Clash Of Civilizations? The Muslim World And The West

Clash Of Civilizations? The Muslim World And The West
In a post-September 11 world, a consequential question that remains is: what is the linkage between Islam and terrorism? This question has initiated a debate that seeks to look deeply into the political culture of Muslim societies. Many in the West consider Jihad as a synonym for terrorism. They are of the opinion that Islam does not teach its followers to live in peace and tranquility with people of other faiths. Moreover, many also believe that it is the divine duty of the Muslims to wage jihad against the infidels, where it is the manifest destiny of Muslims to rule the earth. The West suspiciously sees militant Islamic groups as a great challenge for its authority in global politics. The September 11 incident also confirmed the misperception of those in the West who consider that Islam is a violent religion which produces fanaticism.

On the other hand, a perception has developed in the Muslim world that Muslims are discriminated against because of their faith, where they are all considered as part of Al-Qaeda’s or ISIS’ global jihad, and are resolutely against the West. Islamists also blame the West for biases, which are based on irrational fear against Muslims in the form of Islamophobia. They rightly question why the US and the West supported the same groups during the Cold War period to contain Soviet expansionism?

Instead of this reciprocal blame-game, one needs to objectively analyze the causes of the decline and decay of Muslim societies, which have been passing through deep-rooted twin crises of nation-building and state-building. Being postcolonial states, most Muslim societies have failed to fulfil the requirements of the modern-day tasks of nation-building and state-building. It is a fact that out of fifty-seven Muslim states, none is a true democracy.

Moreover, another reason of the decline of Muslim societies is their aloofness to creative and logical thinking, and adherence mostly to religious knowledge based on their own interpretations. This has led to their intellectual decline too.

As we believe that Islam preaches a message of peace and tranquility, the Islamists, on the other hand, use religion as a counter-force to challenge the hegemonic agenda of the West, as well as against West-oriented Muslim rulers. The increasing radicalism and religious extremism in the Muslim world is mainly because of the growing influence of Islamists, who take the advantage of the gap between state and society, where the former has failed to cater to the basic needs of the people. This has provided an opportunity to the Islamists to present themselves as an alternate.

The post-9/11 policies of the US, instead, fulfilled Al-Qaeda’s purpose, where it succeeded in gaining sympathies among the Muslim masses and fanning anti-Americanism. As a result, those Muslim countries which extended their unconditional support to the US in the War on Terror have now become more vulnerable to the terrorist activities within their own territories.

In this whole scenario, where the rivalry between the Islamic fundamentalists and the West is deep rooted, making efforts to begin dialogue among civilizations is an uphill task. People on both sides have been locked into their pigeon-holed identities. The Islamists believe in Hobbes’ ‘war of all against all’ dictum when they call all Muslims to wage war against the West in general and the United States in particular; while the West thinks that Islam is bent on their destruction.

Wolfgang Giegerich looks at the civilizational conflict between the West and the Muslim world in a different way. He claims that ‘the real conflict is not between two religions, Islam and Christianity, nor between a religious civilization and a secular one, nor between two geographic regions (East and West). Rather it is a conflict between two civilizations separated by a temporal historical gap: the conflict between ‘middle ages’ and ‘modernity’, as two logical stages of consciousness.’

Walter Laqueur suggests that political repression and defeats in wars have all contributed to the severity of frustration and created an attractive environment for terrorism in the Muslim world. He holds responsible the feelings of frustration among Muslims as the cause of religious extremism and terrorism, when he compares progress in the West and the Muslim World. According to him, ‘non-Muslim regions have made considerable economic progress, whereas the countries of the Middle East have generally stagnated or shown negative growth. This stagnation has resulted in growing poverty and unemployment, an increased number of educated young people who have not found jobs in their professions, and growing resentment against those who have been more successful. It has also produced a wish to blame foreigners for the misery—self-criticism being too painful and too dangerous.’

People like Edward Said, the late Palestinian literary scholar, argue that the clash is more pronounced inside civilizations than between them. There are many anti-globalization groups and organizations in the Western world, which oppose economic liberalization and free trade. Similarly, in the Muslim World, there are many who aspire for the Western type of liberal democracy.

Afzal Mahmood identifies two significant factors that have played a vital role in causing Muslim resentment against the West, led by the US. This has also distorted Muslim consciousness and its worldview in modern times. According to him, the first factor is the culture of victimhood, where instead of wondering where did they go wrong, Muslims have been asking the wrong question: who did this to them?

They have always blamed external factors for their miseries. Initially blaming the Crusades, then the Mongols, then Western imperialism and now holding the American and Jewish conspiracy responsible for their crises. Second, the large crisis of the Muslim societies, according to Mahmood, is neither political nor economic; rather it is the crisis of a civilization. They are too confused or fearful to adopt the path of reason and introduce reforms that are imperative to progress and development.

According to Bassam Tibi, ‘the outcome of the confrontation between Islam and the West will depend on two factors: first, the ability of Muslims to undertake a cultural accommodation of Islamic religious concepts and their ethical underpinnings to the changed international environment; and second, their ability to accept equality and mutual respect between themselves and those who do not share their beliefs.’

Former President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf believed that unresolved political disputes and injustices, not Islam, has led to antagonism in the Muslim masses vis-à-vis the West. His ‘enlightened moderation' called upon a two-pronged strategy to effectively respond to the daunting challenges of global peace and security. He believed that both the Muslim Ummah and the West needed to simultaneously pursue this strategy. According to him, one prong of the strategy needed to be addressed by the Muslim world by renouncing militancy and extremism as well as by adopting the path of socioeconomic uplift. The other prong must be delivered by the West, and the US in particular, aiming at resolving the long-lasting political conflicts with justice.

One must say that the menaces of extremism and terrorism in the Muslim societies can only be countered if Muslims realize that the success of the West is not the cause, but the consequence of their weakness and decline, due to their adherence to pre-modern views of the revival of their glorious past, while completely ignoring the notions of modern-day requirements of nation-building and state-building.

On the other hand, the long-term investment of the West, particularly the United States, in the Muslim societies is to help resolving the old political conflicts as well as supporting and insisting on slow and gradual political reforms for democracy, and to promote liberalism, keeping in view the very nature of that particular society.

The author is Chairman & Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi