Back to the Clash of Civilizations? Zvi Mazel

May 12, 2011
Where is the joyful relief at the death of Bin Laden in the Arab and Muslim world? For years accredited speakers of Islam the world over had been telling us that Islam is a faith of peace and tolerance, and that Bin Laden and the likes of him are guilty of distorting the true message of justice and help to the weak and the poor laid down in the Koran. One would have expected to see jubilant crowds from Pakistan to Morocco demonstrate their satisfaction now that the USA has delivered them from the burden of the renegade responsible not only - for the deaths of tens of thousands of people, most of them Muslim themselves, but also for dealing a nearly mortal blow to what is presented to the world as moderate Islam.

What we got instead was a weird silence pregnant with shock and sorrow rather than satisfaction. There were few exceptions. Lebanon approved, so did Salam Fayad speaking for the Palestinian authority. Saudi Arabia’s News Agency published an official communiqué to the effect that the Kingdom hoped that the elimination of Ben Laden would further the fight against terror. Egypt shied away from commenting, a clear indication to the extent to which nationalistic elements now running the country are striving to set up a united Arab Islamic front reminiscent of Gamal Nasser’s days. Islamic organizations were more vocal. In Gaza Hamas called Bin Laden “a holy Muslim warrior”; the head of the Southern Branch of the Islamic movement in Israel, Ibrahim Sarsour, declared that the killing of Bin Laden had been done to launch Obama’s bid for reelection. Dozens of Jihadist organizations all over the world swore to avenge the martyr.

The fact is that it was only to be expected. There is a deep divide between Islam and the West, that selfsame divide that Samuel Huntingdon described so well in his article and then in his book about the clash of civilizations and the war of religions.

According to Press reports, terror operations carried out by Bin Laden’s organization or others following his lead have killed more than 10.000 human beings – men, women and children. Some three thousands on 9/11 in the United States, hundreds more in Madrid, London, India (Mumbai); however there were multiple murderous attacks in such Muslim states as Irak, Pakistan, Afghanistan as well as in Istanbul, in Jerba (Tunisia) , Bali (Indonesia), Morocco and others. To this bloody count one has to add the millions killed in the name of Islam in South Sudan, in Darfur but also in Algeria, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. However few followers of Islam are ready to acknowledge the facts. It is much easier to claim that terror attacks are a legitimate answer to the war allegedly waged by the West against Islam, or that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is at the root of the sorry state of the Arab world and of the violence erupting there.

1.2 billion people live in a Muslim world which knows nothing of democracy. Dictators, corruption, dire poverty, illiteracy, widespread unemployment leave no room for progress. We are now seeing the masses beginning to revolt against their rulers, but so far not moving any closer to democracy. On the contrary, the old demons of radical and nationalistic Islam are back at work trying to turn the revolution their way. We are yet to see in Islamic and Arab countries liberal forces gaining strength. It will be a long, long walk to the appearance of new regimes based on freedom of speech, human rights, equality for women and last but not least an end to discrimination again minorities.

Education is at the core of the problem. In those countries children are taught from infancy that Islam is superior to all other religions. It may grant some respect to Christianity and Judaism as being monotheist faiths based on divine revelation, but won’t go as far as to recognize the legitimacy of the adepts of those religions, since Islam is the only true religion. Islamic education follows the students year after year, instilling Islam, its commandments, its legends and above all its superiority deep in their hearts. Thus is created methodically the central identity of men in Arab states.

Discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities is therefore the end product of such education. However, he who is raised on the superiority of Islam has to contend with an unpleasant reality. Arab states are among the poorest of the globe while the West is flourishing. The contrast leads to a severe identity crisis; one of the results of that crisis is the ardent wish to impose Islam on the “Infidels”, including on Arab regimes deemed as being too secular, even if it entails using extremely violent means. This is the key to understanding Bin Laden and the embarrassed way the Arab world reacted to his elimination.

Sadly, until the educational system in the Arab and Islamic world undergoes far ranging reforms, it will be near impossible to establish democracies based on freedom and tolerance. Free elections may well bring to power Islamic or extreme nationalistic elements which will enforce new dictatorships: this is not democracy.

Zvi Mazel

Former Ambassador of Israel to Romania, efypt and Sweden

Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs



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