Special Report

Axis of Allies

Is it even possible to have Muslim allies?

By 10.26.06

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Writing last week in the Wall Street Journal Tunku Varadarajan made a good case that Pakistan's leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been for the past five years two-timing the U.S. The general has "played the Americans beautifully":

After five years of Pakistani collaboration with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, not one Taliban leader of consequence has been captured or killed. Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, cries himself hoarse over the Taliban functioning out of Pakistan's western regions and he is treated with open ridicule by Gen. Musharraf. There is precious little, however, that George W. Bush can do about this: He cannot now admit that a man he has called his "ally" for the past five years has been double-crossing him nearly every minute of that time.

Nor can he admit that there is a "vast nuclear smuggling ring emanating from Pakistan" (Washington Post), doubtless with Musharraf's tacit authorization, with Pakistani weapons finding their way to every rogue nation that can scrape together a few bucks.

Sadly, the case of Pakistan is not unique. Another so-called ally, Saudi Arabia, has also been playing the U.S. like one of Antonio Stradivari's fiddles. The Saudis have never been big fans of Team USA. In fact, 87 percent of Saudis hold an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. And their own leaders aren't going to win any popularity contests either. The Saudi royal family is nothing if not a web of contradictions: an ally of the U.S. in the War on Terror and a main target of Osama bin Laden, while at the same time an exporter of radical Wahhabism. In fact, the only thing the Saudis export more of is oil.

If any Muslim state should be pro-American, it is fellow NATO member Turkey. A secular, nominally democratic nation, Turkey longs to modernize and move closer to the West, while paradoxically keeping Western society at arm's length. (About three-quarters of Turks favor EU integration, while a recent Pew Global Attitudes poll showed that only 16 percent of Turks held a favorable view of Christians, just one percentage point higher than their dislike of Jews.) Politically, Turkey is a shambles, a secular government kept that way by a powerful military that was seriously embarrassed recently when novelist Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Politics...errr, Literature, despite the government's recent attempts to have him locked up for "insulting the Republic." Not long ago Pamuk had the bad taste to bring up the (1915-17) Armenian genocide. The Nobel laureate deserved some kind of award, if only because he is hated by both the Islamicists and the Turkish military, which means he must be doing something right.

As Pamuk's novels amply demonstrate, there is in his homeland an intense hate of "Europeanized" Turks, a revulsion that is only kept from violent outbreak by a thuggish military that routinely uses torture and the threat of torture to maintain a semblance of order. The Turkish rural majority is rabidly anti-American. A recent poll shows that a mere 12 percent of Turks hold a favorable opinion of the U.S. As for our allies in the capital Ankara, the Turks not only opposed the War in Iraq, their parliament voted to forbid U.S. troops from crossing into Iraq from Turkish soil.

EGYPT IS ANOTHER so-called friend who is an ally in name only. An impressive 98 percent of Egyptians surveyed have an "unfavorable attitude" toward the U.S., according to a Zogby poll. Perhaps Egyptians hate the U.S. so much because their military is the second largest recipient of American foreign aid, which tends to be used to prop up a double-dealing dictatorship that encourages the spread of anti-American propaganda ("vicious and loony lies," according to James Glassman of the American Enterprise) which tends to feed Muslim extremism.

And thanks to Saudi meddling, Asian Muslim nations are experiencing an upsurge of anti-Western feeling as Wahhabism replaces the mainly peaceful, moderate version of Islam long practiced by Asians. Wahhabism takes its most radical form in terrorist factions like Islamic Defenders' Front, Darul Islam, Laskar Jihad, and Jemaah Islamiah, groups that seem determined to prove to their Arab co-religionists that they are indeed true Muslims, and who are responsible for the many terror attacks in Bali and the Philippines. Jemaah Islamiah, a member of the al Qaeda network, maintains that it will not cease its terror campaign until a pan-Islamic state, consisting of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippine island of Mindanao, is established.

This is especially troubling considering that Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country with the world's largest Muslim population. And nowhere do terrorists get off so easily as in Indonesia. Human Right's Watch reports that "Abu Bakar Bashir, believed by many to be the spiritual head of the terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah, was convicted in March 2005 of criminal conspiracy behind the 2002 Bali bombings. Due to poor conduct of the prosecution, he was acquitted of the more serious charge of planning a terrorist attack. He received a sentence of only thirty months, which was further shortened to twenty-five-and-a-half months in an August 2005 Independence Day sentence reduction."

The standard response is that these allies should be cut a generous amount of slack, since they must delicately balance the conflicting ideals of their Muslim populations and their Western allies, which must be why they tell Bush and Rice one thing and their Muslim masses another. This would explain the Musharraf-Bush-Karzai love-in at the White House last month, while back home in Islamabad the natives were hearing that the U.S. threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if Musharraf didn't cooperate in the War on Terror. Such two-timing works to the general's advantage, of course. A recent BBC poll showed that 88 percent of Pakistanis believe that Musharraf was pressured to support the War on Terror.

Majority Muslim nations and the West are not natural allies. Most Muslim countries are undemocratic, or at best illiberal democracies where separation of church and state and other basic freedoms are wanting, where Sharia law trumps what's known as Roman or British law, where religious police or a thuggish military dispense a unique brand of primitive justice. More and more Muslims are adopting an anti-Christian, anti-American, and anti-modern desert Islam due largely to the continuing exportation of Saudi and Egyptian preachers of hate. We call these countries our allies, but only because our vocabulary lacks a descriptive noun for such an unpleasant, but necessary arrangement. Genuine allies share goals, values, an interest in outcomes -- they are those nations you can trust to get your back. Britain is such an ally, Australia, Canada, Poland too. Perhaps some industrious young linguist will come up with an appropriate neologism. Ally isn't cutting it.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.