There are two opposite visions that animate American scholarship on Islam and Islamic societies. In the days, months and years ahead, a great deal will hinge on which of these two visions prevails in our foreign policy.
One projects Islam as an enemy that must be destroyed, or it will destroy us. This is the camp of warriors, led, among others, by Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer. Their thinking is reductionist and ahistorical: they believe that Islam is fundamentally at odds with the core values of the West. These warriors urge United States to confront this menace now, and contain it militarily before it threatens the West.
The second camp takes the view that Islamic societies are diverse, and each contains tendencies - religious, cultural and political- that pull in different directions. They do not think that political Islam rejects modernity: it seeks to indigenize modernity, to give it a local habitation and a name. This is the diplomatic camp, led, among others, by John Esposito, Richard Bulliet and Robin Wright. They believe in engaging political Islam, and taming its force, among other things, by adopting a more balanced foreign policy towards the Palestinian question.
It is worth noting that, in the world of scholarship, the warriors are a minority. However, together with their neoconservative allies, they enjoy considerably greater political and media clout than the diplomatic camp. This clout increased greatly after the end of the Cold War. And now, after September 11, President Bush appears to be embracing their objective of waging pre-emptive wars against major Islamic countries. We know that in the present climate of opinion, it would be all too easy to start these wars, but they may be harder to stop.
I will review some of the charges leveled by the camp of warriors against Islamic societies. I will examine whether Islamic societies lag in economic development, face a democracy deficit, and possess "bloody borders," a phrase coined by Samuel Huntington. I will examine if these charges are supported by the evidence. And if they are true- can we place these charges at the door of Islam?
The Islamic world does face any number of serious problems: it would be foolish to deny this. What we need to determine is whether Islamic countries have done worse, or much worse, than others with a comparable history in pursuing economic growth, promoting equality between the sexes, developing free institutions, and keeping the peace with its neighbors?
First, consider the question of economic development. Judging from their living standards in 1999, measured as per capita income in international dollars - taken from the latest World Development Report - it does not appear that Muslims have done too badly. In several paired comparisons, Iran holds its own with Venezuela, Malaysia is well ahead of Thailand, Egypt is modestly ahead of Ukraine, Turkey only slightly behind Russia, Pakistan a little behind - and Indonesia somewhat ahead - of India, Bangladesh is somewhat behind Vietnam, Tunisia is well ahead of Georgia and Armenia, and Jordan is significantly ahead of Nicaragua. It may be noted that nearly all the comparisons concede the historical advantage to the non-Islamic members of the pair.
The results do not change if the comparisons are based on a broader human development index. In a ranking that includes 162 countries in 1999 - taken from the Human Development Report, 2000 - 22 Islamic countries occupy ranks between 32 and 100. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sudan rank lower down the scale, but still ahead of several non-Islamic countries in Africa. Notably, the Arab oil-rich countries are the leaders of the Islamic pack. And incredibly, Saudi Arabia, the bastion of conservative Islam, spends 7.5 percent of its national income on public education; this places it in the same class as Norway and Finland.
The evidence does confirm the charge of a gender bias in Islamic countries. Nearly half of them show gender bias in their development indices. A comparison of the human development index with the same index corrected for inequalities between sexes - both taken from the latest Human Development Report - shows that 17 out of 36 Islamic countries suffer a loss of rank as we move from the general index to the gender-related index. These losses are highest for Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Sudan and Lebanon. Only Turkey improves its rank significantly, by four places.
The cultural determinism of the warriors extends to demographics. Observing the rapid growth of Islamic population, they attribute this to a cultural resistance to birth control. Once again, an examination of the evidence quickly dispels this charge. Between 1970-75 and 1995-2000, nearly every Islamic country experienced a decline in the total fertility rate: this is the number of child births per woman over her lifetime. In several, the decline was quite impressive. The fertility rates for 1995-2000 were 1.9 in Azerbaijan, 2.3 in Tunisia, 2.6 in Indonesia, 3.2 in Iran, 3.3 in Malaysia and Algeria, and 3.4 in Morocco and Egypt: compared to 3.3 for India and 3.6 in Philippines. These low rates for the Islamic countries are more remarkable because they were achieved over periods much shorter than in Europe and Latin America.
