Benard’s project: "reform" Islam from within using moderate Muslims

After distorting the teachings of their own religion, Christianity, and then abandoning it all together, the Western world is now busy trying to give the same treatment to Islam in order to subvert it. Two events in particular have spurred Western policy toward Islam and its continuing impact on the two billion Muslims worldwide: the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and the September 11, 2001 attacks on various landmarks in the US.

There have been two different approaches to the “containment” policy and ultimate subversion of Islam: outright wars on Muslim countries and peoples, and a more subtle policy of promoting secular Muslims to marginalize mainstream committed Muslims. The wars unleashed against Muslims are well-known: Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, Libya and Iran are but a few names that come readily to mind. The aspect of subversion needs a closer look. One name in particular stands out: Cheryl Benard, an American political scientist working for the Rand Corporation. In a 2003 paper for Rand (updated in 2007), she made certain sweeping proposals to contain Islam by nurturing a moderate, democratic version that would serve US/Western interests.

While the Washington warlords embarked on a policy of “nation-building” in places like Afghanistan and Iraq –” an enterprise in which they have singularly failed –” Benard’s more ambitious “religion-building” enterprise has had greater success because it operates on the assumption that there are enough Muslims willing to become tools of Western imperialism. She has divided the world’s two billion Muslims into four neat categories –” fundamentalists, traditionalists, modernists, and secularists –” and urged Western leaders to identify appropriate “Islamic partners” to work with them. The aim is to discourage extremism and violence as well as encourage democratization and development. For “extremism” and “violence” read Muslims opposed to Western imperialism and hegemony.

Conversely, those Muslims that accept Western supremacy and are willing to work as tools of imperialism are considered “moderate”. The “moderate” strand not only includes the rulers of such countries as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen and Pakistan but there are also a large number of opportunists and carpetbaggers in Western societies that are willing to advance the West’s agenda. How successful this policy has been will be examined a little later but let us first look at the author’s premise.

Benard, married to the Afghan-American neocon, Zalmay Khalilzad, posits the theory that there are two main components of crisis in Islam: a failure to thrive on its own terms and a loss of connection to the global mainstream. She is wrong on both counts although it would not have been obvious to her in the heady days of 2003 when the Taliban were banished from Kabul in a short, brutal campaign in October–”November 2001 and when American forces stormed Baghdad in March–”April 2003 without much resistance, driving their own long-entrenched dictator Saddam Husain from power. Were she to write this paper today, one may expect a little less chest thumping and a little more circumspection even from a headstrong imperialist like Benard. But even the convincing military defeat of US/NATO forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and the economic meltdown of the US and indeed the entire Western capitalist system have not deterred the recruitment and promotion of secular Muslims to undermine Islam.

Let us also consider the assertion that Islam has “failed” to thrive on its own terms and that it has lost connection to the global mainstream. The first assumes that Muslims are free to order their societies as they choose. Enough empirical evidence exists to show that there is gross Western, primarily American interference in the internal affairs of Muslim countries and societies. Not only are dictators kept in power with Western military, political and economic help but Islamic movements are also targeted and their leaders and cadres brutalized and murdered. The dungeons of most Muslim countries –” Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia etc. –” are full of committed Muslims whose only crime is that they call for the removal of these corrupt oppressive regimes so that they can be replaced with governments based on Islamic values and principles. Islamic Iran has continued to thrive on its own terms despite being subjected to vicious sanctions and a prolonged policy of subversion from the West.
More than 30 years after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Iran is far stronger today and the US is teetering on the brink of economic and financial ruin. Unlike Iran, the US has faced no sanctions yet it is on the verge of bankruptcy.

As for the Muslims’ disconnection from the “global mainstream,” one wonders what it is and who defines it? Is the global mainstream what the US/West believes in? Are Western values universal when the overwhelming majority of people in the world neither believe in nor follow them? The arrogance of such statements is astounding. Muslims rightly reject the rampant moral anarchy that has gripped Western societies with illegitimate children, family disintegration and divorce rates that have now reached sky-high proportions. Nor do Muslims subscribe to the racist policies of the West in which other human beings are considered dispensable. During the last century, more than 100 million people were butchered worldwide by Western armies. Muslims are eternally grateful to the Lord and Sustainer of the worlds that they did not participate in such wholesale slaughter of innocent human beings. The West is welcome to its global mainstream!

Benard’s arrogance aside, she asks the question, which ideology (or ideologies) to support; with what methods; and with what concrete, realistic goals in mind. The “fundamentalists” are out because they “reject democratic values and contemporary Western culture,” she asserts. The superiority of Western culture as a universal standard is evident in her analysis. From this she concludes that the “fundamentalists” want an authoritarian, puritanical state to implement their extreme view of Islamic law and morality. They are willing to use innovation and modern technology. They do not shy away from violence. Her description best fits the archaic tribal monarchy of Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally of the US and of the West in general. But Benard clearly does not have the Saudi ruling family in mind; there are good fundamentalists (those aligned with the West) and there are bad fundamentalists (those that oppose the West), according to Benard.

