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Reuel Marc Gerecht, formerly an Iran specialist for the CIA and now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, now thinks that Islam deserves serious study as a subject of strategic interest. “God may be kaput in most of the West, but he has hardly been reduced to the status of personal philosophy in Islamic lands,” he avers. “And, yet, our God-diminishing, mirror-imaging impulse keeps blinding us to Islam’s place at the center of the political realm. The tendency to view Muslims through secular eyes, or to recast them and their faith into a version of Christianity (“Islam is a religion of peace”), is perhaps the greatest impediment to rational American policy.”

Sadly, Gerecht seems to think that it all boils down to fanaticism vs. free-thinking.

He has some important points to make in an article released today on the AEI website :

In the nine years (1985-1994) that I spent in the Central Intelligence Agency working on Middle Eastern issues, especially on the “Iranian target,” I cannot recall a single serious conversation about Islam as a faith, and about why a glimpse of the divine inspired an entire generation of young Iranian men to draw closer to God through war and death . . . . The CIA, like the State Department, is a secular institution where officers typically do not discuss their faith (or, more to the point, lack thereof) or the faith of others. Friends at Langley tell me that even today there remains little sustained attention to the question of how believing Muslims, country by country, view the outside world, or how Saudi-supported militant Salafi teachings have gobbled up mosques and religious schools throughout the once virulently anti-Wahhabi lands of the eastern Mediterranean . . . .

When I was an advisor to the Iraq Study Group, the overwhelming majority of my colleagues thought that America under George W. Bush, not Iran under Ali Khamenei, deserved more blame for delaying the restoration of “normalcy” between the two states. In its deliberations and its final recommendations, the ISG barely acknowledged Islam. Read a stack of essays and op-eds about the Middle East by Bush père’s former national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, one of America’s preeminent realists, and the words “Islam” and “Muslim” seldom appear, much less any discussion of how Islam as understood and practiced by Iran’s rulers could affect American diplomacy—which, in Scowcroft’s eyes, really ought to be able “to assuage Iran’s security concerns and temper its urge to acquire a nuclear capability.” . . .

Islamism, however, comes much closer to being an authentic expression of Islam than Brzezinski realizes. Devout Muslims probably constitute a majority in every Muslim country in the Middle East. Iran may—just may—be the exception, twenty-eight years of theocracy having dampened the average Iranian’s attachment to his faith and its clerical custodians. Who, then, qualifies as devout? Someone who believes the Koran embodies the literal word of God and that the Holy Law, the Sharia, ought to be revered and obeyed. Devout Muslims can pick and choose to an extent, allowing local customs, man-made legislation, and human weaknesses to intrude into their everyday lives. But the Sacred Law remains the beloved ideal.

Gerecht’s piece is full of valuable insights, and for that reason it is all the more disappointing to read this invidious comparison of Islamist leaders to Augustine and Aquinas:

As much as Saint Augustine or Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Algerian Islamist leaders Abbassi Madani and Ali Belhadj, or Iran’s Mohammad Khatami and Mesbah-Yazdi, view themselves as God’s men trying to keep the faithful on the “straight path.”

If we can’t distinguish between the founders of European culture and today’s Islamists, we are in a hole we can’t climb out of. Apparently Pope Benedict XVI’s Sept. 2006 effort to explain the difference between religion compatible with reason, and religion that repudiates reason has not been absorbed even by conservative analysts in the Beltway, and not even by those who belatedly have come to realize that Islam is a strategic issue.



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