The political scientist Volker Perthes is the director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin and has published numerous studies on the Near and Middle East. He sees five key ways for Europe to take constructive action in the Muslim world
This fine line was ignored in the Bush administration's "Global War on Terror", but has since been rediscovered by American government bodies. Nevertheless, one must not overlook the transnational mood in large parts of the Arab and Muslim world, which at least makes it easier to mobilise violent elements in the name of a combative Islam.
Although the majority in these countries is by no means radical or violence-oriented, we can now find at least two generations of young men – and a number of women – from
Political anger, religious language
While the generation that produced the founders of al-Qaeda grew up with the US-supported Islamic Jihadists' struggle for liberation from Soviet occupation in
In structural terms, this opposition is based on three different phenomena. The first is the conditions in the countries in question, which are considered unjust – poor governance: corruption, disrespect for human rights, poor rule of law and social inequality. Islamic theology has often denounced unjust rule as un-Islamic, making it easy to come to the utopian reverse conclusion that a return to "true Islam" would guarantee the justice people want.
The second problem is activists' feeling that their own countries are being held back in their development by foreign, non-Muslim powers, above all the West. They see that Western governments support Arab autocrats, and they would regard any US or Israeli military action against Iran simply as a further example of the West's attempts to keep Muslim nations down.
The nation state and democracy
Dealing with extremism on an Islamic basis is primarily a battle for the future of the Arab and Muslim world. Particularly the first dimension of anger described above can only be tackled by far-reaching political reforms in these countries. The autocratic regimes selected as partners in alliances with the West, however, are rarely prepared to take such steps. European governments can call for and support reforms. Yet
Political change is never linear; it is always full of contradictions, detours and setbacks. It is therefore advisable to break down the concept of democracy into its constitutive elements for operational purposes. That means in particular the rule of law, human rights, independent justice, transparency, freedom of opinion and free elections, whereby these are the decisive but certainly not the first and only necessary element of sustainable political reform. Democracy – and this is essential – cannot come before a much more all-encompassing process of state building; statehood is instead a precondition for consolidated democracy.
It is essential that the West does not ignore the significance of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and increasingly that of the conflict in
Where is the clash?
Although the rifts have grown deeper, there is no clash of civilisations that positions "the West" against "Islam". The real clash is taking place within Arab-Islamic civilisation. The boundary runs between those who want to lead their countries to globalisation, and reactionary utopians who would like to put their societies into totalitarian strait-jackets.
It is up to us Europeans to decide whether we make life harder for our actual and potential partners in the region by making them the object of our policy, or whether we support them through credible action on the political, social and economic front.
© Qantara 2008