Islam's Growth Requires New Thinking

It is necessary once in a while to clear the decks on a given issue, to discard the accumulated rhetoric and concepts and start afresh. As we enter the sixth year of the War on Terror, such a fresh start is desperately needed.

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Today’s statesmen and commentators —left, right, and center—have so far demonstrated themselves incapable of bringing clarity to the world situation. To them, the world today appears hopelessly complicated: wars in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia; Iran in pursuit of atomic weapons; unrest in the streets of Europe; terrorism worldwide. The problem is that the modern political view of the world is now being confronted with something that does not fit into its theoretical framework, something that is fundamentally not modern: the return of Islam to the world stage.

The most conspicuous symptom of the global Islamic resurgence, Muslim violence, is reflexively dismissed as “extreme” or “radical” by Western analysts because they cannot make sense of people willing to kill and die in the name of their god. They treat terrorism as an insular problem that lacks any authentic rational basis. In fact, terrorism is merely one manifestation of the elemental hostility Islam harbors toward the rest of the world. The terrorists are merely carrying to a logical conclusion the principles, teachings, and precedents enshrined in Islam’s holy books and the example of its Prophet.

When Western leaders and opinion-makers pontificate on Islam, they invariably engage in a futile effort to force Islam into their own conceptual categories. But Islam is neither a nation, nor a party, nor a religion in the conventional sense. Islam is rather a tribe whose members share spiritual, social and political ties that transcend conventional political boundaries. But the tribal system of political organization simply does not mesh with modern Western ideas. Western analysts and policymakers will continue to misunderstand Islam as long as they remain tethered to a modern view of the world that fails to recognize the reality of deep-seated religious motivations.

While Western statesmen of all stripes continue to spout forth the bromide that Islam is “a religion of peace,” they belie with equal consistency their utter ignorance of Islam itself. One wonders: How many of them have actually read the Koran? How many know how to read the Koran? How many are familiar with the other canonical Islamic texts, the hadiths and the Sira? How many have any idea what the Prophet Muhammad really did or what he instructed his followers to do?

The fact is that the armies of pundits, academics and politicians who dominate Western policy and opinion today simply do not know what they are talking about. They do not know because they are unwilling to know: They are unwilling to admit that our great universities, government agencies and media institutions have totally failed to prepare us for the present struggle.

We are at war with an alien power with no regard for Western principles; an enemy that seeks nothing less than our submission or destruction. More than larger defense budgets or better intelligence, we must recover a public insistence on rigorous thought. Diplomatic wrangling and debating the minutiae of policy must give way to a candid reassessment of what Islam is, what it has done, and what it stands to do. It is these questions that we must take up if we are to have any serious hope of saving a West currently unaware of the full magnitude of what is as stake.