Islam And The West: The Politics Of Identity And Ideology

Islam And The West: The Politics Of Identity And Ideology
The Machiavellians believe that the world politics is all about power and resources. However, in postmodern ideological positions, world politics today is equally driven by identities - national, cultural, and religious – alongside power and money.

The world we live in was born in 1989 – the Cold War had ended and the New World Order was established. It was the advent of American led internationalism – an ideology that laid an emphasis on collaboration, cooperation, and interconnectedness among nations. It promoted the idea that countries should work together and put their narrow national interests, and identities, aside. In other words, every nation ought to serve the interest of the West, and its ostensible leader, the USA. Various wars were waged in the last thirty years to ensure that this idea worked. Incidentally, most of these wars were fought within the borders of the Islamic world, leaving behind a perturbing question: what is the problem between Islam and the West?

Samuel P. Huntington’s infamous statement – “Islam has bloody borders” - sent shockwaves across the Islamic world back in 1993. A decade and a half later, Huntington elaborates and reassesses the problem between Islam and the West in The Clash of Civilizations, And The Making of the World Order (2008). Huntington states that “identities are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict…” Similarly, three years later, Francis Fukuyama published Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2011) – where he recognizes that the strongest opposition to the philosophy of internationalism comes from individual identities of the peoples around the world, especially from the Islamic world.

The Islamic world has lived with the nostalgia of a glorious past. Two glorious Muslim empires – the Mughals in India and Ottomans in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Europe – were dismantled in the 19th and early 20th century. Under the shadow of these empires, Muslim identities had been shaped over the centuries with a sense of pride and superiority. Their empires might have fallen now, but their centuries-old identities could not be eroded so fast, nor so easily. These identities continue to assert and manifest in terms of animosity and resistance towards Western powers and their purported practice of internationalism. This ideology aims to homogenize all identities into a global culture; this is what the idea of a global village represents.

The present-day Western civilization stands for freedom, for the free market, and the free flow of trade and commerce. Anything that stands in the way is problematic, and therefore needs to be tackled. A low cost of production is imperative for making profits, industry needs cheap labor, trade and commerce need trained people. Therefore, women are needed in the workforce, and they need to be educated as well as men. If Islam wants women to observe parda, that is ok, hijab is fine, but Islam, or Islamic culture, must not impose restrictions on women’s freedom, on their education and work. If Afghanistan can assure women’s participation in economic life, in the work force, the West has no problem with their faith – five prayers, fasting in Ramzan or worshiping one God. MBS’s Saudi Arabia is making sure that their culture doesn’t stand in the way of the world’s economic system. Now women in the Saudi Kingdom can drive cars, can work in super markets and travel on their own, and everything looks good. The Kingdom is ruled by a monarchy, so democracy isn’t much of a necessity either. In other words, the West doesn’t have a problem with anything, if their vested interests are not affected.

The problem with Iran and Pakistan is, however, different. Both these nations – the two Islamic Republics - remain tied to their respective ideological commitments. Both countries have a principled stance on many world issues, including Israel. The role of religion in the affairs of the state, the influence of Islam in the cultural discourse of these nations, in Henry Kissinger’s words, designates both Iran and Pakistan as a cause rather than countries. That is the problem. This problem is different, rather greater, than religious or cultural restrictions on women, absence of democracy, fundamental rights, because it potentially promotes hostility towards other nations, particularly the West. This equates with a bulging desire to export and promote, what the West has labelled as medieval Islam, a desire to revert to the glorious days of Islam.

Pakistan, however, is more problematic than Iran: it is a nuclear power with a very strong army. It has a problematic history with India, owing to its territorial claims over Kashmir, which results in a lasting hostility between the two countries. Moreover, a range of religious discourses in Pakistan’s political sphere, with a variety of arms at their disposal, make it even more disagreeable country internationally. The West does have a problem with this Islam.

The former Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, has raised an important question in Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence (2009) as to why the coming of the Muslims in India has been called the conquest of Islam, whereas British rule is not commonly known as the conquest of Christianity? This discourse is rooted in the historiography of Muslim rulers, as well as the resentful historiography of local Indians. Pakistan, inadvertently, has continued to live within the confines of the same discourse. This leaves us with the questions that chide us, and we need to prepare ourselves to face them and answer them. As for a politics of resources and identity, Pakistan stands bereft of both. And to be able to enter the world theatre as a good player, rather than a mere onlooker, we’ll have to build both – resources and identity.

The time is out of joint; O cursed spite!

That ever I was born to set it right. – Shakespeare, Hamlet

The author holds a PhD from the University of Glasgow, UK. He hosts a political talk show on TV and appears as a political commentator in TV shows.