What Star Wars Can Teach Us About the Islamic World

It is an era of civilizational war. Evildoers known as "Jihadists," terrorizing from a hidden based in the Levant, have won their first victory in reestablishing a dark Empire, known in the other world as the "Caliphate."
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It is an era of civilizational war. Evildoers known as "Jihadists," terrorizing from a hidden based in the Levant, have won their first victory in reestablishing a dark Empire, known in the other world as the "Caliphate." During their ongoing battle against the West, and its liberal ideals of freedom and democracy, Muslims are fleeing their world for a better one. They are coming and some are armed. It is a dark time for the Western world in its epic confrontation against this mysterious world, and only a hero can save the West.

Star Wars fans may not like this, but I rewrote the opening crawl to show a similar poetic rhyming in the mythic-galactic way some see the perceived conflict between Islam and the West. Like the Star War saga (now I'm only referring here to episodes VI, V, and VI), the so-called clash of civilizations is depicted in the media and other public outlets as an enduring conflict between two cultural orders, viewed as self-contained worlds with a fixed set of values and competing ideals. This epic narrative may seem similar to the famed space opera centered around mythologies of "light" and "dark," with the former heroically marching on its path towards self-realization through military triumph over the evil Empire -- old or new.

As an American mythos, Star Wars evokes powerful imageries of heroes and villains, resistance and power, folly and wisdom. Yoda, the Grand Master of the Jedi Order, represents universal wisdom of worldly detachment through responsible engagement with others. With Buddhist-like sense of humor in face of death, Yoda reminds us how to use the Force for defense and the attainment of peace rather than aggression and war. In contrast, Darth Vader, a former Jedi-turned-evil General of the Galactic Empire, is a defective figure for turning to the dark side. As the embodiment of darkness, "twisted and evil," Darth Vader is what humanity can potentially become. His distinctive black armor represents more a "machine" than a "man," thoughtless and unfeeling.

Equally important about Star Wars mythos is the narrative of conflicting worlds. The Galactic Empire characterizes a political order based on domination. The imperial order rose to dominance in the aftermath of the Clone Wars, a major conflict between the Galactic Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems, also known as the Separatist State. The Rebel Alliance as the band of pilots and soldiers (in episodes IV, V and VI) represents the force that seeks to restore the Old Republic, a democratic order of constitutional form. Yet the Resistance identifies a heroic movement led by the Force, a metaphysical and ubiquitous power integral to all Being.

So is radical Islam the Galactic Empire? Is the Force the democratic spirit of the Republic for which the West represents? And what kind of a world is Islam, if the "West" stands apart from the rest of the world? Is it a world defined by geography or values?

There is of course the idea of "umma" or community, which historically has referred to Muslims who occupy Islamic territories. But in historic term the concept has been highly contested along the lines of competing notions of what defines a Muslim community. The idea of Dar al-Islam or "House of Islam, and Dar al-Harb, or "House of War," are legal terminologies used by medieval Muslim administrators and schools of jurisprudence for tactical-geographical management over governed territories. The concepts do not appear in the Quran or the Hadith, the sayings and deeds of the Prophet. Also, both discursively and in practice the concept of umma has not referred to a "world," but a collectivity of the faithful within an administrated territory.

In geographic terms, the Muslim majority regions, stretching from Western Africa to Central Asia, northern regions of the Indian subcontinent and finally East Asia, namely, Indonesia, hardly define a "world." They intersect with regions, populations, localities that may or may not include Islamic characteristics, whatever that may be in definition; and if they do their identity is ever fixed nor homogeneously unified.

So when the media, pundits and politicians refer to the "Islamic world," what are they talking about? A divided universe of competing worlds. Among other planetary dominions, the Islamic world is perceived as a distinct realm, at times far away from an imagined West, enlightened and, well, more civilized. Implicit to the mythos of competing worlds is not merely a clash of civilizations, but the self-realization of a unique Western culture standing apart from other imagined worlds. Conflict may ensue, but the primarily aim is for the other, inferior worlds to be subdued. In essence, discourses of world civilizations are triumphant self-narratives.

In sharp contrast to civilizational narratives, Star Wars is not a tale of competing worlds, but a triumph of universal love, the Force that "surrounds us and penetrates us," and ultimately "binds the galaxy together." The Galactic Empire is the politics of fear manifested in self-triumphalism, while the Republic is the politics of love articulated in self-awareness of oneness with all. Star Wars is a chronicle of love for the one world that we could share, and a timelessness of peace that can only be realized through struggle and recognition of others. Star Wars ultimately invites us to "join" the Force, to see the world as one intergalactic reality. Its mythology is meant for self-critique, a way of enabling us to see beyond ourselves, beyond our perceived differences. In self-overcoming we can see no other worlds, Islamic, Chinese, or otherwise, but a planetary order shared with other living organisms--humanoids and sentients.

Who is Yoda but a wise being who reminds us not to judge others by their appearance (bearded men or veiled women), but their shared reality in the Force? For in "the Islamic world" we may see rhymes of ourselves as others, living in an interconnected world of bright stars amid a dark, empty universe.

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