We now turn to the matter about Islam's "bloody borders." In his book, The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington claims that "Muslim bellicosity and violence are late-twentieth century facts which neither Muslims nor non-Muslims can deny." In support of this thesis, he offers a list of inter-civilizational conflicts on Islam's borders in the 1990s. He also provides some quantitative evidence purporting to show that Muslims had a disproportionate share in inter-civilizational conflicts during 1993-94.
A more careful examination of the data tells a different story. Jonathan Fox, in the Journal of Peace Research (2000), has shown that Islam was involved in 23.2 percent of all inter-civilizational conflicts between 1945 and 1989, and 24.7 percent of these conflicts during 1990 to 1998. This is not too far above Islam's share in world population; nor do we observe any dramatic rise in this share since the end of the Cold War. It would appear that Huntington's "facts" about "Muslim bellicosity" fail to qualify as facts.
In any case, we have to be careful when we talk about "bloody borders." A hard look at the geography of civilizations soon reveals that the length of these borders vary strikingly, and that Islam's share of such borders is disproportionately large. On the one hand, Islam's geographic sweep across the Afro-Eurasian landmass brings it into contact - both close and extensive - with the African, Western, Orthodox, Hindu and Buddhist civilizations. In addition, we must count the internal borders between often large pockets of majority Islam within non-Islamic countries and vice versa. It is my impression that if we added up all of these borders, Islam's share of borders might well exceed the combined share of all others. A recognition of these facts might help to place observations about Islam's "bloody borders" in a less prejudicial perspective.
The Democracy Deficit
Finally, there is the charge of a 'democracy deficit' in the Islamic world: attributed by cultural aficionados, like Samuel Huntington and Elie Kedourie, to an Islamic culture that is seen as hostile to democratic values.
The proof of this is found in the latest global rankings on freedom and democracy provided by the experts at Freedom House: as if such complex matters could be ascertained by examining snapshots of countries at any one point in time. There is a further problem with these rankings: they are subjectively determined. Concerned about the biases this might introduce, the UNDP quickly discontinued their use in their annual Human Development Reports after using them once.
The cultural determinism of Freedom House is also on proud display in their most recent report. On the one hand, a quick review of the trends on democratization reveals two waves of democratization - in the 1950s and 1990s - data which point towards powerful international forces regulating these movements. The first wave accompanied the post-war dismantling of colonies; the second wave followed the end of the Cold War. If some countries, or block of countries, have not participated in these waves of democratization - or pseudo-democratizations for the most part - this is attributed to cultural flaws. Thus, the latest Freedom House report declares that "the roots of freedom and democracy are weakest" in the Middle East (emphasis added).
Nevertheless, let us take a closer look at the latest numbers provided by Freedom House. Their data for 2001 show that only 23 percent of the Islamic countries have electoral democracies; the comparable numbers are 38 percent for Africa, 62 percent for Asian countries, 70 percent for post-Communist countries in Europe and the CIS, and 91 percent for the Americas. There are some revealing patterns within the Islamic countries. Of the 16 Arab countries and six Central Asian Republics, not one is democratic. When we exclude these two groups from the Islamic countries - about a fifth of world's Islamic population - the proportion of democracies in the remaining Islamic countries rises to 47 percent. It may be noted that, in some cases, the Freedom House classifications are questionable. If Iran and Malaysia were classified as electoral democracies the last number would go up to 59 percent, quite comparable to the number for Asian countries.
