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Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs | Pepe Escobar - Asia Times Online - 2011-03-12

Ten years ago, on the road in AfPak before and after 9/11, the volume of choice in my backpack was a French edition of Gilles Kepel’s Jihad. Night after night, in many a mud brick house and amid endless cups of green tea, I slowly came to embrace its key thesis: that political Islam was in fact going down, not up.

On one side, we had outfits like al-Qaeda, self-designated vanguards bent on waking the Muslim masses from their slumber to unleash a global Islamic revolution; they were in fact Muslim versions of the Italian Brigate Rosse and the German Rote Armee Fraktion.

On the other side, we had Islamists like the ones from the Turkish Justice and Development Party, ready to immerse themselves into Western-style parliamentary democracy, betting on the sovereignty of the people, not Allah’s.

At the height of the "war on terror" - with those B-52s bombing Tora Bora without knowing that Osama bin Laden had already escaped to Pakistan - the tendency in the West was to lump most, if not all Muslims as deranged jihadis.

I agreed with Kepel that "clash of civilizations" was nothing more than a silly, shoddily researched concept instrumentalized by the neo-conservatives to legitimize their "crusade". But that needed some corroboration from history.

Ten years later, one may finally say that Kepel’s analysis was spot on. Hardcore Islamism, al-Qaeda-style, is a Muslim box-office disaster. For all its myriad declinations - in Iraq, in the Maghreb, in the Arabian Peninsula - al-Qaeda is no more than a desperate sect, destined to the dustbin of history as much as those Western-backed dictators a la toppled Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak who used to be the pillars of the Western struggle against radical Islam.

Kepel today directs the program of studies on the Mediterranean and the Middle East at the legendary Political Sciences school in Paris. In an article for Italian daily La Repubblica, he seals for good the victory of Islam as democracy over Islam as "revolutionary" vanguard. The money quote:
"Today the Arab peoples have emerged from that dilemma - squeezed between Ben Ali or bin Laden. They have now re-entered a universal history that has seen the fall of dictatorships in Latin America, the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, and also the military regimes in non-Arab Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Turkey."


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