By Jim Campbell / Quadrant.org.au
One would need to be the infamous Blind Freddy not to recognise that the West is on a hiding to nothing as it struggles to contend with its Islamic imbroglio. There are many reasons for this but I suggest the most dangerous are found in the many common and comforting consensuses that have arisen over the Religion of Peace, as some would have it. These are no more than convenient delusions.
Perhaps the most dangerous consensus is the misconception that Islamic State (ISIS), the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist variants are the problem to be addressed and that, with sufficient firepower, the obvious manifestations of these elements can be contained or eliminated. In fact these groups are simply elements of a much larger issue: the re-emergence of a militant and resurgent Islam.
History shows that the drive for a worldwide Islamic caliphate is as old as the Qur’an itself, and in the 1,400 years since the Muslims’ sacred text appeared, the religion’s fortunes in achieving that goal have waxed and waned. Today we see a revitalization of this dream, but this time there are significant, profound differences. First, younger Islamic leaders are practicing Islam as explicitly prescribed in the Qur’an, and it is important to note that a high proportion of Muslims in Western nations are under 25 years of age. Second, over the past century Islam has moved from being Middle Eastern-centric, with but a meager demographic representation in traditional secular democracies, to having sizeable Muslim populations in those countries. Third, events in the Middle East, together with Islamist-sanctioned terrorist events across the globe, have given encouragement to those who share the hope of a worldwide caliphate. Fourth, modern technology and better management among Islamic leaders is being used to orchestrate a more coherent Islamic narrative, one that is backed by contemporary firepower.
Simply put, the obvious threats on which the West is focused, whilst their containment or defeat may play a role, are not the main game. Moreover, the focus on these distractions is playing into the hands of resurgent Islam as the West wastes money, resources and time pursuing chimeras.
The second consensus is that Muslims are being radicalized because they are disillusioned, uneducated or marginalized. These characteristics may play a part in some cases but the more likely explanation is that those being radicalised are being convinced by their handlers to follow the dictates of the Qur’an in the hope of the rewards promised. The Qur’an’s coercive management style incentivises believers to undertake “good deeds”, such as praying, alms-giving and the like. The literalist interpretation, as favoured and advocated by radical elements and preachers, sees this admonition extended to include donning the veil, leading protests against perceived grievances and imagined slights. It is a small step to the point where quite horrific “good deeds” are perpetrated in the name of Islam — going off to fight with ISIS, for example, or preaching that it is the religious duty of others to do so.
The third misconception is the hope that those who have been radicalised can be de-radicalised, with much money spent on programs pitched as achieving this goal. In an excellent Quadrant Online article last year, the University of New South Wales’ Clive Kessler, emeritus professor of sociology, demonstrated persuasively that deradicalisation is a pipedream. Kessler’s summation:
Restoring the militants to the mainstream seen as “good Islam” does not even start to confront or uproot the underlying attitudes that drive radical Islam, as those attitudes are themselves inherent and ingrained within the mainstream mindset and outlook and its basic assumptions.
And there’s the rub. It matters little if the Muslim mainstream goes along with the idea of de-radicalisation programs, calls for more action by government and, inevitably, requests more money: the precepts of the Qur’an ensure that, while individuals may be restored to the mainstream, the message itself remains an inherent element of holy scripture and is thus always available to be preached and attract fresh acolytes.
The fourth misconception is that there are moderate Muslims. But how do you distinguish them? Is it someone who follows the dictates of the Qur’an but skips over the nasty bits? Is it someone who is a Muslim in name only: a sort of atheistic Muslim? Is it someone who believes in the dictates of the Qur’an and a worldwide caliphate but is letting others do the hard yards? Whatever a moderate Muslim is or might be, the West’s banking that they represent the majority — a silent majority that, ideally, will reject and overthrow the religion’s evil manifestations. But what if this assumption is wrong? It is true that here are many forms of Islam — Sufi, Sunni, Salifist, Shia — to name but a few, and some seem friendlier than others. Nevertheless, however each has developed its own version of Islam, all Muslims read the same Qur’an and that has not changed in over 1,400 years. And there is the problem.