Is there any rationale for excluding the Arab and Central Asian countries from the Islamic count? It turns out that in fact there are several. Since the end of the Cold War, Western donors and multilateral institutions have used their financial leverage to encourage democratization in client countries. However, there is one significant exception to this. These pressures are not applied to Islamic countries - mostly in the Arab world - where democratization is likely to bring the Islamists to power. On the contrary, the Arab despotisms - with the exception of the 'rogue states' - have received political, moral and intelligence support from Western powers in the repression of their mainly Islamist opposition.
There are other factors stacking the odds against democracy in the Arab world. Not the least of them is Israel, a colonial-settler state, increasingly seen by Muslims as the military fist of the United States in Zionist gloves. After the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, there is no other conflict that can match the Israel-Arab conflict in its durability or the way it has warped a whole region. The Israeli presence in the Arab heartland magnified the security imperative of the front-line Arab states, allowing them to build praetorian states with the capacity to suppress all forms of dissent.
In the Arab world, oil has been another negative factor. Of the sixteen Arab countries, nine are oil rich, and all but three of them have quite small indigenous populations. Their oil revenues and small populations have allowed most of these countries to exempt their citizens from paying taxes. That is one more strike against democracy: a citizenry that pays no taxes lacks the moral authority to demand representation.
In addition, eight Arab countries are monarchies, and all but two of them are also oil-rich. These oil monarchies were either created by the British, or, in the case of Saudi Arabia and Oman, they were supported and shored up by them, and, more recently, they have been maintained as American proxies ensuring that Arab oil remains in trusted hands. American commitment to these monarchies was demonstrated during the Gulf War.
As for the six Central Asian countries, we find that all of them are members of the defunct Soviet Union. They have been run, since their independence, by former communist bosses backed by Moscow. Russia maintains a military presence in these countries, or has strong ties to their military, with the intent of sealing their southern borders against Islamist influence from Iran and Afghanistan. Thus, Russia now is playing the same role in this region - opposing democratization - that United States has played in the Arab world.
Yet Islam Remains A Problem
If Islam is 'normal', why is it still a problem for United States?
This problem is born of a tension between a great power, United States, and a historical adversary, Islam. United States enters into this contest with its vast power, Christian evangelism, the constraints of domestic lobbies, energy needs, and a vision of itself as a civilizing force. Islam enters the stage as a fractured, wounded civilization, humiliated by two centuries of Western domination, divided into ineffectual political units, without a core state, rich in oil resources it does not control, with a colonial settler state planted in its heartland that daily adds insults to its injuries. It appears that history has produced an explosive dialectic.
And now this dialectic, in its most recent convulsion, has produced a decentralized, secret, fanatical and violent Islamist enemy which, because it cannot strike down its domestic tormentors, has decided to attack the more vulnerable United States. Having destroyed their only safe haven, and convinced that the Islamists who intend to perpetrate terror are still lurking in the shadows, United States desperately searches for appropriate, accessible Islamic targets.
This is what is driving United States into the camp of the warriors. The warriors offer us easy targets: It's the Islamic world, stupid. Just get rolling and take it out - root, stock and barrel. In the present climate, this temptation will be hard to resist. It will be hard to resist because America's evangelism, messianism, and civilizing missionary zeal have been roused. Americans are also convinced of their overwhelming power to inflict damage, without taking any losses.
We might perhaps take a leaf from Israel. It too has long enjoyed the same overwhelming superiority of power over the Palestinians. It too can rain down terror on the Palestinians. But it has achieved neither security nor peace. In this contest, the greater responsibility for restraint rests upon United States. This burden lies with us because we are the greatest power on earth - and this power lies in the hands of august persons, educated, civilized, privileged, and possessing an understanding of the world and the consequences of their actions which the Islamist fanatics do not have. We must pray for United States to carry this burden, and show the world that it is not only a great civilization - it also cares for civilized values.
Copyright: M. Shahid Alam. Alam is Professor of Economics at Northeastern University. His recent book, Poverty from the Wealth of Nations was published by Palgrave (2000). He may be reached at [email protected].
