Any book that is subtitled “Why there are so few Muslim terrorists” is bound to elicit mixed feelings from the average reader of altmuslim.

On the one hand, why “so few”? How many were you expecting? Of course, the prevailing assumption in the demotic literature of the op-ed pages and the cable news shows is that the term “Muslim terrorist” comes close to being an oxymoron. What other kind, after all, could be there?

Taking this position to a new height, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), recently insisted there was no tension between his past support for still-violent IRA and his current campaign against radicals. The IRA, he explained, didn’t hurt Americans. Quad est demonstrandum, as the philosophers in eastern Nassau County like to say.

On the other hand …thanks for that “so few”! The central contribution that University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sociologist Charles Kurzman’s book The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists (Oxford University Press, July 2011) is encapsulated in that subtitle – indeed in those two words: Muslim terrorists. As Kurzman elaborates in a book that aims to map various (some but not all) divisions within the Muslim world, and the diversions and divagations of those who seek to turn that world en masse toward violence – there just aren’t that many “Muslim terrorists.”

But in comparison to what, one might still reasonably ask? In comparison, Kurzman tells us, to the expectations of the central core of al Qaeda and to the policy-making structures of Western democracies. On the (real) terrorist side, Kurzman points out, there have been expectations on several occasions that global events from 9/11 to the Iraq war would precipitate large upticks in recruitment. Yet these have not materialized.

On the counterterrorist side, state policy and investments is organized around the premise that terrorism inspired by al Qaeda is the state security threat facing American and European democracies. Given the destabilizing effects of climate change, the rise of Chinese military power, and the evanescence of American monetary hegemony, one would think there were more important tasks on the horizon.

Consistent with Kurzman’s analysis, it has been the terrorists and counterterrorists, rather than broad mass in the middle, who see in the recent democratic wave in North Africa and the Middle East the inkling of an al Qaeda groundswell. When terrorism is your business, as Kurzman implies, you begin to see a bomb in every (Arab) spring, and a martyr in even despot’s victim. Yet it is the moderate middle’s clearer-eyed vision of the revolts – as the first great twentieth-first century wave of democratization – that will in the end be recorded in the history books.

Nor is it in any case clear how the strategy of trumpeting the importance of al Qaeda is anything but self-defeating for America and its allies. As Kurzman explains, the doomsday scenarios about terrorism on both the left and the right have consistently failed to materialize. In the early 1980s, the “right-wing propagandist” (Kurzman’s words, not mine) Claire Sterling published a book called The Terror Network, identifying a global terrorism conspiracy that threatened to topple the United States. Some credited Sterling’s alarm. Then-CIA director William Casey told his staff to read Sterling. “I paid $13.95 for this and it told me more that you bastards.”

Wisdom apparently no longer comes so cheap. Almost two decades later, Chalmers Johnson on the left published Blowback, warning of the unforeseeable consequences of U.S. interventions overseas. While the “blowback” thesis is much less histrionic than Sterling’s piffle, Johnson’s work also overstates the cyclical dynamics of terrorism. Things simple are not as bad as many people think they are, at least on this front.

Kurzman’s project is largely, but not exclusively, deflationary in ways that echo past scholarship. He frames a nice extended argument about how “Radical Sheik” cool provides a better explanation of terrorist organizations’ appeal that religious zeal. The argument recalls Olivier Roy’s analyses of European Islam’s development and also Tufyal Choudhury’s excellent account of the role of religious knowledge in combating terrorist recruitment in the United Kingdom. Kurzman is likely, though, to reach a wider audience than Roy’s and Choudhury’s more academic work, which is more than welcome.

A further useful element of Kurzman’s book is his elegant overview of what he calls “liberal Islam,” in fact a quite diffuse and geographically diverse category that encompasses groups from Canada to Iran to Indonesia (and back in time to the late Ottoman Empire). The Western ignorance and disregard of these “liberal” strands of Islam would be quite remarkable were it not so consistent with the long history of Western support for reactionary religious factions, from the British strategy in Mandatory Palestine to the CIA-funded anti-Soviet campaign in 1980s Afghanistan. Perceptions of Islam, now as always, are a function of what has furthered strategic ends.

Yet it is not clear that the marshalling of this kind of argument is sufficient or really responsive to the problematic way in which terrorism is linked to Islam in contemporary political discourse. Kurzman in effect treats the problem as one of information: If only people understood the true facts, they would behave differently.

I’m not sure, however, that’s right. Rather than a problem of information, Kurzman may be addressing of problem of interests. There are plenty of people who, for private or peculiar ideological reasons, have an interest in linking Islam with terrorism and then inflating the numerical and strategic significance of the threat. Their interest in this regard is resilient to factual appeals. And they have much greater firepower to organize and change the content of public discourse.

