Muslim Patterns in International Politics
by Daniel Pipes
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In an age intellectually dominated by secularism and materialism, few Western analysts of international affairs think much about the political implications of religion. True, developments such as the Iranian revolution, the central role of the Church in Poland, and the rise of fundamentalist pressure groups in the United States provoke discussion, but the deeper, ongoing influence of religion tends to get ignored.
This influence may be yet more pervasive in the case of Islam than in other religions, for Islam, is par excellence the faith with an agenda for public life, a detailed program which guides adherents in politics, warfare, economics, justice and social relations. Even today, Islam profoundly shapes the political attitudes of Muslims; I shall argue that, regardless of personal faith or political orientation, Muslims therefore have special difficulty adjusting to the modern political order and that no other religious community has so destabilized the international order.
Muslims Encounter the West
Although associated primarily with Arabs and the Middle East, Islam extends across a wide band from West Africa to the far edge of East Asia. Indeed, most Muslims live outside the Middle East: 123 million in Indonesia, about 70 million in each of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, 50 million in the Soviet Union, 35 million in Nigeria, and even 20 or more million in China. These Muslims tend to be forgotten when Westerners speak of Islam, yet, for a full picture, they must be taken into consideration. Despite their wide differences in language, culture and race, in states of development, and in political systems, they share many features with regard to Western ideologies and the politics of the superpowers.
More than other non-Western peoples, Muslims have great difficulties accepting modern European political ideas and the predominance of Europe and America. Part of the problem lies in the long and mostly unpleasant relationship of Muslims with the Christian West. Whereas the rest of the world—including East Asia, India, sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas—first came into contact with Europe in about A.D. 1500, many Muslims knew about Europe for centuries earlier. Muslims and Christians fought each other repeatedly in the Crusades, the re-conquest of Spain, and the Turkish threat to Eastern Europe, creating a pattern of hostility that left a bitter legacy on both sides.
Later, European colonial rule magnified Muslim hostility to the West. Today, Muslims find it most difficult to accept European ideas and techniques and resent European domination. Repeatedly, where Muslims and non-Muslims have simultaneously come into contact with Europeans, Muslims picked up new skills more slowly and lagged behind in adapting to modern conditions, for example in Malaysia, India, Lebanon, Yugoslavia, and Nigeria.
Even more important, the traditional political orientation of Muslims presents specific obstacles to the absorption of its ideologies. Islam entails a legal system, the Shari'a, that implies a set of goals for public life that cover such matters as specific forms of political authority, warfare, taxation, justice, and more. These instructions have two legacies today, one for observant Muslims (meaning, persons devoutly intent on living in an Islamic manner), another for ethnic Muslims (those persons born into the Islamic faith but not observant). Just as Westerners, regardless of personal persuasion, are influenced by a common heritage of Greek thought, Roman institutions and Christian faith, so Muslims are affected by their Islamic background. It creates shared qualities spanning the spectrum of belief and the range of geography.
Islam made headlines in recent years as a result of increased impact of observant Muslim movements. The drive to make Muslims follow Islamic precepts has won new strength in a large number of countries, including Senegal, Mauritania, Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, the Maldive Islands, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The following analysis considers how Muslims, both observant and ethnic, respond to one of the most powerful Western ideologies—nationalism—and how they deal with the two leading powers of the age, the United States and the Soviet Union.
Nationalism vs. Pan-Islam
Today's political order is based on the nation state; the empires and tribes once so common have given way in the past century to the ideal of territorially fixed nations, each defining a distinct people. Nationalistic ideology calls on citizens to direct their deepest loyalties to the nation, not the religion, kin group, city, class, etc.
The national ideal, far from being a universal notion, developed in the special circumstances of West Europe over many centuries. Despite the rigidity of nationalism, especially with regard to minorities, and its dismal record of provoking conflict, it has spread from Europe to the rest of the world. Today, nationalism has force almost everywhere, and often more impact outside Europe than within it (compare Vietnam with Britain). Most peoples have incorporated nationalist goals tolerably well into their political systems: in East Asia, many countries fit into the national framework quite well (for example, China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Laos), while in India, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and the Americas, local political traditions were usually too weak to stand up to the boundaries of up to the nationalist ideal, which now reigns supreme.
Even though most African states were drawn up heedless of human or natural geography, existing borders have acquired a sacrosanct quality and may not be questioned. The Organization of African Unity established as a cardinal rule that today's borders may not be challenged under any circumstances, a sensible decision which has saved countless lives. The status quo can be accepted by most leaders, despite its inadequacies, because no rival concept of the state challenges the nationalist one which the European colonizers left behind.
