In a remarkable but thus-far unnoticed address on Dec. 5, Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, the crown prince of Bahrain (an island kingdom in the Persian Gulf and home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet), candidly analyzed the Islamist enemy and suggested important ways to fight it.
He has much to teach Westerners (starting with his hapless UK counterpart, Crown Prince Charles), if only we would listen. Yes, some Western leaders speak about confronting the Islamist ideology, but the majority avoids this issue by resorting to euphemism, obfuscation, and cowardice. Most frustrating are those leaders (like Tony Blair) who deliver powerful speeches without follow-through.
Prince Salman, 45 and widely acknowledged to be the Bahraini royal family’s principal reformer, opens his remarks by addressing the inaccuracy of the phrase, “War on Terror.” The time has come, he says “for us to get rid of” a term that dates back to 9/11. “It is a bit misleading, it is not the entirety and the totality of our conflict” but merely a “tool” and a tactic.
He goes on in flawless English to place the current conflict in historical context: “If I think back in the last century, we faced a very different foe. We faced communism and we faced it together. But when we faced communism we understood it as an ideology. Terrorism is not an ideology.”
He notes that “we are not only fighting terrorists, we are fighting theocrats.” As Salman uses this term, theocrats are men “placed at the top of a religious ideology who [have] the power by religious edict to strip someone … of their hereafter – and use [religious power] for political gains.” They are also tyrants, isolationists, and misogynists who will need to be fought “for a very long time.” He scorns them for being “very much like the seventeenth century” and having “no place in our modern twenty-first” century.
He urges us “to discard the term ‘War on Terror’ and focus instead on the real threat, which is the rise of these evil theocracies”; to this end, he proposes to replace “War on Terror” with his formulation: a “War on Theocrats.” This concept, he hopes, will make it possible to “start to put together the military, social, and political – and maybe even economic – policies in a holistic manner to counter this, as we did with communism.” In perhaps the outstanding line of the speech, he states that “it is the ideology itself that must be combatted. It must be named, it must be shamed, it must be contained, and eventually it must be defeated.”
So far, perfect. But Salman avoids the bitter reality that the “twisted” and “barbaric” ideology he describes is specifically Islamic and the theocrats are all Muslim: “this war that we are engaged in cannot be against Islam, … Christianity, … Judaism, … Buddhism.” So, when naming this ideology, Salman dithers and generalizes. He proffers an inept neologism (“theo-crism”), then harkens back to World War II for “fascist theocracy.” He implicitly rejects “Islamism,” saying he does not want a “debate about certain political parties, whether they’re Islamist or not.”
I submit that Islamism is precisely the term he seeks for the enemy ideology; and we are engaged in a “War on Islamism.” Salman understands the problem well –the transformation of Islam into a totalitarian ideology. But he seeks refuge in the pretense that Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism all share this affliction. Better that he – and other forthright Muslims – accept the ineluctable reality that Islam alone contains a totalitarian temptation.
On the positive side, Salman’s remarks fit into a growing trend among Muslim politicians directly to confront the Islamist danger. Two recent examples:
– In an important conceptual breakthrough, the nearby United Arab Emirates government has placed the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and many other non-violent groups on its terrorism list on the grounds that they engage in incitement, funding, and the other precursors of terrorism.
– The government of Egypt issued an INTERPOL arrest bulletin for Yusuf al-Qaradawi, 88, the hugely influential spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, for “incitement and assistance to commit intentional murder, helping … prisoners to escape, arson, vandalism and theft.”
This new tendency has great importance. As I often say, radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution. Now, we may add another influential leader, indeed a crown prince, to the ranks of those Muslims who wish to find a solution.