NYT: The Virtual Mosque

For the first time, the moderate forces in the Moslem world, who were always stranded between authoritarian regimes that had all the powers of the state and Islamists who had all the powers of the mosque, now have their own place to come together and project power: the network.

Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, 16/06/09.

One of the most important reasons that the Islamists were able to covertly organize and mobilize, and be prepared when the lids in their societies were loosened a bit, was because they had the mosque - a place to gather, educate and inspire their followers - outside the total control of the state.

In almost every one of these cases, the Islamists overplayed their hands. In Lebanon, Hezbollah took the country into a disastrous and unpopular war. Ditto Hamas in Gaza. The Sunni and Shiite Islamists in Iraq tried to impose a religious lifestyle on their communities, and the mullahs in Iran quashed the reformists. In the last year, though, the hard-liners in all these countries have faced a backlash by the centrist majorities, who detest these Islamist groups.

Hezbollah was defeated in the Lebanese elections. Hamas is facing an energized Fatah in the West Bank and is increasingly unpopular in Gaza. Iraqi Sunnis have ousted the jihadists thanks to the tribal Awakening movement, while the biggest pro-Iranian party in Iraq got trounced in the recent provincial runoff. And in Iran, millions of Iranians starving for more freedom rallied to the presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, forcing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to steal the election.

Even if defeated electorally, the Islamists and their regimes have a trump card: guns. Guns trump cellphones. Bang-bang beats tweet-tweet. The Sunni Awakening in Iraq succeeded because the moderates there were armed. I doubt Ahmadinejad will go peacefully.

"The rise of these moderate forces, if it is real and sustained, would be the most significant long-term contribution to Israeli national security," argued Gidi Grinstein, the president of the Reut Institute, a think tank. "If some of these moderate forces started to converge, then the overall status of Israeli security would improve radically." It is still way too early to know, he said, "but Israel needs to be alive to this process and not simply rely on its old framework."

Click here, for the full article.