Winning: Bending Minds in the War on Terror


October 11, 2005: The war on terror, and its source, Islamic conservatism, is suffering serious defeats that few people outside the Islamic world even hear about. For example, last May, the Kuwaiti parliament voted to give women the vote, a revolutionary idea in the highly traditionalist Gulf region. The parliamentary vote was 35 for, 23 against, and one abstention. Kuwaiti women have been agitating, for over a decade, to get the vote. But until this year, Islamic conservatives in the legislature were able to block attempts to change things.

The leader of one of the more conservative religious political factions (there really aren't any "parties" in the country, at least as understood in the West) recently claimed that the government influenced the outcome of the vote by spreading around some $25 million in bribes. Despite his assertion - which is very likely correct - he went on to indicate that his party would work hard to secure the female vote.

This shows two aspects of Middle Eastern culture. First, the acceptance of what people in the West consider corrupt practices. The Kuwaiti politicians complained about the government using public money to bribe legislators to vote a certain way. But there was no uproar and demand that the vote be annulled. Second, it shows that the Islamic conservatives, for all their bluster, will accept change, if such change appears broadly acceptable (even if bribes are required to get it over the top.)

The same thing is happening up north, in Iraq. Western media will eventually have the opportunity to make a stink about bribes being used to get the Sunni Arabs in line. Nothing much was said about the millions in bribes paid to Afghan warlords in late 2001, but if it's a slow news day, similar bribes paid to Iraqi strongmen, to secure their cooperation in a combat zone, will get painted a different, and less flattering color.

But more importantly is the example of how Islamic conservatives can change their minds. The Islamic conservatives in Kuwait are as rabid as any, and have produced some al Qaeda volunteers over the last four years. But once the women got the vote, thousands of years of "tradition" went out the window, and Islamic conservative politicians responded to the demands of the new electorate. Similar things have happened to the south, where the even more conservative Saudi clerics at first resisted things like the telegraph, radio and television. After much palavering and arm twisting, the suspicious new technologies were allowed. Now, the clerics depend on electronic media to get their message out. The conservative Islamic clergy has shown it can adapt to democracy, even though the more radical clerics still accuse democracy as being un-Islamic. This is one of the favorite al Qaeda concepts, as well it should be. After seeing al Qaeda in action in Iraq, most Moslems would prefer (according to the latest opinion surveys) that al Qaeda would just disappear.




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