Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Roots of Conflict: The Islamist Critique of Western Value

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Roots of Conflict: The Islamist Critique of Western Value

Article excerpt

The author studies the writings of key Islamists, both traditional and modern, to determine the views that prompt radical Muslims to abhor Western influences. He finds that these spring from major differences in culture, and concludes that because Islam never experienced the European Enlightenment Islamists do not value individual freedom to the extent that the West does. Instead, Islamists believe that the state should adhere to and enforce Sharia, as reflecting the will of God, and that individuals should therefore submit to the moral principles of Sharia law.

Key Words: Ethics; Western materialism; Islamist radicals; Sharia law; Osama bin Laden; Hasan al-Banna; Sayyid Qutb; Ayatollah Khomeini; Syed Abul A'La Mawdudi; Ali Shariati; Hasan al Turabi; Rachid al-Ghannouchi; Muslim Brotherhood; Egypt; Saudi Arabia; Iraq; Iran; Tunisia; Israel.

In his classic study on The Origins of the World War, the late Harvard historian Sidney Fay noted that two sets of causes had to be taken into account when studying the events leading up to World War I. The first are the immediate causes surrounding the assassination of Austria's Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. The second are the underlying causes that can be traced back to events in the 19lh century.

Similarly, in attempting to understand the events of September 11, 2001 two sets of causes must be understood. The immediate cause, as is now well known, is Osama bin Laden's and the radical Islamist objection to United States troops in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden saw such troops as a desecration of Muslim holy places. This is made clear in his fatwas of August 1996 and February 1998, calling for war against America and the killing of any American no matter where he or she may be found,2 and the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Bin Laden hoped that the September 11 attacks would pressure the United States to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia. However, like World War I, bin Laden's decree must be understood against the background of the belief by some prominent thinkers in the Islamic world that Western values must be rejected and that society governed under Sharia, Islamic law, is far superior to "corrupt" Western culture. When, in October 2002, Bin Laden called on the United States to accept Islam, he also stated: "We call you...to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling and usury...you are the worst civilization witnessed in the history of mankind."3 Abu Qatada, an Al-Qaeda leader, has stated that "[t]o strengthen the roots of religion in our nation is to reject the Western ideology."4 Muhammad Atta, the leader of the September 11 hijackers, was known to be angry at American cultural influence in Egypt.5 The eminent historian of Islam Bernard Lewis has noted that for Al Qaeda "it is the seduction of America and of its profligate .,. dissolute way of life that represents the greatest threat to the kind of Islam they wish to impose on their fellow Muslims."''

This study will analyze the anti-Western views of the four most prominent Islamists of the twentieth century. For purposes of this paper "Islamist" will refer to anyone who wants to govern society under Islamic law, also known as Sharia. While all of these individuals objected to what they referred to as Western imperialism, the focus of this study will be on their critique of what they perceived to be the underlying values of Western civilization. Their views have been the most instrumental in influencing radicals like bin Laden. These critics will be referred to as traditionalists. All of these individuals were contemporaries of one another. A second category of critic will be referred to as modernist. These individuals' ideas have also been influential in the Muslim world. While the modernists were influenced by the traditionalists, and have incorporated many of their ideas, they have attempted to place their Islamist ideas within a more moderate framework. …

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