Marc Lynch writes:
Two recent arguments about the impact of the rising anti-Islam trend in the U.S. — from the Stupid!Storm around the Manhattan mosque to the lunacy of “national burn a Quran day” — on the Arab world strike me as not quite right. Last week, Bill Kristol cited the translation of a column by Saudi TV station al-Arabiya director Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed downplaying the relevance of the mosque as evidence that the argument should be over. Meanwhile, several recent articles claim that the mosque had become the #1 topic of discussion on jihadist forums. Both are wrong, in different ways. Most Arab columnists agree with the argument that the anti-mosque movement will badly harm Arab and Muslim views of the United States, contra Rashed, but there isn’t as much active discussion of it in the forums as you’d expect. That isn’t a reason to relax, though. The impact is likely to be felt not so much on extremists, whose views about America are rather fixed, but on the vast middle ground, the Arab and Muslim mainstream which both the Bush and Obama administrations have recognized as crucial both for defeating al-Qaeda and for achieving broad American national interests. And that mainstream, not the extremists themselves, is where our attention needs to be focused.
A closer look at Arab mainstream media and jihadist forum debates shows what I mean. A scan of the major op-ed pages quickly reveals that Rashed is very much a minority voice in the unfolding Arab debate. Rashed’s column caught the attention of anti-mosque activists such as Kristol, because it suited their needs. But if Kristol really wants Americans to take their cues from Arab columnists, here’s a more representative sample of commentary over the last few days:
In “Jihadi forums silent on Cordoba controversy,” Max Fisher finds “the fact that they discuss the issue so little among themselves suggests the extent to which the jihadis consider the fight over the Cordoba Center as having nothing to do with them.”