The Muslim extremist critique of the West goes something like this: the West has high levels of crime, abortion and divorce therefore Western ideologies — secularism, democracy and Christianity — are devoid of any value. The problem with such a critique is that it fails to recognize that many of the problems that exist in the West occur in spite of the values and systems that underpin Western civilization or occur in isolation to those values.
Unfortunately, a similarly disingenuous approach is often applied by some on the Left to the Islamic world. As an example, the problems of honour killings and crimes against women are routinely cited as evidence of the failings of Islamic fundamentalism.
"What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence," Bertrand Russell once noted, "is an index to his desires – desires of which he himself is often unconscious." It seems that the willingness of some supposed progressives to impugn Islam because of the social problems of the Muslim world is driven by the same overall antagonism towards religion that leads others to declare Christianity bankrupt of all value because of the transgressions of some priests. These critics begin their analysis with the culprit and villain already in mind and then gather the ‘evidence’ to support their hypothesis.
The fact is that much of what our critics charge our societies with is true. There are indeed problems with violence against women, honour killings, female genital mutilation and sub-standard levels of education. However, if one examines the situation with a dispassionate and unblinkered view, one finds that Islam — particularly Islam in its most puritan, austere form — is innocent of any responsibility for these problems.
The fundamental problem that the Muslim world faces is a pervasive ignorance. It is a secular ignorance — as evidenced by the poor literacy rates — but more importantly we face a spiritual ignorance. In the Muslim world, religion and culture have been conflated with no distinction made between the two. For this reason, one finds honour killings in Jordan, genital mutilation or infanticide in other parts of the world often justified with a ham-fisted interpretation of religious texts. This isn’t something unique to Islam: one can find equivalent justifications for abherrent behaviour in all faiths.
In the Muslim world, the principle cause of the ignorance that hangs over our society like a pall is the view of many of our governments that Islam is a threat to their secular and totalitarian rule. They have thus hindered and obstructed the development of Islam in their countries to the point that, for the first time in Islamic history, there are now huge numbers of Muslims living outside the Muslim world.
The proposed solutions for the Muslim world –” secularism, democracy and some Western notion of “women’s rights” –” are based on several fallacious assumptions. Firstly, it assumes that the stagnation in the Muslim world is a result of religion and therefore secularism will be the obvious panacea. However, history shows that the Muslim world was at its social, economic and intellectual zenith when it was ruled by Islamic law. It was only when the newly created nation-states began pursuing other ideologies that the Islamic world fell into decline. It’s for this reason that the majority of Muslims see secularism not as a solution, but as a continuation of the problem. Secondly, it is a fact that were one-man one-vote to come to most all the Muslim societies, the result would be an Islamic government ushered into power. For that reason, the democracy that is being offered is really just a Trojan horse for a pro-western, secular form of government malleable to Western interests. As for the vacuous notion of “women’s rights” which is so frequently cited as a partial-justification for the ongoing Western intervention in the Muslim world, it ignores one fundamental fact: women in the Muslim world no more want a ‘feminist revolution’ than they want a ‘democratic revolution’.
In the final analysis, the true enemy of both Muslim and non-Muslim worlds is not necessarily the other but rather ignorance and false assumptions.