Friday, August 06, 2004

Real Negotiation

This New Yorker article discusses, at length, the 3/11 bombing in Madrid within the larger context of Muslims in Europe finding solace in jihadi websites. To be frank, I struggle to find an actual insight in the article, but its description of ideological echo-chambers forming online is an unexpected but predictable outcome of the promise of the Internet.
“The Internet is the key issue,” Gilles Kepel, a prominent Arabist and a professor at the Institut d’Études Politiques, in Paris, told me recently. “It erases the frontiers between the dar al-Islam and the dar al-Kufr. It allows the propagation of a universal norm, with an Internet Sharia and fatwa system.” Kepel was speaking of the Islamic legal code, which is administered by the clergy. Now one doesn’t have to be in Saudi Arabia or Egypt to live under the rule of Islamic law. “Anyone can seek a ruling from his favorite sheikh in Mecca,” Kepel said. “In the old days, one sought a fatwa from the sheikh who had the best knowledge. Now it is sought from the one with the best Web site.”
The author suggests that like-minded internet activists willing to take up arms may constitute a nascent state, although to me it sounds like a criminal gang. In particular:
The fact that bin Laden was addressing nations as an equal showed a new confidence in Al Qaeda’s ability to manipulate the political future. Exploiting this power will depend, in part, on convincing the West that Al Qaeda and bin Laden remain in control of the worldwide Islamist jihad. As long as Al Qaeda is seen as being an irrational, unyielding death cult, the only response is to destroy it. But if Al Qaeda—amorphous as that entity has become—has evolved into something like a virtual Islamist state that is trying to find a permanent place for itself in the actual world, then the prospect of future negotiations is not out of the question, however unlikely or repellent that may sound to Americans. After all, the Spanish government has brokered truces with ETA, which has killed four times as many people in Spain as Al Qaeda has, and the accelerated withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq following the train bombings has already set a precedent for accommodation, which was quickly followed by the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Last year, Germany paid a six-million-dollar ransom to Algerian terrorists, and the Philippines recently pulled its fifty troops out of Iraq in order to save a hostage from being beheaded.
Whether or not to negotiate with an entity does not rest on whether it is a "death cult" or a "(virtual) state". It depends on whether there is a geniune zone of agreement where both sides can agree, and whether negotiation is preferable or not to not-negotiating. Personally, I cannot see any possible zone of agreement between jihadis and the rest of the world, which means there can be no value to negotiation. If jihadis want a state, they can contest for one in countries that allow elections, or they can fight for one in states that do not allow elections. And they are fair game for those who protect states -- armies and police.


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