While the recent pushback against ISIS is welcome, it is only small victory in the war against terrorism and with disturbing fallouts--the headlines and sound bites that convey a sense of complacency, leading us to believe that with the shipment of more arms and a few more victories, terrorism will be defeated and all will be well. Such takeaways are not only off the mark but are downright dangerous. This war will not be won on one, two or even on a thousand battlefields. It is a war that must be won in the hearts and minds of Muslims with their active participation and with understanding and support from the non-Muslim World.
It is an undeniable fact that today what most people consider to be terrorism seems to emanate with individuals or groups who claim Islam as their faith. Whether fair or unfair, this being a perceived fact we have to look at Islam, Muslims, Muslim countries, and the human condition of Muslims in Muslim countries and elsewhere to assess the origin of Jihadist anger and the reasons for its appeal to disenfranchised Muslims.
Simply said, the vast majority of Muslims are frustrated with their lives. They live in countries that are autocratic with little or no freedom, that are unjust and corrupt at the core, economically unsuccessful and where the individual's relationship to the Almighty has been swept aside by rulers; religion is used as an instrument to control and rule, with rulers and their cronies living in unimaginable luxury while the average person cannot even make ends meet; the average Muslim has limited productive opportunities to make a decent living; and most frustrating of all, there is little hope of a better future.
It is not only in Muslim countries that Muslims feel disenfranchised. Many Muslim immigrants are confronted by hopelessness in their adopted lands; live under ghetto-like conditions, with sub-par access to good education and healthcare; and are not integrated into the mainstream--while their host countries could do more, Muslims are also in part responsible for their condition because they fail to make efforts to embrace the cultural and social norms of their adopted homes. They move further and further away from the mainstream, become more isolated and fail to advance, all of which may be followed by frustration, resentment and anger. Anyone, be they Christian, Jew or Muslim, living in Muslim countries or in ghettos as immigrants could easily become angry and radicalized. While nothing could ever justify terrorism, the absence of any hope for a brighter future encourages some to join terrorist groups that promise a path, albeit a false and divisive path, to a better world where their false version of Islam rules supreme.
While these facts need careful examination, they must not be misunderstood and defined as a Muslim-Christian conflict. It is precisely in this framework that terrorists have found an opening to preach their message of hatred, killing innocent people, ironically mainly Muslims, in the name of God! If we allow the spread of terrorism to be framed as an inter-faith struggle, we will only inflame what we see today and usher in an era of global conflict as never before. Christians and Muslims make up about half the population of the planet. The two faiths share much in common, yet Christians and Muslims misunderstand each other and allow opportunists to divide them and to frame terrorism as an epic Christian-Muslim struggle.
The drift toward a Christian-Muslim or a West-East struggle can be reversed by reforms in the Muslim World, by Muslims taking back their religion through a reformation and the great powers looking beyond their narrow short-run interests.
Reforms in the Muslim World:
The popular belief that Islam obstructs political, social and economic progress is a myth. The teachings of the Quran and the life of the Prophet Mohammad stress the love of God for His creation, the unity of creation, justice, freedom and effective institutions for a thriving society. Today, most Muslim societies do not reflect the important benchmarks of Islam and in fact the non-Muslim countries of Northern Europe do a much better job. Rulers in most Muslim countries are not selected freely. They are autocratic. There is little freedom in Muslim countries. Rulers allow little discussion of the philosophy of Islam. Most rulers are corrupt. Their economic management does not reflect Islamic teachings, which include sound institutions (especially the rule of law), efficiency in economic management, preserving God's bounty for all generations (the environment and the benefits of depletable natural resources such as oil), equality and sharing, absence of extravagance, poverty and corruption, equal opportunities for all, and taking care of those who cannot care for themselves. The dismal conditions of most Muslim countries provide the breeding ground for anger, frustration, bitterness, desperation and violence.
Just take a glance at a few Muslim countries, from the very rich (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE), to the middle (Turkey, Malaysia, Iran) to the poor (Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen). While some are doing better than others, not a single Muslim country would even come close to countries such as Norway, Sweden or Denmark.
