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Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni

Posted January 30, 2009 | 03:28 PM (EST)

Obama Greatly Changes the Litmus Test


In Security First, we made the argument at great length and presented data that most Muslims are "illiberal moderates": they do not support a Westminster form of democracy nor the full plethora of human rights, but do reject violence in general, and terrorism in particular. Moreover, we showed that in this respect, Muslims are not different from the followers of other faiths. Most important, we pointed out that such moderate Muslims make reliable partners in peace, and that regime change need not be forced down their throats. (For the full exposition of this position, go here. For an abbreviated version, go here.)

We are delighted to report that President Obama, in his very first days in office, has made a great deal out of the distinction between moderate and violent Muslims, which is very compatible with the thesis the United States and its allies should focus first on security and then on promotion of other key values. (This is a major departure from the Neocon/Bush position that only democracies make reliable partners in peace and hence the governments of nations that are not democratic must be changed -if need be by force -because otherwise we will not be safe).

During his Jan 26 interview with Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite television station, Obama elaborted:

And so you will, I think see our administration be very clear in distinguishing between organizations like al Qaeda -- that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it -- and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down.

In the same interview, he also stated:
What we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations -- whether Muslim or any other faith in the past -- that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name.

The new approach is neatly summarized in the image President Obama evoked when he stated during his inaugural address:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West -- know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

This is indeed good news for all concerned.


Amitai Etzioni is Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University and author of Security First (Yale, 2007) www.securityfirstbook.com
Email: icps@gwu.edu