So what does she propose? In her neatly packaged division of the Muslim world between fundamentalists, traditionalists, modernists, and secularists, she calls for support of the modernists because they “want the Islamic world to become part of global modernity. They want to reform Islam to bring it into line with the modern age.” Bringing Islam into the “modern age” is the goal she has set for the West to follow. Aware that her project would not get very far without undermining Muslims from within, she suggests “support for the traditionalists against the fundamentalists.” The latter group must be confronted and opposed at all costs because they refuse to accept Western values and culture, according to Benard. Finally, she suggests selective support for the secularists because they “accept a division of church and state in the manner of Western industrial democracies, with religion relegated to the private sphere.” It would be clear from this discourse that her underlying assumption is the superiority of Western values and norms that everyone else must conform to. Poor Saddam Husain must be turning in his grave. After all, he was a thoroughly secular modernizing type of a fellow, one moreover willing to wage war on behalf of the West (against the Islamic State of Iran) but he ultimately fell foul of the West. Modernists and secularists beware.

Benard is candid about the lack of support modernists and secularists have in the Muslim world. This, however, is no bar to her project. She prescribes promoting them with financial support as well as projecting them in the media as “leaders” of Muslims. Those Muslims that follow news given out by the corporate media –” whether on television, radio or in print –” would immediately understand what is afoot. People with Muslim sounding names that have absolutely no credibility among Muslim communities are projected as “moderate” and presented as “leaders”. Their statements, however ludicrous, are given great prominence and even showered with awards for writing books that more appropriately belong in the garbage bin.

A contingent of opportunists has now emerged; these people are projected in the media as credible spokespersons for Muslims. They include men and women. Some women insist on leading prayers and have made a great show of it attracting the Muslim-hating media to cover the spectacle. Others insist hijab should be banned for Muslim women. Their argument is that Muslim women are “forced” to wear the hijab. While such nonsense is readily printed in newspapers and projected on television, few Western reporters have bothered to ask the women in hijab whether they are forced to don the dress? Further, while claiming to do whatever they want in the name of freedom, the same freedom is denied Muslim men and women that wish to practice their din (way of life, not the inaccurate description of Islam as religion) fully.

More serious than this is the demand of some of these Western stooges to update the Qur’an. They have no knowledge of the Arabic language much less that of the Qur’an itself. At most, they may have partially skimmed through some English translation of the Qur’an, perhaps that of N.J. Dawood, one of the most poor and inaccurate translations of the noble Book in English and then these people begin to make claims that they are experts on Islam and the Qur’an. Such claims would be dismissed out of hand if they were uttered about any other religion or even a secular system but when it comes to Islam, it is open season. This is not per chance. It is part of the policy proposed by Benard to create a more Western friendly version of Islam.

To this group of misfits and fringe elements one must also add some “converts”, especially in the US. Many of them are of Jewish-Zionist background and their conversion is highly suspect. They memorize and recite a few verses from the Qur’an and then they claim to be experts on Islam. Regrettably, there is a tendency among some Muslims to become overly impressed by “white” coverts without realizing that Islam is above colour, race or ethnicity. Its validity is not contingent upon whites or blacks converting to Islam; nor is it in need of celebrities becoming Muslims, another obsession with some Muslims. This is the result of an inferiority complex among Muslims that seek validity for the din of Allah (swt) in such gimmicks.

But let us return to Benard’s proposal about supporting the modernists and what the West ought to do. We quote her words so that readers can better appreciate what has happened in the last 10 years or so. This is what Benard says about supporting the modernists:

  •  Publish and distribute their works at subsidized cost.
  •  Encourage them to write for mass audiences and for youth.
  •  Introduce their views into the curriculum of Islamic education.
  •  Give them a public platform.
  •  Make their opinions and judgments on fundamental questions of religious interpretation available to a mass audience in competition with those of the fundamentalists and traditionalists, who have websites, publishing houses, schools, institutes, and many other vehicles for disseminating their views.
  •  Position secularism and modernism as a “counterculture” option for disaffected Islamic youth.
  •  Facilitate and encourage an awareness of their pre- and non-Islamic history and culture, in the media and the curricula of relevant countries.
  •  Assist in the development of independent civic organizations, to promote civic culture and provide a space for ordinary citizens to educate themselves about the political process and to articulate their views.

Muslims that follow events closely would immediately recognize how some fringe elements have been promoted and continue to be promoted by the West to denigrate Islam and Muslims. It is for Muslims themselves at all levels of society in the Muslim world and elsewhere to ensure that they work to further the cause of Islam and Muslims and not work to promote the Western colonial project, its imperialist goals, and all the social engineering that goes along with it. It is for them to defeat the Benardist project in order to maintain the pristine purity of Allah’s (swt) din that is for all mankind so that peace, justice and balance are established in society, free from the exploitative policies of the West.