Containment And Islamism

Hitch makes an excellent point in his excellent Gaza column:

Life in Islamic Gaza was not such as to induce ecstatic happiness and prosperity among the populace: In common with many fundamentalist movements, the Muslim Brotherhood in its local Palestinian incarnation had badly overplayed its hand. It seems improbable that we'll ever know what would have happened in a free vote, but I think it's safe to say that recent events have further postponed the emergence of a democratic and secular alternative among the Palestinians. I even think it's possible that some people in Israel and some other people in Gaza do not want to see the emergence of such a force, but let me not be cynical.

The truly good news of the last couple of years has been the decline in support for al Qaeda and other Jihadist elements in Muslim public opinion. What we have learned is that once Islamists actually wield power, their popularity collapses. Religious fanatics do not know how to run countries; their real interests lie elsewhere (you can apply that on a much lesser scale, of course, to the competence of the Bush administration). The place where Shiite Jihadism is least popular? Iran. And remember how al Qaeda managed to turn off the Jordanians after various atrocities; and how they lost the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis (with the brilliant and brave help of US troops) - after the Bush administration unwittingly gave them a lease of life in that country?

Now: if you're a rational kind of person you might deduce from this that containing Islamism and letting it collapse under its own insanity is certainly a viable policy, given the unsavory alternatives. You might at least consider that taking the bait from these guys and reigniting religious wars might actually be giving them the oxygen they need. And yet prudent containment - even after the Iraq debacle - is still equated with surrender on the hard right. This makes no sense if we actually want to win this war. And we will only win this war when Muslims fight the people whose arguments we keep unwittingly legitimizing.