Monday, April 17, 2017

Islam is Breaking the Back of the Liberal Democratic Consensus

PS: Dr Abid sent in a revised version, so I have over-written the original post.
The following post was sent in by Dr Abdul Majeed Abid in response to my recent blog post regarding Islam and liberal world order.  (I personally think that loyalty to country, even to an empire not our own, can be successfully created, but it takes an unusually dominant host culture or empire to carry it off for now; and in the future, who knows what shape loyalties and identities will eventually take, but that is a story for another day. Dr Abid's comments follow).

From Dr Abdul Majeed Abid:

Islam, it may be, really IS the the rock on which the Western Liberal Democratic Consensus is breaking..

Recent events in Turkey and the political situation in France are indicators of a future where the modern democratic project fails where an interaction with Islam is concerned. A Democratically elected (quibbles aside) government in Turkey used the tool of democracy to give up on democracy itself (it was not as simple as that, but this is one of the easier inferences). Khaled Ahmed has written in one of his pieces that Muslims don't really 'get' Democracy. Turkey has seen a hundred-year long ‘struggle’ for the government between Kemalist/Secularist forces (be they Mustafa Kemal’s party CHP or the military) and Islamist/Neo-Ottoman forces (starting from Nacmeddin Erbakan to Tayyip Erdogan) and the Islamists seem to have scored a decisive victory. With its Kurdish-majority south-eastern part up in arms, ISIS knocking on its doors and millions of refugees roaming the cities, Turkey can easily be branded the ‘New Pakistan’. Pakistan, lest we forget, was made to escape from a democracy where Muslims would remain as a permanent minority.   

France, a nation proud of its unique national character, faltered when it came to dealing with Muslims. Starting in the 1970s, the principle of Laïcité, the bedrock of French society for the last century, has faced critical examination because of Muslims and their failure to completely integrate in a majority Christian nation.

From the article about Giles Kepel linked above:

“ In September last year, a landmark survey commissioned by the Montaigne Institute found that 28 percent of French Muslims had adopted values “clearly opposed to the values of the republic,” with a mix of “authoritarian” and “secessionist” views, including support for polygamy and the niqab, or full-face veil, and opposition to laws enforcing secularism”.

The identity crisis that Muslims have felt in France, in Britain, in Belgium, in Germany, has not been fully understood or dealt with by the concerned societies. So you get ‘home-grown’ terrorists in Britain, Germany, France and Belgium killing people indiscriminately, turning on the very states that have provided them a social security net and a place to live (and what most people in Pakistan would give up for getting a chance to spend their lives in Western Europe, living on taxpayers’ dime). Muslims in these countries have refused to assimilate partially or completely, threatening the whole edifice of multiculturalism.

 The threat of such issues arising in United States has become a rallying cry for right-wing politicians and media. And I kind of understand where that fear (even though it is mostly irrational in the US context) is coming from. When I see a black burka-clad woman in Times Square or a full-on Shuttlecock Burka lady in Houston, I myself get afraid, and not for myself, but for 'Fellow Americans’. In the last few months, I have had to provide answers, to the best of my knowledge, about Islam and Muslims, from West Virginia to Miami and Houston, basically everywhere that I went and talked to people (including Ayn Rand fans, non-believers and a few people from India). I see it as a failure of assimilation, even in the United States (where the situation is far better than Western Europe). Be it the ‘grooming’ gangs or honor killings in Britain or Female Genital Mutation in the United States, far too many Muslims have demonstrated an aversion to participation in a liberal democratic order. From Syed Qutb to Afia Siddiqi, the story from this subset of Muslims is similar. "We don’t like you, despite your kindness towards us and when we get the opportunity, we will do our best to harm you"       

 One of the questions about Islam that troubled me the most during my interaction with Americans of different backgrounds was the concept of Jihad and Islamism. People claimed that in the last seventy years, the only religious ideology that has been used (by various people, for various purposes, more on that later in the post) to indiscriminately kill people en masse is the ideology of Jihad. Be it Al-Qaeda, Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Terrorist groups in Kashmir, TTP in Pakistan or ISIS in the Middle East and the rest of the world, the leitmotif that binds all of these violent organisations has been the concept of Jihad and the claim that Islam ‘deserves’ to be a dominant religion in the world. The claim is that there are hardly any Christian or Jewish or Hindu militias hunting down people basis on religion (Thoughts: Myanmar’s Buddhist monks and India’s ‘Beef vigilantes’ are an exception? What about states cleansing their enemies? Somegody is bound to bring up Israel, rightly or wrongly? Was communism a religion? Is the difference one of degree or type?).
Nuances exist, but still, this ideology which is often described as ‘Militant Islam’ in the United States, is a threat to humanity at present. In my view (and based on my personal interactions with Muslims from various countries), the problem is not just with these terrorist organizations carrying out beheadings and massacres, the problem lies in the minds of a ‘silent’ majority that inadvertently or partly justifies their actions. You don’t have to be a card-carrying Al Qaeda member to be a fellow traveler. When you support an ‘Islamic’ system of government in your country (as multiple polls in the wider Muslim world have established), you are demanding a softer version of the same thing that ISIS is vying for. What if you are a highly educated person spending most of your time in the ‘West’ (like Aafia Siddiqi or Faisal Shahzad) and you still harbor this ideology (that Islam deserves to be the dominant religion in the world and ‘sacrifices’ have to be made in that regard)? In that case, defeating ISIS or Al Qaeda is not going to solve the ideological problem. How and when do you truly defeat an ideology?     

PS. The concept of ‘Jihad’ (the killing other people type, which is the most commonly used meaning of it, even if many Muslims now understand the need to deny that) has been utilized in the past by colonial powers for their own purposes. The list of leaders/countries invoking ‘Jihad’ includes General Franco, Chiang Kai-Shek, Stalin, Mussolini, Churchill, Hitler, the French during WWI,  the US War Department during WWII, the Japanese during WWII, more recently, the ‘Afghan War’ that was bankrolled by the CIA. These people realized that Muslims can be roused for any cause by using the call of ‘Jihad’. Thus we find both sides in a conflict trying to recruit Muslims for their cause.   

(Special thanks to Umar, @cybertosser on twitter for the links on Jihad).


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