(This article is definitely worth a read)The conflict within Islam is the conflict of our time
Globe and Mail
June 19, 2007
The most consequential international story, the one our media are failing to grasp, remains the conflict within Islam.
The news is everywhere apparent. Sunnis and Shiites bloody each other in Iraq. The Taliban and al-Qaeda strike other Muslims in Afghanistan. Lebanese leaders are assassinated. Bombs go off in Algeria. Pakistan remains deeply unstable. Authoritarian regimes squelch simmering conflicts in Egypt, Iran, Jordan and Syria.
Part of that conflict within Islam is how to deal with those of other faiths; the other part is how believers should deal with each other.
With a few exceptions (Indonesia and Turkey), Islamic countries have been unable to become pluralist democracies. They have also largely failed, again with a few exceptions, to make economic advances. Even the ones with huge oil revenues cannot create democracies or strong civil societies, or effectively spread their oil wealth around their citizens.
Within the Arab world, economic stagnation has been particularly evident, as a series of United Nations reports by Arab economists have showed. These reports on human development have been devastating, although they seem to have had no effect on their intended targets: Arab governments and civil society.
We in the news media focus on the external manifestations of the internal Islamic struggle: the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, al-Qaeda attacks, fiery speeches by Iranian leaders. But the internal struggle is about ideas, ideologies, interpretations of history and sacred text, ethnicities, power struggles.
These intellectual struggles are hard to understand, harder still to report. But these struggles are at the core of Islam's conflicts. The result is less a clash of civilizations than a clash within a civilization, the reverberations of which cause clashes with others.
Read Lawrence Wright's Pulitzer and Gelber Prize-winning book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, to understand better the power of ideas in shaping action. The ideas of terror, legitimized by certain readings of the Koran, grew in the minds of future terrorists before anything happened; the antipathy to existing regimes in Islamic countries fuelled the alienation that made zealots hate Islamic moderates.
The United States and other Western powers have certainly misunderstood this internal clash and made things worse. The conflict in Iraq since the disastrous U.S. invasion has become a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. The daily violence is horrifying - not just the bomb attacks but the bodies discovered each morning with signs of torture and bullets in the back of the head.
Washington's refusal to deal with Hamas after it won the Palestinian election has now boomeranged. The Palestinian Authority is split, ideologically and geographically.
All the administration's talk about spreading democracy has been shelved, because the regimes the Americans count on for stability, from Morocco to Jordan, don't want democracy. They fear it, since they might lose power in democratic elections. The refusal to talk to Iran undermined Iranian moderates and disheartened pro-American Iranians. And its obsessive focus on Iraq diverted attention from Afghanistan, where the Taliban had given sanctuary to al-Qaeda.
Across the Islamic world (again with certain exceptions), the conflict rages about the role of religion and the state, the relations of believers to non-believers, the failure to produce economic growth.
In Thailand's south, Muslim terrorists kill Buddhists every week, whereas Muslims in the rest of the country are well-integrated in society. Pakistan is still a cauldron of tribal conflicts, ruled by a president losing his grip. Afghanistan is unstable, Iraq chaotic, Syria thuggish, Saudi Arabia authoritarian and afraid, Iran assertive, Lebanon disintegrating (again), and Algeria returning to low-level violence. Libya is governed by an eccentric, Sudan by accomplices to murder, Somalia by gangs, the Persian Gulf states by autocrats.
It's easy for all of them to blame others for their misfortunes, and others deserve some portion of the blame. But the conflict within Islam, which is the conflict of our time, is for those of the faith.