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    Middle East
     Sep 19, 2012


SPEAKING FREELY
Islam in the 21st century
By Nicholas A Biniaris

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

History is philosophy by example - Dionysius of Halicarnassus 30 AD.

In 1979 the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan. In 1989 the Soviet Union collapsed. On the same year the Iranian Revolution ousted the Shah and established a theocratic state hostile to the USA and what is conveniently but not very clearly defined as "the West".

Afghanistan was not the efficient cause of the Soviet collapse, but it was a proximate one. September 11, 2001, was the day a planned terrorist attack on the territory of the United States

 

started the "war on terror" doctrine. Since then, Afghanistan has been invaded by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and Iraq by "The Alliance of the willing". All the same, Iran, through its nuclear program, has raised the prospect of another pre-emptive attack by Israel or the US or both against that country. Such an attack is viewed by many experts as the preamble of a protracted conflict with unknown and grave consequences for Israel and the West.

In a relentless tempo of change, in 2011 the Arab Spring emerged as a new political and ideological force in the Muslim world. Hosni Mubarak was ousted, and an intervention by the West in the Libyan uprising on the side of the anti-Gaddafi forces brought about a new political landscape in that country. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad is fighting a civil war which is breaking that country apart and introduces huge risks for Turkey and the region. The Afghanistan front, which involves Central Asia and Pakistan - a nuclear power nation - and Central Asia, is also in a state of utter instability.

In short, since 1979 up to this day, the West and the world is dealing with what is called "the Muslim World". It is more than obvious that communism, as an hostile ideology to the rich and liberal West, was supplanted by Islam.

Samuel Huntington as a representative of the qualitative school of international relations warned his audience that the West should not be engaged in conflicts with Islam but rather in deepening and safeguarding its own values and culture. Kenneth Waltz, the father of structural realism, was adamantly opposed to the West's intervention in Iraq and in other Muslim regions.

On the side of Islam, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, an Islamic scholar and philosopher, had tried to argue that there is an alternative model for international relations theory, the Islamic one. The gist of his argument is that the Western model is philosophically based upon epistemology, whereas the Islamic upon ontology.

The former, as Davutoglu tries to argue, is bound to construct man and society devoid of spirituality, a hero worship culture; the second shapes man and society taking the existence of God as a prior point of departure for his acts and behavior. Davutoglu and other Muslim intellectuals have actually failed to present a coherent theoretical explanation of what an Islamic civilizational paradigm would look like in contradistinction to the Western one with the exception of traditions based upon the religious narrative.

The above short historical and intellectual description of the Muslim world is just a reminder of Islam's active involvement in the world. There are two further factors that keep Islam on the world stage: first and foremost oil, energy resources the blood which runs through the veins of the West's economy and secondly, Osama bin Laden's legacy.

Osama's legacy
Obama we are all Osama - chant of Kuwaitis outside the American Embassy.

The terrorist act of 9/11 was masterminded by Osama bin Laden, who was killed by a group of American Special Forces in Pakistan. Most analysts think, or wish to believe, that Osama's legacy is a spent force. With the Arab Spring, analysts tried to argue, the Muslim world has invented other political tools to demand and force social and economic reforms upon their societies and thus come to implement the necessary reforms for their relations with the West.

What was left from Osama's legacy, so they thought, was an outdated philosophy of political activism superseded by a healthy political discourse. Terrorism was out.

Wishful thinking is the most usual way human psychology employs to cope with hard and unyielding necessity, the reality of the world as it is. In politics and international relations leaders are basically prone to wishful thinking for various reasons, one of which is the management of the here and now, as it is defined by each society.

What was missing from the analysts' mind about Osama's legacy and his philosophy of terror was the acknowledgement of his views as a serious political proposition; a proposition that may prove efficacious for many cases for societies in turmoil and full of grievances for local conditions intertwined with alleged or real Western domination.

Osama's terror philosophy was a strategic and tactical weapon that could be used at any time political discourse reached deep rifts in societies that did not participate in the process of nation-building, the scientific and the industrial revolution of the West.

Terrorism is rampant in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Kenya, Palestine, Israel, Turkey, and in several other places. The list is too impressive to announce the end of Osama's legacy. Terrorism was legitimized and sanctified by some elements in the Muslim world by 9/11. The ostracizing of terrorism by many analysts, both from the West and from the Muslim world, is an ongoing effort to wash away the dark shadow of flagrant murder from world politics.
The resources employed against this allegedly otherworldly but totally nihilist philosophy are huge; technology, manpower and money. The results, in a nutshell, are poor or non-existent. The West is still phasing a Muslim world in flux, utter confusion and conflict. Al-Qaeda operates in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and in central Africa. The security much sought in all these years is restricted to the territories of the West but the West itself is not more secure now than it was 10 years ago, of 30 years ago for that matter.

