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					      Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the
      Roots of Terror
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      Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror

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      The American government says that we are engaged in a war against terrorism, not a war against Islam. Of course, all
      of he terrorists being targeted happen to be Muslim, leading to the attempted distinction between “good Muslims” and
      “bad Muslims.” Upon what is this distinction based, and is it a valid way of viewing the Middle East?


      Summary

      Title: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror
      Author: Mahmood Mamdani
      Publisher: Pantheon
      ISBN: 0375422854


      Pro:
      • Insightful analysis of America‟s complicity in the creation of Islamic extremism


      Con:
      • Arguments are undermined by some factual errors
Description:
• Review of how modern Islamic extremism was created by America
• Argues that the difference between “good” and “bad” Muslims is political, not religious
• Explains how Islam has been corrupted by American political involvement




Book Review

In his book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, Mahmood Mamdani makes a
powerful case for the idea that this entire enterprise is less about religion or Islam and more about American power
politics — politics which have corrupted not only the American government and American ideals but also Muslims in
the Middle East.


On the one hand there are “good Muslims” who are described as secular and westernized; on the other hand we have
“bad Muslims” who are described as premodern and fanatical. In reality, though, the “bad Muslims” are whichever
Muslims happen to be fighting America, regardless of their actual religious beliefs. Thus the distinction between the
two groups is really a political rather than religious one.


How can Mamdani make this argument? Simple: by pointing out that all (or most) of the so-called “bad Muslims” were
actually once “good Muslims.” Their ideology and religion didn‟t change, causing them to be recategorized; instead the
Cold War ended and instead of opposing Soviet expansion they began to oppose American hegemony.


The defeat of the Soviet Union was in fact the rationale behind the creation and training of radical Islamic groups.
President Reagan envisioned a world-wide Crusade of a billion Muslims focused on the U.S.S.R. Instead of the
previous policy of “containment,” Reagan advocated a policy of “rollback” in which Soviet control was undermined
from within via armed insurgents and terrorists — and the Soviet Union created the perfect launching point when it
invaded Afghanistan.


The Afghan resistance movement to the Soviets was largely a product of Western intervention. There are Afghans who
would have fought the communist government anyway, but themovement — training centers, weapons, tactics,
coordination — all existed because of American (and, after some pressure, also Saudi) financing.


“The result...was to flood the region not only with all kinds of weapons but also with the most radical Islamist recruits.
...[They] came from all over the world, not only from Muslim-majority countries...but also...Muslim-minority
countries.... There is the well-known example of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, dubbed by Lawrence Wright, writing in “The
New Yorker,” the “gatekeeper of the Jihad” in the mid-eighties. ...Azzam traveled the globe under CIA patronage.“




Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror


“He appeared on Saudi television and at rallies in the United States.... Azzam was also one of the founder of Hamas.
Azzam’s message was clear: participation in the jihad is not just a political obligation but a religious duty. ...The
numbers recruited and trained were impressive by any reckoning: the estimate of foreign radicals “directly influenced
by the Afghan jihad” is upwards of one hundred thousand. ...The CIA looked for a Saudi prince to lead this crusade but
was unable to find one. It settled of the next best, the son of an illustrious family closely connected to the Saudi royal
house. ...Bin Laden [once a student of Azzam] was recruited, with U.S. approval at the highest level, by Prince Turki
al-Faisal, then head of Saudi intelligence.“


As bad as all of that sounds, though, it isn‟t actually the worst of what America did. Yes, the government did recruit
radical and fundamentalist Muslims to fight a proxy war against the Soviet Union because it wasn‟t legal for them to do
anything directly, but the more devastating problem was in what Mamdani calls the “privatization” of the war.


Instead of maintaining control over training, the CIA allowed private organizations to obtain and then spread detailed
information on violence — specifically, terrorism and tactics necessary to drive out the Russians. Once the war was
over, knowledge of how to commit terrorism didn‟t go home with the CIA. It stayed in religious schools that continued
combining military and religious training, thus producing holy warriors — but warriors against the godless West
instead of the godless Russians.


“The CIA was key to the forging of the link between Islam and terror in central Asia and to giving radical Islamists
international reach and ambition. The groups it trained and sponsored shared a triple embrace: of terror tactics, of
holy war as a political ideology, and of a transnational recruitment of fighters, who acquired hyphenated identities.”


Who are the “bad Muslims” menacing America? They are highly motivated, religious Muslims who believe they have
the key to creating a just, equitable, and divinely sanctioned society. They believe the culture and politics of the West
corrupts Muslims and are willing to challenge Western power over the future of the Arab world, convinced that
because they are fighting for God they will win.


They are willing to use terror and violence to achieve their goals.


In all of this, they are exactly what America helped make them to be in order to more effectively fight against the
Soviet Union. America needed motivated fighters in what must have seemed like an unwinnable conflict. They needed
people willing to stand up to and fighting one of the largest militaries in the world. They needed people willing to use
terror and violence on both military and civilian targets. All of these needs were met, but the solution didn‟t go away
once the problem disappeared; instead it remained and grew, looking for a new “problem” to address.


The Islamist perception of the West as representing a corrupting influence on Islam and Muslims is probably right.
Ironically, though, it is the Islamic terrorists themselves who are the expression of that corruption — they are the ones
who are deviating from Muslim tradition and they are the ones who threaten to undermine Islamic civilization.


Mamdani does a good job connecting the dots and revealing America‟s complicity in the creation of current Islamic
terrorist movement.


However, there is no discussion (or acknowledgment) about whether the U.S. had good reasons to undermine the
Soviets in Afghanistan. There is no discussion about whether better options existed than the bad one chosen.


I think that at times he succumbs to the errors he points out in others. It may be true that the label “bad Muslim” is used
in a political rather than religious manner, this doesn‟t mean that the religious ideology of these “bad Muslims” is good
or even neutral.


There are Islamic terrorists who are “bad Muslims” because they want to impose an authoritarian theocracy on people
— making them “bad” not simply for the West but for other Muslims as well. Mamdani, however, doesn‟t seem to
fully appreciate this and attacks people like Bernard Lewis who are critical of extremists.


Mamdani„s perspective on America also leads him to uncritically accept others‟ attacks on American actions, for
example the use of depleted uranium munitions in the Gulf War. He describe DU as “radioactive and highly toxic,”
claiming that it is responsible for a huge increase in cancers in Iraq. That, however, is implausible.
He notes that U-238 has a “half-life of four and a half billion years,” but fails to appreciate what that means.




Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror


Quite often the shorter an element‟s half-life, the more energy is gives off; the longer an element‟s half-life, the less
energy it gives off. The half-life of U-238 is as long as the age of the earthbecause it gives off so little energy.


Depleted uranium munitions are not a radioactive danger — but that doesn‟t mean that they are harmless. They
represent the same threat of toxicity as other heavy metals, for example, if you inhale them as oxidized dust that is a
problem. But what should the military do, go back to using lead munitions? When did lead become a safe alternative?
Depleted uranium causes problems, but not in a way that is significantly worse than the alternatives.


Mamdani gives the impression that he is looking for anything he can find to attack America with, perhaps hoping that if
enough is thrown against the wall some will stick. That is unfortunate because errors like this could have been easily
eliminated; by including them, he seriously undermines his credibility and what is otherwise a very insightful and
thought-provoking work. I still recommend it, but only with reservations — anyone who reads it must do so carefully
and critically, lest they be swept up in Mamdani‟s excesses and errors.

				
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