The twenty-first century fascism is interesting in the sense that it is hiding behind democracy. It is using the banner of democracy to stand against Islam and fight against Muslims until they completely relinquish the idea of living by Islam. Islam is devalued in an attempt to present Islam and democracy as mere ideas. Thus, the war is called “a war of ideas.” To bring the clash of civilizations theory to the grassroots level and engage almost every individual in it, the clash is presented as a war of ideas. It is hard to sell the clash of civilization and get everyone engaged in it. To an unaware mind, the term idea carries fewer implications than civilization, culture and worldview. There cannot be anything more unjust intellectually than reducing Islam to the state of idea and then comparing it with democracy.
Of course, democracy is an idea because it does not bind up beliefs and values with identity. However, Islam is not just an idea because two people can agree that an idea is important to both of them and still disagree about the details of the idea or its consequences. Islam, nevertheless, has a set of beliefs, principles, values and standards, which its believers have to accept without asking a question. Islam calls for a belief in the unseen and demands total acceptance of the Qur’an and submission to the will of Allah. Ideas can be held deeply or casually, dogmatically or experimentally. To reduce Islam to mere an idea–”not a way of life–”moderate, liberal, progressive, conservative and other types of Islam are introduced. But in fact, there is no room for believing in Islam casually or dogmatically. It is not as simple as to say that one is a Muslim or a democrat means that one believes in certain ideas–”ideas whose content can still be debated.
Islam is a faith and democracy simply an idea put into political practice in countless forms. Faith includes commitment to ideas, values, principles and standards for living ones life. Politics, however, involves putting ideas into practice according to the will and wishes of the people, ideally, or the whims of autocrats and powerful in the society as we witness in the modern world. To speak about Islam as merely an idea, takes away from its aspiration to truth, its depth, or its effect on human conduct and way of life.
An ever-increasing number of people around the world are constantly and uninterruptedly embracing Islam since 1,400 years. Roots of democracy are traced to Athens without enough details. It is then widely accepted that this idea went into a long latency and did not begin to spread around the world in earnest until the nineteenth century. Its practice varied everywhere. The result in the twenty-first century is that other than providing people an opportunity to go to polls, it has simply become a tool to change faces of autocrats every few years. It has become the kind of a system, which Pharaohs would have loved to have.
The Islamophobes are fond of making speeches and writing articles to convey the false idea that democracy (the sort represented by universal suffrage–”the counting of heads regardless of contents, if any) is synonymous with freedom. Actually, democracy works out as the dictatorship of organized corporate terrorists and the many hidden forces behind them, including neoconservatives and Islamophobes in the garb of liberals and secularists.
The Democracy which was established in parts of the British Empire and in France, Belgium and the United States, is that represented by the counting of heads. The majority is then able to put what are called its “representatives” in power. This is supposed to result in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. However, there is no such thing. The people lose all control over their “representatives” as soon as the latter come into office, for then they do what they like with the people in order to serve their masters behind the scene, mostly in London and Washington. The “democratic representatives” of the people can send them to war and death and they can ally them with modern day fascists. They can imprison their people for years without charge or trial.
Some influential men predicted fate of the so-called democracy long ago. Lord Macauley’s May 23, 1857 letter to the Hon. H. S. Randall, New York City, for instance, expresses his ideas about the future of the United States under the democratic system:
I am certain that I never in Parliament, in conversation, or even on the hustings–”a place where it is the fashion to court the populace . . . uttered a word indicating the opinion that the supreme authority in the state ought to be instructed to (by) the majority of citizens told by the head; in other words, by the poorest and most ignorant of society. I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must sooner or later, destroy liberty or civilization, or both.” (After a considerable discourse on how a hungry and propertyless people will succeed in plundering the United States by legislative means.
There will be, I fear spoliation . . . when society has entered on this downward progress, either civilization or liberty perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of Government with a strong hand or your Republic will be fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth; with this difference: that the Huns and Vandals who ravaged the Roman Empire came from without and your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your country by your own institutions.