The West and its legacy
What the West had done, so some pundits say, is to use "creative destruction" to force these moribund societies to wake up and find a mode of existence in the modern or more precisely the post-modern world. What is missing from this view is the fate of the destroyer, the West, versus the destruction heaped upon these societies and cultures.

What is also missing is the reaction of these societies after they wake up in the world of globalization, human rights, democracy and economic laissez-faire; a fast and radically changing world where other forces such as China and Russia come into play.

Thucydides, in the History of the Peloponnesian War tries to identify the causes of that ancient conflict:
For if in one word someone could say for them [the Athenians] that their nature is such that they themselves have no rest and that they do not leave the others in peace, he would say the truth. [1]
This is the real description of the West. Someone can argue that this is the nature of democracy, and/or of the Athenians, but the final verdict would be that the West doesn't leave anyone at rest, on their own. This can be viewed as its cultural and power domination. It was this power of the Athenians that the Spartans feared and tried to subdue. They succeeded, but at a price for them, for Athens, and for the Hellenic world as a whole. Sparta was marginalized and withered away as a political power, Athens remained a cultural center and the Hellenic city-states where incorporated in the Hellenic northern Macedonian Kingdom.

The second phase of the Arab Spring
The aftermath of the Arab Spring and the Iranian Revolution are at present threatening the flow of oil, the economic well-being of the West, and the internal security of Europe as masses of displaced and desperate individuals move towards its borders. Unchecked immigration from Muslim areas has provoked a rise in xenophobia, fascism, and even terrorists acts in the West itself as the Norwegian Anders Behring Brevik exhibited a few months ago.

Can Europe stay intact with a huge sovereign debt? Can the US tackle its own and its huge foreign trade deficit? Can the fractured and more or less incoherent political landscape in the US come to order and address the problems of that country? We are following a presidential campaign of spending billions with a debate focused on hot air. The Republican Party is in shambles and the Democrats are fighting to keep Barack Obama as a respectable president vis-a-vis Israel and red lines for Iran.

What we are observing the last few days as a backlash of that infamous film about Prophet Mohammad is one of the manifestations of this ingrained feature of the West to leave nothing at rest.

Some will say that it was a Jewish conspiracy, Islamophobia or/and a flagrant expression of the West's hegemonic role over Islam. Historically it makes no difference, as this has happened before and it will happen again.

On the other hand, governments and mass media in the West try to be politically correct and abstain from parading Muslim behavior towards Christians in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia Northern Cyprus and Sudan as well as towards some Islamic sects in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, and elsewhere. This is a policy of appeasement, since the West is trying to change its image as a crusading force against Islam.

These groups attacking Western embassies and assassinating diplomats are no doubt part of an ultra-orthodox Islam that is trying to assert its political power over the forces of change unleashed through the Arab Spring. This kind of political process in several Muslim states may derail the political discourse in these societies and cancel security based on the existing balance of powers in the region.

All the above point to a clear view: Islam is here to stay with us and shape our political, economic and security future for years to come. One think is for sure. What a young protester shouted outside the American Embassy in Cairo will not materialize: "American views us as slaves, and they are the masters," said Kajo. "We are telling them that we will be the masters and them the slaves". [2]

It cannot happen because Islam has actually to enslave the West, which has already shaped the world Islam lives in. This world is the world of science and technology.

The world of the West cannot be defeated even if London and New York turn to Muslim cities. What Islam can succeed in doing is either destroying the world through provoking a nuclear war or letting the crucial problems of mankind take the backseat - problems such as as the environment, poverty, illiteracy and disease.

The past century ended with the Muslim world confronting a dominant West. This century is extenuating the real repercussions of the past. If the Muslim century will be a century of success of human history towards inclusion and not exclusion, this does not depend solely upon the attitude of the West, as some Muslim or Western intellectuals believe.

This is a posture of denial. On the one hand it depends upon the West, which has to stop meddling in Muslim affairs and let the people find their way through any means they deem appropriate. This was the case for Europe during the Thirty Year War.

It equally depends upon the attitude of the Muslim world primarily towards itself. If the Muslim world does not start to reconcile itself with its internal problems as well as with the world as it works, it will collapse upon its own fervor and anger. Indignation without understanding will lead to an already discernible catastrophe.

Nicholas A Biniaris has taught philosophy and political theory at NYC in Athens. His historical novel The Call of the Desert was recently published in Hellas; he is a columnist and an economic and foreign policy analyst.

(Copyright 2012 Nicholas A Biniaris.)

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.





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(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Sep 17, 2012)

 
 



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