By Dr Ameer Ali
27 October, 2014
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram, Taliban, Al-Qaeda and several other Islamist cults that have emerged over the last couple of decades and are currently running amok - destroying individual lives and communities, devastating economies and regions and ruining peace and harmony - are only the more recent of a long series of blistering symptoms of a virulent disease that has afflicted the world Muslim community, which accounts for almost fifth of humanity.
This disease is more than a millennium old and its germs were injected when the Islam of the philosophers was dethroned and was replaced by the Islam of the clerics and jurists. An Islam based on doubt, reason and inquiry that created the glory of Islamic civilization was killed by an Islam founded on blind faith and conformity that led to stagnation and decay. It was a tragic turning point that marked the beginning of Islamic fundamentalism from which various brands of Islamism have grown. What we witness today in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world is the bloody consequence of this historic tragedy. It is futile blaming colonialism, imperialism, communism, Zionism and everyone else for the malaise of Muslims without looking into their own intellectual backyard covered with layers of accumulated obsolescence to be cleaned up.
The Muslim world is in desperate need of a new resurgence that can break its fossilized mind-set from an obsolete fatwa-ridden and exclusivist fundamentalism so that it can re-read its own history in the light of rationalism. The resurgence that the Muslims have been touting about from the 1980s was not actually resurgence towards modernity but a restoration of an ancient regime that created the malignant sickness in the first place. What the Muslims need is not an Islamic state but a state of Islam governing their personal life with religion as a moral compass.
Unfortunately with the flooding of the social media a rejuvenated orthodoxy has now taken the centre stage of public space and has relegated any rational alternative to its periphery. Given the strangle hold that this orthodoxy has won over the Muslim masses including its middle class intelligentia it is extremely difficult for a rational alternative to emerge and survive from within. If the West is really keen in taking the Muslim world along with it as a partner in building a world civilization based on rationalism and enlightenment then it should change its approach to the world of Islam from military confrontation to a long term ideological war. It is nothing short of a rescue mission to save one-fifth of humanity from political, economic and social depredation.
The West is indeed indebted to Islam for its own emergence from an age of darkness. The West took off from where the Muslims left. The Wars of the Crusade, apart from the bloodshed and mayhem they caused, opened to the West the treasure troves of Islamic knowledge and achievements. While the Muslims turned their back on rationalism and secular advancement, burnt the writings of Averroes and discarded Avicenna the West embraced the thoughts and writings of these savants, rebuilt its civilization and surpassed Islam. This debt has to be acknowledged and the time has come for that debt to be paid back.
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire the Western powers, particularly Britain, France and the United States, viewed the Muslim Middle East, as hunting grounds for economic resources, investment and markets. Geopolitical manoeuvres, artificial state creations, military installations and regime changes were all part of a Great Game to achieve that objective. A class of compliant local rulers were installed who in turn looked for legitimacy not from the people but from the mullahs and the military. An artificial modernity however eventuated in the process but that modernity was structured on a fossilized religious orthodoxy. The horrors that we witness today is the result of this mismatch between an imposed modernity and an out dated indigenous ideology.
Without a change in that ideology the Muslim world is doomed to collapse and become self-destructive. The West has to engage in a new rescue mission by coming to the assistance of a different class of Muslims. Within the Muslim world there are intellectuals and progressive thinkers who have been crying for an ideological battle. Many of them as a result face stiff opposition from the orthodox and some are forced to migrate to the West. They now need a platform and institutional support. Will the West provide these?
In the ultimate analysis it is the Muslims who can and should change their destiny but at the moment it seems to be a hopeless task to expect, and that is why the West is duty bound to facilitate this change, not in the interest of Muslims alone but in the interest of humanity as a whole. Without this fundamental transformation of the Muslim mind no amount of development assistance, technological transfers and regime changes can arrest the bloody tsunami that is lashing the shores of the Muslim world. One may even call this new Western initiative a reinvented mission civilisatrice.
Dr Ameer Ali is an Economics lecturer at Murdoch University, School of Management and Governance