There are some very positive aspects of the international campaign against terrorism. Paramount among these positive aspects is the United State's newly stated commitment to democracy and human rights in the Muslim world, which according to, George Lister, a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of State, includes freedom of speech, women's rights and religious freedom.
Christian Coalition ideologue Pat Robertson on his televised 700 Club program, characterized the war against terrorism as a "Clash of Civilizations" and a war against people who are opposed to American values, individualism and the basic freedoms and rights that are an intricate part of America's Judeo-Christian tradition and values. Whereas most Muslims and others would disagree with Mr. Robertson's view, it highlights the need for Muslims, particularly Muslim Americans to make the case that Islam has always advanced these same ideas. The obvious absence, or lack of appreciation for these ideals in much of the Muslim world is not due to Islam, and is actually indicative of the centuries long decline of Islamic teaching and culture in the Muslim World. It is also to a large extent the direct result of American foreign policies in that region.
Whereas Muslims abroad are feeling threatened by Western hegemony, people in the West feel threatened by the possible Arabization of the West, particularly the United States who has been served a steady dose of the Trojan Horse theory of Islam.
From as far back as the fall of the Ottoman Empire these policies ignored, if not encouraged various forms of oppression and human rights abuses aimed towards Muslims that could not co-exist with Islamic ideals. As a result, Islam has been suppressed through various methods adopted by Muslim governments acting against what they termed "Islamic extremism" while advancing U.S. policies and interests.
The key to undoing these unfortunate phenomena is to recognize that most non-Muslim Americans as well as the average Muslim American does not actually know enough about Islam to distinguish between Islam, pre-Islamic ideals and culture. They do not know what is actually "extremism" in some cases, and so cannot effectively, nor consistently advise our government in its effort to develop appropriate policies to counter extremism. Yet, if the campaign is to succeed, Muslim American leadership, particularly indigenous Muslim American leadership, must do more to make the distinctions clear. Our government should insure that the laws remain in tact that insure intellectual freedoms and constitutional protections that allow Muslim Americans and other Muslims in America, to access Islamic sources, and to write, communicate and express ideas freely and across borders.
Historic Christian religious extremism and violence resulted from the overwhelming influence of Western political monarchies operating like dictatorships and a state sponsored religious hierarchy that prevented laymen from accessing religious text. This denied adherents and others the right to free religious expression that included critique and dissent. The same has happened in some areas of the Muslim world. A period of enlightenment and revolution subsequently followed Western political and religious extremism that reigned in Europe for centuries. The same is poised to eventually occur in rapid succession in the Muslim world unless steps are taken almost immediately to advance needed reforms.
In this instance we, meaning both Muslims and non-Muslims, can choose to promote either Edmund Burke's conservative idea of revolution as restoration of societies through law and gradually implemented reforms, or we can promote a reenactment of the French revolution. The French revolution was an absolute upheaval of a society through a prolonged period of violence known as the "reign of terror." It ushered in the preeminence of an immoral brand of secular liberalism, legitimized by the shear energy and will of peasants, and that focused almost totally on economic efficiency as its primary objectives. This, as opposed to Burkes conservatism which recognized the existence of God as a higher authority than human government, the need for holistic human development, and rights as a matter of legal social contracts between the governing and the governed, set forth preferably through a Constitution or Bill of Rights.
There is quiet a bit of suspicion among Muslims both here and abroad, that most Americans, along with other Western governments and peoples, share Mr. Robertson's view of Islam. Many feel that the campaign against terrorism is actually a campaign designed to cement Western hegemony throughout the world, imposing Western and Christian values and customs on others who have their own values and cultures. This suspicion, though understandable should not, in my opinion, prevent Muslims from supporting U.S. efforts to push for greater human rights and reform in the Muslim world, particularly democratization, so long as these efforts do not incorporate force or undue compulsion as their modus operandi. The recognition and observance of human rights and adherence to the principles upon which they are premised are needed if Islam is to be truly revived in the Muslim world and the people allowed the benefits of the concomitant freedoms and liberty that lead to human advancement and societal development.
Another significant aspect of this campaign is the impact that renewed interest in Islam as a culture as well as a religion will have on the shaping of Islamic culture in America. Though Muslim Americans may not endorse the strong views expressed by Senator Biden, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in respect to the Saudi rendition of Islamic culture, many do share his concern that state sponsored renditions of Islamic culture threaten to overshadow the American Muslim culture here in the United States through its immigrant Muslim population, and foreign government influence in this community of Muslims.
Whereas Muslims abroad are feeling threatened by Western hegemony, people in the West feel threatened by the possible Arabization of the West, particularly the United States who has been served a steady dose of the Trojan Horse theory of Islam. In its infancy, the developing Muslim American culture was subject to many views and ideas that do not necessarily emanate from Islam and in many cases are objectionable to Muslim Americans for that reason. Perhaps the most glaring examples would be perceptions and treatment of women and tolerance for various forms of psychological and physical abuse and customs that violate human and women's rights that are protected as "Islamic" when in fact they are not.
The primary fear of such customs is based on the possibility that they will adversely affect not only the larger Western society, but will cause a growing number of Muslim American women and girls to forego their rights to participate fully in their societies and c,ommunities, and to obtain education. The lack of dignity, the frustrati,on and anger in women that results from a societies negative perceptions of femininity and treatment of women is not consistent with the image of Muslim women in the prophetic era. These violations carry with them a series of adverse psychological, physical and social maladies that should not be welcomed or tolerated by any group of people or society and surely would not have not been tolerated by the prophet Muhammad (saws) and are in some instances directly opposed by ayat (verses) of the Qur'an.
The Americanization of Islam is characterized by some as a right of ownership that belongs to the Muslim American, who enjoys the right to fashion a culture that speaks to our own experiences, hopes and aspirations both religiously and materially, and that upholds those American traditions and values that do not conflict with Islamic laws and values. Every other society touched significantly by Islam has enjoyed this right, and it should not be denied the Muslim American. The prophet Muhammad (saw) did not obliterate Arab culture, but rather reformed the culture, allowing those customs not in violation of Islamic law to remain in place and undisturbed. He reformed the society through the promulgation of just laws, and not public censure, popular opinion, or repressive tactics or rhetoric that stigmatized, condemned or that denigrated a people in spiritual transition. This made the development of the Islamic culture, and adherence to Islamic laws a positive, easy and welcomed phenomenon rather than a traumatic and violent imposition of what were perhaps perceived as foreign views.
A very interesting scenario has developed which hopefully will not result in a stalemate, or any sort of violent clash. It should lead us all to the next step in the development of universal standards and principles of human governance, which in my view is premised upon civilizational cooperation based on common interests rather than necessarily common ideology.
There are some promising and exciting possibilities created by our nation's willingness to reassess its role in the Muslim world and Islam's place in America. The first American president and premier revolutionary by any account, George Washington felt that the great American experiment was a divinely ordained project of great universal importance. Finally, we may be at the point of understanding the significance of his observation.
Anisa Abd el Fattah is editor of the Middle East Affairs Journal and director of media and public relations for the United Association for Studies and Research.