Moreover, it pays not to underestimate the fact that politicians have an incentive not merely to inflate threat perceptions but to suggest that they are uniquely placed to combat the threat. One of the subtle and important implications of Kurzman’s analysis is that the safety of the general public depends in a critical way on the behavior and decisions of Muslims. Which, of course, is not something you can expect any politician, whether of the left or the right, to say out loud.

At one level, Kurzman’s book is an important contribution to the combating of false stereotypes, although it would have been helpful in this regard had addressed more extensively the pervasiveness of terrorism as a tactic among other religious affiliations. But at the end of the day, the problem seems political, and not religious. It is a matter of organizing, not of analysis.

It is, in other words, something that is not the exclusive preserve of the scholar and more the responsibility of everyone.

Source: altmuslim

Fatah, the Palestinian political organisation, has reached an agreement with its rival Hamas on forming an interim government and fixing a date for a general election, Egyptian intelligence has said.

In February, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and a member of Fatah, called for presidential and legislative elections before September, in a move which was rejected by Hamas at the time.

“The consultations resulted in full understandings over all points of discussions, including setting up an interim agreement with specific tasks and to set a date for election,” Egyptian intelligence said in a statement on Wednesday.

The deal, which took many officials by surprise, was thrashed out in Egypt and followed a series of secret meetings.

“The two sides signed initial letters on an agreement. All points of differences have been overcome,” Taher Al-Nono, a Hamas government spokesman in Gaza, told the Reuters news agency.

He said that Cairo would shortly invite both sides to a signing ceremony.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Gaza, Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, said: I think we are optimistic because … there is [an] official agreement between Hamas and Fatah, and I think we now have [an] impressive jump to the Palestinian unity.

“Maybe it does not come as one shock because I think it came as a fruit for long talks and discussion.

“I think that today we became very close to this agreement, we have finished some points. It is like [an] outline draft and I think it will be a good beginning.

“Maybe after that we will start how we can implement this agreement to be translated and practised on the ground.”

‘Geopolitical situation’

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said: “It is important news … the geopolitical situation wasn’t exactly helpful [to reconciliation] and then we went through six months of upheavals, certainly sweeping through Egypt.

“At the end, you could say that President Abbas has lost his patron in Egypt, which is President Mubarak, and Hamas is more on less facing almost similar trouble now, with Bashar Al-Assad [Syria's president] facing his own trouble in Damascus.

“So with the US keeping a distance, Israel not delivering the goods on the peace process and the settlements, it was time for Palestinians to come together and agree on what they basically agreed on almost a year and a half ago.”

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said on Wednesday that Abbas could not hope to forge a peace deal with Israel if he pursued a reconciliation accord with Hamas.

“The Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both,” he said.

The US is reviewing further reports on details of the reconciliation and while it supports Palestinian reconciliation, Hamas remains “a terrorist organisation which targets civilians”, Tommy Vietor, US National Security Council spokesman, said.

“To play a constructive role in achieving peace, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles and renounce violence, abide by past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

Hamas does not recognise Israel as a state.

‘Bitter split’

Fatah holds power in the occupied West Bank while Hamas, which won the last parliamentary election in 2006, routed Abbas’ forces in 2007 to seize control of the Gaza Strip.

Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Cairo, said: “This effectively will be ending a bitter split that Palestinians have been witnessing since 2007.

“There is an announcement expected in the next few hours to reveal the details of the agreement.”

Rageh said the deal was expected to be signed next week and would be attended by Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who is based in Damascus.

Nicole Johnston, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Gaza, said: “One of the main civil society groups here is calling on all Palestinian factions to head down to the main square in Gaza City, that’s the square of the unknown soldier, to begin the celebrations.

“It seems certainly in Gaza that there’s a need for some good news. It’s been a pretty rough month here in a lot of respects, an escalation of violence with Israel, the kidnapping and murder of a foreigner.

“So really, this kind of news … is call for celebration.”

Wednesday’s accord was first reported by Egypt’s intelligence service, which brokered the talks.

In a statement carried by the Egyptian state news agency MENA, the intelligence service said the deal was agreed by a Hamas delegation led by Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of the group’s politburo, and Fatah central committee member Azzam al-Ahmad.

Al-Ahmad and Abu Marzouk said the agreement covered all points of contention, including forming a transitional government, security arrangements and the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to allow Hamas to join it.

Speaking on Egyptian state television, al-Ahmad said a general election would take place within a year.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior member of Hamas, said all prisoners with a non-criminal background would be released.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

The UN Security Council has failed to agree on a statement condemning Syria’s deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters.

Envoys attending a special open meeting on Syria in New York on Wednesday said Russia, China and Lebanon opposed the wording of a draft resolution distributed by European nations.

France called for “strong measures” if Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, rejects appeals to end violence which has killed hundreds.