Similarly, Goethe noted: “There is nothing more odious than a majority. It consists of a few powerful leaders, a certain number of accommodating scoundrels and subservient weaklings, and a mass of men who trudge after them without in the least knowing their own minds.” What an apt description of the present state of the British and American governments today. In its worst form, democracy is now being used as a shield to wage wars through lies and deceptions.
After the fall of communism, it was not easy for Islamophobes to stand up to Islam as such or mobilize another, wider crusade, in the name of religion. They had to come up with different ideas. That is why besides a wider campaign to demonize Islam and Muslims, they resorted to reducing Islam to mere an idea and making people discuss validity of this idea. Democracy is presented as a more valid idea for which Islam has to give way. The real intentions behind the faÃ§ade of democracy are exposed the moment Muslims freely elect those into power who have expressed their will to making living by Islam possible. Today, many people in the Muslim world, ordinary and elite, would like to run their countries democratically. However, no democratically elected government is acceptable to the modern-day fascists who have launched their crusades in the name of democracy but refuse to accept the results if puppets of their choice do not come to power.
Historically speaking, democracy did not make inroads into the Muslim world for the sake of democracy. A century ago, an impartial observer might have thought that Islam’s influence within its sphere was fading as fast as organized Christianity’s in Europe. After almost five hundred years of glory and accomplishment, the Ottoman Empire was on its last legs not because the Islamic principles became less valid but actually these principles were either totally ignored or inappropriately practiced. Islam does not propose Empire building. Truly Islamic or not but the empire formed the institutional center of Islam; its sultan was not only the ruler of the empire but also the caliph: deputy of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), part of a chain stretching back to the beginning of Islam.
Starting in the 1860s, those who started looking at the empire from the material perspective–”that is how one looks at an empire and hence there is no scope for such empires in Islam–”sought to “reform” the it from within. They tended to believe that Islam was part of the empire’s decline rather than understanding that their materialistic thinking had turned Islamic Khilafah into an empire. They associated Islam with an old-world, old-fashioned, and failing way of life. For them the future lied to the West.
What is described as the first flowering of democracy and secularism in the Muslim world was clearly a Zionists’ sponsored adventure to abolish the institution of Khilafah to deny Muslims a chance to get united and reform the institution in the light of true Islamic teachings. The people and forces behind Ataturk’s secular, anti-Islamic revolutions are not hidden at all:
The Prime Minister, Lloyd George “feared Jews”, and in his memoirs he explained his momentous decision to support Zionists by urgent need to form an alliance, “a contract with Jewry”, “a highly influential power whose goodwill was worth paying for”, in order to win the war. “The Jews had every intention of determining the outcome of the WWI. They could influence the U.S. to intensify their involvement in the war, and as the real movers behind the Russian revolution, they also controlled Russia’s attitude towards Germany. The Jews offered themselves to the highest bidder, and unless Britain would clinch the deal first, the Germans would have bought them”. The astute Lloyd George based his opinion on the reports of British ambassadors, who were unequivocal. “The influence of the Jews is very great, – noted his man in Washington. – They are well-organized and especially in press, in finance, and in politics their influence is considerable”. The ambassador in Turkey reported that an international connection of Jews was the real power behind Ataturk’s revolution. The Foreign Office undersecretary Lord Cecil summed it up, “I do not think it is easy to exaggerate the international power of the Jews”. The Royal Institute of International Affairs asserted that “the sympathy of Jews was vital to winning the war”.
Even before Ataturk, other “reformers” wanted to transform the empire into a constitutional monarchy, leaving the sultan as a figurehead and running the empire through a basically secular parliament.
