Reuel Marc Gerecht tackles Obama:
To the senator's credit, he sees that Iraq and al Qaeda do not define Muslims and Islam. What he does not seem to grasp - and the Bush administration is no better - is that America is the cutting edge of a modernity that has convulsed Islam as a faith and a civilization. This collision will likely become more violent, not less, as Muslims more completely enter the ethical free fall that comes as modernity pulverizes the world of our ancestors. Barack Obama's newly devised "Mobile Development Teams," which will bring together "personnel from the State Department, the Pentagon, and USAID ... to turn the tide against extremism" are unlikely to make America more attractive to devout Muslims who know that America is the leading force in destroying the world that they love. The senator can leave Iraq, shut down Guantánamo, apologize for Abu Ghraib, and build "secular" schools all over Pakistan, and he will not change this fact. This is the deep well from which al Qaeda draws.
I think Gerecht is right here. But what exactly is the alternative? Permanently occupying a Muslim country with US troops is clearly not a way to reconcile Islam with modernity either. Doubling down in Iraq compounds this problem. It shows no signs of alleviating it. Perhaps our greatest delusion is believing we can do anything much about the internal convulsions of Islam in grappling with modernity. The forces behind this are far deeper and greater than any foreign policy initiative from the distant US can reverse or channel. We may just have to endure, with prudential defenses of nascent democratic life in Afghanistan and Kurdistan, and make sure we do not violate our own constitutional freedoms in the meantime. Or we can hope that the nascent Muslim civil war brings the world of Islam to its senses. Either way, it's going to be a long and grueling struggle.
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