Sadly, some people just can't handle criticizing bad ideas and are too afraid of succumbing to political correctness in the face of evil. Therefore, after reading this article, be sure to shout "Radical Islam is evil!" the next time you have a discussion about how to protect this country from terrorism. Within moments, you might begin to feel the warm and protective glow of self-righteous indignation, an aura (scientifically proven to reduce terrorism) that defends against suicide bombers, hijackers, and radical Islamists everywhere. As you pontificate, each word you utter will choke an ISIS militant somewhere in Iraq like Darth Vader's invisible death grip. With every mention of how the Quran is flawed and how Islam promotes the death of non-believers, a Syrian rebel bullet will hit an Assad soldier, ricochet off his dead body into the gas tank of an ISIL pickup truck, blowing up at least five of the bastards while federalism becomes the prevalent political ideology in Iraq. This sequence of events will also miraculously heal centuries of Shia and Sunni hatred, thus solving the majority of problems in the Middle East. Finally, harping on the negatives of Islam will end the oppression of women and minorities in the region, deter governments from committing rampant human rights abuses, and prevent the next terror attack.
Then go home and open up your check book, write an $86 billion dollar check to the most extreme Muslim theocracy on the planet, continue to do so yearly, and repeat the phrase "Radical Islam is evil!" one hundred times before reading The Reality of Islam by Sam Harris.
Or, if the ceaseless examination of dreadful flaws within Islam (and yes, there are dreadful flaws) won't result in a safer world without the scourge of genocidal maniacs like ISIS, try looking at things from a different perspective; one that truly promotes our values and undermines terror without making a mockery of our cherished principles because of oil interests or regional "stability." This perspective is the antithesis of Bush's dance competition and Obama's trip to the jewelry store.
While the first several paragraphs of this article were satire, the rest of this piece is a sober look at hard choices, an analysis of counterproductive foreign policy that fosters extremism (more so than any lack of awareness regarding the prevalence of fundamentalism), and genuine ways to destroy ISIS and the over 100 global terrorist groups who distort Islam in order to kill innocent human beings. For people who might not initially comprehend my position, let me make it clear that I am completely against religious extremism and I've written a novel with a chapter on the evils of honor killings. Also, I agree with Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Fox News, conservative radio, and others that Islam is distorted by many followers to legitimize terror. Unfortunately, some people failed to grasp the arguments presented in my last piece and linked these arguments to "condoning" radicalism. I detest religious extremism, but what I detest equally is funding this plague and pretending the billions in weapons we give to Islamic fundamentalists isn't the primary reason that ISIS and other terrorist groups exist.
The real issues that triggered the spread of ISIS, like the subjugation of women, the Sunni/Shia rivalry, and the geopolitics of oil are the biggest causes of the religious extremism bemoaned by Bill O'Reilly, Richard Dawkins and others, including the person writing this article. Therefore, below are two foreign policy suggestions that will help defeat terror and destroy ISIS, without repeating the myriad of mistakes we've made in two wars and without risking the lives of our soldiers who have already sacrificed enough (my viewpoint, not speaking on behalf of anyone else) to destroy the word "terror." These ideas will do a lot more to protect Americans than replaying beheading videos or jumping back into a protracted war.
1. Deny weapons and withhold arms deals to Saudi Arabia until their women can vote, drive, go for a swim, and perform other normal human activities.
As the world's top oil producer, Saudi Arabia can act in ways that foster radical Islamic extremism (fueling the ideology behind ISIS and other groups) without U.S. condemnation. Ironically, one of our greatest national security objectives is protecting a nation with the most egregious policies towards women. According to The Week in 2014, Saudi women aren't allowed to do a number of normal everyday activities:
Go anywhere without a male chaperone
When leaving the house, Saudi women need to be accompanied by a 'mahram' who is usually a male relative
Drive a car
... deeply held religious beliefs prohibit it, with Saudi clerics arguing that female drivers "undermine social values".
Vote in elections
Saudi Arabia is the only other country in the world, apart from the Vatican City where women are not allowed to vote, but men are, the Washington Post reports.
Go for a swim
Reuters correspondent Arlene Getz describes her experience of trying to use the gym and pool at an upmarket Riyadh hotel: "As a woman, I wasn't even allowed to look at them ('there are men in swimsuits there,' a hotel staffer told me with horror) -- let alone use them."
Try on clothes when shopping
"The mere thought of a disrobed woman behind a dressing-room door is apparently too much for men to handle," says Vanity Fair writer Maureen Dowd in 'A Girl's Guide to Saudi Arabia'.
Saudi Arabia has an abysmal human rights record, particularly with regards to women's rights. The country's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or the religious police, have come under fire for restricting the movement of women as well as numerous other human rights violations.
In 2011, the U.S. agreed to a $30 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia and an $86 billion deal in 2010. We've given hundreds of billions in weapons since the 1980's. In fact, we go out of our way to assure the standard bearers of radicalism that we'll never overlook their defense needs. This well documented security relationship with the United States gives Saudi Arabia absolutely zero reason to evolve towards modernity the way Sam Harris and others advocate.
