Thursday, September 15, 2005


Timothy Garton Ash offers six different views on the West's relationship with Islam.

I'd probably go with 6, with a dollop of 4 and 5. I'm not someone who locates blame for all of the ills of the developing world in the legacy of colonialism, but it's impossible to deny that the Western nations encouraged and manipulated Arab rivalries in order to maintain control in the region, first for access to trade routes and later for oil. Moves toward genuine self-rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were frustrated by the colonial powers, even as they claimed to be bringing democracy to the countries they occupied.

At root, however, even though it's become something of a cliche (as happens with things that are true), I think the main conflict we're witnessing is within Islam. Bin Laden and the al Qaedists have targeted the Western powers (the far enemy) because they rightly perceive us as supporting what they view as illegitimate, apostate regimes (the near enemy) in the Islamic world. In the view of the al Qaedists, all the problems of the Muslim world can be traced back to the umma having fallen away from true Islam, and only when the sharia is observed and enforced throughout Muslim lands will Islam experience a new golden age. This sort of view, of a "previous golden age" to which we can and must return, is common to all brands of fundamentalism, but it has particular resonance to Muslims, particularly Arab Muslims, because, unlike Jews or Christians, they can refer to a time, an actual golden age, when their prophet and his successors ruled over the most advanced civilization on earth, one in which Islamic law was the law.

Taking this into account, the main question for us in the West should be: How can we best support and encourage democracy and human rights in the region while at the same time letting Muslims develop political institutions appropriate to them? And how will we respond if we really, really don't like what they come up with?

No comments: