Zahid Mehmood |
For the West, Muslims are medieval zealots, while Muslims often see the West as their enemy. These two presumptions have led many to ask – whether the clash between Islam and the West was inevitable? This gloomy relationship between Islam and the West has coincided with the rise of the US to the ranks of the superpower and decolonization after the second World War. The next phases came with the Islamic revolution of Iran, where the Ayatollahs’ denunciation of the West – death to America’ became a national slogan, later coupled by Saddam’s call for Jihad against infidel America.
The new era started with US efforts to promulgate its World Order after decisively smashing Soviet Union in the last battle of capitalism against communism in Afghanistan. However, the American bid for a full spectrum global dominance could have not been possible without a ‘threat’; that it now lacked with the absence of a communist threat. At this transitional point, intellectuals came to rescue the US with publications like, “The roots of Muslim Rage, Muslims are coming, Rising Islam May Overwhelm the West, Arc of Crisis, Islam vs. Democracy, War against Modernity, Still Fighting the Crusades”, Clash of Civilizations, and many more.
This bitter post-colonial experience of Muslims with an alien nation state system, US imperialism, western globalization, and liberal democracy has made them believe that they should go back to their own system by re-inventing the concept of Ummah and Khilafah.
These writings helped the US replace the ‘red threat’ with a ‘green threat’ to fill the vacuum left by communism. Fukuyama’s End of History was an effort to promote and internalize liberal democracy as political ideology against other ideologies; whereas, Huntington’s clash theory arranged Islam as the new ‘other’. After the demise of communism, a ‘monolithic’ Islam, that according to former US National Security Advisor General Flynn, ‘is a political ideology with a religion’, was made to fall into the straightjacket of ‘terrorism against the West’ for forging the New World Order.
Now, Muslims were viewed through the prism of war, hatred, nomads, ignorant, combative, irrational, fanatics, intolerant and oppressors of women. The US has gone onto espousing ‘policies’ in a way that attracts a religious response from the Muslims. It has decided to go against Islam as a political ideology to foment a militant religious response from Muslim organizations who aspire for their own political revivalism with the words of Ummah, Jihad and Khilafah.
This Muslim revivalist response is based on two grievances-cum-assumptions; first, that the West and Islam are locked in an unending battle started from crusade wars to the European colonialism; that resulted into the creation of a Judeo-Christian project – Israel, a conspiracy against Muslims. Second, a belief in Islamic exceptionalism, that says – Islam is a complete code of life encompassing theology and politics capable of replacing the existing economic-political order.
This gave the rise to the resurgence of Islam symbolized by Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, and other such resistance groups. The US has never been a colonizer of Muslim lands, nor does the US occupy Palestine.
Therefore, they ask for an immediate enforcement of Sharia law across the world. And those [even Muslims] who resist, are worth killing as atheists and non-believers. The study of the Islam versus the West can be seen through three fundamental arguments; First, at the civilizational level both have different religions, consequently, the first encounter arises between Muslim-Christian relations. Notwithstanding, that the secular West does not follow Christianity as tenaciously as when it is ascribed as being the ‘Christian West’. Reformation, enlightenment, and scientific reasoning have pushed religion to the ambit of the church in the West; with slightest possible exception of the USA.
Medieval Christianity considered Islam as a heresy of Christendom just as Jews consider Christianity. However, Muslim theologians consider Christianity in line with Islam sharing many common grounds like prophets, the day of judgement, life hereafter, heaven and hell. Having belief in the prophethood of Jesus (PBUH) is central to Islam. So, religiously, there seem to be no real points of disconnect to the point of confrontation between two Abrahamic religions.
Second, Islam and the West have a cultural divergence and contrasting opinions about the relationship of the individual with society and their way of life. Bernard Lewis, renowned US political historian, identifies Islam as the problem itself, ‘for it [Islam] supports totalitarian system – a culture that is incompatible with western liberal democracy.’ Whilst, Muslims cherish this broadest central control mechanism as the institution of Ummah.
Its unconditional support for Israel and its [US] foreign policy directed against the Muslim lands in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Iran accompanied with its characterization of Muslims as militants and terrorists. makes it the enemy number one.
The Huntingtonian Clash of Civilization endorses Lewis, claiming that the “fundamental source of future conflicts will be cultural”. Enlightenment brought individual freedoms and individuality in the Western society; whereas, Islam supports a community based fraternity with elders in-charge of the family life. The concept of Ummah as an identity is consistent with the belief of Tauheed that inhibits hierarchical and divisive race, class, region, and ethnic identities of the days of Jahiliyya and transforms society into horizontal community of commons.
Third a bond that operates under the Shariah law system with divine sovereignty and high regards to ethical codes. The West, however, operates under man-made laws with ‘popular sovereignty’ that show no regards to religious morality. For many Muslims, modern day globalization is the highest manifestation of Adam Smith’s individual rationality that acts as a conduit of westernization by smashing the structures of socio-cultural values of the Eastern societies.
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This process is facilitated by the communication and information revolutions leaving other societies exposed to western cultural colonialism. According to western scholars, the ongoing resurgence of Islamism is a revolt against globalization and the nation state system since Muslims could not stay abreast with the changing world.
The US has never been a colonizer of Muslim lands, nor does the US occupy Palestine. Then what makes the US the enemy of Islam for Muslims? Answer lies in the US, the super power and beacon of western civilization, is equated with ‘The West’ itself.
Their rage against the west is the violent expression of their traditionalism. Western scholars have blamed this Islamic revivalism on a number of factors including Muslim countries own political failures, cultural decline, economic backwardness, and educational degeneracy. Politics is the last factor that shapes the West’s relations with Islam. Most Muslim countries won their independence from European colonizers in the past sixty years.
Within a few years of independence, they realized that nothing had changed for them. From European colonialism, they descended into American imperialism facilitated by Bretton Wood institutions within a nation state system with UN delegated Veto power to western countries. Muslim jihadists also identified Middle Eastern secular monarchies as being stooges and dancing on the tunes of their western masters.
Enlightenment brought individual freedoms and individuality in the Western society; whereas, Islam supports a community based fraternity with elders in-charge of the family life.
The US has never been a colonizer of Muslim lands, nor does the US occupy Palestine. Then what makes the US the enemy of Islam for Muslims? Answer lies in the US, the super power and beacon of western civilization, is equated with ‘The West’ itself. Its unconditional support for Israel and its [US] foreign policy directed against the Muslim lands in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Iran accompanied with its characterization of Muslims as militants and terrorists. makes it the enemy number one.
This bitter post-colonial experience of Muslims with an alien nation state system, US imperialism, western globalization, and liberal democracy has made them believe that they should go back to their own system by re-inventing the concept of Ummah and Khilafah. This gave the rise to the resurgence of Islam symbolized by Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, and other such resistance groups.
Zahid Mehmood is PhD (IR) Candidate at National Defence University Islamabad, Pakistan, and a visiting faculty at NDU and Lecturer at National Officers Academy, Islamabad, Pakistan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.