Kaplan has a new article out in the LA Times. I have a related on thought on this that I will be publishing very soon.
Eastern Islam and the ‘clash of civilizations’
Islam has been an American obsession for at least a decade. The 9/11 attacks and the intractable violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan — however much we have been the cause of it — have left us bewildered and terrified by this seemingly austere and martial faith.
Islam was spread quickly by the sword from Arabia westward across North Africa, the history books tell us, and is supposedly prone to the extremities of thought to which deserts give rise. But there is a whole other side to Islamic history that has been obscured, even as it illuminates a key strategic geography of the 21st century. While we in the United States have concentrated on the western half of the Islamic world in the Middle Eastern deserts, there is an eastern half in the green forests and jungles of the tropics where global energy routes and merchant sea traffic now intersect.
Islam is only partly a desert religion; it is just as much a seafaring faith, the harbinger not of narrow soldierly thought but of a cosmopolitanism spread by sophisticated merchants over the centuries in the Far Eastern seas. The legendary Sinbad the Sailor was an Arab from Oman based in Basra, in what is now Iraq. His Homeric voyages of the 8th through the 10th centuries encompassed East Africa, the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea, testimony to the maritime reach of Islam across the longitudes as far as East Asia.
Whereas 20% of Muslims live in the Middle East, 60% are in Asia, according to the Pew Research Center. The Arab world plus Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan — the geographical summation of our own wars and trepidations — comprises 632 million Muslims. But in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern Philippines, there are an additional 565 million Muslims. And as the burgeoning middle-class fleshpots of East Asia require increasing amounts of oil and natural gas from the Middle East, China has been aggressively courting the eastern Islamic world, which sits astride the main sea lanes of communication to the Middle East.