Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

What are Muslims doing?

The terrorist attacks in Paris necessitate action by Arab states to eliminate Islamic State and take destiny once again into their own hands, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

In a televised interview on NBC, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump declared that if he were elected president one of his first orders of business would be to build a database to track all Muslims in the US so as to issue them all a special ID card.

This was not the only racist suggestion voiced by Trump. His electoral campaign has been filled with similarly bigoted rants against Latin American immigrants. He said, for example, he would build a wall along the US border with Mexico to keep them out.

But clearly Trump has decided to swerve in the direction of anti-Muslim invective. Nor is he alone in riding the crest of this wave. He is in the company of many from the American right, including another Republican nominee, Ben Carson, who comes next after Trump in popularity ratings.

In fact, the wave of anti-Muslim racism has swept not just the US but also virtually all Western countries, even those considered to have the highest degree of tolerance. The reasons for this are well known.

First, there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, accounting for 23.4 per cent of the planet’s human population. Of these, 0.6 per cent is in the Americas and six per cent are in Europe. Second, although Muslims are heavily concentrated in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, they represent an integral part of important countries such as India, Indonesia, Turkey and the Arab countries with petroleum and geostrategic value.

This distribution gives them a tangible share in the global movement of trade, transportation and communications. Third, Islam has always occupied a prominent place in the culture of the Muslim individual. Indeed, this faith has become an important component of his identity. Fourth, the main wave of terrorism and ideological extremism in the world for the past four decades has been produced by movements and organisations that clearly state that they are acting in the name of Islam. Fifth, although the overwhelming majority of the victims of terrorist violence in the world have been Muslims (about 95 per cent), the terrorist attacks against Western capitals, Paris being the latest, were painful to Western ways of life.

Sixth, the violence unleashed by the terrorist movements in the Islamic world triggered waves of migration to the north, a phenomenon that the West has not learned how to handle, not just politically but culturally as well. The abovementioned causes (and more) combined have become increasingly important to the West, especially since the fallout from the “Arab Spring” in the form of rampant chaos, failed states, civil wars and the rise of the so-called Islamic caliphate as the titular crown for the ruthless and barbarian Islamic State (IS) group. The Western reaction did not become as explicitly racist until after the 11 September 2001 attacks, which marked a turning point in the relationship between the West and Muslims. At first, Muslims had a ready answer: a distinction needed to be drawn between terrorist Muslims and all other Muslims and the Islamic faith. Muslims pointed to the history of extremism and fascism in Christian societies and the numerous crimes against humanity perpetrated there.

Third, Muslims reminded the world of the degradation and persecution they suffered during the colonial era, which was epitomised, in the past, by the Palestinian question and, in the present, by the US invasion of Iraq.

But such answers proved insufficient to contend with the huge dilemma facing Muslims in the world today. This is not just because they are the first victims, but also because they are the first to be blamed and to be wronged in the aftermath of such attacks. Unfortunately, however, Arab political thought has yet to give sufficient attention to this dilemma

The conservatives among us have preferred to harp on about conspiracy theories while progressives have rushed to embrace “secularism” as the way out of the predicament. Both trends have not been useful. The first has not solved the problem created by the fact that terrorists claim to act beneath the banner of Islam.

The latter has failed to preserve the national cohesion of the identity of Arab states without a significant presence of Islam in one form or another, for to do otherwise would be to court divisions and schisms, on top of the already existing ethnic and other divides.

The Arab states that managed to preserve their cohesion in the face of the anarchy of the Arab Spring have a special intellectual and cultural duty to perform at this phase. The aim is not to satisfy to the West but rather to safeguard the integrity of the self, our identity and Islam.

There has been a lot of discussion on the need to “renovate religious thought.” Some have taken this several steps forward to talk of the need for a “religious revolution”. Yet, despite the fact that the efforts in this direction have not been inconsiderable, they remain insufficient.

The actions of fanatics, extremists and terrorists keep coming, Paris being the latest and, quite simply, the world refuses to allow some of us to ruin their lives, the freedom they need for the survival of their culture and civilisation and, perhaps most importantly, their economy. The global market does not tolerate the closure of markets, airports and the extra tightening of security measures.

Accordingly, we should take the Western resolve to eliminate IS very seriously for perhaps the greatest problem that we might face will come when IS forces spread ideologically and organisationally in their savage way. At that point, the victims will not only be Muslims in the West, but also in the seats of Islam where Muslims make up the majority of the population.

In other words, an already bad situation could get worse. Therefore, solutions should come from the Islamic countries themselves. They need to eliminate the IS phenomenon. They need to present Islam at home and abroad in its true and untarnished image, as a faith that offers freedom of choice, family safety and human dignity to all, regardless of gender.

The beginning was in the first Vienna conference. After the Paris attacks, the Western-Russian alliance coalesced with reinforced resolve to eliminate IS. Arab and Islamic countries have been part of the process, but the major brunt is still being borne by Western states and, more recently, Russia.

Frankly, if we do not perform a more prominent role in the battle, our role will be limited in the future when it comes to the phase of reformulating situations in other areas along the lines of what is generated in Syria.

Simply put, those who are ready to take part in the war on the ground in Syria and Iraq today will occupy the higher ground in the forthcoming phase. Some politicians in the West have already issued calls to Arabs and Muslims to undertake that role.

Others, however, are keen to shape the current situation on their own and then, afterwards, assign roles to those they believe would serve their interests while marginalising those that would not. For this reason, we need to summon a large degree of will to determine our fate by ourselves and not let the West, the East or IS decide it for us.


The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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