My argument is that the onus also lies a great deal on the shoulders of muslim ummah. You pointed out that the dialectic has produced a violent, decentralized and angry people among the mulsim ummah( which I think was very small before but has sharply incresed and increasing). This is very understandable. However, as you mentioned these people instead of turning to their domestic tormentors have turned to the outside forces like the US. This I believe is the most important point for muslim ummah. I belive reform and accountability begins at home. We cannot ask of others what we do not practise ourselves. I agree with the reasons you gave for the undemocratic, repressive muslim world. However, we would be in much better position in dealing with the rest of the world, if we have democratic rulers representative of an educted and open minded ummah( which unfortunately we are not). Maybe the view of the people of the world would also change about us, forcing the rulers to change their policies.
This chain of hatred has to stop somewhere. Hatred in response of hatred only breeds more hatred. I read this article on an Islamic website. The need of the hour is to educate muslims on how to deal and combat this American 'imperialism' peacefully yet strongly. The best way to do it is to fight totalitarianism and despotism at home and face the problems peacefully as far as possible.
On the point of seperation of the curch and state. This is perhaps required in a chirstian context. Where law is not laid down by the Bible but by the church which is subject to extensive change(witness the christian/western laws which have gone to extreme ends over the centuries). Islamic rule (which encompasses social and religous in one) does not require a theocracy. The law is laid down in the Quran. Only implementation of this law is done by the ruler/country with the advice of the jurists.
Islam was not and cannot be like the west. The conflict is not about islam or its adherents. It is about a socitey which is being/has controlled by the west for its means which no longer is supine. Change is taking place, to what goal is not known. Surely this change will take place on the terms and benifit of the ones whom it will affect. No power is too powerful(no matter what the west feels about its nuclear might) to beat time, and time/history says that people cannot be denied their destiny. You find what words to describe what muslims call the will of God it will be done and has been done as centuries have demonstrated.
When it comes to a matter of religion, I won't be questioning authenticity. This isn't my right, as I'm not a scholar. But, let's use reasoning to objectively reflect a little about the natures of the Bible and Quran. Let's see the statement, "[you're] very much divided off into your own group."
(1) from the very nature of the Bible, its authenticity lies with the codexs' (much of which is based in Hebrew, and thus of Jewish concepts). But, the origin of quran is different. Muslims claim that the quranic authenticity within itself, based upon reasoning about God's creation. In fact, an ex. of what I mean is Ch 13 ver 3 (space is limited)
(2) because of this difference, there's truly diffence between customs, practice, and books of jews & christians and muslims. For ex. muslims don't gamble-ch 2 ver 219. This is where Muslims appear to be different.
However, I also like to bring your attention to how they are the same: ch 10 ver. 37. As muslim scholars understand this verse, there are parts of judeochristian scriptures which Muslims agree with "[quran] is a confirmation of that before it", but the rest of verse says "and a fuller explanation [criterion] of the Book [God's revelation unto humans]." Meaning there are parts of judeochristian scriptures that Muslims don't accept.
And I'm sure Jojo, you accept and don't accept parts of the quran as revelation. This is common sense, because humans are the creatures of God that reason. When people reason differently, they may accept differently or partially accept.
One religious concept Muslims accept with Christians and Jews is prophethood of Abraham and Noah. The 3 religions would call a prophet one who brings a message unto a people, and that's exactly how all 3 religions regard Abraham and Noah. In fact, looking at the quran, there are entire chapters on Noah (71) and Abraham(14). This may mean that the islamic outlook on prophets is slightly different, but it's not 'disb
1. please do not get confused with the word ISLAM
and present day muslims.
2. Look around, lets face the facts:
Name one country, whose people are practicing
3. West and others are not against ISLAM, they
are aginst those muslims who in the name of
ISLAM, are doing things which a true muslim
will not do.
4. Are we not free to practice our religion
in this country.
