For the West, Muslims are medieval zealots, and contemporary Islam counts the West its enemy no one. These two presumptions have led many to ask – whether clash between Islam and the West is inevitable? This question demands focused efforts to assess the disconnects between the Christianity and the Islam, two great religions that have brought guidance and solace to billions.
History is evident that both Abrahamic religions – Christendom and Islam, have always been at loggerheads since the defeats of Byzantine Empire and Spain at the hands of Muslim armies to the recent Ottoman challenge to the European expansionism in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The start of recent episode of the unpromising relationship between Islam and the West coincides with the propellent rise of US to the rank of superpower and decolonization on the ruins of second World War. The second phase comes with the Islamic revolution of Iran, where Ayatollahs’ denunciation of the West – ‘death to America’ became a national slogan, coupled with Saddam’s call for Jihad against infidel America; US efforts to promulgate its World Order after decisively smashing Soviet Union in the last battle of Capitalism against Communism in Afghanistan.
An American bid for a full spectrum global dominance could not have been possible without a ‘threat’ that it lacked in the absence of Communist one. At this transitional point, intellectuals came to rescue the US with the 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. These writings helped the US replace the Red threat with Green threat to fill the vacuum left by Communism. Fukuyama’s End of History was an effort to promote and internalize liberal democracy as a political ideology against other ideologies; whereas, Huntington’s clash theory arranged Islam as the new ‘other’ to be afraid of because West was accustomed to pursuing foreign policy and global influence based on power struggle against the enemies.
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 are viewed as ruthless warriors, hate mongering, nomads, ignorant, irrational, fanatics, intolerant, and oppressors of women.
The US espouses matters that attract a religious response from the Muslims. It goes against Islam as political ideology stimulating a religious response from Muslim organizations who aspire for political revivalism with the words of Ummah, Jihad, and Khilafah. This revivalist response is based on two grievances-cum-assumptions; first, 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, Islamic exceptionalism, that says – Islam is a complete code of life encompassing theology and politics capable of replacing existing economic and political order. Therefore, asks for immediate enforcement of Sharia Law across the world and those [including Muslims] who resist, are worth killing atheists and non-believers.
This article identifies three fundamental points of disconnect between two entities; First, at the civilizational level both have different religions – Christianity and Islam. Consequently, the first encounter arises at Muslim-Christian relations. Notwithstanding, the secular West does not follow Christianity as tenaciously as it is ascribed ‘Christian West’. Reformation, enlightenment, and scientific reasoning pushed religion to the temples in the West, but with the slightest possible exception of 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 judgment, the life hereafter, heaven, and the hell. Having belief in the Prophethood of Jesus (PBUH) is central to Islam. So, there seems no real issue to the point of confrontation between two religions.
Second, Islam and West have contrasting opinions about the relationship of the individual with the society and their way of life. Bernard Lewis, the renowned American author on Islam, identifies Islam itself as a problem because it supports totalitarian political system – a culture that is incompatible with Western Liberal Democracy. Muslims cherish this broadest centralized mechanism as the institution of Ummah. Huntingtonian Clash of Civilization endorses Lewis, claiming that the “fundamental source of future conflicts will be cultural”.
Enlightenment brought individualism in the Western society; whereas, Islam supports community-based fraternity with elders in-charge of the family life. The concept of Ummah, as identity, is consistent with the belief of Tauheed – the oneness of God, that inhibits hierarchical and divisive race, class, region, and ethnic identities of the days of Jahiliyyah and transforms society into the horizontal community of commons.
This bond operates under Sharia Law system with divine sovereignty and high regards to ethical codes. West, however, operates under man-made laws with popular sovereignty that show almost no regards to religious morality. Moreover, according to Muslims, modern-day globalization is the highest manifestation of Adam Smith’s individual rationality that acts as a conduit of Westernization by crashing the structures of socio-cultural values of the Eastern societies, leaving them exposed to Western cultural colonialism. According to Western scholars, the ongoing resurgence of Islamism is a revolt against globalization and Nation-State System since Muslims could not stay abreast with the fast-moving world and rage against the West is the violent expression of their traditionalism.
Politics is the last factor that shapes West’s relations with Islam. Most of the Muslim countries won their independence from European colonizers. After 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 in Nation-State System with UN delegated Veto power to four Western countries. Furthermore, they also identified Middle Eastern secular monarchies were the puppets dancing on the tunes of their Western masters.
While studying the political relationship, one finds that Palestine issue and European colonialism lie at the heart of the hostilities towards each other. Surprisingly, US has never been a colonizer of Muslim lands, nor does the US an occupier of Palestine. What makes the US as the enemy of Islam? The answer is, the US, being the Super Power and the beacon of Western civilization, is equated with ‘The West’ itself. Therefore, its unconditional support for Israel and its [US] foreign policy directed against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Iran makes it the enemy number one. Besides that, for forging New World Order, America’s otherization of Islam as bad, brutal, and militant has dehumanized each other – worth killing.
Conclusively, the bitter post-colonial experience of the Muslims with alien Nation-State System, US imperialism, Western globalization, and Liberal Democracy made them believe that they [Muslims] should go back to their own system by re-inventing the concept of Ummah and Khilafah. This gave the rise to the resurgence of a militant version of Islam symbolized by Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, and other resistant groups alike. Equally, West puts it the other way, that political failures, cultural decline, economic backwardness, and educational degeneracy of the Muslims gave way to this militant religious revivalism.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.