Saturday, December 8, 2007

Is the War on Terror a War on Islam? Not Quite

Some people in western countries and some Islamists have common ground. They both think that the War on Terror is a war against Islam.

It's easy to see the war that way. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and similar groups claim to be defending Islam. Attacking these groups can be seen as attacking Islam.

At this point, I'm assuming that these terrorist organizations are related to Islam in about the same way that the Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan are related to Christianity.

When all members of a religious group are also members of the same culture, it's easy to get confused over which values are part of the culture, and which are part of the religion. I think that's part of what's happening in parts of the Islamic world.

Events in Turkey may be an example of this confusion of religion and culture.

Last January an Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, was killed in Turkey. He was one of those people who say that massive die-off of Armenians toward the start of the 20th century was genocide. That didn't make him popular among what other journalists call "hardline nationalists" in Turkey. In April, three Christians were killed in Turkey. They were involved with the printing of Bibles.

Both times, there were allegations that Turkish police were involved in the killings. In the second case, at least, Turkey's national government is investingating ("Turkey investigates alleged ties between police and alleged killers of Christians").

That news article from The Canadian Press concludes:
""Many Turks are convinced that a so-called "deep state" - a network of state agents or ex-officials, possibly with links to organized crime - periodically targets reformists and other perceived enemies in the name of nationalism.

"Christian leaders have said they are worried that nationalists are stoking hostility against non-Turks and non-Muslims by exploiting uncertainty over Turkey's place in the world.

"The uncertainty - and growing suspicion against foreigners - has been driven by Turkey's faltering EU membership bid, a resilient Kurdish separatist movement and by increasingly vocal Islamists who see themselves - and Turkey - as locked in battle with a hostile Christian West."
(The Canadian Press)
Fatal collisions of religion, culture, and politics have happened before.

Northern European leaders in the 16th century had a very good reason for embracing Martin Luther's ideas. Powers in southern Europe had a head start in developing trade with the rest of the world. They were the rich, powerful, and influential countries: and the northern newcomers wanted a bigger piece of the action.

A stumbling block in the northern princes' path was the Roman Catholic Church. Emphasis on Roman, here. A German monk bent on reform was too good an opportunity to ignore. It's no wonder that Europe's northern states eagerly embraced a religion that was Christian, without politically inconvenient ties to an Italian city-state.

That's an oversimplification, of course. Great sea-changes in a subcontinent's culture and religion can't be detailed in 103 words. But I think that political expedience and economic motives go a long way toward explaining why Germany and the Scandinavian states jumped on the Lutheran bandwagon, and Henry VIII of England set up an independent church in his kingdom.

Half a millenium later, I see a very similar scenario playing out. Some people in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern states are very rich. Some nations, like Kuwait, even have a generally high standard of living. However, many individuals in the Middle East are far from wealthy, and an end of the oil boom is on the horizon.

Investing in the Future

Some leaders in the Middle East are investing today's oil revenue in education and economic projects. An example is the United Arab Emirates' Dubai (or Dubayy). When oil was discovered in Dubai, in the sixties, the U.A.E. leader Sheik Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum built an up-to-date sea port and airport in Dubai.

Sheik Rashid was no fool. He knew that his land's oil was a source of great wealth that would last - a while. Looking at the few decades of prosperity that drilling for petroleum would yield, he said:
"My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel."
("Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum," Emiratweet)
The economic projects of Sheik Rashid and his sons, Sheik Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who died in January of 2006, and Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, are still putting the United Arab Emirates on the map: Particularly the tourism industry in Dubai.

An Alternative Response to the 21st Century

Other people in the Middle East see the outside world as a threat. Since their version of Islam seems to be a puree of Mohammed's teachings, ancient cultural traditions like honor killings, and ideas cooked up by their imams, a powerful civilization which values individual freedom and tolerance really is a threat to what they believe, and their way of life.

I think that "Islamists" who hate and fear the west, and believe that the War on Terror is a war of Christianity on Islam are telling the truth: as they see it.

I also think that allowing these religious fanatics and their politically-motivated friends to continue controlling territory and speaking for "Islam" will be a disaster for the world's free nations, and for Islam.
About Dubai: I admire what Dubai and the U.A.E. is doing, in general. That doesn't mean that I approve of everything that goes on there ("UAE, Censorship, Shari'a Law, Freedom: So What?" (August 14, 2007)). Even so, I'm impressed with leaders who have the vision to use a fleeting source of wealth for projects that may enrich their people for many generations.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.


Ottavio (Otto) Marasco said...

Goes to show how challenging it remains to fight the war on terror on credible grounds Attacking the Taliban and/or Al Qaeda is not, strictly speaking, and attack on Islam.

Problem is, that while you have a handle on this most regrettably, do not.

I like the points you make about the confusion between religion and culture, and that was a great quote from Sheik Rashid.

Excellent post

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.