Jen, forget the fact that Muslim publics don’t like Barack Obama as much as they once did. Consider this: “the new [Pew] poll does show a modest increase over the past year in support for suicide bombing being often or sometimes justifiable, with a rise in Egypt from 15% to 20% and in Jordan from 12% to 20%.”
During the George W. Bush years, that number had plunged. In 2007, the BBC reported, “In Lebanon, Bangladesh, Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia, the proportion of Muslims who support suicide bombing has declined by half or more since 2002.”
Why did support for suicide bombing go up in the past year? In the U.S., our post-9/11 self-assessment is all about resenting the leader who took us into long and difficult fights. But the war against jihad plays out in Muslim publics as a war of ideas. For the endless jokes about his oratorical shortcomings, Bush articulated the choice with unsurpassed clarity: it’s Islamism v. democracy. What does each one offer? Islamism gives you a zombie doctrine of earthly denial so that you may, in death, triumph over your hopeless life. Under Bush, American democracy put your oppressive leaders on notice and gave you the hope, if not the actual opportunity, to change your hopeless life. Under Obama, democracy bows to your authoritarian king, extends an open hand to the autocrat who beats you over the head, and welcomes with open arms the dictator who tortured you in jail. Obama’s made the choice a no brainer.
As the Egyptian dissident Saad Ibrahim wrote in the Washington Post a few days ago:
To be sure, the methods through which Bush pursued his policies left much to be desired, but his persistent rhetoric and efforts produced results. From 2005 to 2006, 11 contested elections took place in the Middle East: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and Mauritania. These elections were not perfect, but the advances sparked unprecedented sociopolitical dynamism and unleashed tremendous pent-up desire for democratic choice.
Obama has put the cap back on. Where’s that pent-up desire headed? Americans still think it’s about a president with a Texas twang versus one who enunciates phonetic Farsi, or it’s about light skin versus dark, or some other cosmetic consideration. One awful aspect of postmodern culture is that identity is seen as more powerful than ideas. But despite the popularity of Obama’s identity, his country’s exceptional ideas are now losing ground to a retrograde death cult.
American neo-isolationists and faux realists love to pit the costs of democracy promotion abroad against the benefits of domestic spending. “How does Muslim democracy help Americans?” they ask. They may not spot the connections between the latest Pew poll, the uptick in attacks on America, and our new policy of democracy dismissal, but the next wave of potential jihadists are in a position to see it all too clearly.