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"Lady Gaga vs. the Occupation"

Demonstrators carry banners urging the Egyptian government to free political prisoners and hold up photos of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, center, while shouting anti-U.S. and anti-Israel slogans, July, 18, 2006, in Cairo, Egypt.
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"Lady Gaga vs. the Occupation"

Op-Ed, Foreign Policy

March 31, 2010

Author: Thomas Hegghammer, Former Associate, Initiative on Religion in International Affairs/International Security Program, 2009–2010; Former Research Fellow, Initiative on Religion in International Affairs/International Security Program, 2008–2009

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Religion in International Affairs


A moderate suggestion: Palestine isn't the only driver of violent anti-American extremism. But it sure does matter.


"In recent weeks, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and others have made headlines by suggesting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict increases anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens takes issue with this claim, arguing that cultural Westernization — in the form of Lady Gaga and other imports that scandalize Muslim conservatives — is a more important cause of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world than the Palestinian conflict. Stephens notes that Islamists resented American culture well before the Palestinian issue became prominent. As key evidence, he cites Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb's rants on American culture following the latter's stay in the United States in the late 1940s.

Stephens is absolutely right that Islamism as a general phenomenon is partly a reaction to cultural Westernization and modernization. Islamists are indeed defined by their rejection of secularism, and like religious activists from other faiths, they dislike consumerism and sexual promiscuity. However, Stephens is wrong when he asserts that Westernization is a major driver of anti-American terrorism and that what happens in Palestine does not matter for the fight against al Qaeda.

Islamism and anti-American militancy are not the same thing. There are millions of Islamists out there, but only some engage in violence and only a tiny fraction fight America. The available evidence suggests the latter care more about Palestine than Lady Gaga.

By citing Qutb at length, Stephens proves my point and undermines his own. Qutb was indeed disgusted by aspects of American culture, but he neither waged nor advocated violence against the United States. Qutb's jihad was against the Egyptian regime, not America...."

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For Academic Citation:

Hegghammer, Thomas. "Lady Gaga vs. the Occupation." Foreign Policy, March 31, 2010.

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