By David Rohde
The opinions expressed are his own.
The death of Anwar al-Awlaki this morning is welcome news, but Washington policymakers should not delude themselves into thinking the drone that killed him is a supernatural antidote to militancy. Yes, drone strikes should continue, but the real playing field continues to be the aftermath of the Arab spring; namely vital elections scheduled for October in Tunisia and November in Egypt.
A series of outstanding stories by reporters from Reuters, The Washington Post, The New York Review of Books and The New York Times, have aptly laid out the stakes. Islamists are on the rise in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, but an extraordinary battle is unfolding over the nature of Islam itself.
“At the center of the debates is a new breed of politician who has risen from an Islamist milieu but accepts an essentially secular state,” Anthony Shadid and David Kirkpatrick wrote in today’s New York Times. Common values, in other words, are emerging between the West and the Islamic world. These “post-Islamist” politicians argue that individual rights, democracy and economic prosperity are elements of an “Islamic state.”
Whether these politicians represent the most potent weapon ever fielded against militant Islam or a Trojan horse will emerge in the months and years ahead. More than any other figure, the new breed’s standard-bearer is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Pledging that conservative Islam is compatible with individual liberties, Erdogan holds the rise of his culturally conservative but economically liberal political party as a beacon for a new Middle East. Turkish critics, though, accuse Erdogan of a creeping authoritarianism masked by rapid economic growth.
For now, the “post-Islamists” should be taken at their word. The false Pax Americana of dictatorial regimes that once dominated the region is no longer viable. And the “post-Islamists” are a vast improvement over Awlaki and his ilk. For Awlaki and hard line Salafists, the only true “Islamic state” is one led by self-appointed clerics who rule by force and brutally regulate the minutia of everyday life.