With the above in mind, another very popular misconception is that Islam should reform the Qur’an: a sort of Islamic reformation akin to the transformation Martin Luther and others wrought on Christianity. This idea has been floated by both Muslims and non-Muslims, notably President Sisi of Egypt and deposed Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Is the idea practical? As noted above, there are many manifestations of Islam and they lack a “centre” to weld these fractious and multitudinous forms together. Islam’s various forms continuously compete for both physical and theological dominance, as history graphically attests. The chances of getting any agreement across all forms is negligible to the point of the fanciful.
A second, more fraught issue is, once again, the Qur’an itself. Re-writing a text deemed by all factions to be the word of Allah, a perfect document, is another pipedream. Incidentally, the analogy to Christianity is something of a red herring, as the Christian reformation did not change any words in the Bible, it simply clarified erroneous interpretations of Biblical precepts. Had it done otherwise it would never have succeeded. One cannot imagine that the Prophet’s instruction to, say, “strike at the neck” of unbelievers could be made less bloodthirsty, regardless of the theological legerdemain brought to bear.
Perhaps the most dangerous misconception that has gained some traction is the notion that Islamic and Christian values, and by default secular democratic values, are similar.This was suggested recently by a professor of religious studies no less, and on the ABC’s Q&A program by a Muslim guest. The most astonishing aspect was not the theological invalidity of the statements, but that no member of the panel or of the audience sought to take issue with the assertion. That silence said a lot about Australia’s spiritual immaturity, as nothing could be further from the truth, as the precepts of Islam and Christianity are diametric opposites. Islam pits Muslims against non-Muslims; Christianity instructs followers to love their neighbors as themselves. Islam’s aim is the subjugation of all to the God of the Qur’an; Christianity asks people to consider the claims of the God of the Bible and make personal decisions. Islam offers salvation through the coercive performance of “good deeds”; Christianity’s salvation comes through faith in promises of the God of the Bible. Are these differences important? They should be for the West, whose secular democracy is founded on the precepts of the Bible. On this issue the West is myopic behind its rose-coloured glasses.
So, what can the West do? It must offer something to Muslims more attractive than Islam, something that draws Muslims to its core principles, something they will want to be part of. What’s that you say? Of course we can! We’ve got our wonderful secular democracy and all its modern diversions and indulgences. But is it so wonderful?
Scratch the surface, or just pay attention to the daily news, and what we observe is a society that is hedonistic and materialistic, awash with drugs, alcohol and sex and governed by political correctness. Over the past sixty years the acceptance of liberal ideologies has led to the situation where the Judeo-Christian ethos that framed the West’s secular democracy has been eroded to the point where, on the sober assessment of an Islamist outsider, our society is weak and flabby. Moreover, and of primary importance to Muslims, is the abandonment by the West of the God of the Bible, the author of that Judeo-Christian heritage. The West has lost its moral and spiritual capital and is becoming a danger to itself, irrespective of resurgent Islam. At the very least, if the West is not the agent of its own destruction it is certainly offering Islamists of all stripes a very convenient platform on which to pursue their objectives.
What can the West do? The answer is simple but requires courage, hard work, and some eating of humble pie. The West must accept that micro-managing threats and force of arms alone is not the real issue, as outlined at the start of this article. Political leaders, religious leaders, and community leaders all need to recognize there must also be a spiritual response – our secular democracy, with all its liberalism, modernity and scientific enlightenment, will never be able to articulate a narrative with man at its centre that is attractive to Muslims. As noted before, the West has become so satiated with its own enlightened righteousness that it does not recognise that all the benefits it enjoys come from the precepts of the God it has abandoned. The commentator Greg Sheridan has astutely noted when speaking of Iran:
No one in the West takes the idea of God seriously any more and cannot conceive of a government whose actual real behaviour is determined by theological goals.
Western leaders must understand these realities and encourage their nations to regain their moral and spiritual capital by recognizing and admitting our past mistakes and engaging or re-engaging with the God of the Bible. In doing so the West can regain its moral and spiritual capital and be in a better position to demonstrate the truth with love to Muslims and show by example that this renewed pattern of secular democracy can offer the certainty, confidence and freedom that all people long for. However difficult this road may be, unless the West takes this lead the outcome can only be calamity for all mankind.