2003 © New York University. All Rights Reserved.
The Real Battle of the 21st Century is Within
By Anouar Boukhars
Global Beat Syndicate
NORFOLK, Virginia The decisive battle of the Twenty-First
Century is not one that pits Fukuyama's Western Last Man against
Hobbes's backward and brutish First Man. The real decisive battle
is taking place within a Muslim civilization in severe internal
In most Muslim countries, two forms of order coexist. One is
rooted in virtual anarchy and holds out the bleak prospect of
what Benjamin Barber referred to as a "retribalization
of large swaths of humankind"; the other is progressive,
moderate and modern. This bifurcation has led to a fierce battle
between groups that really want to modernize their societies
and ensure that their faith is not driven off-course by fanatic,
supremacist Mullahs and a second group that refuses to abide
by anything but what they perceive as the "true" religion
It is this duality that shapes responses to the horrendous events
of September 11.
None of this points inevitably to a cataclysmic spasm of self-destruction
although such an outcome is possible. But it does point
to a new era of friction that will, at times, manifests itself
in bitter, protracted violence between the modernists and the
medievalists. Beleaguered Algeria is an example of a Muslim
country caught in the grip of exclusionary and intolerant Mullahs
intent on controlling the whole society by their absurd reductive
logic, opposed by a corrupt junta that rules despotically. Many
Muslims across the globe are caught in this civil war within
While this conflict rages and the malaise continues, a simmering
anger is reaching the boil among Muslim youth. They are sick
of the corruption of their leaders, the impracticality of their
political and economic systems and the perception that they
are being humiliated by an arrogant America that supports their
corrupt leaders and is totally indifferent to the suffering
There is nothing new about these grievances but they seem to
be taking a new form. The voice of the moderate majority voice
is being squelched not only by authoritarian regimes but by
obscurantist religious groups as well. Each is trying to claim
ultimate authority on religious issues. The result is that extremism
and tyranny reign supreme in most, if not all, Muslim societies.
In the longer term, there may be hope for a better outcome.
At present, the attacks of Sept. 11 and the U.S. war in Afghanistan,
plus the impending war against Iraq have intensified the struggle
for the soul of Muslim believers. The good news is that "the
essential lesson taught by Islamic history" as Khaled Abou
El Fadl, professor of Islamic Law at UCLA, rightly points out,
"is that extremist groups are ejected from the mainstream
of Islam; they are marginalized, and eventually treated as heretical
aberrations to the Islamic message."
The fundamentalists have unfortunately wasted their opportunity
to provide inspiring moral trajectory. It is now up to all Muslims
who care about the current dismal state of their affairs to
reclaim the integrity of a faith that has been hijacked by Islamists
hardliners, whose insular comprehension of Koranic verses have
distorted the meaning of Jihad and turned it into Holy War.
As Amina Wadud, professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth
University puts it, "The puritans construct their exclusionary
and intolerant theology by reading Koranic verses in isolation,
as if the meaning of the verses were transparent, [and] as if
moral ideas and historical context were irrelevant to their
The burden of restoring the "democratic spirit" that
reigned in the early days of Islam rests with contemporary Muslims,
who must denounce unequivocally all forms of terror and promote
what Abou El Fadl calls "the Koranic message of tolerance
and openness to the other."
The United States can do much to help prop up Islamic moderates.
Then-Secretary of State George C. Marshall said it perfectly
55 years ago: "Our policy is not directed against any country,
but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Democratic
principles do not flourish on empty stomachs."
Applying Marshalls approach to the Muslim world today
would likely go a long ways in helping make the Islamic world
and ours safer and prosperous. It would be unfortunate to squander
this unique historic opportunity by failing to take advantage
of the extraordinary opportunities that have arisen following
the Sept. 11 attacks.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Anouar Boukhars is a doctoral candidate in international studies
at Old Dominion University.
- © 2000
New York University. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate,
a service of New York University's Center for War, Peace, and
the News Media, provides editors with commentary and perspective
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