Saturday, July 14, 2007

Is Islam the Enemy?

I was struck by news reports of “brainwashed” children being held by terrorists during the recent siege of the Red Mosque in Pakistan. Apparently, the mosque houses a private school where parents who desire a traditional Islamic education can send their children. All seemed well until the mosque became a hold out for Islamic militants. Then, parents and the public at large expressed shocked at the strident rhetoric of some these children (as young as 10 years old according to the report I read), who were being “held hostage” by the terrorists. The children’s statements were not only supportive of the terrorists, but they stated that were actually looking forward to the Paradise that Allah has promised for those who die while fighting for his cause.

The popular consensus was that the children had been brainwashed by the terrorists. While this may be an example of the Stockholm Syndrome (whereby captives often begin to identify with their captors) I believe that it is equally likely that the children, who by their very presence at the school indicates that they were already being indoctrinated into traditional Islam, were genuinely sympathetic to the jihad. And, as we have seen, traditional Islam is synonymous with militant Islam. Therefore, I believe that the children were predisposed to supporting both the motives and the methods of the terrorists. Indeed, many terrorist organizations establish and run schools (known as madrasahs) for the very purpose of recruiting children.

This begs the question: “Is Islam the enemy?” Are our combatants in the global war on terror just a few fringe extremists, or are we up against the world’s second largest religion? Thomas PM Barnett (TED video), the author of the highly influential book “The Pentagon’s New Map” said the following in a C-SPAN interview (C-SPAN video) that aired on October 20, 2005:

I really stress not making Islam the enemy. What I argue is there are parts of every religion that are fundamentalist, meaning they believe to be a true believer is to separate oneself from the rest of society. In the United States we have the Amish, for example. They do this peacefully. What we see in the global Salafi-jihadist movement are fundamentalists who seek separation through violent means.

This view (which I believe is the prevailing view in Washington) suggests that it is only the fundamentalist – or as Barnett sees it “separatist” – elements of Islam that mean to do us harm. In the current era of globalization there is nowhere left on the planet for a separatist to escape Western culture. So Islamic fundamentalists believe they need to defeat the West, or at the very least, halt it’s spread into their regions of the globe. Is it possible to combat fundamentalist Islam without defeating Islam as a whole? If the fundamentalists are the true Muslims - they certainly see themselves in this way, and their position seems to be supported by the Qur’an - then the enemy of the West is true Islam. To my knowledge there is no particular sect of Islam that is distinctly “separatist” (as are the Amish) and is the source for all the violence against the West. Indeed, jihad is one of the central pillars of Islam. Far from being seperatists, many Islamic fundamentalists seek to restore a global caliphate uniting all Muslims. Jihadists come from every corner of the globe, and every walk of life. This fact was vividly illustrated by the recent episode involving British medical doctors turned terrorists.

Frances Fukuyama published his classic essay "The End of History?" (PDF version) in 1989, the same year as the fall of the Soviet empire, and long before the 9/11 terror attacks. In it he contemplates whether Western liberalism had finally won out over all other competing ideologies (such as communism and fascism), and would ultimately reign supreme over all peoples of the world. In the essay, he dismissed Islam thusly:

In the contemporary world only Islam has offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to both liberalism and communism. But the doctrine has little appeal for non-Muslims, and it is hard to believe that the movement will take on any universal significance.

As Fukuyama sees it, human history is essentially the story of mankind’s ideological evolution. A variety of ideologies have been taken up and discarded by humans over the millennia. Conflicts (ie. World War II, the Cold War) have arisen amongst the various competing ideologies, and ultimately, one may defeat all competing ideologies to achieve what Fukuyama envisions as the ultimate victory -- a universal homogeneous state where all the peoples of the world embrace a single ideology. This point Fukuyama defines as the “end of history”.

As the Soviet Union imploded, Fukuyama did not see any competing ideology standing in the way of Western liberalism achieving global dominance. Indeed, the process we today call globalization is liberalism fulfilling Fukuyama’s vision of a “universal homogeneous state”. But a competing ideology has arisen. Islamic theocracies, richly funded with Persian Gulf oil money, have become a force to reckon with. They are just as incompatible with Western liberalism as the fascists and communists of yesteryear. If the Islamists choose to violently oppose globalization, then Islam is indeed the enemy.

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