Not Saussure

September 10, 2006

Chatham House (inc. Martin Amis-watch)

Filed under: 9/11, Al-Qaeda, Chatham House, hubris, Martin Amis, press, Uncategorized, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 1:55 pm

Reading Martin Amis, in today’s Observer, on

The age of horrorism (part one) I was struck by the following

Until recently it was being said that what we are confronted with, here, is ‘a civil war’ within Islam. That’s what all this was supposed to be: not a clash of civilisations or anything like that, but a civil war within Islam. Well, the civil war appears to be over. And Islamism won it. The loser, moderate Islam, is always deceptively well-represented on the level of the op-ed page and the public debate; elsewhere, it is supine and inaudible. We are not hearing from moderate Islam. Whereas Islamism, as a mover and shaper of world events, is pretty well all there is.

Hmm. I thought; not quite what Chatham House had to say in their report a couple of days ago. There, I read that

The question remains whether al-Qaeda can ever regain the sympathy it seems to have generated in the Muslim street in the days following 9/11 and somehow build on that to create a more solid longterm popular appeal. It does not seem capable of doing so, not so much because of extensive security measures against it, but primarily owing to three important factors. (pp 4-5)

These, apparently, are unhappiness at the bloody effects of Al-Qaeda’s interventions in Iraq and elsewhere in Arab domestic problems; the

heightened radicalization of the middle ground in the Muslim world. A growing number have embraced Islamist politics but will not sanction al-Qaeda’s tactics and will pursue democratic avenues when they are made available. This radicalization may itself be a worrying development for the West but it is also weakening al-Qaeda, whose legitimacy and ambition rest on approval from the Muslim masses – and these are essentially saying opposition can occur within an alternative framework that may be Islamist and uncompromising but should be non-violent;

and the fact that

traditional religious establishment (long seen as the enemy by al-Qaeda) has, by repeatedly arguing the theological case for its long-held beliefs, substantially shifted opinion against the resort to violence on religious grounds. This has been particularly evident in Egypt, Saudi and Yemen and has created a backlash which has in turn helped emphasize the polarization within Muslim communities over who has the right to interpret Islam.

This, as the report argues, may well be an uncomfortable development for the West in many ways, but, at least it seems to me, to suggest a bald statement like

The most extreme Islamists want to kill everyone on earth except the most extreme Islamists; but every jihadi sees the need for eliminating all non-Muslims, either by conversion or by execution. And we now know what happens when Islamism gets its hands on an army (Algeria) or on something resembling a nation state (Sudan).

needs to be better supported, as the comments on my undergraduate essays used to say when I’d made a particularly stupid assertion.

A stupid assertion, indeed, like ‘we now know what happens when Islamism gets its hands on an army (Algeria). Well, erm, actually, Martin, we don’t. Because it didn’t quite happen that way.

What did happen, however, is that the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won the first round of the Algerian democratic elections in 1991 and that this caused the army to step in and cancel the elections to stop FIS governing the country. This led to a continuing low-grade civil war, which both sides prosecuted pretty horribly.  Two minutes with Wikipedia would have clarified the matter for Mr Amis.

Loud cries, I think, of ‘Don’t these people have editors?’ (© Tim Worstall).
I’m sure he could have chosen other, more apposite, examples, but that he apparently just pulled one out of the air that, as it happens, was the opposite of what he wanted, doesn’t give me much faith in either his attention to detail or his grasp of the situation.   I think, on the available evidence, I’ll stick with Chatham House for the time being.


Create a free website or blog at