Besides secularism, the colonialists introduced seeds of nationalism among Muslims at the same time. Shortsighted Arabs embraced the concept of nationalism and started to imagine an Arab nation free from Ottoman control. Arab nationalism sought to locate an identity in Arabic language, culture, and civilization rather than in Islam. Islam bound many people, from Ottoman Turks, to Balkan Muslims, Persians, Indians and Afghans, it its fold as an Ummah. On the other hand, the nationalists’ preferred category–””Arab” included Christian Arabs, some of whom were theorists of Arab nationalism, and even Arabic-speaking Jews. It very pointedly did not include non-Arab Muslims, like Ottoman Turks. So although Arab nationalists wanted the empire to break apart, while secular Ottoman reformers wanted to preserve it through rejuvenation, both of the two colonialists inspired movements in the dying empire saw Islam as a relic of the past, not an important basis for political ideology or organization. The Islamophobic colonialists were happy to imagine Islam going the way that Christianity did in twentieth century Western Europe–”from a once-powerful organizing system to a mild, private form of worship, taken seriously by only a few. That did not happen to Islam. Instead, Islam, as a basis for political thought and organization, took a curious alternate route.
Around the time that Ottoman secular-reformers and Arab nationalists were beginning to marginalize Islam, a group of thinkers emerged who argued that it was too soon to consign Islam to the dustbin. Muslim revivalists, most famously Allama Iqbal, Jamal ud-Din Afghani, his student Muhammad Abduh, and his follower Rashid Rida, agreed that Islam as understood and practiced in the Ottoman Empire was failing the Muslims. Instead of blaming Islam, the secularists and nationalists blamed traditional Muslim scholars for having allowed the once-vibrant Islamic tradition to ossify. In the middle Ages, Islamic civilization led the world in science, technology, and philosophy, so Islam could hardly be faulted for the scientific and technological backwardness of Muslim societies. Muslim Cordoba had running water and streetlights when Paris was a sewer. Navigation, mathematics, optics, philosophy, and chemistry had all flourished in the Muslim world and made their way slowly into medieval Europe.
The secularists wrongly concluded that Islam needed to be updated to take account of advances in modern science, technology, and philosophy. They took as precedent the medieval successes of Islamic civilization, which had come in part because Muslims translated and studied Greek science and philosophy, then innovated beyond what they found there. The glories of Muslims’ success during the medieval period, in other words, required serious engagement with the best ideas that the rest of the world had to offer. The answer to the problems of the Muslim world was to have another go at such an engagement. That was absolutely not a problem. The problem was their tossing out Islam at the same time.
During this time, the Muslim revivalists wanted to “reform Islam” rather than reviving Muslims. So they argued that many ideas in the West were in fact to be found within Islamic tradition. If one went back to the Prophet himself and to his companions, one would discover truths that, coincidentally or not, resembled the ideas of modern Western thinkers. The political implications of this revivalist move were uncertain.
Some revivalists, envisioning a pan-Islamic politics that would draw on Muslim governmental tradition, called for revival of the Khilafah, which Ataturk and his companions had abolished in a fit of post-World War I secularization under the auspices of former colonialists.
Some secularists moved in the direction of Western liberalism and sought to separate religion and state. One such modernist, ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq, published a controversial Arabic book arguing that Islam concerned only private life and therefore had nothing whatever to say about politics. This “liberal” view was roundly condemned by Muslim scholars as un-Islamic. It did not catch on in the Muslim world, although the Islamophobes in the West, equating modernity with liberalism, have never given up arguing that Islam must be privatized to bring the Muslim world into modernity.
The Muslim revivalists had limited success. Secularists in Turkey and Arab nationalists had little need to dress up Western ideas in Islamic garb. They were willing to embrace many Western ideas on their own terms, without attributing Islamic origins to them. One frequently hears Islamic revivalism described as a failed intellectual movement without looking at the successful creation of Pakistan in the name of Islam. Pakistan was created despite all odds. Allama Iqbal was one of the main intellectual forces behind the movement for creation of an Islamic State in South Asia. It is for sure, that creation of Pakistan was absolutely impossible in the name of secularism, or nationalism or any other justification other than Islam.
