Nov 29, 2007

Political Islam and European Foreign Policy

The Centre for European Policy Studies released an important report yesterday dealing with the necessity for the E.U. (and by extension, the U.S.) to do a better job of engaging Islamic political parties in the Arab world.

One conclusion is that the heavy lifting will likely have to be conducted through the Europeans, due to the toxicity of the U.S. brand in the opinion of the target audience.

Many here will find most interesting the analysis presented in the Case Studies in Political Islam section, in which the (sometimes nuanced) positions and attitudes of the Islamist parties toward the West are examined in great detail. Each country is given its own chapter.

Political Islam and European Foreign Policy: Perspectives from Muslim Democrats of the Mediterranean [199-page pdf]:

Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 especially, Western commentators have claimed that their perspectives on Islam have shifted. Increasingly, broader recognition has emerged of the extent to which contemporary trends in Islam have been determined by prevailing political contexts. Leaders, ministers and senior diplomats have repeatedly rejected the notion that Islam should be conceived as a monolithic assault against Western values. Western analysts and policy-makers claim that nondemocratic interpretations of Islam are misplaced distortions. External actors, it is implied, can help release Islam’s democratic potential. Analysts, Western diplomats, donors, funding organisations and international institutions assert a belief that Islam can be a positive mobilising force for democracy, social justice and stability in the Middle East.

These viewpoints challenge dramatic scenarios of anti-Western fundamentalist forces taking power, and instead advocate engaging with moderate Islamist parties and organisations that are currently enjoying a rise in popular support. There is a need for coherent and integrated policies to deal with all non-violent political forces in these countries, rather than creating unnecessary resentment by, for example, condemning individual arrests of liberal figures while remaining silent in the face of numerous arrests of Islamists. Given the more pragmatic approach recently adopted by many of the moderate Islamist movements, many argue that this is a propitious time to take advantage of the latter’s relative openness towards engaging Western countries by reaching out to them and establishing strategic links. It is also being proposed that Western actors need to engage further in less politicised areas at the grassroots level.

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