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Book Reveals Why Support of U.S. Global War on Terror Has Been Lukewarm

Blanket Trump policy to pressure Muslim states to support U.S. counterterrorism efforts could produce uneven results

professor Peter Henne
Peter Henne, assistant professor of political science, brings a broad range of experience to his first book including work at the Pew Research Center, the National Consortium for Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, and as a consultant with the U.S. government. (Photo: Sally McCay)

If President Donald Trump’s administration hopes to pressure Muslim states into supporting the U.S. Global War on Terror, they would be wise to consider the findings in a new book by Peter Henne, UVM assistant professor of political science. Henne, who joined the UVM faculty this fall after working on the staff at the Pew Research Center, analyzes issues critical to our internationally volatile era in Islamic Politics, Muslim States and Counterterrorism Tensions (Cambridge University Press).

Among the book’s key assertions: Muslim states with closer ties between religion and state have been historically less cooperative on counterterrorism, even when a variety of alternate explanations and variables were taken into consideration. 

“I argue in the book that Islamic politics did affect Muslim states, but in a specific manner: through the differing arrangements between religion and state in these countries,” says Henne. “I also argue that close ties between religion and state intensify the salience of religious issues, strengthen religious groups, and make regimes more likely to follow religious contention when formulating policies.”

Henne notes that within a number of Muslim states it has been a decades-long domestic struggle to determine the proper relationship between Islam and politics. “Discrete U.S. policies are unlikely to change this,” Henne says, “and the United States may need to choose between investing in complex, long-term efforts or scaling back its ambitions for the region.”

Henne’s case studies of Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, as well as an analysis of the Arab Spring and rise of the Islamic State (IS), also offer new insight into current events in the Middle East.

Insight into the Arab Uprising

In regard to Arab Spring, the professor notes differing responses in whether governments saw the uprisings as threat or opportunity.

“States with closer ties to Islam saw an opportunity to support the rise of like-minded regimes in the region, as seen in Saudi Arabia’s support for anti-Assad rebels and Qatar’s backing of Islamic opposition groups in numerous states,” says Henne.

Henne’s findings also provide clues into the likely path Turkey will take as its political system changes under President Erdogan, who is rolling back democratic openings in Turkey, and is also increasing the role of Islam in its politics. “While he is not Islamizing the country as some of his critics fear,” writes Henne, “his policies are narrowing the officially-maintained distance between Islam and the state established by Ataturk.”

“Previously, Turkey’s counterterrorism cooperation with the United States was due to institutionalized distance between religion and state that insulated the Turkish regime from Islamic opposition to U.S. efforts,” says Henne. “As this distance is altered, tensions with the United States will likely increase, not because Turkey is becoming more radical, but because the institutional arrangement that supported closer ties is changing.”