ala. wife alleged abuse before quadruple-slaying

when a muslim man killed his wife in buffalo, everyone became obsessed with the news. there was a lot of “let’s study islamic culture and religion to understand this.” unfortunately domestic abuse and wife killing are not endemic of any particular religion or culture. each case deserves the same amount of exposure, analysis and condemnation:

ala. wife alleged abuse before quadruple-slaying

33 variations

most people seated in the orchestra section of the eugene o’neill theater (april 4th, matinee performance) probably knew that i was a jane fonda fan. when i turned to my neighbor, a middle aged woman with forbiddingly short hair, and asked her if she liked fonda, she could only manage a tentative “yes”. but she added with a smile: “you clearly do”. “i’m not usually like this”, i said to my friend sarita, by way of explanation. and that is the whole truth. i have seen many remarkable actors on broadway deliver extraordinary performances, but jane fonda is different. i have admired her as an actor, an activist, a feminist, a fitness guru, a woman, for as long as i can remember. i was enthused.

happily, “33 variations” turned out to be more than a mere platform for jane fonda’s considerable talent. the play is a perfectly orchestrated production of multi-media art mixed with a clever, multi-layered script.

intertwined stories: beethoven becomes obsessed with an ordinary waltz written by his music publisher anton diabelli, and devotes much of his precious time to composing not one or two but 33 variations on its theme. dr katherine brandt (jane fonda) is an accomplished musicologist obsessed with beethoven’s variations. she also has lou gehrig’s disease and is struggling to complete her monogram while losing control over her body. her daughter clara is obsessed with her mother and wants desperately to connect to her. over the course of the play, she becomes involved in a relationship with mike, her mother’s nurse. it starts off awkwardly but develops into something meaningful.

multi-media theater: projections of beethoven’s sketches (drafts and elaborations) become a luminous backdrop. moveable screens fashioned from fluttering sheets of music are used to transform the stage – they are lit as if by countless candles, twirled to create dynamic transitions, images are projected onto them while they slide back and forth and we are treated to the creation of a fragmented, impressionistic painting.

imagine this: the stage is framed by shelves containing neatly ordered boxes of archives, all magically lit. beethoven stands center stage. his hair is disheveled. he is barefoot, in his nightgown. he looks pale, possessed. with a crooked hand he draws notes in the air. he composes fitfully, changing his mind, altering, deleting, commenting. and as he articulates music on stage we actually hear what he is creating. live piano music is an essential element of the play and we are offered the aural dimension of every visual, every spoken word.

the core of the play: brandt is fascinated by beethoven’s attention to a mediocre waltz. she goes through several hypotheses. he wanted to show us what he could do with a trivial composition, he is mocking it, being ironic. he wanted to elevate the ordinary and “transfigure” it into the sublime. did he just do it for money? did he want to one-up bach and his 32 goldberg variations? parallels between brandt and beethoven are apparent – their passion for their work, their tenacity in the face of debilitating illness, their dogged pursuit of perfection. they are alter egos. as she lies dying on her hospital bed, he appears to her. she jokes with him. she was hoping not to hallucinate – not fitting for a scholar. he shoots back: it could have been worse, what if it had been tchaikovsky?

but there are more subtle analogies. as brandt remains focused on the inferiority of diabelli’s work, she is incapable of fully understanding beethoven’s motives. in much the same way she thinks of her daughter as a second-rate waltz, an assumption that has doomed their relationship. as brandt begins to warm to her daughter (her deteriorating health has forced a level of proximity), her mind begins to open. she sees beethoven’s endeavor in a new light. all the pieces fall into place. beethoven is not mocking diabelli, he is slowing down time, he is exploring the potential that exists in every moment of the waltz. by claiming every fleeting moment, he is allowing us to savor it fully, slowly, bit by bit.

the parallel with life is crystal clear. every moment, every gesture, every happenstance is pregnant with significance, if we could only stop and partake of all its glory.

