It’s All Muslims the Middle East Anyway

by Joshua Foust on 12/8/2008 · 9 comments

Yet another reason never to read Robert Kaplan, ever:

THE divisions we split the world into during the cold war have at long last crumbled thanks to the Mumbai terrorist attacks. No longer will we view South Asia as a region distinct from the Middle East. Now there is only one long continuum stretching from the Mediterranean to the jungles of Burma, with every crisis from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in the west to the Hindu-Muslim dispute in the east interlocked with the one next door.

Yet, Kashmir is exactly like Palestine, and they’re all brown-skinned Muslim fanatics anyway, so why bother noting differences?

This is the thinking of a child halfway through his first history book (with pictures!). Yet there he is, the New York Times and working the Think Tank/lecture/book circuit.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 9 comments }

TCHe December 8, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Sad thing is, these kinda people find their audience …

Aatom December 8, 2008 at 7:44 pm

I’m not sure how this type of facile dualistic thinking makes the world seem LESS like the Cold War-era to him. Wasn’t a terribly tidy us v. them mindset kind of the point back then as well?

Joshua Foust December 8, 2008 at 7:58 pm

TCHe, there is always an audience for authoritative-sounding gibberish. Here’s one example of the top ten from this past year. When it comes to pundits, there are a few with a reliable history of accurately discussing current events and their consequences — Kaplan is not one of them.

Aatom… you just don’t get it. They’re all Muslims, okay? So they all team up and have the same objectives and flaws. Just like all Christians. Geez.

Janice December 8, 2008 at 9:56 pm

In addition to the irony of lumping all conflicts involving Muslim or nominally Muslim actors into one “continuum,” it appears the above statement regarding the crumbling of cold war divisions is also a little hasty — wasn’t Medvedev recently in India to sign nuclear agreements similar to what the US had been hoping to arrange?

bekzod December 10, 2008 at 9:38 am

Maybe we want to dampen the self-congratulatory tone of this post. While Kaplan should be criticized for a great many things (e.g. apparently warping the Clinton administration’s understanding of Yugoslavia), I am not yet convinced that this paragraph is one of them.

Mr Foust, please make an argument- don’t just cite a passage and then write the equivalent of “guffaw”.

I am not convinced that Kaplan’s thrust is entirely wrong- conflicts are interlinked. Ideas, tactics, people and sometimes organizations diffuse across borders. Kashmir and Palestine are two touchstones for many transnational Islamic movements. If anything, this quote is dated.

Nathan December 10, 2008 at 7:55 pm

Bekzod, on the one hand, Kaplan’s right. Conflicts are interlinked. But if one were to ponder that statement, it’s the analytical equivalent of a crappy indie movie about how we’re all connected to each other.

Kaplan excels at a “these two hugely complicated things are similar in one aspect, and therefore in all” way of thinking. And here he’s kind of doing that and topping it off with a “clash of civilizations” cherry.

While I’m all for trying to build models and theorize, one runs the risk of going overboard. Kaplan does so here. These conflicts are connected in loose ways and certain ones are vital to the rhetoric of transnational Islamic movements. However, most of those involved in each of these conflicts are much more deeply enmeshed in a system of local relationships and usually motivated by far more local concerns. Resolving each conflict requires understanding the differences and unique variables at play in each. Kaplan may know and believe that. He may know and believe a lot of sensible things. However, he usually ends up putting to paper descriptions of the fantastic universe in his navel.

Janice December 11, 2008 at 7:29 am

Kaplan is oversimplifying and pounding a square peg into a round hole by claiming any crisis involving Muslims is interlocked with other events involving Muslims. Kashmir and Palestine, as Bekzod notes, may be two touchstones for certain pan-Islamic movements but they are in no way linked. Maybe some extremist movements and Robert Kaplan would like people to think these crises are linked — and probably for the same reason to scare people. If you went to Kashmir and any part of Palestine and asked people in each what they knew about the conflict or society and culture of the other, the likely answer would be limited to acknowledgement there is a military conflict and not much detail beyond that because people are linked by watching the news and there’s your linkages…

Shohmurod December 11, 2008 at 10:10 am

Although I agree not all conflicts in neighboring Islamic countries share main common goals, they do share some ugly details. There was recently an attack on a Jewish Center in Mumbai and residents killed simply for being of Jewish origin. This detail is not mentioned by Kaplan and not mentioned by everyone else in this discussion either. Also, a lot of Jews have been persecuted in Iraq after 2003 and displaced. This is all a common antisemitism theme in neighboring Islamic countries.

I think those details do qualify to some degree the following paragraph:

with every crisis from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in the west to the Hindu-Muslim dispute in the east interlocked with the one next door.

But again, I agree not all conflicts in neighboring Islamic countries share MAIN common goals.

ZZ December 11, 2008 at 10:33 am

Kaplan is just making global jihadists’ job easier…

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