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The mantra that the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam ignores one crucial fact: Islam and politics are inextricably linked throughout the Muslim world. Islamism includes Osama bin Laden and the Taliban but also moderates and liberals. In fact, it can be whatever Muslims want it to be. Rather than push secularism, the West should help empower the silent Muslim majority that rejects radicalism and violence. The result could be political systems both truly Islamist and truly democratic.
The Russian Federation is unraveling, and its war against Chechnya shows why. Moscow blames Islamist terrorists for the trouble there. But in doing so, it ignores Russia's deeper afflictions. Russia has forced disparate ethnic groups to live together for decades but has proven inept at governing its wobbly empire. Now the fighting in Chechnya is leading dissatisfied nationalities to rethink their options -- and their dependence on Russia. Chechnya was the first to rebel. It will not be the last.
The basic assumptions of U.S. policy toward the Gulf demand rethinking. The Pentagon pays up to $60 billion a year to protect the import of $30 billion worth of oil that would flow anyway. Playing the role of regional hegemon ties America to troubled regimes and leaves it out on a limb, while allies sit back. Washington must hedge against inevitable political change in the region by spreading the burden and the say, reversing arms proliferation, and encouraging the Gulf states to come up with some security of their own.
As the fourth-largest national group in the Middle East, the Kurds have become a major factor in the region's future stability. Large Kurdish populations in Iran, Iraq and Turkey are seeking more cultural and political autonomy. In doing so, they are intensifying a number of destabilizing pressures--breakaway ethnic movements, human rights, treatment of minorities, democracy and possibly separatism. Though they have a strong self-identity, the Kurds are not yet ethnically unified, separated as they are by language, customs, neo-feudal obligations and physical distance. However, these barriers are breaking down. The three states with large Kurdish populations are at a crossroads: they must embrace federalism, allowing more autonomy for the Kurds, or prepare for prolonged violence and turmoil.