At the same time, the revivalist movement provided the material for a different movement within modern Islamic history for Muslims self-determination and self-rule. Islamophobes in the Western world could never come to terms with this movement. They labeled it as fundamentalism in the initial period. Then they resorted to condemning this movement as political Islam towards the later part of the 20th century. Lately they invented a new degrading terms, Islamism and Islamists, for this movement and those who are part of it. This movement continues to attract followers today, despite rumors of its death or failure, and it still matters centrally in the Muslim world. Many know the story of demonizing the Islamic movement towards self-rule through the twentieth century, but it is relevant enough to deserve a brief description as to how it reached a stage where its followers are associated with terrorism and the non-existent “Al-Qaeda network.” There is no denying the fact that the movement for Muslims’ right to self-determination and real independence is there. However, the modern day fascists just keep changing its title to make it more and more degrading and unacceptable.
The most influential student of the Muslim revivalists was Hasan al-Banna, an Egyptian born in 1906 and trained in the most modern educational institution in Cairo, then picturesquely known as the House of Sciences. Al-Banna had memorized the Qur’an as a boy but had not attended a religious high school or the seminary mosque of al-Azhar, which was and remains the most important center of higher Islamic learning. Al-Banna was impressed by the revivalists’ idea of going back to the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions to find the sources of Islam and the real meaning of living by Islam. Convinced that Islam could provide the answers that were necessary to go forward in the modern world, he did not think those answers were necessarily similar to answers found in the modern West.
Looking back to the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions convinced al-Banna that Islam was not merely a faith but a comprehensive worldview that covered the whole field of human existence. Islam was “religion and state, book and sword, and a way of life.” It provided a blueprint for a just society, organized along Islamic principles. Like the Muslim revivalists, al-Banna thought that the traditional Muslim scholars had failed to preserve the essence of Muhammad’s (pbuh) message and had been too willing to go along with whoever held political power. They had allowed Islam to be cabined into the area of religion, without realizing its full potential to express itself politically, legally, socially, and intellectually. Similarly, the medieval books favored by the scholars could for the most part be put aside as digressions from the true Islamic path.
Islamophobes have made al-Banna the focus of attention for the sake of demonizing the movement for self-determination to which al-Banna was providing new inspiration. Islamophobes argue that the word Islam was not there as an adjective in Arabic and it is al-Banna who popularized this word only to promote “Islamism”–”a worldview with its own distinctive message and way of life. They argue that the adjectival form reflected a new way of thinking, in which Islamism supplanted Islam.
Accordingly, the twenty-first century fascists believe, “Islamists” are not just Muslims but people who see Islam as a comprehensive political, spiritual, and personal worldview defined in opposition to all that is non-Islamic. Contrary to the undeniable reality, the Islamophobes try to make the world believe that this is not Islam, or Islam does not cover these spheres of life. In fact, Al-Banna did not invent these ideas. One needs to pick up the Qur’an and study the life of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) to understand that this philosophy is part and parcel of Islam. Putting a label of “Islamism” will never make these ideas un-Islamic.
In 1928, al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious, social, and educational organization that became explicitly political in 1939. It emerged as a sort of organic catchall for personal development, social life, and the promotion of religious and political ideas and action. In particular, the Brotherhood assumed the character of a cohesive, intensely loyal political movement opposed to the British-backed monarchy. This is how the colonialists saw a challenge to their colonial adventures in the face of Islam. It was in the interest of colonialists to limit Islam to households to save their rule and puppets they had put in place in the Muslim world.
