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There are many Islams

Reader comment on item: Islam's Future [Can Be Modern]

Submitted by Doron Arazi (Germany), Aug 13, 2002 at 19:25

It is useless to speak of "Islam" in the singular, just as it is useless to sweepingly ascribe various qualities to "Judaism", "Christianity" or "Hindiusm" in the singular, or to secular ideologies like "democracy", "liberalism" or "socialism" for that matter. A religion/civilisation straddling one and a half millennia and all continents and encompassing the lives of millions of adherents must have perforce acquired all the features of human existence - from the noblest ideals to the basest instincts, from the most murderous fanaticism to the kindest humanity. Islam is no different from Catholicism, which produced a St. Francis and a Torquemada; from Protestantism, which produced both a Cotton Mather and a Martin Luther King, Jr.; or from Hinduism, which produced both a Gandhi - and his assassin.

So "Islam" must neither be idealized nor demonized; we must always ask: What is the concrete, real-life form of Islam we are facing in every particular situation? Then we must decide how to engage it.
It is clear that Islamic civilisation is now in a crisis equivalent to the collapse of Catholic unity in the 16th century. Some strands in it adapt, some react aggressively, some are disoriented and paralyzed. Islam's apologists among the West's alienated intellectual elites project on it their guilt feelings about the power of Western civilisation; they idealize it not because of any intrinsic interest in it, but in order to better oppose every projection of Western power. The best proof can be found in the debate on intervention in Yugoslavia: The victims of aggression and mass murder happened to be Muslims, but the opponents of intervention were the same critics who now accused the West of racist-imperialist enmity towards Islam. At the time they accused the West of racist-imperialist enmity towards Orthodox Serbs. The crucial variable for them was - and is - empathy for the current enemy of Western liberal values. That is why they now use the bugbear of "Islamophobia" and to put the supporters of Western activism in the Islamic world on the moral defensive.

The best answer to that is to theoretically and practically separate abstract "Islam" into real-world "Islams". While aggressive, terrorist and Jihad-oriented strands of Islam must be fought without quarter, there are many Islamic strands which offer
a scope for constructive engagement. Muslims who are personally pious, even fundamentalist, but oppose the politicization of their faith - or suffer persecution from the hands of the aggressive strands - are potential allies.

Tha Taliban regime destroyed by the US was based on Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan; but the party most representative of Pashtun tribals in Pakistan, the ANP, has been traditionally anti-clerical and opposed to the Islamization of Pakistan, though all its leaders and members are strict Muslims. This is because it was founded as a vehicle for the modernization of the Pashtuns while still maintaining the more valuable elements of their tradition.

Kurds in Iraq, particularly the tribals represented by the KDP, are pious Sunni Muslims just like their Arab oppressors - indeed more pious, because Saddam's regime is basically a secular dictatorship using religious trappings for propaganda value. They, too, are potential allies.

Shi'ites in Southern Iraq are pious,too; they already rebelled in 1991 and would have certainly welcomed the US if it had pursued their liberation from Saddam. Their religious affinity with the anti-American Shi'ite clerical dictatorship in Iran was no hindrance, and won't be if America attacks Saddam in earnest again. And Iran's own Muslim population is deeply opposed to the Mullah regime there, as every inedication shows, only powerless to topple it.

In Turkey, the Alevi Muslims - who were traditionally suppressed by the ruling orthodox Sunni government in Ottoman times - vote overwhelmingly for parties of the secular left and oppose fundamentalists.

Even Israel, the classical target for Muslim hatred, managed to integrate Sunni Muslims into its democratic society and armed forces - the non-Arab Circassians as well as the Bedouin tribes, here the crucial variable was opposition to Pan-Arab nationalism and its levelling, totalitarian tendencies. Two cousins who died in the recent war, a captain shot in battle in the Gaza Strip and a border policemen who sacrificed himself to prevent a suicide bomber from killing dozens of civilians, were Muslim Bedouins.
To sum up:
The very totalitarian character of militant Islamism provokes opposition from within Muslim societies; it is the task of Western activism to harness this opposition to the necessary campaign against Islamism; and this opposition is also the best argument against the defeatist forces of appeasement within the West itself.
Submitting....

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