Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Islamist Radicals Target ‘Muslim Periphery,’ Moscow Scholar Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 4 – The goal of the “Green International,” according to a leading Russian specialist on the Islamic world, is to achieve “the radicalization of the Muslim periphery – from the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, through Central Asia, the Transcaucasus and Russia to Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria.”
In an article published in today’s “Izvestiya,” Yevgeniy Satanovskiy, who heads the Moscow Institute for Near Eastern Studies, argues that Islamist radicals are especially interested in these regions and in those Muslims living in traditionally non-Muslim milieux (
The defeats moderate Muslims have suffered in the core of the Islamic world, Satanovskiy suggests, are the product of external efforts by the United States and other Western powers “to accelerate progress” toward democracy and secularism from the outside.
Such attempts have led only to the further rise of Islamic radicals and to the defeat of the United States in these areas. In particular, he says, “experiments with free elections are weakening the regimes which are [the West’s] only allies” and economic assistance is only feeding the greed of local government clans.
Why then does Satanovskiy suggest that Islamist radicals are focusing on what he calls “the Muslim periphery”? Is it because there moderate elements are stronger? Is it because the Islamists see these locales as a test of strength? Or is there yet another reason, one that Satanovskiy implies but does not state?
That last reason is beyond any doubt the most important and reflects three important realities. First, Muslims in the peripheral countries often know less about their faith than those in the Arabic core – especially those in countries whose communist rulers in the past kept them from learning much about Islam.
As a result, these Muslim communities are especially susceptible to missionary activity and appeals by outsiders who pose as defenders of true Islam but who in fact distort it in ways that Muslims with a deeper understanding immediately can understand and thus often reject.
Second, the Arab world, which has been the core of Islam throughout history, is declining in importance. While the holy sites remain on their territory, the Arabs form only about 20 percent of the world’s Muslims, the lowest share in the history of Islam and one certain to decline further in this century.
Consequently, if the radicals, most of which are Arabs or with close Arab ties, are to play a role in the future, they must extend their reach to the periphery, despite the fact that culturally, politically and even religiously those areas include people who are radically different than themselves.
And third, the Islamists are focusing precisely on the areas where the West is spending the least amount of time and effort. In this, they are behaving in the way that Muslims have for more than a millenium – moving against weakness rather than seeking a direct confrontation with the strong, especially if the latter is prepared to respond.
Those three reasons provide help to explain Satanovskiy’s conclusion and also suggest the need for a very different strategy on the part of those, moderate Muslims and the West, who hope to contain and ultimately defeat the Islamists. Almost any other approach, it would seem, is doomed to failure.

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