K.T. McFarland could learn a lot in Singapore – or not

So, it appears that Singapore is being considered as the next stop for K.T. McFarland. She could take over the job of ambassador here. McFarland is currently a deputy national security adviser within the Trump administration, but her continuing in that role has been in doubt since Michael Flynn was fired as national security adviser.

From what I know of her public statements, she could face some challenges here. Or alternatively, she might have an enlightening time. Let me explain.

One of her public themes appears to be that “radical Islamic terrorism” represents an existential threat to Western civilization. I assume this played a prominent role in her getting a job in Trump administration security circles because of Pres. Trump’s frequent criticism that Pres. Obama failed to recognize such a threat and do enough about it.

For my part, I don’t have a problem with labeling radical Islamic terrorism as *a* threat. Obviously, it is. And it could be quite horrible in its most extreme scenarios, like a dirty bomb. But I think it’s ridiculous to label it as an *existential* threat to the West. I really don’t see Islamic armies conquering and taking over the U.S. or any European countries any time soon. (No, that’s what we do in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.) And despite fear-mongering on the right, I really don’t see a wholesale conversion to Shariah law, either.

However, countries with significant or majority Muslim populations do face challenges of this sort. In addition to terrorist attacks, if radical ideologies gain wide support, they can fundamentally change the character of the nation and threaten the existing less religious – or even secular – governments.

That’s why – and this might come as a shock to some American conservatives – you routinely see governments in southeast Asia taking steps to contain Islamic extremism. In Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country on the planet, you see arrests and prosecutions of extremists and the president calling on citizens to resist radicalization. In Malaysia, which is a majority Muslim country, you see arrests of suspected ISIS supporters and convictions of others, as well as other steps. And in Singapore, which is almost 15% percent Muslim, an imam that made what was considered radical statements was forced to apologize and to pay a fine, while at the same time the country’s leaders express their firm commitment to a multi-religious society.

So, should Mrs. McFarland come to Singapore, I’ll be curious to find out what she’ll learn as she lives here. Maybe she’ll stick to her strong condemnations of Islamic radicalism (which has the possibility of backfiring and breeding anti-Western sentiments). Or maybe she’ll start to see that some Islamic countries are often just as committed to stopping radicalism as the West. (It is, after all, largely a recent import from the Middle East.) If she learns a little and moderates her views, she might become an effective representative of the U.S. in Singapore and beyond.

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