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ISPU: The United States and Political Islam: From Demobilization to Deradicalization

Author: Moataz A. Fattah
December 2010


Islamists are too important to be left without a well-crafted American strategy. Some are ready to use violence against American targets and interests; others have renounced violence and are ready to compete for office within the legal boundaries of their polities. “Free” parliamentary elections in most Muslim countries have led to a wave of Islamist victories during the past decade. If truly free and fair elections were to be conducted in most of these countries, Islamists would achieve undeniable gains that might give them a majority of parliamentary seats or at least enable them to be a strong opposition with a real voice in shaping the public agenda.

This study seeks to understand how the Obama administration should formulate a multi-faceted and multi-layered policy toward these different Islamist groups and formations. The most illustrative analogy to describe what al-Qa'eda affiliates accomplished on September 11th is that they penetrated this country's political nervous system. Consequently, the Bush administration behaved like an elephant irritated by ants in its ears and engaged in self-defeating, short-sighted, and ill-defined policies toward friends and enemies alike. The Obama administration's greatest challenge is to remove these ants by reconsidering the previous administration's one-size-fits-all generalizations about the complex and multi-layered phenomenon of political Islam.“Political Islam” denotes a set of political ideologies and movements holding that Islam is not only a religion but also a political system and its teachings should be preeminent in all facets of society including the process of legislation.

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