September 16, 2003

Is Islam the Enemy? Internet

Is Islam the Enemy?

Internet surfers traipsing through large swaths of the post-9/11 American blogsophere would be forgiven for thinking that Islam has become the main enemy of the United States and "civilized" world since the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon--the next "ism" to be confronted after fascism, communism and so on.

In a must-read survey, the Economist helps put the Islamic world into less hyperbolic context. Most of the articles require subscription but this one doesn't and is well worth reading.

The article is particularly interesting as it describes the worldview and thinking of one Sayyid Qutb--a literary critic and key activist of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood about a half century back (note UBL and Zawahiri are both former members of the Brotherhood):

"In the late 1940s, Qutb spent two years living in America, an experience he hated and which appears to have turned him against what most people in the West would call modernity but which he saw as something much worse. On returning to Egypt, Qutb wrote a series of books, many from prison, denouncing jahiliyya (ignorance), a state of affairs he categorised as the domination of man over man, or rather subservience to man rather than to Allah."

Note that Qutb was deeply hateful of modernity itself. Living in post-WWII America for a couple years (doubtless pretty happy times for American society writ large) nevertheless left him embittered, fearful and disconsolate with the mores of a secular, modern society.

Such Qutb-types were (and are) seeking the consolations of reactionary "purity" born of isolation and withdrawal from the modern world. They fear the cacaphonous noises emitting from the boisterous West. They fear the dismantling of theocracies, the values of the Renaissance, Englightenment, modern and postmodern thought. They fear man governing man rather than an omnipotent God (whose teachings would, of course, be interpreted by the Qutbs of the world) ruling over the earthly Kingdom.

In a word, they fear progess, forward-movement, societal transition. They seek to resign themselves to a dystopia of sorts--something of a Hobbesian universe where life might be nasty, brutish and short--but, more important to them, proceeds within the confines of an isolated Islamic caliphate modeled on their aspirational vision of a "pure" Islam.

The battle underway isn't necessarily between the forces of the civilized world's "good" against theocratic barbarism's "evil"--though terrorist tactics are obviously evil in their total lack of concern for the slaughter of innocents.

The deeper battle, ultimately, revolves around whether one believes in the very notion of progress or not. To capitulate to the Osamas of the world would be to forsake, at the very least, the firmaments of post-Rennaisance and Enlightenment Western thought. The very notion of an individual pursuing his or her dreams under a society governed by men and the rule of law--without fear of arbitrary death, enslavement, detention. High stakes indeed.

But here's the good news. Of the 1.5 Billion Muslims in the world today, extrememly few share these grotesquely reactionary worldviews.

Per the Economist:

"How representative are such views? Around one in four of the people in the world are Muslims. Only a small fraction of these 1.5 billion Muslims will have heard of, let alone subscribe to, the ideas of theorists such as Qutb. No more than a few thousand people are involved in the violent activities of al-Qaeda and like-minded jihadi organisations. After September 11th, moreover, Muslim clerics and intellectuals joined ordinary Muslims throughout the world in denouncing the atrocity al-Qaeda had perpetrated in their name. By no means all of these were “moderates”. One was Sheikh Fadlallah, the Beirut-based ayatollah often described as the spiritual guide of Hizbullah, the Iranian-inspired “party of God”. He issued a fatwa condemning the attack. Another condemnation came from Yusuf Qaradawi, a Qatar-based Egyptian television cleric with some fiery views and a following of millions."

I happen to think the numbers are a bit more than a "few thousand people." Hard-core jihadis and the like probably number more in the tens of thousands. But either way--we are certainly not at war with 1.5 billion individuals. And occasionally, given the present, often inflammatory mood, that's worth keeping in mind.

Posted by Gregory at September 16, 2003 10:55 AM
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