In striking contrast, members of the League of Arab States chaff in the boundaries bequeathed them by the imperial powers and have devised multiple schemes to eradicate existing boundaries as the first step to building a single Arab state from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf. The Arabs, ethnic Muslims par excellence, have a vision of an alternate political order which emphasizes cultural bonds over territory, a vision which derives directly from their Islamic background. As Muslims, they are heirs to a powerful tradition of political ideals fundamentally different from that purveyed by Europeans. The two ideals conflict; the more thorough a people's identification Islam, the harder for them to accept the modern order of nations.
Before the massive impact of European ideas the nineteenth century, Muslims had virtually no notion of allegiance to their land or its inhabitants; instead, they felt most strongly for the umma (the community of all Muslims) and for their immediate community – family, tribe, village, etc. The Islamic religion virtually ignores geography even as it strongly emphasizes the bonds between Muslims and the gulf that separates them from non-Muslims. For example, a Muslim in Egypt commonly had warmer feelings for a fellow believer in India than for the Christian down the street. Islam demands that Muslims combine into a single political entity under one leader; they should not divide into local states and they must never make war against each other. For shorthand, we shall refer to this sentiment as pan-Islam.
Although pan-Islam has proved impossible to implement – Muslims have long been too numerous and too widely scattered to fit under one government and they have fought each other without cease – its goals have exercised a deep influence on politics in the Muslim world. No matter how politically fragmented Muslims were, they maintained the ideal of a single Islamic state; in contrast, the local, territorial rulers who actually held power appeared to their Muslim subjects as usurpers who had destroyed Muslim unity and led believers to war against each other. As a result, Muslims ached for unity and denied these territorial rulers their full respect.
In the nineteenth century, as Muslims came increasingly in contact with European political ideas, pan-Islam and nationalism clashed. Pan-Islam called for a single international Islamic state; nationalism called for a division of Muslims into territorially distinct ethnic units. In the late twentieth century, Muslims won their independence in the framework of national states left them by the European colonialists. Not surprisingly, the new rulers stressed the importance of the national unit, and with it their own political significance. They urged Muslims, for the first time ever, to make territorial loyalties paramount, sometimes with success, but more often with mixed results,
The Legacy of Pan-Islam
Although Islamic loyalties slipped into the background, the legacy of non-territorial, pan-Islamic feeling continued to be felt, undermining the nation state in at least three ways: by making Muslims (1) unwilling to accept the confines of their national territory, (2) unwilling to stay out of the internal affairs of other Muslim states, and (3) unwilling to be ruled by non-Muslims.
(1) Disdaining territorial limits: The creation of Pakistan illustrates the reluctance of Muslims to accept the normal geographic limits of statehood. Muslims who feared submergence in independent India as a permanent minority convinced the British to partition India in 1947 in order to form out of it a separate Muslim state of Pakistan. Although Muslims were concentrated at the far western and eastern ends of northern India, in two sizeable areas with large populations, they chose to establish a single Muslims state, ignoring differences between themselves in language, culture, and ethnic background, as well as a thousand-mile separation. Indian Muslims hoped to defy the territorial imperative of modern nationhood by relying on Islamic spirit instead of geographic contiguity. But they failed; pressures pulling apart the two wings of Pakistan led to war between them in 1971-72 and to the declaration of an independent Bangladesh. For a quarter century, pan-Islamic feeling kept the Indian subcontinent in a constant state of tension.
Pan-Arabism, a movement to unite all Arabic speaking peoples into a single state, has for decades disrupted the politics of Arab national states, which now number twenty-three. Pan-Arabism offers a secularized, modernized version of pan-Islam; just as devotion to Islamic unity once caused Muslims to despise their local governments, Arab unity now undermines individual Arab states. Note how "pan-Arabism" in the following quote from Fouad Ajami can be replaced by "pan-Islam" without any distortion in meaning. At the height of its power, from about 1956 until 1973, he writes,
pan-Arabism could make regimes look small and petty: disembodied structures headed by selfish rulers who resisted the sweeping mission of Arabism and were sustained by outside powers that supposedly feared the one idea that could resurrect the classical golden age of the Arabs. … states were without sufficient legitimacy. Those among them that resisted the claims of pan-Arabism were at a disadvantage – their populations a fair target for pan-Arabist appeals, their leaders to be overthrown and replaced by others more committed to the transcendent goal.
If Arab leaders put the interests of their own citizens over those of the Arabs as a whole, they rendered themselves vulnerable to coups d'état; with ordinary national sentiment illicit, the normal bonds of a nation could not develop, helping to account for the exceedingly volatile nature of Arab politics.
(2) Interfering in one anothers' affairs: Pan-Arabism sanctions the interference of one state in another's affairs and resists the widely accepted dichotomy between internal and external affairs. Every pan-Arabist leader believes he has the right to involve himself in the business of others. Thus did Iraqis play dangerous games in South Yemen, Algerians support a government-in-exile against Sadat, and six Arab states actively helped factions in the Lebanese civil war. Pan-Arabism caused all the Arab states to take up the Palestinian cause, transforming the conflict with Israel from a local quarrel into an issue of premier international political and economic significance. The struggle against Israel has always provided an opera-ended justification for interfering in a neighbor's affairs on the grounds that he is not fervent enough in his efforts against Zionism. Israel's existence, thus, has served as a major pretext for ambitious regimes seeking ways to augment their power.
Following the examples of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Iraqi Ba'thists, the Libyan government under Colonel Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi has made the most use of this weapon. A1-Qadhdhafi aspires to lead the Arab world, perhaps also the Islamic one; as the ruler of a major oil producing country, he has vast funds with which to compensate for Libya's slender human resources and to pursue his interests around the world. One may discern three levels of activity: Arab, Islamic, and international. In the pursuit of Arab unity, al-Qadhdhafi tried to merge Libya with Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, the Sudan, and Syria, fomented coups in a dozen Arab states, and gone to the most virulent extremes in opposing Israel. On the Muslim level, he has financed Islamic causes in over two dozen countries; full-scale civil wars in Chad and the Philippines would have ended years ago if not for Libyan arms and political support for the Muslim rebels. In Eritrea, Lebanon and Thailand, Muslims have also relied heavily on Libya in their conflicts with their central governments. On the international level, al-Qadhdhafi has fomented revolution and turmoil wherever possible: from the Canary Islands to Grenada to Tonga, from Southwest Africa to Northern Ireland, he has consistently ignored the normal limitations of the international order. However much the Arabs and Muslims deplore al-Qadhdhafi's mischief, they rarely dispute his right to extraterritorial activities.
Libya is far from unique; Saudi Arabia too takes an active role at the Arab, Islamic, and international levels, though with less punch than Libya. The Saudi government spends more but it tends to support status quo rather than disruptive causes, so its mark is not as visible. Examples of other Muslim states involved beyond their own borders are plentiful: Malaysia helps Muslim rebels in Thailand and the Philippines and takes an active interest in the Muslims of Singapore; Iran and Pakistan involved in the Afghan insurgency against the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan; and Turkey invaded Cyprus to aid the Turks there against the Greeks.
(3) Reject rule by non-Muslims: Even when Muslims share languages and cultural traditions with non-Muslims, they share power with ill ease; time and again, Muslim groups arise to break away from non-Muslims or gain control over them. Breakaways have recently occurred in: Chad, Kosovo, Cyprus, the Ogaden, Eritrea, India, Burma, Thailand and the Philippines. Attempts to win control over non-Muslims have taken place in the Malaysia, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, Nigeria, Senegal, and Bosnia.
In conclusion, Islam makes it especially difficult for Muslim peoples to fit into the system of national states. Their difficulties with the modern political order will continue so long as it emphasizes territoriality.
Observant Muslims between Liberalism and Communism
Faced with a choice of Western ideologies, observant Muslims choose Islam. They see faults in each foreign program—the anarchy of liberalism, the heartlessness of capitalism, the brutality of Marxism, the poverty of socialism—and they are convinced that Islam solves all these problems. So why go outside their own tradition? For observant Muslims, the challenge is properly to understand the Islamic message and to apply it. Islamic precepts set out specific political goals (unity of all Muslims under a single ruler, warfare only against non-Muslims, low rates of taxation, a stringent legal code, and so forth), but not the methods by which to achieve them. The more fervent a Muslim, the less likely he will look to Europe for assistance in implementing Islam; to the contrary, he believes that alien ideas merely divert Muslims from the true path and must be ignored. Thus, for example, does Khomeini think.
But when observant Muslims rule governments, they must make choices between the superpowers; in this case, which ideology do they prefer, liberalism or Marxism? Some dislike liberalism less because it respects those institutions which Islam holds especially dear, including religious faith, the family unit and private property. In contrast, Marxism calls for their abolition in favor of, respectively, materialism, the state and communal property.
