of American power in the contemporary world and the overriding need to hold it accountable. The situation after the Cold War is analogous to the World after the Versailles Treaty. The international order today is so patently unfair that it presents a field day for every aspiring demagogue.
America needs to come to intellectual and political grips with the price it paid to win the Cold War. I need only mention two symptoms for your consideration: an imperial presidency that is only nominally accountable to the legislature, and a highly militarized state where foreign policy is made more by the Department of Defense than it is by the Department of State.
This is why it is important to go beyond local notions of democracy. This is why there is need to introduce the principle of accountability globally through a global reform of institutions that regulate life globally: international financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, the international trade regime identified with the WTO, the the International Criminal Court (ICC) whose objective is to enforce an international rule of law, and international political institutions such as the UN so that at the minimum an overwhelming majority in the General Assembly may be able to override a big power veto.
Third, the struggle for human rights in the post-Cold War era presents a challenge to the some of the assumptions on which the international human rights movement has been built. The key assumption has been that rights violations will come from newly independent countries - Third World nationalists - and that rights enforcement will be a big power responsibility. This assumption has been reinforced by big power funding. The Iraq War has turned these assumptions upside down. What should we do when the world's lone superpower turns out to be the principal source of human rights violations? The silence of the key global human rights institutions in the face of this reality testifies to their political and intellectual paralysis.
Fourth, it is a mistake to identify either political Islam or political Christianity terror. More than ever, we need to identify the right wing tendency in religious political movements. More than ever, we need to recognize that the involvement of religion in politics is not necessarily reactionary. I will give you one example. Think of the American South after the Second War, a place where black people had no right either to participate or to organize in the public sphere. Can anyone imagine a civil rights movement in those conditions without the participation of the black church? Instead of blaming the church or the mosque or the village shrine for getting involved in politics, let us look into the reasons why our political institutions have atrophied and ask what makes our people turn to religious leaders and institutions for redress.
Fifth, we need to distinguish between official Islam and popular Islam. I have focused on the alliance between official Islam and imperial America during the last phase of the Cold War. And I have suggested that this alliance had a price which has been extracted from ordinary Muslims. That price lay in the militarization of Islam and in its formulation as a total ideology. It is often said that Islam is not just a religion; it is a way of life. Ask yourself, can there ever be a religion worth its salt if it is not a way of life? If that is the case, the ask yourself: what was the point of the claim? The point was that Islam was being presented as an alternative to a totalitarian state ideology, Soviet communism. It is in that context that an official version of Islam was created, one that allowed for no debate and no differences, one that was an ideology of expansion, central to which was the notion of Jihad as a militarized ideology of expansion.
Sixth, there is need to acknowledge the historical legitimacy of nationalism, whether its language is secular or religious. The lesson of Vietnam was two-fold: one, that nationalism needed to be politically distinguished from communism; and two, that local groups with a communist or Marxist orientation could share an ideological agenda with the Soviet Union without necessarily turning into so many implementing agency of Soviet foreign policy. The lesson of the Iraq war, similarly, is that we need to distinguish nationalism from terrorism, and even right wing Islamist movements in different parts of the world from al Qaeda, even if they may share an ideological orientation. The fact is that the fight against political terror is mainly political, not military. This is at least for one reason: to defeat terror militarily, you need to isolate it politically.
Finally, we need to be wary of the American attempt to draw our governments and political elites into another version of the Cold War. Let us not forget that for Africa, as for the Middle East and Asia and Latin America, the Cold War was a hot war. We paid a huge price for it: militarization of state life, unaccountability in politics and the pawning of our economic resources. Before our leaders consider a renewed American invitation to join a new edition of the Cold War called "the war on terror," let us subject the invitation and its terms and conditions to a broad national, continental and global debate.