[The RAND Corporation and] Fixing Islam
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
The global war on terror cannot be won through counterterrorism alone; it also requires convincing the terrorists and their sympathizers that their goals and methods are faulty and failing. But how is this to be done?
By focusing on the ideological and religious sources of the violence, say I: "The immediate war goal must be to destroy militant Islam and the ultimate war goal the modernization of Islam." I have not worked out the detailed implications of this policy, however.
Which explains my delight on finding that the RAND Corporation's Cheryl Benard has done just this, publishing her results in a small book titled Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies (available in full at RAND's Web site).
Ms. Benard recognizes the awesome ambition of the effort to modernize Islam: If nation-building is a daunting task, she notes, religion-building "is immeasurably more perilous and complex." This is something never tried before; we enter uncharted territory here.
Civil Democratic Islam covers three topics: rival Muslim approaches to Islam; which approach contributes most to a moderate version of Islam; and policy recommendations for Western governments.
Like other analysts, Ms. Benard finds that in relation to their religion, Muslims divide into four groups:
The author brings these viewpoints to life in a smart, convincing presentation, showing their differences on everything from establishing the pure Islamic state to husbands having rights to beat their wives. She rightly dwells on values and lifestyles, finding dissimulation about polygamy far less commonplace than about the use of violence.
Which of these groups is most suitable to ally with? Modernists, says Ms. Benard, are "most congenial to the values and the spirit of modern democratic society." Fundamentalists are the enemy, for they "oppose us and we oppose them." Traditionalists have potentially useful democratic elements but generally share too much with the fundamentalists to be relied upon. Secularists are too often anti-Western to fix Islam.
Ms. Benard then proposes a strategy for religion-building with several prongs:
I agree with Ms. Benard's general approach, doubting only her enthusiasm for Muslim modernists, a group that through two centuries of effort has failed to help reconcile Islam with current realities. H.A.R. Gibb, the great orientalist, condemned modernist thinking in 1947 as mired in "intellectual confusions and paralyzing romanticism." Writing in 1983, I dismissed modernism as "a tired movement, locked in place by the unsoundness of its premises and arguments." Nothing has changed for the better since then.
Instead of modernists, I propose mainstream secularists as the forward looking Muslims who uniquely can wrench their co-religionists out of their current slough of despair and radicalism. Secularists start with the proven premise of disentangling religion from politics; not only has this served the Western world well, but it has also worked in Turkey, the Muslim success story of our time.
Only when Muslims turn to secularism will this terrible era of their history come to an end.
Reader comments (52) on this item
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes