The Spectacle Blog

Islamists Losing Hearts and Minds In Iraq

By on 3.4.08 | 2:58PM

Abe Greenwald is right to note that it is "extraordinary" that the NY Times would run an article documenting that young Iraqis are turning away from religious extremism after years of experiencing the violence and strict rules associated with radical Islam firsthand.

One of the arguments made by war critics has been that the U.S. invasion made Americans less safe, because it only embolded extremists and made it easier for them to recruit. That may have been true at one point, but if this article is accurate, that could be an outdated narrative. First in Anbar, Sunnis allied themselves with with infidel Americans against their co-religionists in al Qaeda once they were forced to live under Islamist rule. Critics said such a development was isolated and could not be seen as a model for the rest of Iraq. Now we are getting reports of similar trends throughout Iraq of local populations rejecting radicalism.

Among some of the remarkable developments noted in the article:

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.

"I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us," said Sara, a high school student in Basra/>/>. "Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers."….

While religious extremists are admired by a number of young people in other parts of the Arab world, Iraq/>/> offers a test case of what could happen when extremist theories are applied. Fingers caught in the act of smoking were broken. Long hair was cut and force-fed to its wearer. In that laboratory, disillusionment with Islamic leaders took hold...

In Falluja, a Sunni city west of Baghdad/>/> that had been overrun by Al Qaeda, Sheik Khalid al-Mahamedie, a moderate cleric, said fathers now came with their sons to mosques to meet the instructors of Koran courses. Families used to worry most about their daughters in adolescence, but now, the sheik said, they worry more about their sons.

"Before, parents warned their sons not to smoke or drink," said Mohammed Ali al-Jumaili, a Falluja father with a 20-year-old son. "Now all their energy is concentrated on not letting them be involved with terrorism."

I wouldn't necessarily go as far as Greenwald, who seems confident that we are seeing "the realization of the most ambitious goal of the Iraq War: the de-radicalization of Muslim citizens." Too many smart people have been too wrong about Iraq for too long for me to conclude, based on this article, that America is winning the battle for hearts and minds. But it is certainly encouraging that there are average Iraqis who, given the choice between freedom and radical Islam, are choosing freedom. And it is especially encouraging that evidence of such a shift is abundant enough for even the Times to take notice.

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