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Odds and Ends at Year's End
Like the stock market, this year had some ups and a lot of downs. Here is how it looks to me:

On a macro level, the conflict is growing more chaotic. States cannot hold firm in the face of the widespread and growing assaults by non-state actors that threaten them. The primary enemy, militant Islamist extremism, is less coherent that it is generally portrayed, but it doesn't need to be rigidly hierarchical structure to succeed.

The movement thrives from various, decentralized hubs which may, but do not need, to seek guidance and direction from others. The Internet, other methods of direct communication and the constant river of wahhabi/salafist money and teaching create the virus that is spreading rapidly, and cannot be controlled through traditional means or strategies.

The most recent example, of course, is the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, with a cast of thousands of potential perpetrators, including the state or rogue actors within the state.

If it was an al Qaeda-affiliated group that carried out the murder, it could have been simply an attempt to carry out the will of Allah as those involved understand that will. When their God speaks, they listen, and no further justification or thought is necessary.

State laws and means for prosecution remain woefully outdated, slow and ponderous. There is little of the legal agility needed to fight a against an enemy that uses front groups, deception, violence and lack of transparency as part of its primary tactics.

This leads to a lack of cohesion and consistency. I am not arguing for a diminishing of basic rights. But states have to come up with new methods, even those that will be challenged in court and written about in the media, that will allow it to move forward. If those methods and tools are not viewed as legitimate by most of the people in that country, they will eventually be tossed out as illegitimate.

A recent example is the little-noted closing of the Swiss case against Yasin al-Qadi, the alleged financier of radical Islamist movements.

While he remains on the U.S. and U.N. designation lists, the Swiss investigation was important, though mired in allegations of prosecutorial improprieties, illicit information exchanges and generally shabby handling.

This follows the unexpected and still-unexplained decision by the U.S. and U.N. to de-list Idriss Nasreddin from the list of sanctioned individuals.

As I have
written before,
perhaps those mechanisms are outdated and need to be either ended or strengthened. This grey area in between, where it is neither enforced nor explained, is the worst of all worlds.

There was another important, though little-noted decision along these same lines this week as well. The NEFA Foundation posted the decision by a federal judge upholding the U.S. government's decision to exclude Tariq Ramadan from the United States (that is, not grant him a visa). Judge Paul Crotty of the Southern District of New York ruled that the government's "exclusion of
Professor Ramadan is facially legitimate and bona fide."

So, where does that leave us at year's end? Al Qaeda in Iraq is weaker and the militant Islamist groups there have turned on each other to an interesting degree, enough to make them all less effective.

But the Taliban in Afghanistan, al Qaeda central, Taliban in Pakistan, the Islamic Court's Union in Somalia, the emerging al Qaeda linked groups in the Sahel region of Africa, the Iranian-backed expansion of Hezbollah in Latin America and other developments of this nature make me less than optimistic about how the struggle against radical Islamists, both Shi'ite and Sunni, is going. I hope I am wrong.

Finally, a heart-felt word of thanks to those who take time to read my thoughts, comment thoughtfully on them, and who wish to make the world a better place. Happy New Year.

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