The Brotherhood was not the most important political force in Egypt, but it gave voice to a powerful argument against the existing colonial order. Reliant on the British, the Egyptian government failed to express the ideals of Islamic government and Islamic law. The Brotherhood soon became a thorn in the side of the monarchy and its supporters in London. Al-Banna directly addressed the king, demanding establishment of Islam in Egypt. When King Farouk’s refused to take steps towards establishing Islam, al-Banna compared him to Pharaoh, who also refused to submit to the laws and standards of God. In 1949, as Farouk clung to power, al-Banna was assassinated by Egyptian secret police: one of the initial assassinations of the leaders of Islamic movement for maintaining the remotely controlled colonial order.
Al-Banna’s death devastated the Brotherhood; his successor lacked his charisma and clear intellectual vision. But the Brotherhood did have the last laugh on the monarchy when Brotherhood members joined army officers in the coup that deposed Farouk in 1952. The Brotherhood remained affiliated with the new government until 1954, when Gamal Abdul Nasser took power in a coup of his own. Nasser understood that the Brotherhood’s message conflicted with his vision of a socialist Egypt. Establishing a pattern that was to be followed by a generation of military dictators, Nasser identified the Brotherhood as a potent threat and banned the organization.
Meanwhile the message and movement of Brotherhood began to spread outside Egypt, and new chapters sprang up in the Muslim world. This process was the single most important institutional element in the spread of Islamic movement. In most places, the movement stayed small and kept a low profile. The death of al-Banna was fresh in the memory of both members of the brotherhood and the rulers of the countries where they lived. Islamic movement for self-determination and self-rule, in fact, had such a low profile that most people outside the Muslim world had never came to know about its true nature and basic ideas. All they know is the crux of Islamophobic propaganda–”fundamentalism, radicalism, political Islam and Islamism: all the rancid notions to restrict people from even trying to understand the real nature, motives and philosophy of the Islamic movement. In Egypt, where the Brotherhood had started, the reality of puppet regimes’ oppression and atrocities never made it to the headlines of Western media. Nevertheless, whenever there is a little reaction from the oppressed it is widely publicized as the “radical turn” of the Brotherhood.
Sayyid Qutb, a distinguished literary critic and theorist of education, also joined the Brotherhood in Egypt. A talented writer, he embarked on a second career as the most important theorist of the Islamic movement. Qutb went further than al-Banna in his rejection of governments that failed to follow Islamic principles. In a series of influential books and pamphlets, he argued that the world could be divided into two kinds of societies: a) A society that embodied Islamic values in the realms of law, economics, and politics counted as truly Islamic; b) A society that fell short in any of these areas belonged to the realm of ignorance. To communicate this latter idea, Qutb described the un-Islamic society with the word that the Qur’an uses to describe Arabia before the arrival of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on the scene: jahiliyya.
Qutb was of the view that the idea of ignorance not only applies to non-Muslims who had never heard Muhammad’s (pbuh) call, but also to states populated by Muslims who had neglected to live their public and private lives by Islam. The revolutionary aspect came in here. An imperfect Muslim state might be in need of reform and repair, as al-Banna had suggested. But a state mired in ignorance, serving its colonial masters’ bidding, needed to be replaced completely. Its leaders and perhaps its citizens, too, bore the responsibility for neglecting, slighting, and ultimately ignoring the teachings of Islam. Qutb, therefore, counseled forceful, even violent resistance to un-Islamic, repressive regimes.
Qutb did not hide the fact that he thought his analysis applied to Nasser’s socialist regime. Not surprisingly, Nasser was no different than other oppressors in the Muslim world, and Qutb was jailed for a decade, released briefly, then jailed again, and executed in 1966: The second deliberate murder of prominent leader of Islamic movement. These actions on the part of Egyptian regimes only proved the point that al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb were making all along. But he was allowed to write during much of his time in prison, and there he continued to produce the books that have kept his views alive among Muslims.