5. Are we not free to speak.
6. Can you publicly criticize the policies of a
govt. in an present islamic state.
7. In our so called muslim states, when we see a
law enforcemnet officer,do we feel safe or we
8. It is a historical fact that when we followed
islam, we were respected by even our enemies.
9. Now we do not respect each other.
10. I am not a philosopher or a scholar, an
ordinary muslim, who like others left our
countries and came to this country where
freedom,justice and opportunity prevails.
11. How many of wants to go back and live in one
of those socalled muslim countries.
12. Lets face the fact, it was islam that changed
the most uncivilised people to the most
civilised people of the world.
13. It is we who are giving bad name to our own
religion and not others.
14. Read Iqbal shikwa jawab shika, and you will
find answer to the problem.
PLEASE FORGIVE MY WAY OF ADDRESSING THE ISSUE.
I APOLOGIZE IF I SAID THINGS WHICH HEART THE FEELINGS OF BROTHER MUSLIMS.
1. Will the more enlightened and tolerant branches of Islam have the courage to take control from the radical fundamentalist sects? Will the enlightened Arab/Islamic world claim responsibility and resolve the situation? If not, a violent anarchistic vacuum is created where outside forces will inevitably have to intervene.
2. Will diplomacy work with the radical fundamentalist groups and states? History says that thugs are abusing their power and hiding behind cultural and religious fronts. Is the enlightened Islamic world willing to specifically call out and confront the thugs and abuses and then follow on with responsible action to resolve the problems?
3. Can the Islamic world tolerate infidels amongst them?
4. Can the Islamic world embrace a separation of church and state?
5. Can the enlightened Arab/Islamic world find a better way to distribute its enormous wealth to promote the welfare of the poor and needy in the Arab/Islamiccountries? This means an outright crusade to create a consensus followed by highly directed action amongst enlightened Muslims to create a better government and cultural framework.. Without this clear sense of direction can the Arab world find its way out of the quagmire? If the enlightened Islamic/Arab world cannot create a clear and concise direction and enlist an active consensus amongst their members, how long will the rest of the world tolerate their low profile expediency? The stakes are rising as the radical fundamentalists gain more power.
6. Palestine is a real emotional issue. But it will be resolved and all the other issues will remain after this distraction is gone. The thugs will create a new issue and a new distraction should the more enlightened Arab/Islamic world not have a clear direction and agenda. This is at bottom a practical matter.
this world would be a whole lot better if we thought about what we are doing to other people and put ourselves in thier shoes
If you mean the second sense, then America may fall short of meeting this definition. Because in guaranteeing its interests and ours, it may trample on the democracy of other nations.
Take an example close at home: How did Hawaii become a state? We didn't give its people an offer for annexation, but what we did was that we put a navy ship near the Islands to "protect" the interests of American entreprenuers there. Then the navy overran the Hawaiian Queen's power, and ha we now have a governor.
And if the argument is that the Hawaiian people benefited from US culture, I would have to ask the arguer, 'if the situation was reversed, would we like Hawaii making us their protecturate? The arguer would answer "No." I would respond "why, isn't it a friendship; aren't we getting those things associated with culture like technology and new values, while they get the opportunity to put us under their wing of protection?" We say no, because we would feel that our democracy -our right to run ourselves- was violated by someone else's hidden interest.
Unfortunately, today, most of us would never know the truth because we mistakenly assume that our government is acting mostly on values. Interests play the major role for the US, and it's this role that inspires ill-feeling, as rightly it should. Because when it comes down to it, interest runs America's policy and it will reduce or suppress democracy of other nations if interest sees fit. Only ME nations don't have strong governments to resist. This sort of 'hate' comes with superpower status and bears down most on the
Who is threatening freedom and liberties in the US? Who are the tyrannical elite that are fooling American citizens with lies and deception with their farcical media and forcing the US, by buying its politicians, into unjust, reckless policy against all Muslims in support of an artificial, colonial, apartheid, racist, cancerous, terrorist little state built on bigotry and Palestinian blood and dispossession? And whenever an honest US citizen, be it professor, journalist, politician, diplomat, or any lay person, criticize the selfish policy of that despotic, tribal fifth column, he or she is brutally suppressed.
