By Munir Akram
Jun 12, 2017
In the 14th and 15th centuries, Christian Europe was divided by the rivalries of Spain, France and England, the Holy Roman Empire and the squabbling papal and city states of Italy. They were unable to unite to halt the Ottomans who reached the gates of Vienna and were stopped there by Sultan Suleiman’s demise than by Christian resistance.
Today, the roles are reversed. It is the Muslim world which is unable to unite to fend off the West. The crisis between Qatar and its GCC partners is reminiscent of the rivalries of Italy’s Papal States.
The Islamic world, wracked by conflicts and crises, is traversing a period akin to Europe’s Dark Ages. First, in many Muslim countries, there is crisis of political legitimacy. Governance structures, mostly bequeathed by Western colonists, have corroded. Egypt has reverted to military rule. Turkey’s populist leader battles opposition. External intervention in Libya has led to the emergence of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Similarly, Syria has been destroyed by external intervention and a brutal civil war. The fiction of Iraq’s unity is preserved by the presence of Iranian militias, US military support and the war against ISIS. The US-installed Afghan regime is weak, corrupt and divided. Ironically, among OIC members, Pakistan is one of the few which retain a modicum of democratic legitimacy.
Second, violence is spreading across the Muslim world. Global terrorist groups — ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, etc. — are now active participants in conflicts and threaten global stability.
Muslim nations are not the main sponsors of global terrorism; they are its principal victims. Some major powers have fought terrorists selectively. No effort has been made to stop state terrorism.
Third, the crises within the Islamic world have been exacerbated by ideological differences. The most vital schism is between Sunni and Shia power. This schism was dormant until Iran’s 1979 “Islamic Revolution”. It rose to the fore in the Iraq-Iran war. It was manifest in the Afghan civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. It was, however, the US invasion of Iraq, and the organisation of one-man one-vote elections that enabled the Iran-sponsored Shia parties to gain central power in Iraq.
The sectarian divide is not the sole ideological rift within the Muslim world today. The Muslim Brotherhood and its populist ideology have become abhorrent to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE. Hamas, the Palestinian affiliate of the Brotherhood, has suffered collateral damage. On the other hand, Qatar and Turkey have espoused the Brotherhood and Hamas. This was evidently the main reason for the Saudi-UAE break with Doha.
Last, but not least, today’s weak Islamic world is wide open to domination by external powers. The recent Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh was an illustration of the susceptibility of most of the assembled Muslim nations to US domination.
What seems most dangerous is the hard-line positions being adopted by the Trump administration. Pakistan’s main preoccupations are: TTP and ISIS terrorism, Afghanistan and India. While addressing its own priorities, Pakistan cannot “play possum” on issues involving the Islamic world. Such abstention does not behove the Muslim world’s second largest nation, its largest military power and its only nuclear weapon state. Pakistan has consistently concluded that its national and security interests can be best advanced by promoting unity and cooperation among Muslim countries. Today, more than ever, Pakistan is obliged to play an active role to develop viable avenues for conflict resolution and cooperation among the Islamic nations and, hopefully, lead the way to a new age of enlightenment in the Muslim world.