During the decade and a half between Qutb’s execution and the Iranian revolution of 1979, Islamic movement hit its low point in the Arab world. Chapters of the Brotherhood existed in various places, but they remained relatively quiet. In Egypt the Brotherhood was suppressed. Nationalism, often with a socialist twist and Soviet support, continued to dominate the Arab political scene, and indeed much of the Muslim world. Anwar Sadat, who, succeeding Nasser, began his presidency by briefly showing more sympathy than Nasser had for the Brotherhood, soon reverted to an anti-Islamic movement position, especially when Sadat made a deal with Israel at the cost of the future of the millions of Palestinians.
During this period from 1966 to 1979, there was still little reason for Islamophobes to exploit and exaggerate the threat of “political Islam.” Islamic movement, nevertheless, never ceased to exist. Despite the hegemony of nationalism and secularism, Islamic movement never entirely disappeared, even if, after the execution of Qutb, its momentum was reduced to some extent due to increased government repression. The fodder for Islamophobes spreading the fear of Islam came from the Iranian revolution.
Iran was and still is in no position to rekindle a broader Islamic movement. Yet the revolution was a surprise for the Islamophobes because Iranian nationalism was at least as secular as Arab nationalism. In fact, the shahs of Iran had pressed secularism even further than had their Arab counterparts. In the 1930s, Reza Shah Pahlavi actually mandated Western attire for women, prohibiting them from leaving their homes while wearing traditional Islamic garb. Young women responded positively, but some older women felt deeply uncomfortable and even refused to leave their homes for fear of appearing in public dressed in a way that made them feel uncomfortable and insecure.
Iranians were also Shi’ia Muslims, whose thinking of establishing Khilafah never coincided with the concept of Khilafah in the rest of the Muslim world. It was highly unlikely that Muslims elsewhere would listen to Iranian scholars about how to run a society. Nevertheless, the Islamophobes started propaganda that Iran is exporting “Islamic fundamentalism.”
Instead, the Shi’ia movement was indirectly influenced by al-Banna, Qutb, and Abul Ala Moududi, a contemporary who had written about the importance of Muslims’ living by Islam in all walks of life. Shi’ia clerics began, in the 1960s, to develop their own Islamic movement. The most famous ideologue remains Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but there were others of comparable importance in those years, including Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, an Iraqi Shi’ia executed by Saddam Hussein in 1980, and the Iranian intellectual ‘Ali Shariati.
Due to many factors, including limited geographic scope, in 1979 the Shi’ia Islamic movement entered the world stage to show in its own way the role of Islam in politics. The Iranian Revolution that toppled the Shah did not start as a purely Islamic revolution nor culminated in the formation of a truly Islamic governance model. The movement, nevertheless, gave momentum to other Islamic movements for Muslims’ right to self-determination and self-rule. Communists, socialists, ordinary leftists, and bourgeois Iranians alike were frustrated with Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s corrupt and oppressive rule and with American support for it. All these and more took to the streets in the revolution’s first stages. But before long it became clear that the Shi’ia Islamic movement had the edge at the grass roots and in the revolutionary structure. Soon the revolution was an Islamic revolution, with the chance to set up an Islamic government from the scratch. Because of its Shi’ia character, the state would look very different from the Sunni Muslim state envisioned by al-Banna and Qutb. In particular, the clergy would play a much greater role, corresponding to the much greater centrality of the imam in Shi’ia religious thought.
The much-repressed Islamic movements in the rest of the Muslim world received inspiration from observing the fact that oppressive regimes can be overthrown with the help of a mass movement and that establishing a society on the principles of Islam is not something impossible. However, the main factor that has been making their task harder is the split of the Islamic world into more than 50 states, under different types of oppressive and un-representative regimes and with Islamic movements at different stages of evolution, struggling to realize the dream of establishing a single Islamic entity or, at least, a model in any Muslim state.
Around the same time, people in the Arab world started realizing the failures of Arab nationalism. It did not lead to total independence from the former colonial masters, nor could it help them counter the hegemonic designs of Israel backed by the United States and its allies. Adding insult to injury, Sadat had broken ranks with the other Arab countries in 1978 and signed a humiliating deal with Israel, which totally ignored the plight of the Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation or in refugee camps outside the occupied Arab lands. Egypt got back the Sinai Peninsula, which the Israelis had occupied in 1967 with the American backing; but making peace with Israel hardly resonated with the principles of justice, morality, fairness or Islam.