the play was written and directed by moises kaufman, set design by derek mclane, lighting by david lander, projection design by jeff sugg, and selections from beethoven’s diabelli variations were performed live by diane walsh.

fonda pores over beethoven’s sketches in “33 variations”

the human cost of the war in iraq

when someone posted the number of civilian deaths in iraq (about 600,000 from 2003-2006) on facebook, there was a lot of brouhaha over how that number seemed too high. interesting how people sitting on their couches, watching cnn, think they have a better idea of deaths in iraq than the lancet journal which conducted an extensive study on the ground. anyway, for all the skeptics here is a great description of the methodology behind the stats.

katha pollitt’s answer to my write-up “katha pollitt’s misguided take on free speech”

Dear Mara, thanks for writing.

If you read my work you know I am totally opposed to Guantanamo and similar violations of human rights. I am not a defender of US imperialism. I don’t see why attacking “blasphemy,” “defamation of religion” and similar concepts makes me an imperialist. And just because the fatwas I mentioned are well-known doesn’t make them the less horrible and ridiculous. I think you are being a bit defensive there.

It’s true that in general I don’t see religion as a force for good in the world. Most of the time I discuss religion in my column I attack the Christian right, including for its intolerance toward other religions and of course its patriarchal views of women, something it shares with the other major faiths! But it would be inconsistent to attack the James Dobsons, Jerry Falwells, and Rick Warrens week in week out and never say a word about political Islam, which is imo a similar phenomenon.

Sincerely yours,

my comments: although i’m glad that ms pollitt took the time to answer my letter, i think that she didn’t really address the gist of it.

“edge” by the method machine at rochester’s MuCCC

doug rice, who was director of artwalk for 10 years, has now renovated an old church building on atlantic avenue and created the latest theater space in rochester. small and intimate, with excellent acoustics and ample lights, the space is ideal for both fringe and community theater. it still needs some work and the space’s success will dictate how that pans out.

i made it on the last day of the method machine’s “edge”, a play about sylvia plath’s last day on earth before she committed suicide, a confession of sorts which gives us an insight into the whys of her decision. the subject of the play is all the more tragic since plath’s son nicholas recently committed suicide himself.

plath was played by marcy savastano in this one woman show. although she has the acting chops to summon tough emotions on stage, i think that she was cheated by the material she was given. the play written by paul alexander is a relentless vilification of poet ted hughes, plath’s husband and her apparent, psychological murderer. not only was he a brooding, violent, cold, cruel, adulterous, egomaniac with mediocre talent, but apparently he also practiced witchcraft whereby he hypnotized plath to become his slave, he didn’t love or even care to touch his infant son because he viewed him as a rival, and after he decided to leave plath both he and his mistress called her at odd times begging her to kill herself and get it over with. there was also talk of incest with his evil witch mother, repressed homosexuality and sadistic sex. i can safely say that cannibalism was probably the only accusation not leveled at the man.

ted hughes might have had his weaknesses and they might have been manifold but to write a 2 hour play about them is just too easy and boring. the end result is that plath comes out as a petty, nagging, resentful house wife whose tirades against her parents but mostly against her husband become increasingly irksome.

of course i understand the idea of exploring her state of mind at this crucial juncture in her life and to look at her thoughts with unflinching honesty. but i have to believe that at a moment such as this, the last moment before life is purposefully snuffed out, there is also some quiet refection, some understanding of final truths. for someone as sensitive as plath and as gifted in the ways of human language i would expect even more brilliance. instead we are confronted with the stereotype of a “woman scorned”, in its most generic and pedestrian of manifestations.

the play’s direction was lacking in other ways. savastano assumed a rhythmic pattern of fast barrages of words followed by 3 or 4 emphatic statements. over time this pattern became too predictable and annoying. but then i have to ask myself: how many interesting and innovative ways can you find to bitch and moan about a guy for two hours!

marcy savastano as sylvia plath in “edge”

“Le Pélican” de Robert Desnos

Le capitaine Jonathan,
Etant âgé de dix huit ans,
Capture un jour un pélican
Dans une île d’extrème orient.