Other observant Muslims disagree, however; despite these major disagreements with Marxist thought, they find a compatibility of spirit with it. They have a point; close comparison shows that Islam does indeed share no less with Marxism than with liberalism.
To begin with, both Islam and Marxism make claims to the whole truth. The holy books in each case leave no doubt as to the proper way to order society. Unlike liberalism, which has no overriding purpose but allows each citizen to find his own way, these two have clear visions of the righteous life. Liberalism emphasizes freedom and aims to give each person enough room to choose his own destiny. In contrast, Islam and Marxism espouse all-embracing systems which direct the lives of individuals down to small details.
Specifics in the two systems differ profoundly, of course, but both use government to mold society in conformity with highly elaborated written theories. Islam begins with the private sphere and extends its control to the public, while Marxism moves in the other direction; in the end, both cover nearly every aspect of life. Most activities—drinking wine or painting abstracts—have political implications and involve government control. Both discourage dissent and severely punish those who refuse to cooperate.
Unlike liberalism, with its mundane goals, Islam and Marxism aim high. Islam calls for a society in harmony with God's laws, Marxism eliminates God and envisages a social order in harmony with scientific principles. Each program calls for humans to modify their behavior in dramatic ways to meet the requirements of these laws and principles. For example, Islam forbids war between neighbors if they are both Muslim and Marxism requires first loyalty to the class, neither of which have much chance for success. Similarly, Islam outlaws interest on money to end economic exploitation and Marxism prohibits profits for the same reason, yet neither succeeds; interest and profits are too vital to be eliminated, they can only be disguised.
Universal aspirations—an approach to God or class solidarity—cause both Islam and Marxism to deplore the division of mankind into nations as artificial. Observant Muslims and Marxists are not, however, above making use of patriotism in times of crisis, as shown by Iran in the conflict with Iraq and Russia in World War II. Liberalism has spawned a wide variety of features which appear disruptive and menacing to both legalists and Marxists: gory films, loud music, tight clothing, pornography, and casual sex distress them especially. Though in no way inherent to liberalism, these indulgent, individualistic qualities of the modern West are seen as the inevitable by-products of loosened state controls. The open way of life liberalism allows defies the highly structured patterns required by Islam and Marxism.
In sum, these similarities do not lead to the conclusion that Islam and Marxism are alike, but that they share as much as Islam does with liberalism. As a Weltanschauung, Islam falls roughly equidistant between the two ideologies from the West.
Observant Muslims between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.
This fact has key importance, implying that when governments run by observant Muslims must choose between the United States and the Soviet Union, they are not predisposed toward either one. Abstract affinities with the U.S. are matched by others with the U.S.S.R., cancelling them all out, leaving practical considerations paramount. Observant Muslims deal with the superpowers virtually without reference to ideology. In a world dominated by two powers perceived as unfriendly to Islam, they respond to outside pressures by taking sides with whomever threatens Islam less. Which country has less malevolent intentions, which one must be accommodated more? Answers to these questions give an indication which bloc observant Muslims will favor; as the tone of this choice indicates, their relations with the superpowers are characterized by a defensive, Realpolitik approach. Cooperation is tactical only, for long-range goals differ too profoundly for common purpose with America or Russia. In this way, an observant Muslim aligns his government similarly to the American decision to cooperate with Stalin against Nazi Germany or with China against Brezhnev's regime; these alliances were forged for specific goals and without expectations of friendship or common purpose.
Recent policies pursued by the leading observant Muslim rulers closely fit this pattern of non-ideological relations with the superpowers. Iran since 1979 has been highly vulnerable; in light of Iran's strategic and economic significance, its failing economy, Tehran's inability to assert control over the country, and the war with Iraq, the Khomeinists need good relations with outside powers. But they have insulted both superpowers and (as their prominent slogan, "Neither East nor West" indicates) avoided aligning with either bloc.
This said, Khomeini and his followers vent most of their abundant fury against the United States, not the Soviet Union. The Soviets may loom across a long border but the Americans are already within, according to many in Iran. Its forces put the shah back in power in 1953 and kept him there ever since. They blame almost every problem in Iran on America, from traffic jams to the shah's death, from drug addiction to Iraq's decision to go to war. In contrast, they ignore Russia, despite the long common border between the two countries, Russian rule over fifty million Muslims in Central Asia, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the evident Soviet interest in controlling Iran and the Persian Gulf. Despite these concerns, Khomeinists see the U.S. as threatening Iran more than the U.S.S.R. Its culture, not the Soviet Union's dull offerings, has invaded the country, bringing consumerism and alleged moral decay.
Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi's fervent if idiosyncratic Islam has not prevented him from playing with the great powers. In the first years of his rule, after 1969, he maligned the atheists running the Soviet Union, but, with time, he found them easier to deal with than the Western leaders, and more sympathetic too, for they tended to agree more with Libya on international issues (especially the conflict with Israel). Since 1975, Libya's weapons have come predominantly from the U.S.S.R.; they arrive in such quantities that Libya could serve as a Soviet arsenal in case of war either in the Mediterranean area or in Africa.
For the government of Saudi Arabia, Islam provides both an ideology and the rationale for the state's existence (paralleling the Soviet dependence on Marxism); this is the reason given for its persistent refusal to establish diplomatic ties with any Communist country. But Riyadh did maintain diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1926-38, when these were deemed advantageous. (Ironically, the Russians recognized the Saudi kingdom before many other powers did.) The Saudi position does not represent an immutable doctrine but a flexible response. A few years back, Saudi leaders decided to warm up to the Russians again, allowing overflight rights, improving relations with several Soviet client states, and dropping hints of formal diplomatic ties. The Saudis look to the United States for its defense while rejecting American bases on its territories; it even offered Oman $1.2 billion if that country would refuse an American military presence.
Zia ul-Haqq has shored up his faltering control of Pakistan with Islam. He declared an ambitious program of Islamization in 1977, though so far only superficial steps in that direction have been taken. Has the emphasis on Islam affected Zia ul-Haqq's response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? Not evidently. First, he rejected $450 million in United States military aid, calling it "peanuts," then he accepted American fighter aircraft. At the same time, he has maintained close relations with the Communist Chinese. Islam plays no perceptible role in these choices.
Between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.: Ethnic Muslims
If states ruled by observant Muslims are among the most likely to stay out of the Great Game, the same holds true of any ethnic Muslim government, regardless of religious orientation. A Muslim background signals a disinclination to become involved in the paramount conflict of the age.
Regardless of his faith or politics, an individual Muslim is heir to a long-established tradition of moral superiority which derives from Islam. From the very inception of this religion in the seventh century, its adherents have considered their way of life incomparably better than anyone else's and they have rarely willingly learned from non-Muslims about organizing society or government. Despite many hard knocks in modern times, these feelings still run strong; even atheists from a Muslim background are reluctant to concede that non-Muslims have developed a more successful way of life.
Muslims who adopt modern ways prefer not to acknowledge that they borrowed from abroad. In the realm of political ideology, Muslims widely argue that whatever good ideas the West espouses can be found in Islam; they trace socialism, democracy and even nationalism back to the Qur'an and early Islamic history. Also, Muslims avoid taking over alien ideologies in their entirety, preferring to adopt only those parts which suit them and then relabeling the new mixture. Gamal Abdel Nasser came up with something he called "Arab Socialism" and his protégé Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi promotes his ideas as "Islamic socialism."
Other Muslims sanitize European ideas before admitting them; 'Ali Shari'ati, the intellectual inspiration of young Iranians in recent years, worked to reconcile the benefits of socialism with the ideals of Islam. Both Shari'ati, and al-Qadhdhafi (the latter in a less sophisticated manner, to be sure) argue that socialism need not imply atheism; one can withdraw the atheism from Marxism and retain the socialist program intact.
Pressure mounted by observant Muslims accounts for some of this reluctance. Observant Muslims have repeatedly demonstrated their opposition to close alignment with a superpower and have brought down rulers who ignore their views. Their resentment against too close relations with the United States had a major role in the 1969 coup against King Idris of Libya, in the 1978-79 revolution against the shah of Iran, in the attempted coup at Mecca in 1979, and in the 1981 assassination of Anwar as-Sadat. Other governments, such as Pakistan's and Morocco's, might face similar rebellions in the future, although they have been more solicitous of observant views and more cautious in their dealings with the United States. Observant Muslims in Turkey have always opposed their country's participation in NATO, seeing it chiefly as a Christian organization. What business do Turks have getting involved in a conflict between infidels? Eventually, this sentiment may cause Turkey to withdraw from the alliance, perhaps under cover of a dispute with Greece.
