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Islam: Ideology and Conflict

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After more than 200 years of sustained U.S. involvement with the Islamic World and 20 years of intense political and military intervention, misunderstandings persist in the United States with regard to Islam as an ideology and its functioning within the various political, economic, and social contexts. There is a persistent tendency to assume that knowledge and understanding of Islam is actually broader, more extensive, and sophisticated than is actually the case. From the perspective of U.S. policy and Special Operations Forces SOF role in the execution of policy, three critical issues stand out. The first is the lack of knowledge of the basic ideological and political issues that persisted in early Islam and how those issues often form the ideological basis for struggles that confront SOF in contemporary Islamic societies. The second element is the apparent contradiction in U.S. policy in the Islamic World. The final factor is the political, economic, and social diversity within and between Islamic societies that drive diverse ideological interpretations of Islam that have far more to do with local environments than with any universal religious and theological views. This monograph approaches Islam and its role not as a universal, Unitarian creed that drives specific behaviors, but as the ideological backdrop for regional and local discontent that has created globalized security problems. Categorizing political behavior as Muslim, or broad sectarian groupings as Sunni or Shi a, is to misunderstand a complex relationship between religion as ideology and culture in the Islamic world. The politics of conflict are expressed using the verbiage of Islam, but at their core, they derive from historical political, economic, and social differences. Islam forms only a part of that milieu of instability and conflict. In most cases, Islam provides the medium for expression and discourse and should be understood in that more limited context.

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  • Humanities and History

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