Crisis of faith in the Muslim worldPART 2: The Islamist response

Posted in Broader Middle East | 10-Nov-05 | Author: Spengler| Source: Asia Times

Prayers in a Mosque.
(For PART I: Statistical evidence, please click here)

Note: The following essay, whose first installment appeared on November 1, was written in September, prior to the uprising of Muslim youth in France. Despair at the prospective dissolution of Muslim society is the mother of radical Islamism, and its path of least resistance goes toward violence. Nowhere is that more obvious than in France, where a spontaneous outburst of rage among disaffected Muslim youth has, over the past 10 days, mutated into an organized campaign of violence.

There is no evidence in the public domain that Islamist radicals initiated the violence. Nonetheless, generals are chosen by their
armies. The Grande Armee did not invade Russia because it was led by Napoleon Bonaparte; rather, Napoleon invaded Russia because he had half a million scavengers to lead, of whom only a tenth were French.

Albrecht von Wallenstein's army did not mutiny against the Austrian throne because its field marshal wished to betray his masters; rather, Wallenstein betrayed Austria because he could not maintain his locust-horde and be loyal to Austria at the same time.

A vast army of young unemployed Muslims, estimated to reach 25 million in the Arab countries alone by 2010, stands at the disposal of the would-be Napoleons and Wallensteins of radical Islam, and they have no choice but to lead it. The outcome well might be a new Algerian War fought on French soil, with all the horrors that attended that conflict just half a century ago.

For three years I have argued that Europe sought to avoid conflict with the Muslim world precisely in order to mitigate this danger, but that Europe's appeasement would be futile. Europe now faces a terrible reckoning which will not be paid in full for years.

Why does population growth fade in response to rising literacy in the Muslim world? It might be that Muslim women stop making babies as soon as they can read the instructions on a packet of birth-control pills, but the matter is not so simple.

The crisis of modernization first of all is a crisis of faith, and the attenuation of religious faith is the root cause of the birth rate bust in the modern world. Traditional society is everywhere fragile, not only in the Islamic world; by definition it is bounded by values and expectations handed down from the past, to which individuals must submit. Once the bands of tradition are broken and each individual may choose for herself what sort of family to raise, religious faith becomes the decisive motivation for bringing children into the world.

As Phillip Longman wrote in The Empty Cradle, "Faith is increasingly necessary as a motivation to have children." The collapse of traditional society has brought about a collapse of birth rates across cultures. Cultures that fail to reproduce themselves by definition are failed cultures, for the simple reason that they will cease to exist before many generations have passed.

That is why the Islamists - Muslims who seek a new theocracy - display a sense of extreme urgency. They are not conservative Muslims, for they reject Muslim society as it exists as corrupt and decadent. They are revolutionaries who want to create a new kind of totalitarian theocracy that orders every detail of human life. They are not throwbacks to the past, but products of modern education. Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), the founder of the modern Islamist movement, formulated his theory while earning a master's degree in education at the Colorado State College of Education. He wrote in 1949:
Islamic society today is not Islamic in any sense of the word ... In our modern society we do not judge by what Allah has revealed; the basis of our economic life is usury; our laws permit rather than punish oppression ... We permit the extravagance and the luxury that Islam prohibits; we allow the starvation and the destitution of which the Messenger once said: "Whenever people anywhere allow a man to go hungry, they are outside the protection of Allah, the Blessed and the Exalted." [1]
The Islamists feel that they have nothing to lose, for the fear of cultural extinction surpasses the fear of physical death. The Islamist dream of theocracy, for example, Osama bin Laden's vision of a restored caliphate, represents what might be the last stand of an endangered culture, something like the Nazi hallucination of Aryan empire. The Islamists have nothing to lose, but they have much to gain: they perceive not only weakness, but also opportunity. Islamic life is dying, but far more slowly than the senile civilization of Western Europe.

Education and literacy appear to threaten traditional Muslim social relations. The cliff-like drop in Muslim fertility sets the stage for social crisis a generation from now. Islam threatens to join the list of failed cultures. By using the term "failed culture", I do not mean to deprecate Islam as a religion or Muslims individually. Islamist writers, starting with Sayyid Qutb, as quoted above, say precisely the same thing. It is not surprising that Islamist radicals are obsessed with survival. Although some of their behavior appears irrational, their underlying premise is not. The Islamist revival responds to the Muslim countries' failure to adapt to the modern world.

Urbanization, literacy and openness to the modern world will suppress the Muslim womb, in the absence of radical measures. Radical Islam is born of existential fear. In a new volume of academic essays on modern Islamic thought, two Islamist academics, Suha Taji-Farouki and Basheer M Nafi, observe, "Rather than being a development within cultural traditions that is internally generated, 20th-century Islamic thought is constitutively responsive; it is substantially a reaction to extrinsic challenges." [2]

The challenge stems from the transformation of Muslim life:
In the Middle East of 1900, for example, less than 10% of the inhabitants were city dwellers; by 1980, 47% were urban. In 1800, Cairo had a population of 250,000, rising to 600,000 by the beginning of the 20th century. The unprecedented influx of immigrants from rural areas brought the population of Cairo to almost 8 million by 1980. Massive urbanization altered patterns of living, of housing and architecture, of the human relation with space and land, of marketing, employment and consumption, and the very structure of family and social hierarchy. [3]
The sharp fall in the Muslim population growth rate expresses the extreme fragility of traditional society. Again citing Taji-Farouki and Nafi, this means"
A Muslim sense of vulnerability and outrage is further exacerbated by the seemingly unstoppable encroachment of American popular culture and modes of consumerism, and the transparent hypocrisy of the American rhetoric of universal rights and liberties. It is also stoked by Western ambivalence towards economic disparities in the world. [4]
The remarkable fact about Taji-Farouki's and Nafi's book is not the professorial observations quoted above. What is most remarkable, rather, is the alleged participation of one of the scholarly authors in terrorist enterprise.

