Fighting Terrorism or Fueling the Fire?

Terrorists have been widely branded as “Islamists,” with the implication that the fight is against terrorists who uphold Islam and its teachings. Not only is such a contrived connection between terrorists and Islam false but it will increasingly transform this fight into a more global one that will linger for decades and become ever more ominous, threatening the very existence of the world.

Yes, Islamic civilization is in crisis and many Muslim countries are in dire straits — injustice, corruption, oppression, gender discrimination, little opportunity for development and growth along with religious, sectarian, tribal and class conflicts. But what we see in this landscape is not Islam. The landscape of Muslim countries has little connection to Islam and its teachings.

Today, Muslims are prevented from discussing and debating the meaning of their religion. In some Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, a person can be put in jail for even questioning the meaning of a passage from the Quran or a Prophetic saying. Muslims practice the mechanical parts of their religion (prayers, fasting, pilgrimage, declaration of faith) but they by and large neglect its rules and its implied institutions that embody freedom, justice, the rule of law, love, respect for human rights, peace, equality and the unity of humanity. In parallel with the decay of Islamic civilization over centuries, the non-Muslim World has developed a false and distorted understanding of Islam and its teachings. This contrived straw man — a harsh, brutal, undemocratic, oppressive, intolerant, discriminatory, unjust, sexist and corrupt version of Islam — is what the West sees as the true face of Islam. A threatening enemy that must be suppressed and kept at bay.

How did Muslim countries get to be so? Soon after the Prophet Mohammad’s death, corrupt rulers and opportunistic clerics banded together and shamelessly misrepresented the message of the Quran. Religious scholars who were in the service of rulers realized that they had to come up with an argument to support their oppressive masters. While advising rulers against injustice, they justified the rule of any ruler by arguing that Verse 59 of Chapter 4 of the Quran in which God says: “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those who are in charge of the affair” meant that the authority in power was to be obeyed, regardless of how unjust or unfair and no matter the means by which the power to rule was gained. They hung on this one line and disregarded hundreds of Quranic verses and widely accepted Prophetic sayings that contradicted this incredible misrepresentation of Islam. Justice, the glue of society and the essence of Islam, could not be maintained as a system of governance. Shamelessly using religion as the instrument of legitimacy, oppression and governance has been the practice throughout much of Muslim history, which in turn has maligned Islam in much of the non-Muslim World.

While it may be natural to connect the landscape of Muslim countries to Islam, doing so is inaccurate and could have dire consequences. Bombs and drones have been the result, but they are not the solution. These policies will manufacture more and more enemies for the U.S. and the rest of the Western World and only fuel the fire.

Why is this distorted view of Islam and the ongoing approach to fighting terrorism dangerous for the future of our world? In 2015, there were 1.8 billion Muslims in the world (24.1% of the world’s population) and 2.3 billion Christians (31.2% of the world’s population). It is projected that by 2050, the number of Christians and Muslims will be roughly the same, together representing about 60% of the world’s population; and by 2100, Muslims are projected to far outnumber all of Christianity. In its 2018 Democracy Index (incorporating electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, civil liberties), the Economist rated only one Muslim country in the top 60 (Malaysia at #52) out of 167 countries.

For the sake of world peace, Muslims cannot be expected to live in oppressive communities with little hope for a better future. While Muslim countries languish, Western powers, Russia and China support their favorite Muslim dictators, sell them arms and help them oppress their people, all in the name of stability and the fight against terrorism or Islamists!

These policies offer little hope for a turnaround, and given the rapidly growing number of Muslims, matters will only deteriorate. This is a ticking time bomb that could destroy the world as we know it. The United States and its allies must look beyond the immediate and adopt a longer-term approach in their foreign policy toward Muslim countries, and in particular toward those in the Middle East. Having said this, still the main burden is on Muslims who must change their ways, their governance, hold their leaders accountable and work peacefully towards building effective institutions.

To succeed in the fight against terrorism, Muslims as well as the West have to change their ways. Muslims should study their religion and its implied institutions, effective institutions that are the key to building just and thriving communities. Once they do this, they will realize that the countries of Northern Europe and New Zealand much better reflect Islamic teachings than do their own societies (For more on this, please see www.IslamicityIndices.org). The non-Muslim World should set aside its straw man that has little to do with Islam, and take the time to study what Islam says — not the words of corrupt Muslim rulers, clerics and much less the hateful words of terrorists. Even after both sides do their part, accompanied with sustained perseverance and confidence building, a meaningful turnaround will still take decades. But with this approach, there is real hope for winning the war against terrorism and much more, whereas the current approach will make matters only worse.

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MIT engineer and economist. Prof: Tufts, UT-Austin, GW. IMF Board. Writing: Econ-Finance, Oil, Sanctions, FP, Middle East, Islam (http://islamicity-index.org)

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Hossein Askari

Hossein Askari

MIT engineer and economist. Prof: Tufts, UT-Austin, GW. IMF Board. Writing: Econ-Finance, Oil, Sanctions, FP, Middle East, Islam (http://islamicity-index.org)

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