In a 2006 Gallup poll, 9% of the Muslim world thought that the Q’ran should be the only source of national law; 46% that it should be a source. Unsurprising? And what if I tell you that this is not true but is the transposition of the results of a poll of Americans, 9% of whom thought that the Bible should be the only source of national law and 46% that it should be a source.
Karen Armstrong, in her authoritative book on religious fundamentalism (“The Battle for God”), explains that the prominence of Christian fundamentalism preceded that of Jewish fundamentalism, and that Islamic fundamentalism is a recent phenomenon.
Juan Cole’s book, “Engaging the Muslim world”, published in 2009, is a very worthwhile read for anyone who wishes to see and understand the Middle East through coloured and not black and white glasses. The book exposes stereotyping, simplistic classifications, misperceptions and the huge understanding gap between the West and the Middle-East.
Drawing particular on the concluding chapter, I have put together some reflections on the present and future.
· The West seems unlikely to bring long-term peace and stability to either Iraq or Afghanistan. The conflict with neo-Taliban and other Pushtun tribal groups in southern Afghanistan has spilled over into Pakistan. It is doubtful that al-Qaeda has been weakened since the beginning of the “war on terror” and hopes of ridding the region of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda are likely to be dashed. The biggest struggle will be to establish and maintain a civilian regime in Islamabad, with a writ covering the entire country.
· The US invasion of and military presence in Iraq is widely condemned, and not just in the Muslim world. Hundreds of millions of Muslims appear to believe that the US seeks to weaken and divide the Islamic world, by undermining their religious identity and controlling their resources.
· The Bush doctrine of “preventive war” must be repudiated. Bombing from the air resolves nothing and killing civilians in the Middle East creates more terrorists. Obama knows this but has an uphill struggle in overcoming the problem.
· The West must behave more fairly and less hypocritically.
· Religious fundamentalism, a given today in all major religions, must not be equated with violence.
· Authoritative scholars, with an interpretation of Islam which challenges that of the violent radical groups, need support to enable them to spread their moderate views to Muslims.
· Westerners interested in a better understanding of Islam, as well as Muslims, should have a wider range of texts available in different languages.
· The key works of Western democratic thinking need to be widely translated and effectively disseminated in the Middle East.
· Education and training exchange programmes for lawyers and judges from the North Atlantic and the Muslim world should be expanded.
· The conditions must be created to use the billions of dollars currently spent on buying western arms on education.
· The twin crises of the growing demand for energy and the threat of climate change form the greatest challenge humanity has faced since the last Ice Age, 10 000 years ago. Close global cooperation is essential this requires a relatively peaceful and stable world.
Author : Stanley Crossick