Subsequently Sadat was assassinated. Although, as usual, the repressive machinery survived and stayed in power, the Western Islamophobes concluded that political Islam in the Arab world began to emerge as a serious force. One prominent success was Afghanistan, where non-Afghan Muslims, attracted by the message of Islam, and supported by the United States, went to fight beside Afghans to liberate Muslim territory from the Soviet occupation. After the war, they went back to their home countries and promoted the ideas they had lived in struggle against oppression and occupation. This led to a realization that if a puppet regime, physically backed by one super power can be defeated, why cannot others in the Muslim world, which are not directly occupied by former colonialists.
Although the Islamophobes associated Saudi Arabia with Islamic movement as well, but the Kingdom has not contributed at all to the Islamic movement because the ultimate result of this movement would not see the House of Saud in power. The Islamophobes try to link the religious interpretations of the founder of Wahabi movement with those of the Islamic movement. Saudi never funded groups and parties associated with Islamic movement. They funded construction of mosques and religious school that propagate messages counter to the Islamic movement, such as never challenge the rulers and the decision to wage Jihad lay with the ruler, etc.
In Afghanistan, various factions and their respective leaders were propped up against the Soviet Union, but there was no organized, ideological struggle or a blue print to establish Islamic rule after the occupation. The Saudis were funding Jihad against communism, more in the cause of the United States than the cause of Allah. Otherwise, one does not see Saudis funding Palestinians or Kashmiris or Chechens fighting against oppression and occupations. Did Allah prescribed Jihad only in Afghanistan? Was Afghanistan the only occupied country in the world?
When there was a need for misusing Islamic philosophy, the Saudi dollars and Muslim blood to fight the enemy of the United States, Islamic movement was relatively ignored by the Islamophobes for a decade in the eighties. We did not hear about Islamic fundamentalism, extremism and terrorism during that period. However, when the nineties dawned with the fall of Soviet Union, Islamophobes again started presenting Islamic movements as a threat to civilization and human existence. If measured by political success, their propaganda has made little headway other than Muslims’ understanding Western hypocrisy and double standards.
Nevertheless, the apparent failure of an Islamic revolution does not capture the full extent to which Islamic movement has spread to every nook and corner of the Muslim world. The need for Muslim self-determination and living by Islam has come to fore more as a result of Western attitude and the United States policies dominated by the neo-conservative thought than by any practical steps taken by the still disjointed and un-organized Islamic movement in the Muslim world.
As a result of the intensifying war on Islam under different pretexts, one can clearly see that a century ago, it was arguably justified to complain, as the Muslim revivalists did, that Islam had fallen into a rut of unthinkingly imitation of past forms. Today no informed critic, internal or external, could say any such thing. To the contrary, Islam today possesses an intellectual vibrancy of which most other great religious traditions can only dream. Although the ferment in Islam is not considered always forward-looking, but the struggle to get rid of the continued colonialism and the oppressive regimes is by no means backward looking.
Of course, one often hears about Muslims’ going to the core message and roots of Islam, but it absolutely does not mean to go back and physically live in the 7th century. The objective is only to live in the present day world with application of the true essence of Islam. But ironically or not, it is the very creativity embodied in a century of the simmering Islamic movements that are now gradually becoming the only alternative to the existing order in the Muslim world. In its engagement with foreign ideas, even when rejecting them, Islamic movements have developed a remarkable flexibility. The only hurdle is the lack of realization on the part of modern day fascists that these movements are going to amalgamate and give rise to a wider Islamic movement which will not help them prolong their colonial adventures in the Muslims world.