Le pélican de Jonathan,
Au matin, pond un oeuf tout blanc
Et il en sort un pélican
Lui ressemblant étonnament.

Et ce deuxième pélican
Pond, à son tour, un oeuf tout blanc
D’où il sort, inévitablement
Un autre qui en fait autant.

Cela peut durer pendant très longtemps
Si l’on ne fait pas d’omelette avant.

i’ve loved u for so long and frost/nixon

il y a longtemps que je t’aime (i’ve loved you for so long)

a quiet, insightful performance by kristin scott thomas. not many actors can have the camera glued to them for the major duration of a film and come out unscathed. daniel day lewis did it in “there will be blood” and scott thomas does it in this film.

elsa zylberstein plays her sister lea in the film. she creates a nervous, touchingly vulnerable character – a lovely contrast to scott thomas’s emotionally shut down juliette. the first half of the film is quite flawless and flows with the perfect light and control of a vermeer. in fact the film derives many of its analogies from art. the second half seemed a bit contrived. juliette’s gradual resuscitation (after having been imprisoned for a horrible crime) seems a bit accelerated and the final resolution (when a much awaited secret is divulged) is simply weak.

the film’s use of music and its editing are quite modern and more reminiscent of american filmmaking (director todd field came to mind) than what we instinctively expect from french cinema. a refreshing change.


probably one of ron howard’s best movies. the same actors who turned frost/nixon into a successful play on broadway, carry the ball in frost/nixon the movie. i was impressed by frank langella’s performance. nixon was odd-looking, awkward, larger than life. he is so easy to caricature. for example, anthony hopkins did an awful job of it in oliver stone’s movie. but langella doesn’t imitate the man. he inhabits him. his performance is masterful. not only does he capture some of nixon’s quirks but he also conveys his enormous intelligence and humor, his overblown ego, his wariness and ultimately his acceptance of defeat. he makes nixon human and elevates the film from historical cliché to fascinating character study.

war made easy

saw “war made easy” on the 6th anniversary of the iraq war: looks like war is a “product” sold to us by the govt/media nexus, cuz it’s supposed to bring peace – hence perpetual war or in orwell’s words: war is peace!

narrated by sean penn, this is an excellent documentary. it’s a step by step manual on how to create, package, promote and continue war – “war for dummies” as someone said in the post screening discussion. many felt that the only way to overhaul the present system is to think of ourselves as citizens of the world, unconstrained by national boundaries or national interests.

that’s tough to sell, not only because we fear and distrust “otherness” but more so because of how we choose to live (our “way of life” which we are told is constantly under threat). can we give up the over-consumption we have gotten used to? it has taken too much from too many and given it to very few. the bigger our slice of the pie, the less others will get in other parts of the world. are we willing to change that?

reports of more drone attacks in pakistan

here is a worrisome bbc news report.

an expansion of military operations in pakistan will be ruinous. as i am writing this i am feeling physically ill about what this will mean for pakistanis. not only is it going to destroy lives and already scarce infrastructure but it will create instability and chaos to an extent that we cannot imagine. pakistan is already extremely fragile. this might be the last straw.

this is NOT going to minimize or even contain terrorism. the rationale behind it is reminiscent of vietnam and the end results will be similarly disastrous.

americans should oppose this new war on pakistan before we find ourselves in the middle of it and it’s too late, once again!

pakistan to restore chief justice – YES!!!

Pakistan to restore chief justice
By CHRIS BRUMMITT, Associated Press Writers Chris Brummitt, Associated Press Writers

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan agreed Monday to reinstate a fired chief justice, a move that will help defuse a political crisis that has sparked street battles and raised fears of instability in the country at a time of surging Islamist violence.

