Neocons Gloat About Islamist Iraq, Denounce Islamism

Something of a little blog firestorm was sparked when the Washington Post‘s neoconservative blogger Jennifer Rubin claimed that George W. Bush deserved credit for setting in motion the Tunisian uprising against its U.S.-backed dictator because the seed that sprouted popular revolt was Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Today in the New York Times, WINEP fellow Martin Kramer is quoted warning against the dangers of the reemergence of Tunisia’s Islamist party, Al-Nahda, widely regarded as one of the most progressive versions of Islamism on the planet:

Martin Kramer, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who had long criticized Mr. Ghannouchi of Al-Nahda, argued that the party’s professions of pluralism could not be trusted. “Islamists become the more moderate and tolerant of pluralism the further away from power they are,” he said.

For Kramer, this is little more than the latest campaign in a decades-long crusade against Islamism. After Sept. 11, 2001, he went so far as to say that all Islamism breeds terrorism, holding up Lebanon as an example where democratic inclusion has wrought stumbling blocks, but also citing problems with radical Islamism in U.S.-backed dictatorships like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Kramer has been denouncing the Tunisian Islamist movement since the early 1990s, when the main party’s now-exiled founder called for attacking U.S. interests in response to the first Gulf War. But those sorts of views have been moderated in the ensuing two decades. In the Times profile of Al-Nahda’s leader inside Tunisia, he says women should choose to wear veils (and called for political quotas “until they get their voices”), and  doesn’t even have a problem with bikinis and sipping wine.

But Kramer doesn’t care for these subtleties, espousing that Islam can play no role in politics at all, ever. Naturally, Kramer is an unflinching supporter of an ethnocratic Israel, though, to be fair, Kramer is consistent — he has flirted openly, elsewhere in the Middle East, with anti-democratic “minority rule”:

In Iraq’s Sunni triangle, they like their tribes and they might want a tough-minded sheikh to keep order among them; in the Shi’ite south, they might wish to venerate a white-bearded recluse in a turban, and have him resolve all their disputes; and so on. What they crave is not democracy, but sub-national self-determination…

(Tell them what they want, Dr. Kramer…)

America cannot revive the Ottoman empire, but it might take a lesson from its legacy: that empire is most effective when it is invisible, that there are things worse than minority rule.

I don’t know what Kramer thinks of Iraq today, but I do know what Rubin thinks of it. It’s Bush’s gift that keeps on giving! Here’s her description of the Iraqi state, emphasized by me:

The left blogosphere seems to have wigged out over the suggestion that George W. Bush and the successful emergence of a secular, democratic Iraq has anything to do with all this.

(While Kramer opposes some Middle East autocrats, he doesn’t note that fervent Islamism, as in Iran’s 1979 revolution and establishment of an Islamic Republic, is often a reaction to U.S. support for these autocrats, as with the CIA toppling of a secular, democratic coup to re-install the Shah in 1953.)

Yet, in a world where Kramer and Rubin warn and warn and warn about Islamism — even in moderated forms — here are the first words of the constitution (PDF) of this “secular, democratic Iraq”:

The Preamble

In the name of God, the Most merciful, the Most compassionate

The document continues in Section One:

Article 2:

First: Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation:

A. No law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam.

B. No law may be enacted that contradicts the principles of democracy.

C.  No law may be enacted that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in this Constitution.

Second: This Constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights to freedom of religious belief and practice of all individuals such as Christians, Yazidis, and Mandean Sabeans.

Article 3:

Iraq is a country of multiple nationalities, religions, and sects.  It is a founding and active member in the Arab League and is committed to its charter, and it is part of the Islamic world.

Iraq is not so secular, after all.

Will Kramer denounce the government of Islamic Iraq? Will Rubin admit that, since she holds up the example of Islamic democracy in Iraq (not secular, though with minority protections), perhaps her “real concern” for any “specific sign of an Islamist presence” may not be so sound?

I doubt it. Neocons like Rubin will simply go on ignoring the Islamic character of Iraq when it is convenient to use the country as example of what can be accomplished by going to war.

Take, for example, Iran’s Green Movement, which Rubin and her ideological comrades like Reuel Marc Gerecht claim to support (all the while calling for an attack on Iran that will likely blunt the movement’s chances of success).

Undoubtedly, the Green Movement has an element that pushes for the end of the Islamic Republic, but this is not a monolithic view among the movement’s supporters. Many of its adherents want a reformed Islamic Republic, as with the opposition leadership inside Iran. If one prefers to think of the Green Movement as leaderless, he still cannot deny that figures like Mir Hossein Moussavi and his wife, Mohammad Khatami, and Mehdi Karroubi, do not constitute an important place within the movement.

Neocons, nonetheless, unabashedly call for regime change by any means in Iran, ignoring the fact that the only viable opposition movement there is divided on the issue of maintaining the Islamic Republic.

The notion that moderate, democratic strains of Islamism exist — as with most ideologies — and should be allowed to enter political discourse is blasphemy to these rigid ideologues. (Neoconservatism, for its part, seems not to have a moderate strain.) Kramer insists that his call for blanket exclusion of Islamism “has nothing to do with Islam per se”– but one has to wonder.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. RE: “Neocons, nonetheless, unabashedly call for regime change by any means in Iran…” – Ali Gharib
    MY SNARK: Yes, because they (and their evangelical allies) are convinced that Muslims (especially the Persians)use the blood of our Judeo-Christian babies for their religious rituals and holidays!

  2. “Progressive Islamism” — isn’t that a oxymoron? I wonder how the Tunisian Islamists would treat bikini-clad women if they (the Islamists, that is) got into power. Words are cheap. The Islamists called for attacks on the U.S. as a result of Gulf War I, but now, in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, Abu Graib and Guantanamo, they feel differently? Spare me.

  3. Jon, I don’t know that your oxymoron is as true as you’ve been led to believe. While a portion of the Islamic world dresses very modestly, in all those countries, there tends to be far more tolerance than you’d expect (Saudi Arabia being the strongest outlier of the group.

    In most of the Muslim world one may expect to see beach combers in all sorts of dress, from the singlet that covers all from head to toe (as my two 20 something nieces, sadly, wore) to regular Western bikinis. Further, the style has reacted to the politics of the day.

    Algeria and most of the Muslim world have gotten much more conservative over the last decade with regards to dress. The pressure to cover often comes from fellow women, very often from those who used to dress in European fashions. Arab women love to dress up, but, the political indignities the Arabs are suffering has effected all aspects of life.

    I don’t know that the change is a conscious reaction to politics. I don’t believe the average person on the street is trying to make a statement, the fashion magazines and the like have all turned more conservative.

    Again, I want to state my deep disappointment at my niece’s attire, they are beautiful, educated independent women; I would like to have a better idea just how beautiful they are.

  4. Each of us is entitled to our own opinion. If Kramer thinks that “all Islamism breeds terrorism” then that is his interpretation of what he has observed and anyone can believe or not believe him. Since Iraq has been established with Islam as their official religion, then we just have to respect that for it is the country’s peculiarity. Conflicts mostly arise because we fail to respect each other.

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