Islam and Peace: A Rejoinder

By Hilali, A. Z. | Contemporary Review, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Islam and Peace: A Rejoinder

Hilali, A. Z., Contemporary Review

Keith Suter's article 'Is Islam a Threat to International Peace and Security?, published in Contemporary Review (Vol. 269, No. 1571, December 1996), raises a number of issues for debate.

Dr. Suter's article is based on an interpretation of Samuel Huntington's well-known article, 'The Clash of Civilisations' (Foreign Affairs, summer 1993), in which Huntington argues that Islam must inevitably clash with a western liberal civilisation bent on exporting its values and that Islam may overwhelm the west. However, Dr. Suter is not clear about the Islamic revivalism and renaissance in the post-Cold War era. He irrationally blames all Islamic groups as threats to world peace and he also confuses Muslim societies and Islamic values. In this regard, Islam as a religion is no more and no less a source of conflict or threat to the world than any other religion whether Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism. Many of its values are applicable to all human beings, not only Muslims. So Keith Surer should actually discuss the current Islamic activities in some Muslim countries by placing them in their proper socio-political context, not in the broader concept of Islam.

My comments seek only to offer some thoughts provoked by Dr. Suter and to clarify certain aspects of the arguments which are the major sources of conflict. It needs to be recognised that the current Islamic movements are fuelled not by absolute economic disparities but by socio-political 'relative deprivation'. Islamic revivalism is in many ways the successor to failed nationalist programmes and offers an Islamic alternative or solution, a third way distinct from capitalism and communism. Islamists argue that Islam is not just a collection of beliefs and ritual actions but a comprehensive ideology embracing public as well as personal life. It is important to understand that Islamic activism is a cause of concern but not for alarm and challenge to any civilisation. Like radicals throughout history, Islamic radicals become moderate, once accommodated and incorporated in the socio-political mainstream. If they do not, they perish or become sociologically irrelevant cults. Therefore, extremism can best be reduced through gradual democratisation, a process and a system of governance which the West is deliberately not encouraging in the Muslim world particularly in the Middle East.

In the early 1980s, Islamic resurgence became synonymous in the Western world with political extremism, terrorism, hostage crises and suicide bombings. As the decade came to a close, Islamic resurgence began a new phase; Islamic movements began to participate in the political system instead of opposing it. However, the two momentous events of 1991 - the Gulf war and the break-up of the Soviet Union, are casting their shadow over relations between the West and the arc of predominantly Muslim countries ranging from Central Asia in the east to North Africa in the West. Until recently the Muslim countries were divided between the US and Soviet Union but the collapse of the Soviet Union has made the West, led by the United States, into the principal external enemy of pan-Islamism. It is interesting to note that at the time of the Cold War, most of the Muslim states were loyal allies of the West against the 'Evil Empire' of the Soviet Union. This was a time when the West was using religion as a weapon and even financed many of the fundamentalist groups to contain and to stop the flood of communism.

So far, however, the reality is that Islamic revivalism is neither a product of the Iranian revolution nor a result of Libyan extremist policies. The depth of frustration and anger is a reaction against European colonial rule, support for unpopular regimes and the internal weaknesses of the Muslim governments. Although some scholars argue that the present awakening in the Muslim world is a response to the decline of power and the loss of divine favour, in fact, the current revolt is a product of the weak economies of the Muslim countries, illiteracy and high unemployment, especially among the younger generation. …

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