Opposition leaders and lawyers had vowed to sit-in at the parliament later Monday until Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, known for his independence and willingness to challenge authority, was reinstated. The capital has been barricaded and scores of extra police brought in amid fears of violence.

In a dawn address to the nation that capped a night of high drama, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced Chaudhry would be sworn in on March 21, the day the current chief justice was due to retire. The speech triggered scenes of jubilation outside Chaudhry’s home in the capital, Islamabad.

Gilani also ordered all lawyers and political activists arrested over the past week to be freed immediately and appealed for political reconciliation in the country, which is facing a punishing economic crisis in addition to rising militant violence.

The concession came as thousands of protesters led by Nawaz Sharif, the head of the largest opposition party and a longtime foe of President Asif Ali Zardari, were traveling to Islamabad to join the planned sit-in. Sharif joined the convoy after ignoring a house arrest order in his hometown of Lahore in Punjab, where his supporters fought running battles with police.

“Go and celebrate!” Sharif told The Associated Press when asked for reaction. “It has saved Pakistan.”

Party spokesman Pervaiz Rasheed said Sharif would address supporters before returning to Lahore, an end to the so-called “Long March” that has gripped the nation for a week.

“This is a victory for the people of this country,” said Baz Mohammad Kakar, a leader of the lawyers’ movement. “Chaudhry is the first chief justice in the history of Pakistan who has proved himself to be a judge for the people, as a chief justice for the people.”

Former President Pervez Musharraf fired Chaudhry, 60, in 2007 after he took up cases challenging the leader’s rule, sparking a wave of protests that helped force Musharraf from power in 2008.

Musharraf’s successor, Zardari, pledged to reinstate Chaudhry within 30 days of his party forming a government, but reneged on the promise, apparently fearing the justice might examine a deal that he and his wife, slain politician Benazir Bhutto, struck with Musharraf to grant the pair immunity from prosecution over alleged corruption cases.

Zardari’s broken promise and his government’s repression of the protesters will likely leave him in a politically weakened position. Sharif has projected an image of strength and stands to gain from leading a successful movement against the president, who has been the focus of popular anger.

Lawyers and civil rights activists have remained committed to the cause of Chaudhry’s reinstatement, believing it was a vital first step in getting an independent judiciary in Pakistan. The court system has often been abused by past rulers to cement their grip on power.

Their movement got a boost last month when Sharif threw his full weight behind it after he and his brother, Shahbaz, were banned from elected office by the Supreme Court. Zardari then dismissed the government led by Shahbaz in the Punjab province, the wealthiest in Pakistan and a vital prize for politicians.

Gilani repeated a pledge made Saturday to appeal that verdict to the Supreme Court.

In recent days, U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, had spoken to Zardari and Sharif, urging them to reach a deal. Washington and other Western capitals had been concerned the crisis was distracting the nuclear-armed country from its fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants operating along the Afghan border.

Before dawn on Sunday, hundreds of police surrounded Sharif’s residence in Lahore, carrying an order for his house arrest. Sharif denounced the order as illegal and later left the house in a convoy of vehicles as police stood by. It was unclear why they relented, but Lahore is Sharif’s political stronghold.

Some of the protesters defied police barricades to gather near the city’s main courts complex and pelt riot police with rocks. One mob smashed the windows of buses parked along the route of Sharif’s convoy, while another broke into the main Post Office building, trashing furniture and then clambering onto the roof to hurl rocks at police below.

Police responded with tear gas, and beat several protesters with batons. Associated Press reporters saw several injured officers being helped away. A handful of protesters were detained and bundled into police vans.

Later, the crowd swelled to several thousands and police again pulled back. Many were black-suited lawyers, but most appeared to be supporters of Sharif, equipped with party flags and chanting “Go Zardari go!”

For days, the government has been seeking to squelch the protest movement.

Authorities have put the army on alert and temporarily detained hundreds of activists nationwide to prevent them traveling to Lahore or Islamabad. But its resolve appeared to waver Sunday amid signs of internal party dissent. A day earlier, a prominent minister quit Zardari’s Cabinet, apparently over attempts to censor critical media coverage.