Governments close to the Soviet Union face similar challenges. Riots, bombings and assassinations by the Muslim Brethren greeted the Soviet military presence in Syria; Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's violent death in 1975 resulted in part from the observant Muslim unhappiness with Bangladesh's dependence on the U.S.S.R. In the early 1970s, the North Yemen, Sudanese and Somali governments faced observant unrest due to their close relations with the Soviets; and in 1978, the Afghan populace rebelled when their government came under Soviet aegis.
Even when observant pressure is not important, ethnic Muslims are chary of the great powers. As heirs to a long and proud political tradition, they find it distasteful to become auxiliaries to a conflict where Christians predominate. Why should Muslims be caught up in a struggle between two alien systems and peoples? They would do better to stay away and find their own solutions to problems and form minimal bonds with the powers, maintaining a careful distance from them.
Indeed, Muslim states do tend to do just this. Very few Muslim states—notably Turkey and South Yemen—have placed themselves firmly in the camp of a superpower and stayed there for long. Muslim rulers prefer to reap the benefits of protection by a powerful patron without committing themselves to the patron's ideology or institutions. At the same time that the Ba'th Party in Iraq promoted Soviet goals internationally, its leaders periodically asserted their independence by executing Iraqi Communists, buying arms from the West, and sponsoring charters calling for the expulsion of non-Arab troops from all Arab lands. Although al-Qadhdhafi threatens to join the Warsaw Pact on occasion, he never gives up the right to embark on wild schemes, some of which (such as aiding the Afghan rebels) hurt Soviet interests. Muslim neutralism even helps the maverick behavior of Albania, the one Muslim country with a full-fledged Marxist government. Claiming to hold strictly to true Communism while all other parties have gone "revisionist," the Albanian leadership reviles the U.S.S.R. as bitterly as it does the United States. Its Islamic background is one source of this otherwise perplexing hostility.
Attempts to bring Muslim states into the great-power rivalry usually fail. The United States and Britain got four Muslim states (Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan) to sign the Baghdad Pact in 1955, hoping it would block the Soviets out of the Middle East. But the Pact precipitated just the reverse; Nasser responded to this attempt to control Muslims by drawing closer to the Soviet Union, bringing many Arabic speakers with him. In Iraq itself, the accord created a furor which contributed directly to the leftist coup against the monarchy in 1958. The Reagan Administration's "strategic consensus" against the Soviet Union met a quicker and even more ignominious end. Many commentators pointed out the impossibility of finessing the Arab-Israeli conflict and other regional problems by re-orienting attention toward the Soviet Union; they might have also noted the Baghdad Pact precedent; Muslim reluctance to choose sides doomed this plan.
The impulse toward neutralism runs deep. Nasser epitomized this when he played the United States and Soviet Union off against each other, knowing just how far he could go, extracting maximum benefits from both sides. It has been mostly Muslim leaders who have emulated Nasser in this characteristically Muslim skill—for example, in Algeria, North Yemen, and pre-1978 Afghanistan. Ethnic Muslims have been at the forefront of efforts to organize a neutralist counterweight to the great powers. Godfrey Jansen notes that
Without Islam the Afro-Asian movement would probably have aborted. And without the Afro-Asian movement.. there would have been no "non-aligned" group of nations, and without that group there would not have been the economic Group of Seventy-Seven, the underdeveloped South in the current North-South dialogue.
The very notion of joining America, Europe, Russia and Japan into one unit, "the North," bespeaks a Muslim point of view.
But neutralism does not require precise equidistance from the two blocs; just as the non-aligned movement as a whole tilts toward the Soviets, so too do ethnic Muslims. Even though the Russians pieced together the largest empire on earth, much of it from territories ruled by Muslims in the past, "imperialism" is nearly synonymous with West Europe and "neo-imperialism" with the United States. Muslims have not forgotten the colonial experience, nor do they ignore Soviet succor for the independence causes. Ethnic Muslims and Marxists led the assault on European power earlier in this century; today the Muslim members of OPEC and the Soviet Union present the main threats to the economic and political well being of The West.
No other religious or ideological groups have challenged Western civilization so intensively, nor has any other watched with equal frustration how the West prospers. Muhammad brought a message claiming to supersede Christianity and Marx thought his theories would bury the capitalist economies of Europe; their contemporary adherents fail to understand how the Christian, capitalist civilization still fares so well. Muslims and Marxists will share this bond of antagonism and envy so long as the West continues to thrive.
 Two important exceptions: Guenter Lewy, Religion and Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974) and Donald Eugene Smith, Religion and Political Development (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970).
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