Professor Nafi, who teaches history and Islamic studies at Birkbeck College, University of London, also happens to be under indictment in Florida for "conspiracy to murder, maim or injure persons outside the United States". He was deported from the US for visa violations in 1996, and was one of eight men, including three professors, indicted by a US District Court in Florida in 2003 for providing material aid to the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad. Nafi was indicted along with Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, an adjunct professor of Middle East Studies at the University of South Florida (USF). Reported Middle East analyst Daniel Pipes:
Even after the indictment, Arthur Lowrie, formerly vice chairman of USF's committee for Middle Eastern Studies, praises Shallah for his "good scholarly work". And Gwen Griffith-Dickson, director of Islamic studies at Birkbeck, describes Nafi as "highly respected", lauding him for his efforts "with energy and commitment, to encourage critical thinking about religious issues and academic balance in his students, and thus to encourage social responsibility". [5]

Basheer M Nafi is not the only Muslim intellectual to support violence in the cause of Islamic theocracy. Time magazine five years ago hailed the Geneva-based Professor Tariq Ramadan as one of the world's "spiritual innovators", for "creating a new kind of European Islam that bridges his Islamic values and Western culture". [6] "Ramadan's chosen task is to invent an independent European Islam ... With 15 million Muslims on the continent, Ramadan believes it's time to abandon the dichotomy in Muslim thought that has defined Islam in opposition to the West," Time enthused.

Ramadan's reputation grew such that Notre Dame University offered him its Henry R Luce professorship of "Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding" in 2004. Before Ramadan could assume his position, however, the US Department of Homeland Security revoked his work visa on the grounds of alleged terrorist association.

Precise reasons were not given, but it turns out that the Department of Homeland Security was not alone in its evaluation of the Swiss Islamist. France had refused entry to Ramadan in 1996 because of alleged links to an Algerian terrorist then engaged in bombing attacks. [7] Ramadan since took up an appointment at Oxford, and in August this year was appointed to a panel advising British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Islamic matters.

A disturbing sort of observer effect is at work in the field of Islamic studies; it is hard to find coherent formulations of the Islamist position without finding that the formulator has already chosen involvement in terrorism. Westerners should not be too shocked at this turn of affairs, for stranger things have happened in the West. During the years before and after World War II, respectable academics who apologized for Soviet aggression often supported it covertly. Thanks to the Venona wiretap transcripts, we now are aware that prominent Americans who apologized for the violent actions of the defunct Soviet empire also were agents of Soviet espionage. [8] But the fact that prominent Islamist academics offer more than moral support for Islamist terrorism is a leading indicator of cultural despair.

We typically call terrorism "senseless". A Google search for the term "senseless and terrorism" yields more than half a million hits. But sense and rationality have an existential component, that is, we presume that we will continue to exist in order to be sensible and rational. If we know with near certainty that we shall cease to exist, or at least cease to exist in a recognizable way, the term "rationality" loses meaning. At this point we feel that we have nothing to lose, like Adolf Hitler in 1939. That is why the violent proclivities of Ramadan and Nafi must be explained existentially, rather than rationally.

Most of the world's cultures will go into oblivion without a fight, either because they cannot or do not wish to fight for survival. Of the world's endangered cultures, only one can and will fight to perpetuate itself, and that is Islam. Militancy is not unique to Islam.

Twice during the 20th century the nations of Europe fought each other for pre-eminence, with the result of their common ruin. Yet Islam's decline was not an accident, nor is the fearsome response to that decline offered by the Islamist radicals. Born in militancy, Islam among the world's religions offers a unique justification for conquest. The war that Islam will offer the West in its final throes will be a tragic, terrible, and prolonged war that cannot be avoided, but only fought to exhaustion.

Islam has one generation in which to turn its foothold in Western Europe into a governing power, before the effects of slowing population growth set in. Although the Muslim birth rate today is the world's second highest (after sub-Saharan Africa), it is falling faster than the birth rate of any other culture. By 2050, according to the latest United Nations projections, the population growth rate of the Muslim world will converge on that of the US (although it will be higher than Europe's or China's).

Islam has enough young men - the pool of unemployed Arabs is expected to reach 25 million by 2010 - to make its stand during the next 30 years. Because of mass migration to western Europe, the worst of the war might be fought on European soil.

Twenty million Muslims now live in western Europe; the dean of Islamic scholars, Bernard Lewis, predicts that Europe will be Islamic by no later than the end of this century. The numbers suggest otherwise; the end of the century will be too late.

[1] Social Justice in Islam, by Sayyid Qutb, translators John B Hardie and Hamid Algar (Islamic Publications International; Oneonta 2004)

[2] Suha Taji-Farouki and Basheer M Nafi, Islamic Thought in the Twentieth Century (Tauris: London 2004), page 9

[3] Ibid, page 2

[4] Op cit, page 14

[5] Terrorist Profs, February 24, 2003

[6] Trying to Bridge A Great Divide

[7] See Why Revoke Tariq Ramadan's US Visa?, by Daniel Pipes, New York Sun, August 27, 2004.