Obviously US freedom is in jeopardy, but it's not Muslims who are threatening it, as the Zionist zealots would have you believe, it's those whose blind loyalty and allegiance are directed toward that terrorist state of Israel and its crimes against humanity and can care less about genuine US interests.
At first I was interested in your article having very much enjoyed studying comparative economics and economic issues in the developing world. But then it devolved into the anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Western, anti-Jewish rhetoric that seems so common a theme in the Muslim world.
It is sad to think that you are an "intellectual", one who enjoys the benefits of the United States, teaching at one of our fine universities, yet still harboring such obvious bias and hatred. How ironic that you help to project the US as an enemy of Islam that must be destroyed (or restrained) before it destroys Islam. You are in your own "warrior" camp.
It is clear that you are attempting to inflame Muslims into action against the U.S. with your false characterization of America's efforts to rightfully defend and protect itself from terrorists. Terrorists who have in fact hijacked your religion for their own purposes. Aren't true Muslims outraged by its violent radicals?
America has named some Islamic states as terrorist nations because that is exactly what they are: Iraq and Iran actively support terrorism and are obvious in their intentions towards us. I agree that as a powerful nation we need to hold fast to the values that made us great and deal fairly with others, but we also need to deal swiftly and decisively with those who seek to destroy us. And most everyone here expects more American losses--we do not feel "invulnerable". Don't project such an arrogant and silly attitude on us. Other nations have made this mistake about us and have paid dearly for such naivet. Most Americans are willing to die defending our freedoms.
If the US really is provoked into causing the destruction that it has within its capabilities, it would be frightening. Either the terrorist groups/nations that support them don't realize this, or in some perverse way desire it so that they could, by their "martyrdom" win over "moderate" Muslims agains
The statement "...President Bush appears to be embracing their objective of waging pre-emptive wars against major Islamic countries." is simply and totally untrue. As a Muslim in the US I am offended that you slant the facts to create more tension and do our cause a great dis-service.
The US is waging pre-emptive war against those who seek to terrorize it. If those people happen to reside mainly in Muslim states, then your statement appears to be true. A further examination will prove it is most certainly not.
Those who terrorize and those who support terror are and ought to be targets of pre-emptive strikes to prevent further mass loss of life. Upon learning of suspected terrorists residing in any state, Muslim or otherwise, the US attempts diplomatic approaches to extrapolate the suspects. Only after this fails does military action begin. How then can this be viewed as a war on Islam? The religion has not been attacked in any way. In fact, the religion remains, perhaps more devout than before, for the peace loving Muslims who witness such conflict. They are not harmed or forced to relinquish their faith.
You say the US targets Muslim states. I say the US targets states that promote, hide, or altogether ignore terrorists. And, in fact, many have been removed from non-Muslim states, such as Germany, with little or no incident.
Can you explain how the US is waging a war on a specific religion? This nation welcomes all religions with open arms. Mosques, Temples, and Churches all peacefully co-exist here. There has been no religious conflict here; only terrorism.
The US government and press has gone out of its way to acknowledge the difference between Islam and Terrorism. Articles such as yours do nothing more than equate the two toge
God told us that they are the most hostile people to the Muslims (Quran 5:82), and they will not stop short of destroying Islam.
This should take us to three things that made us great at the time of sahabah, may Allah be pleased with them all.
Justice, Freedom, and Knowledge are the major keys of our prosper. Unlike many other principles, Islam only produces, when it is taken in full capacity. The three things are major pillars in insuring the application of Islam in full.
islam,trying to give da'wah to non-muslims.
i appreciate your balanced articles