Islam, the hidden “I” in BRICS
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With leaders of the BRICS group gathering in Brazil to discuss socially inclusive growth and sustainable solutions the issue of accommodating the presence of Islamic populations within the alliance is missing from their agenda.
Avoiding an important conversation
The BRICS have branded the Brazil meetings as the beginning of the “second generation” of the group.
One would think that factoring in the theme of how Islamic populations-- and the global footprint of certain Islamist groups-- might by now be open talking points. But the set-up seems comfortable keeping the alliance focused on building a nonaligned OECD-style development bureaucracy wrapped in the subterfuge of a currency and credit rating alliance that could play a disruptive role in changing the world economic order including international financial markets and the behavior of important arbitrage operators.
Absent of a joint coordination strategy each BRICS nation continues to deal with Islam as a religion, and Islamist groups who are non-governmental actors sometimes acting in concert with them, on its own.
On the surface doing business with Islamic or "Arab" nations has the look and feel of “business to business” activity. But when Islamic states deal with BRICS member nations, as with the United States and the European Union, it is never a sure thing that the BRICS nation is dealing with an Islamic state or the “Nation of Islam” and all the unpleasant baggage that comes with that. In this context, the slow moving BRICS are targets of opportunity for Islamists.
Progress is not the BRICS most important product
For an organization that has been around since 2001 and has received a lot of media coverage one finds the BRICS showing few visible signs of progress. Look how fast the Marshall Plan took shape after World War II during an era that lacked the internet, an era where information moved with a much slower velocity. Consider what the Marshall Plan accomplished in a decade.
BRICS nations contain large populations who follow the Muslim religion and others who are no longer followers but hold true to their cultural roots in the former Ottoman Empire and the Levant and the North African littoral (Maghreb) and Egypt. Some businessmen and government officials of Middle Eastern heritage in Venezuela started pushing for an OPEC organization to countervail the U.S. dominated “Seven Sisters” oil cartel as early as 1949, as did Iran.
By the time a “third generation” of the BRICS replaces the second one will the organization have in place a tenable menu of strategic coordination options to accommodate and mediate the interests of Islam and Islamists? Should it? Is it "politically incorrect" by Western standards to even ask such a question?
BRICS, an alliance born in the USA
The original BRICs were not a concept developed by high minded thinkers like Brazilian Roberto Mangabeira Unger, who taught Barack Obama at Harvard. It was the brainchild of Jim O’Neill, a British economist in the employ of Goldman Sachs.
Just weeks after the 911 events O’Neill launched the BRICs idea as an opportunity to revive international financial markets that had gone south due to the uncertainty caused by the attacks.
As the BRICS move forward one should remember that after Nobel prizes were awarded for the Camp David accords during the tenure of U.S. president Jimmy Carter the stage was already set for Washington’s long term strategy to palliate Islam and contain militant Islamists. That strategy created a superhighway that led to a place called 911.
Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamic Jihad in 1981, the same year that the Reagan administration in Washington concluded the world’s largest arms deal with Saudi Arabia (including five AWACS electronic intelligence aircraft sold over the objection of the vaunted Israel lobby). The irregular military operation known as “Charlie Wilson’s War” empowered the Mujaheddin and Al Qaeda to push Soviet forces out of Afghanistan creating an opportunity for Usama bin Laden to master irregular warfare. Washington’s response to the 1983 terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine billet in Beirut that took over 350 lives was measured. So was the Clinton administration response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
Islamic populations inside the BRICS
As a yardstick, the latest PEW study (published in 2010), the total Islamic population within the BRICS group (218 million) represents 90 percent of the Islamic populations of Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Palestine Saudi Arabia and Syria (232 million).
The declared Islamic population of the Russian Federation (16.4 million) is about four times greater than that of Palestine (4.3 million) and that’s not counting the 1.2 million followers of Islam who live in Israel.
PEW statistics indicate that the Islamic population in Brazil is 204,000. But the website of the leading Islamic organization in Brazil claims that number should be 2 million. That figure is more than the 1.4 million Emirati citizens who occupy the United Arab Emirates.
India, with the largest Islamic population among the BRICS, shares porous borders with Islamic Pakistan (178 million) and Bangladesh (158 million), and beyond the headlines the relations between those nations are, and will continue to be problematic.
The high end figure of $200 billion associated with the funding of the announced BRICS development bank represents less than 10 percent of the estimated $3 trillion dollars the United States has spent on the “democratization” of post Saddam Hussein Iraq (population 31 million) and new money and advisers and arms for Iraq are in the pipeline.
BRICS, Guns and Butter
Beyond social inclusion and sustainable growth BRICS member Brazil is planning to deliver when they are fully operational MAR1 missiles, a variant of “Wild Weasel” technology, to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Some sources say the missiles will be delivered without explosive warheads so that Brazil can work around the arms exporter issue. Both nations have a reputation among arms control watchers as governments with a propensity for allowing arms and know-how to “get loose.”
Russia continues to sell nuclear technology and conventional weapons to Iran. Are the deals helping president Putin's government to leverage the problems caused by Islamist groups in its midst? After all it was then-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar who tried to blackmail Putin in their famous "secret meeting" outside Moscow, bragging that "we control the Chechens" and threatening Russia with terror attacks if the Kremlin did not support Saudi position on Syria. Do Russia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia still do business? Yes.
A similar situation exists in China, where the government of Xi Jinping continues the policy of selling weapons and some dual use technology to Iran, and conventional arms to Saudi Arabia. China is also tagged as the bad guy by universal rights-human rights NGOs who say the BRICS member is using repressive tactics in dealing with its 28 million Islamic minority. But the human rights crowd plays down the activities and connections of the Uyghurs in China, whose numbers represent nearly the total Islamic population of Syria.
China also has military technology sharing and other defense relationships with Israel, which by way of its intelligence and military relationships could be considered the “third I” in the BRICS equation.
Israeli academic Dr. Eitan Shamir has published an analysis of the U.S. “appeasement” strategy on the blog at U Team-Infinity Journal as it relates to key Islamic nations and elaborates on why the United States has not been successful in contaning militant Islamists in spite of the arms deals and the dollars for democracy trillions. BRICS nations would do well to be mindful of Shamir’s analysis "Coping With Non-state Rivals (login and registration required) .
The BRICS continue to have image problems
The Buenos Aires Herald reported that Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin has praised Argentina, where he just signed a major nuclear deal with the government. But in their coverage the BBC also noted that the Russian leader remains circumspect about the future of the BRICS.
Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was recently quoted by international news agencies as saying that to manage its global presence Russia needs to spend more money on public diplomacy and public relations.
The same can be said for the BRICS. There is a burst of media buzz when the group gets together and puts their BRICS hats on, and then one sees no measurable follow up from the organization.
Have the BRICS built a Tan-Zam railway, or an Aswan High Dam? Have they created measurable results like the World Bank small projects program or the microenterprise initiative put in place by the Inter-American Development Bank? The answer is no.
To maintain their credibility, the BRICS need to produce some visible results soon. The Islamic populations that live in BRICS nations are watching and waiting along with growing numbers of militant Islamists whose mission lasts forever. Some of them go underground and wait years to be "activated.". So are U.S. public diplomacy assets who promote Washington’s Trans-Pacific Partnership to the detriment of the BRICS.
Will the BRICS be a major economic force in 2050 like O'Neill and others say they will? Without accommodating the “second I” in BRICS they could become a Cold War-style “paper tiger.”
Blog: Institutions and Competition