The US said Assad must “change course now and heed the calls of his own people” for change.

Russia, after blocking a Security Council statement condemning the violence, however insisted that the Syrian crackdown did not amount to a threat to international peace and security, grounds that would justify international action.

“A real threat to regional security could come from outside interference,” Alexander Pankin, the Russian deputy UN ambassador, told the council.

“Such approaches lead to a never ending circle of violence” and could set off civil war.

Bashar Ja’afari, the Syrian ambassador to the UN, welcomed the Security Council’s inaction, saying his government was carrying out an investigation into the violence and that there was no need for a UN commission.

Al Jazeera’s Kristin Saloomey, reporting from the UN headquarters, said any hope for Security Council action is “dead” for the moment.

“The council was not able to agree on even the most basic form of the statement calling for calm and calling for an investigation.”

She said Russia offered the strongest opposition to the move, saying they were concerned about violence in Syria, but on both sides.

“In the end there were isolated statements of concern from various countries, but no unified action by the council.”

China and India called for political dialogue and peaceful resolution of the crisis, with no mention of condemnation.

Nawaf Salam, the Lebanese envoy, said his country shared a special relationship with Syria, and that “the hearts and minds” of the Lebanese people are with the Syrians, and are supporting Assad’s lifting of the state of emergency and reforms.

Global criticism

The Syrian violence has sparked global criticism in recent days.

France, Britain, Germany and Portugal circulated a draft media statement on Monday calling for the 15-member Security Council to condemn the violence.

But during consultations on Wednesday afternoon, several members opposed the move. The UN the Security Council then moved into open session to hear a briefing from the UN political chief and statements from council members.

B. Lynn Pascoe, the UN under-secretary general for political affairs, told envoys that protesters who began with demands for greater freedom “are now increasingly calling for the downfall of the regime, echoing slogans that have been heard elsewhere in the region”.

He told envoys that “a review of the reports of media, international human rights groups, UN agencies and diplomatic missions confirm that the overwhelming majority of protests have been peaceful and unarmed”.

“However, there have been credible reports of a very few instances where protesters have used force, resulting in the deaths of members of the security forces.”

Highlighted the “increasingly violent repression” and “siege-like conditions” in Deraa and other cities, Pascoe estimated the number of deaths to be between 350 and 400 people since mid-March.

Rights groups say at least 450 people have been killed.

European pressure

International pressure on Assad began to mount on Wednesday, with European governments urging Syria to end the violence.

“If nothing positive happens, France, with others, will study a series of options aiming to increase pressure on the Syrian regime so that it stops the repression and engages on the path to reform,” Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the UN, said.

France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain told Syrian ambassadors in a co-ordinated effort that they condemned the recent crackdown and that Assad must change his ways, according to France’s foreign ministry.

The ministry said France expressed its “firm condemnation of the escalation of the repression by Syrian authorities against the population” and called on Syria to respect its international obligations on human rights.

European Union governments will discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions against Syria on Friday, with various measures being explored, a spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said.

“All options are on the table,” he said.

The US is separately considering targeted sanctions, the country’s ambassador has told the UN.

In a related development, the UN’s main human-rights body, the Human Rights Council in Geneva, has agreed to hold a special session on Syria on Friday.

The meeting was requested by the US and endorsed by 16 member states including Britain, France, and Japan.

No Arab countries were among those requesting the session, which requires endorsement by one-third of the forum’s membership to convene.

Emergency sessions in recent months have launched investigations into alleged human rights violations in Libya and Ivory Coast.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has called for an independent inquiry into the deaths of people he described as peaceful demonstrators.

Syrian riposte

Syria’s UN ambassador has said the country is perfectly capable of conducting its own transparent inquiry into the deaths.

Ja’afari said on Tuesday Assad had instructed the government “to establish a national commission of inquiry and investigation about all the casualties among civilians” and the envoy pledged “full transparency”.

“We have nothing to hide,” he said.

“We regret what’s going on, but you should also acknowledge the fact that this unrest and riots, in some of their aspects, have hidden agendas,” he said.

Ja’afari accused some foreign governments of trying to destabilise Syria.

His comments came as Syrian opposition figures warned that their “massive grassroots revolution” would break the regime unless Assad leads a transition to democracy.

The statement on Wednesday from an umbrella group of opposition activists in Syria and abroad, called the National Initiative for Change, said a democratic transition will “safeguard the nation from falling into a period of violence, chaos and civil war”.

“If the Syrian president does not wish to be recorded in history as a leader of this transition period, there is no alternative left for Syrians except to move forward along the same path as did the Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans before them,” the statement said.

The opposition in Syria is getting more organised as anti-government protests gain strength, but it is still fragmented.

Al Jazeera and agencies

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