The Sharifs and 16 other protest leaders were initially ordered under house arrest, said Rao Iftikhar, a senior government official. Later, he said authorities reached an “understanding” with Sharif that he would address the protesters in Lahore and then return home — an arrangement that authorities failed to enforce.

Sharif accuses Zardari of being behind the Supreme Court ruling last month that disqualified put Sharif and his brother from elected office over convictions dating back to Musharraf’s rule.


Associated Press writers Babar Dogar in Lahore, and Zarar Khan and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Learning to Live With Radical Islam | Newsweek International

zakaria makes some good points but is anyone going to listen? not sure what the agenda is anymore. war is too profitable for too many.

“Learning to Live With Radical Islam” by Fareed Zakaria
Newsweek, Feb 28, 2009

We don’t have to accept the stoning of criminals. But it’s time to stop treating all Islamists as potential terrorists.

Pakistan’s Swat valley is quiet once again. Often compared to Switzerland for its stunning landscape of mountains and meadows, Swat became a war zone over the past two years as Taliban fighters waged fierce battles against Army troops. No longer, but only because the Pakistani government has agreed to some of the militants’ key demands, chiefly that Islamic courts be established in the region. Fears abound that this means women’s schools will be destroyed, movies will be banned and public beheadings will become a regular occurrence.

The militants are bad people and this is bad news. But the more difficult question is, what should we—the outside world—do about it? That we are utterly opposed to such people, and their ideas and practices, is obvious. But how exactly should we oppose them? In Pakistan and Afghanistan, we have done so in large measure by attacking them—directly with Western troops and Predator strikes, and indirectly in alliance with Pakistani and Afghan forces. Is the answer to pour in more of our troops, train more Afghan soldiers, ask that the Pakistani military deploy more battalions, and expand the Predator program to hit more of the bad guys? Perhaps—in some cases, emphatically yes—but I think it’s also worth stepping back and trying to understand the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism.

It is not just in the Swat valley that Islamists are on the rise. In Afghanistan the Taliban have been gaining ground for the past two years as well. In Somalia last week, Al-Shabab, a local group of Islamic militants, captured yet another town from government forces. Reports from Nigeria to Bosnia to Indonesia show that Islamic fundamentalists 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.

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 past 10 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.

How would you describe Faisal Ahmad Shinwari, a judge in Afghanistan? He has banned women from singing on television and called for an end to cable television altogether. He has spoken out against women and men being educated in the same schools at any age. He has upheld the death penalty for two journalists who were convicted of blasphemy. (Their crime: writing that Afghanistan’s turn toward Islam was “reactionary.”) Shinwari sounds like an Islamic militant, right? Actually, he was appointed chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court after the American invasion, administered Hamid Karzai’s oath of office and remained in his position until three years ago.

Were he to hold Western, liberal views, Shinwari would have little credibility within his country. The reality—for the worse, in my view—is that radical Islam has gained a powerful foothold in the Muslim imagination. It has done so for a variety of complex reasons that I have written about before. But the chief reason is the failure of Muslim countries to develop, politically or economically. Look at Pakistan. It cannot provide security, justice or education for many of its citizens. Its elected politicians have spent all of their time in office conspiring to have their opponents thrown in jail and their own corruption charges tossed out of court. As a result, President Asif Ali Zardari’s approval rating barely a month into office was around half that enjoyed by President Pervez Musharraf during most of his term. The state is losing legitimacy as well as the capacity to actually govern.

