Sunday, October 10, 2004
The problem within Islam
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Boukhars is a doctoral candidate in international studies at Old Dominion University and a research assistant at the Joint Forces Staff College.
Amid the sad, horrifying and incomprehensible massacre of children in Russia, it was easy to be tempted, once again, by angry thoughts, rage and revulsion at all that is Arab and Muslim.
From the horrific events of 9/11, to the unspeakable evil of terror attacks in Madrid, Moscow, Bali or Morocco, to the disgusting tragedy of Beslan, all the way to the barbarous killing and kidnappings of innocents in Iraq, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against humanity are Muslims.
Islamic terrorism has understandably grabbed the headlines, and it is well within reason to embrace the thesis that describes the world as divided between irreconcilable, antagonistic civilizations - namely, Western Christian civilization and Islamic civilization. It is tempting to argue that Islam is reactionary, hostile, a source of terrorist activity, "a cancer spreading around the globe, undermining the legitimacy of Western values," as Leon Hadar, a former bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute, put it.
After all, Muslims have done little to dismantle this flawed but dominant narrative of Islam. Everywhere in the land of Islam the extreme has broadened, and the middle ground is everywhere dislocated and confused.
Efforts are made to rally the silent majority of Muslims to condemn extremism and confront the ideational and ideological underpinnings of the terrorists, but the challenges are very daunting. There is a disturbing trend of paranoia in the Muslim world.
Projecting their domestic problems onto the external world, Muslims are often suspicious of a U.S.-Israeli nexus intent on destroying true Islam. The recent leak about an Israel spy probe in the Pentagon confirms the conspiracy theory that U.S. foreign policy is controlled by Israel.
As part of this conspiracy, Muslims too readily blame the West, particularly the United States, for their own problems. Excuses are readily available for desperate Palestinians, Iraqis or Chechens blowing themselves up and killing scores of innocents. It is mere hypocrisy to express indignation at the inhumane torture of "Arab prisoners" in Abu Ghraib but turn a blind to the mass murder, forced displacement and rape of thousands of non-Arab Muslims in Sudan. It is morally wrong not to condemn the killings and abductions of foreign journalists or poor Iraqis who work for the Americans to earn a living
There is no doubt that some Muslim frustrations and current grievances are real. One can certainly question Russian President Vladimir Putin's mistakes in Chechnya, can question President Bush's perceived bias toward Israel, his mishandling of the war on terror or the consequences bred by the war in Iraq. There are, of course, psychological explanations (deprivation), societal explanations (economy, governance) and state explanations (hegemony, failed states) to the current dismal state of the Muslim world.
But one thing is sure: Terrorism is a Muslim problem, and refusal to admit so is indeed troubling. As Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, rightly put it, "[T]his is not the time to stir up anti-American sentiments, or sermonize over U.S. foreign policy." It is time to ask "how, in the 21st century, the Muslim world could have produced a bin Laden."
The current clash in Islam is a clash of theologies. It is a clash over interpretation, meanings and traditions. This clash over Islam's social meaning and its interpretive authority unleashed a battle over who defines religious authority, who produces it, how and in what social contexts.
The history of Islam is one of a struggle between the extreme fundamentalists who claim to hold a monopoly of truth, and who use violence and terrorism to impose their views on fellow Muslims, and mainstream Islam who professes an entirely different vision of the ethical, the moral and the religious.
This same history, however, suggests that Islam will overcome its current crisis of authority, just as it has overcome a number of other crises in its past.