Therefore, why hasn't a Republican or Democrat proposed that we deny Saudi Arabia military assistance until they allow their women to vote, drive, and live a normal life in 2014?
Doing so would drastically alter the landscape of the Middle East and undermine religious extremism infinitely more than any bombing campaign or war. The subjugation of women in Saudi Arabia directly relates to the proliferation of terrorism. It provides a model state for groups like ISIS to create in their own, far more twisted version. If Saudi women tomorrow could vote, drive, and take an active role in their country's future, groups like ISIS wouldn't have a country to emulate. Other nations in the region would also look at Saudi Arabia and say, "If they can do it, so can we." This sea change would result in a more rational interpretation of religious text and chip away at the dogma and senselessness within Islam that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others highlight in their advocacy of rational thought.
Once U.S. foreign policy puts women's rights ahead of oil, we won't have to engage in never-ending wars against new and improved terrorist groups. The oppression of women in the Middle East, especially by the most influential Islamic states, is essential to the power structure that fosters religious zealotry. This power structure, represented by Saudi Arabia and Iran on opposite ends of the spectrum, fosters the rise of terrorist groups. The result is that we end up fighting the same people we inadvertently fund (the money trail is quite bizarre) because of oil. Terrorists know we put financial interests far ahead of democratic values and terrorists also know that all it takes is one beheading video to mask the real causes and symptoms of religious extremism. Their recruitment, funding, and raison detre is based on this geopolitical reality.
2. Our foreign policy should address the Sunni/Shia rivalry in the Middle East without "bombing stability" into the region.
What ways can the U.S. and other nations address this ancient sectarian rivalry without never-ending bombing campaigns and wars? The answer to this question will keep us a lot safer than any other method of combating Islamic terrorist groups. According to a recent Atlantic article, Saudi Arabia has been accused of fostering the rise of ISIS (a Sunni group) in hopes of combating Shia enemies in the region:
But ISIS is another matter. As one senior Qatari official stated, "ISIS has been a Saudi project." ISIS, in fact, may have been a major part of Bandar's covert-ops strategy in Syria. The Saudi government, for its part, has denied allegations, including claims made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, that it has directly supported ISIS.
The Sunni and Shia rivalry is at the heart of the Middle Eastern quagmire, with Sunni Saudi Arabia battling Shia Iran for regional influence, Iraq caught in the middle, and Western nations scurrying to stop the spread of ISIS and other militants.
This Suadi/ISIS theory is also furthered by an Independent article titled, Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country, explaining how the country we arm with billions in weapons helped create the same radicals (ISIS) that we're bombing today:
How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world?
...Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein's monster over which it is rapidly losing control.
ISIS is killing Shia in Iraq and Iraqi security forces are killing Sunnis, fostering a hate and distrust that lead to soldiers abandoning cities and bases as well as Sunni regions offering ISIS sanctuary. This "Frankenstein's monster" was fueled by the Sunni/Shia rivalry and Saudi Arabia, among others, are complicit in the tens of thousands of deaths that have resulted from this ancient conflict. When Islamists aren't fighting us, they're killing each other in the name of this rivalry and our foreign policy must address ways to ease these tensions.
We turn a blind eye to the biggest issues in the Middle East while occupying our thoughts with bite sized, emotionally charged debates and Fox News style narratives. Yes, this author fully recognizes the evil conjured up from warped and twisted interpretations of religious text and passages used to brainwash terrorists into beheading innocent human beings. However, making women's rights a central theme of our foreign policy in the Middle East and genuinely addressing profound sectarian rivalries will incentivize the philosophical and social change needed (and advocated by both sides of the American political spectrum) to undermine groups like ISIS. Unfortunately, talk is cheap. Money and weapons are global megaphones and we blare a dangerous tune with whom we fund and militarize.
When we finally place the values that are pontificated ad nauseam on Fox and Sam Harris's books (he is a brilliant man and a lot of what he says is indeed thought provoking) ahead of oil interests and regional "stability," the scourge of fundamentalism will succumb to the power of reasoned principles. Yes, harassing a cartoonist is a tragic example of irrational adherence to religious dogma, but we fund the regimes that bolster and reinforce such views. Thus, while harping on radical Islam's irrational adherence to tradition and worship makes us all feel great, it conveniently omits our enormous involvement in this giant mess. It's like blaming shark attacks on the chum we put in the water, yes, the shark is dangerous, but we dutifully feed the dangerous creature. We're still fighting bin-Laden, even after his death, because we've focused on all the wrong weapons in fighting terror.
We aren't going to defeat ISIS militarily, because once "defeated," they'll simply morph into another group that Saudi Arabia provides tacit approval towards until the new terrorist group eventually becomes a "Frankenstein's monster." The real weapons against Islamic radicalism are human rights. The day women can drive and go swimming in Saudi Arabia is the day ISIS loses a central theme of its radicalism and fizzles out as simply another dark chapter in the region's history. Lastly, the day same-sex marriage is legal in the Middle East is the day the entire region is thrust into modernity, but then again, we're still working on that issue in the United States.