Consider Swat. The valley was historically a peaceful place that had autonomy within Pakistan (under a loose federal arrangement) and practiced a moderate version of Sharia in its courts. In 1969 Pakistan’s laws were formally extended to the region. Over the years, the new courts functioned poorly, with long delays, and were plagued by corruption. Dysfunctional rule meant that the government lost credibility. Some people grew nostalgic for the simple, if sometimes brutal, justice of the old Sharia courts. A movement demanding their restitution began in the early 1990s, and Benazir Bhutto’s government signed an agreement to reintroduce some aspects of the Sharia court system with Sufi Muhammed, the same cleric with whom the current government has struck a deal. (The Bhutto arrangement never really worked, and the protests started up again in a few years.) Few people in the valley would say that the current truce is their preferred outcome. In the recent election, they voted for a secular party. But if the secularists produce chaos and corruption, people settle for order.

The militants who were battling the Army (led by Sufi Muhammed’s son-in-law) have had to go along with the deal. The Pakistani government is hoping that this agreement will isolate the jihadists and win the public back to its side. This may not work, but at least it represents an effort to divide the camps of the Islamists between those who are violent and those who are merely extreme.

Over the past eight years such distinctions have been regarded as naive. In the Bush administration’s original view, all Islamist groups were one and the same; any distinctions or nuances were regarded as a form of appeasement. If they weren’t terrorists themselves, they were probably harboring terrorists. But how to understand Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the countries “harbor” terrorists but are not themselves terrorist states?

To be clear, where there are Qaeda cells and fighters, force is the only answer. But most estimates of the number of Qaeda fighters in Pakistan range well under a few thousand. Are those the only people we are bombing? Is bombing—by Americans—the best solution? The Predator strikes have convinced much of the local population that it’s under attack from America and produced a nationalist backlash. A few Qaeda operatives die, but public support for the battle against extremism drops in the vital Pashtun areas of Pakistan. Is this a good exchange?

We have placed ourselves in armed opposition to Muslim fundamentalists stretching from North Africa to Indonesia, which has made this whole enterprise feel very much like a clash of civilizations, and a violent one at that. Certainly, many local despots would prefer to enlist the American armed forces to defeat their enemies, some of whom may be jihadists but others may not. Across the entire North African region, the United States and other Western powers are supporting secular autocrats who claim to be battling Islamist opposition forces. In return, those rulers have done little to advance genuine reform, state building or political openness. In Algeria, after the Islamists won an election in 1992, the military staged a coup, the Islamists were banned and a long civil war ensued in which 200,000 people died. The opposition has since become more militant, and where once it had no global interests, some elements are now aligned with Al Qaeda.

Events have taken a different course in Nigeria, where the Islamists came to power locally. After the end of military rule in 1999, 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states chose to adopt Sharia. Radical clerics arrived from the Middle East to spread their draconian interpretation of Islam. Religious militias such as the Hisbah of Kano state patrolled the streets, attacking those who shirked prayers, disobeyed religious dress codes or drank alcohol. Several women accused of adultery were sentenced to death by stoning. In 2002 The Weekly Standard decried “the Talibanization of West Africa” and worried that Nigeria, a “giant of sub-Saharan Africa,” could become “a haven for Islamism, linked to foreign extremists.”

But when The New York Times sent a reporter to Kano state in late 2007, she found an entirely different picture from the one that had been fretted over by State Department policy analysts. “The Islamic revolution that seemed so destined to transform northern Nigeria in recent years appears to have come and gone,” the reporter, Lydia Polgreen, concluded. The Hisbah had become “little more than glorified crossing guards” and were “largely confined to their barracks and assigned anodyne tasks like directing traffic and helping fans to their seats at soccer games.” The widely publicized sentences of mutilation and stoning rarely came to pass (although floggings were common). Other news reports have confirmed this basic picture.

Residents hadn’t become less religious; mosques still overflowed with the devout during prayer time, and virtually all Muslim women went veiled. But the government had helped push Sharia in a tamer direction by outlawing religious militias; the regular police had no interest in enforcing the law’s strictest tenets. In addition, over time some of the loudest proponents of Sharia had been exposed as hypocrites. Some were under investigation for embezzling millions.