A Muslim Reformation:
A Muslim reformation must begin with Muslims. Muslims have little choice but to peacefully demand change in their countries. They must take back the lock and key of their religion from rulers and clerics; they must denounce and confront the false message of Jihadists who are murdering innocent people around the world, damaging the peaceful religion that is Islam and sowing the seeds for East-West confrontation.
While Muslims believe that the Quran represents the word of God, this does not mean that they should live, as did Muslims at the time of the Prophet Mohammad. Islam preaches the importance of progress, education, healthcare, technological change, sound economic management, effective governance and economic prosperity. The religion emphasizes justice, freedom, freedom to chose, love, peace, peaceful co-existence and an open mind and tolerance toward the religion and social practice of others. As we have said above and in earlier postings, Western countries, especially those in Northern Europe, reflect many of these recommendations for a successful Muslim society better than do Muslim countries. Muslims should turn their attention away from clerics and rulers who preach a self-serving interpretation of Islam to control and rule. They should study the Quran on their own, discuss and debate its meaning and consult unaffiliated and learned teachers as needed. Again, and as we have said before, Islamicity Indices afford a concise and summary benchmark to serve as a guide. Such a benchmark can be used in a peaceful approach to challenge rulers and clerics to demand change.
What are the essential elements of a Muslim Reformation?
First, Muslims around the world must come together and wrestle away the helm of Islam from all self-appointed clerics, guides, messengers, leaders and rulers. Islam does not need anyone at its helm. They should make their demands known internationally to unite all Muslims in the reformation and garner support from non-Muslims in countries of North America and Europe. Such initiatives would more likely succeed if they were peaceful, with the goals of freedom and respect for human rights well articulated. While this process may start in one Muslim country, it would advance more rapidly if Muslims coordinated their demands and activities simultaneously in a number of countries. The Quran is the word of God and Muslims do not need intermediaries to interpret it. Instead, Muslims have an obligation to read, discuss and understand the philosophy of Islam. How they observe the teachings of their religion is between them and Allah.
Second, Muslims should demand a modern-day constitution that serves as the bedrock for a flourishing society where justice, human rights, human dignity, freedom and equality of opportunity are held sacred; a constitution that they vote to accept and one that is subject to amendment as needed; and a constitution that incorporates Islam's institutional recommendations that fit modern societies and are very much in line with Adam Smith's vision as well; and governments must be elected by the people and must remain answerable to the electorate. Third, the derived Sharia law (or Islamic Jurisprudence) should be set aside as the legal system in all Muslim countries. It was a body of law that was derived and put together by men (no female participation) many centuries ago. The agendas of rulers were always on the radar. Originally, the Sharia Law might have been helpful for its inclusiveness and tolerance but today Muslim clerics and autocratic rulers use Sharia law as an instrument of control that propagates injustice and deprivation. Moreover, it is a system that divides rather than unifies humanity. Non-Muslims fear it and assume that Muslims want to impose it on non-Muslims as well. Muslim countries need a sound modern legal system; the rule of law is the most important institution for any society; it provides the underpinning of political, social and economic progress for all societies, as it must also do so for Muslim countries.
Fourth, Muslims living in influential non-Muslim majority countries, such as Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, France and Germany should see themselves as the ambassadors of Islam. They should educate their non-Muslim neighbors about the peaceful, compassionate and sharing nature of Islam in order to bring Muslims and non-Muslims closer together. They should assimilate into the society of their adopted land. Muslims must condemn the hateful message of terrorists and replace it with the message of unity and love that is Islam. The support of non-Muslims will be essential in cutting off the support of Western governments for illegitimate Muslim rulers and in starting the slow process of reform.
Terrorism will not be vanquished on the battlefield. It requires a Muslim Reformation with Muslims taking back their religion from self-appointed clerics, rulers and Jihadists, setting aside the derived Sharia legal system, Muslims acting as Islam's ambassadors of their religion to close the East-West divide, and the unselfish support of global powers for the peaceful transformation of client Muslim countries.