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Zakaria: Policy on radical Islam should see distinctions

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  • Fareed Zakaria: Taliban's resurgence in the Swat Valley is "bad news"
  • Zakaria: "What can we realistically do" about fundamentalism in the Muslim world?
  • West "should mount a spirited defense of our values" against fascism, Zakaria says
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Fareed Zakaria is a foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" on CNN at 1 and 5 p.m. ET Sundays.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria says there's a key distinction between fascists: Those who oppress, and those who want to kill us.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Pakistani government recently announced a truce with the Taliban and allowed it to set up Islamic courts in the country's Swat Valley. Reports abound that girls will no longer be allowed to go to school, that brutal beatings are taking place for minor infractions, and the list goes on.

The cease-fire is a major concession by the Pakistan government in its attempt to hold off Taliban militants who have terrorized the region with beheadings, kidnappings, and the destruction of schools -- almost 200 of them.

But the government had little choice but to capitulate, analysts and political observers say.

Fareed Zakaria recently spoke with CNN about the situation in Pakistan and the resurgence of radicalism in the Muslim world.

CNN: Can you give some info on the Swat Valley?

Zakaria: The Swat Valley is often compared to Switzerland for its stunning landscape of mountains and meadows. It was a war zone over the past two years as Taliban fighters waged fierce battles against Army troops. However the Pakistani government has agreed to some of the militants' key demands, chiefly that Islamic courts be established in the region which has led to cessation of violence. Fears abound that this means women's schools will be destroyed, movies will be banned, and public beheadings will become a regular occurrence. As Asra Nomani, someone who has lived in Pakistan described on our show this week, "Swat is representative of the most beautiful of Pakistan geographically and it was a destination for so many who believed in a higher vision. And to me, what is happening in Swat is an example of the worst of what can possibly happen in our Muslim world."

CNN: Is it really that bad?

Zakaria: Make no mistake, the Taliban are bad guys and this is bad news for the area. But the question is, what can we realistically do about it? There is a rising tide of radical Islam around the world -- in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria. These groups are finding support within their communities for their agenda, which usually involves the introduction of some form of Sharia -- Islamic law -- reflecting a puritanical interpretation of Islam. No music, no liquor, no smoking, no female emancipation.

'Fareed Zakaria GPS'
Christopher Hitchens, Bernard-Henri Levy and Fawaz Gerges discuss whether the Taliban and al Qaeda are one and the same on this week's "GPS"
Sunday, 1 & 5 p.m. ET

The groups that advocate these policies are ugly, reactionary forces that will stunt their countries and bring dishonor to their religion. But not all these Islamists advocate global jihad, host terrorists, or launch operations against the outside world -- in fact, most do not. Consider, for example, the most difficult example, the Taliban. The Taliban have done all kinds of terrible things in Afghanistan. But so far, no Afghan Taliban has participated at any significant level in a global terrorist attack over the last ten years--including 9/11. There are certainly elements of the Taliban that are closely associated with Al Qaeda. But the Taliban is large and many factions have little connection to Osama bin Laden. Most Taliban want Islamic rule locally, not violent jihad globally.

CNN: You've said that before -- there is a distinction between the Taliban and Al Qaeda -- I still don't really get it. I mean the Bush administration argued they were the same.

Zakaria: Well the Bush administration changed their strategy as the war in Iraq was not succeeding. They partnered with fundamentalists in the Iraq war, in the Sunni belt. When the fighting was at its worst, administration officials began talking to some in the Sunni community who were involved in the insurgency. Many of them were classic Islamic militants, though others were simply former Baathists or tribal chiefs. The question is whether we can replicate that strategy with other Islamic groups. Bernard-Henri Levy, who studied the issue while researching and writing his book Who Killed Daniel Pearl? argued you can't distinguish between the Taliban and Al Qaeda by reverting to history. "It is the same militants. Some are more aggressive than the others. But at the end of the day, remember the fascist period of Europe. You had some aggressive fascists who wanted to conquer the world, and you had some sort of pacific fascists, as the French Vichy who did not want to conquer the world, but who were fascists. It [Islamic fundamentalism] is a political movement which must be qualified as fascist. And the question is to know if democracies have to oppose fascism or not. If we think that we don't have to oppose fascism, it's a point of view, it's not mine."

CNN: Do you agree with him?

Zakaria: I actually tend to agree with Fawaz Gerges, author of Journey of the Jihadist, who was also on our show this week. He said "I think there are some very substantial differences [between the groups.] I'm not suggesting that the Taliban are not reactionary. I'm not suggesting that the Taliban are not regressive. I'm not suggesting that Pakistan and Afghanistan do not deserve better. But there are substantive, qualitative, conceptual differences between the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and al Qaeda."

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Let me reiterate that point. We should not accept the burning of girls' schools, or the stoning of criminals. Recognizing the reality of radical Islam is entirely different from accepting its ideas. We should mount a spirited defense of our views and values. We should pursue aggressively policies that will make these values succeed. Such efforts are often difficult and take time -- rebuilding state structures, providing secular education, reducing corruption -- but we should help societies making these efforts. The mere fact that we are working in these countries on these issues -- and not simply bombing, killing, and capturing --might change the atmosphere surrounding the U.S. involvement in this struggle.

Fundamentally we must realize the veil is not the same as the suicide belt.

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