We have an instant, violent reaction to anyone who sounds like an Islamic bigot. This is understandable. Many Islamists are bigots, reactionaries and extremists (others are charlatans and opportunists). But this can sometimes blind us to the ways they might prove useful in the broader struggle against Islamic terror. The Bush administration spent its first term engaged in a largely abstract, theoretical conversation about radical Islam and its evils—and conservative intellectuals still spout this kind of unyielding rhetoric. By its second term, though, the administration was grappling with the complexities of Islam on the ground. It is instructive that Bush ended up pursuing a most sophisticated and nuanced policy toward political Islam in the one country where reality was unavoidable—Iraq.

Having invaded Iraq, the Americans searched for local allies, in particular political groups that could become the Iraqi face of the occupation. The administration came to recognize that 30 years of Saddam—a secular, failed tyrant—had left only hard-core Islamists as the opposition. It partnered with these groups, most of which were Shiite parties founded on the model of Iran’s ultra-religious organizations, and acquiesced as they took over most of southern Iraq, the Shiite heartland. In this area, the strict version of Islam that they implemented was quite similar to—in some cases more extreme than—what one would find in Iran today. Liquor was banned; women had to cover themselves from head to toe; Christians were persecuted; religious affiliations became the only way to get a government job, including college professorships.

While some of this puritanism is now mellowing, southern Iraq remains a dark place. But it is not a hotbed of jihad. And as the democratic process matures, one might even hope that some version of the Nigerian story will play out there. “It’s hard to hand over authority to people who are illiberal,” says former CIA analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht. “What you have to realize is that the objective is to defeat bin Ladenism, and you have to start the evolution. Moderate Muslims are not the answer. Shiite clerics and Sunni fundamentalists are our salvation from future 9/11s.”

The Bush administration partnered with fundamentalists once more 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. Gen. David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy ramped up this process. “We won the war in Iraq chiefly because we separated the local militants from the global jihadists,” says Fawaz Gerges, a scholar at Sarah Lawrence College, who has interviewed hundreds of Muslim militants. “Yet around the world we are still unwilling to make the distinction between these two groups.”

Would a strategy like this work in Afghanistan? David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert who has advised Petraeus, says, “I’ve had tribal leaders and Afghan government officials at the province and district level tell me that 90 percent of the people we call the Taliban are actually tribal fighters or Pashtun nationalists or people pursuing their own agendas. Less than 10 percent are ideologically aligned with the Quetta Shura [Mullah Omar’s leadership group] or Al Qaeda.” These people are, in his view, “almost certainly reconcilable under some circumstances.” Kilcullen adds, “That’s very much what we did in Iraq. We negotiated with 90 percent of the people we were fighting.”

Beyond Afghanistan, too, it is crucial that we adopt a more sophisticated strategy toward radical Islam. This should come naturally to President Obama, who spoke often on the campaign trail of the need for just such a differentiated approach toward Muslim countries. Even the Washington Institute, a think tank often associated with conservatives, appears onboard. It is issuing a report this week that recommends, among other points, that the United States use more “nuanced, noncombative rhetoric” that avoids sweeping declarations like “war on terror,” “global insurgency,” even “the Muslim world.” Anything that emphasizes the variety of groups, movements and motives within that world strengthens the case that this is not a battle between Islam and the West. Bin Laden constantly argues that all these different groups are part of the same global movement. We should not play into his hands, and emphasize instead that many of these forces are local, have specific grievances and don’t have much in common.

That does not mean we should 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.

The veil is not the same as the suicide belt. We can better pursue our values if we recognize the local and cultural context, and appreciate that people want to find their own balance between freedom and order, liberty and license. In the end, time is on our side. Bin Ladenism has already lost ground in almost every Muslim country. Radical Islam will follow the same path. Wherever it is tried—in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan—people weary of its charms very quickly. The truth is that all Islamists, violent or not, lack answers to the problems of the modern world. They do not have a world view that can satisfy the aspirations of modern men and women. We do. That’s the most powerful weapon of all.