It must not be surprising that where democracy has been tentatively tried, religious parties and candidates have attracted support even if they had no clear mission and vision as in the case of Pakistan, where the vote bank is divided among many parties with absolutely no idea of turning Pakistan into a real Islamic state. Jordan in the early 1990s is another example. King Hussein ran into economic problems after the Gulf War, as trade with embargoed Iraq slowed. To let off some steam, the king experimented by staging the drama of elections for parliament. The local chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood spun off a political party and became a mainstream political force against the candidates, all of whom were put forward by the regime for fake elections.
Eventually Jordan had to draw back from this show of democracy, and the Islamic party sat out one set of elections; but the point is that Islamic parties did well when they were given the chance. Even the Egyptian parliament, with hardly a sign of pluralist democracy, has some members who belong privately to the Brotherhood. Throughout the Arab world, Islamic movements exist, and if they have retreated from a strategy of overthrowing of governments, they are still trying a greater role through the conventional political ways. The time is not far away that leaders of these movements will realize that even if they come to power within the left-over colonial systems, they can hardly establish Islamic state. This realization will take the Islamic movement to the next state of pan-Islamic brotherhood and struggle for establishing a single Islamic entity
Meanwhile, throughout the Muslim world, Islamic movement has continued to catch on. Several northern Nigerian states have rather haphazardly adopted some elements of Shari’ah. The motivation was democratic in the sense that Muslim politicians proposed the adoption of Shari’ah to consolidate popular support. In other places, such as under the secularist Pervez Musharraf, religious political parties were supported by the government to help them win more seats in elections than they had in years. The objective was to show sympathizers of the regime in the West that “Islamist threat” exists. This idea will backfire, because it will help the religious parties realize that they cannot make even a fraction of the progress required for establishing an Islamic state.
In Indonesia, the Islamic movement played an important role in the overthrow of the Suharto dictatorship and the subsequent process of democratization. In Afghanistan, the Taliban, which embodied the true, yet disorganized, unplanned and crude type of Islamic state, took over in the early nineties. They were also helped to come to power. Yet their refusal to toe the U.S. line and their sincere devotion to living by Islam exposed the sinister objectives of modern day fascists. The Taliban did not collapse until the enemies of humanity in the United States staged the 9/11 terror attacks and the U.S. government invaded Afghanistan without any evidence of the Taliban’s involvement in 9/11 at all. If it had not been for the pretext of harboring Osama bin Laden, the Taliban would, no doubt, be in power still. With all the exaggerated tales of their oppression of women and non-Pashtun Afghans, the Taliban period remains one of the most peaceful period in the recent Afghan history.
This brief history of the Islamic movement suggests that it is always a mistake to count Islam out. Islam looked weak as a political force a hundred years ago and again fifty years ago, yet in each case it stayed alive. Now that the movement has gained momentum as a result of the United States lying to justify invasion or Iraq and Afghanistan and then using all possible ways to keep them away from following the Qur’an and the Sunnah in governing their lives, it is not likely to go into hibernation until other countries, especially Arab countries, have had a chance to try it, in one form or another, and realize that the only solution is a concerted effort of the Muslim world to get rid of the centuries old colonialism and regain their right to self-determination.
Islamic movements were born in protest against Western-colonialism. These movements resurfaced in protest against U.S.-backed Muslim oppressive regimes. In most places, these remain oppositional movements. That means that people who hate their governments for being unjust and oppressive, and who see the U.S. adventures in the Muslim world a clear sign of its war on Islam, will be at least loosely sympathetic to the Islamic movements. The primary reason for the resilience of Islamic movements is that these always aspire to justice and real freedom. The reality of their standing against oppression and injustice will prove tremendously effective in capturing hearts and minds, especially in situation where the U.S. and its allies have tossed all norms of human decency and violate international law with impunity to impose their way of life on the Muslim world.
This is an excerpt from Abid Ullah Jan’s book: “After Fascism: Muslims and the Struggle for Self-determination.”