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An Oversimplification

In his apparent drive to combat the real-world problem of anti-Semitic bias, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (“Fuel for the Days of Rage,” September 28) seems unfortunately — and ironically — oblivious to his own counterproductive stereotyping of another group: “political Islamists.” Without defining the term, he glibly suggests that those so identified seek, as an “annihilative impulse,” to “behead all those who insult the prophet,” motivated by their rage against “the world’s opposition to their unbounded totalitarian aspirations.” Goldhagen apparently acknowledges not at all that, in fact, political Islam — reasonably defined as a set of political ideologies and movements holding that Islam is not only a religion but also a political system whose teachings should be preeminent in all facets of society — includes individuals and groups with a wide range of beliefs and practices, ranging from violent extremism (Al Qaeda) to non-violent movements (Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood), and parties that have embraced democracy and tolerance of others (Turkey’s AKP).

Goldhagen’s failure to distinguish among the diverse strains of local, regional and global political Islamism, ostensibly in service of a generalized “clash of civilizations” worldview, does little to advance our political and cultural understanding of the Muslim world. Nor does it serve as a basis for the kind of discerning and nuanced American foreign policy the ever-changing conditions in that part of the world demand. That policy should include direct engagement with political Islamists who eschew violence, embrace democracy (before and after they achieve power), and protect minority rights.

Violent Islamic extremism is cause for worldwide concern, but painting all political Islamists with the same brush does little to advance the interests of Israel, the U.S. and Jews everywhere.

MICHAEL FELSEN
Jamaica Plain, Mass.

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