Thursday, September 14, 2006

9-11 6 years on

There have been several anniversaries in the past few days. The 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in New York was commemorated with the US President Bush saying that the war on terror was not a 'clash of civilizations' but rather 'the fight for civilization'.

Let us examine the shift in terminology.

If the West / Europe in general could be seen as a civilization, we are more or less convinced that it has an interest and will to fight the Islamic extremists propagating violent terror acts in the religion's name.

But some hard truths remain. The Islamic world, or civilization, if we take Huntington's paradigm, has not wholeheartedly and resolutely agreed that these elements in their civilization are a problem that need to be addressed. In spite of the condemnation of the attacks by most Islamic nations (most already implies problems of collective agreement on the state level) we must realise that the sub-state level is where all the action counts. As long as extreme variants of Islam continue to have a foothold amongst the populations of majority Muslim communities - the spreading of extreme doctrines and people who will obey them to their deaths will continue.

So Bush is, rather unfortunately, being idealistic when he says that all civilization, united in their agreement of the condemnation of extremist violent Islamic doctrine, is going to quash these fringe extremists together.

As long as a significant portion of the Islamic population is sympathetic to these extremists then it is still, a clash of civilizations.

How can we win Islamic civilization over? This grappling with religious extremism is something that has to be settled from within Islam. The learned men of the faith need to go back to the source, the Koran, as well as all the practices, doctrines, teachings, traditions and institutions that spring from it, and try to establish a common ground. Which are indigenous customs and traditions? Which are absolutely mandated by the writings of faith? What of fatwas? No longer should Muslim brothers and sisters be misled by false teachers who try to twist and turn Allah's authority to their own ends.

You realise how strange and offensive it is for an outsider Christian like myself to just merely comment on another faith? So no outside intervention from the West or Europe or secularists is going to help in this process. If Bush, without winning the Islamic civilization in general to his side, proceeds to war, then I fear that hardline strains of Islam will become more popular.

One can reason with another most of the time. But though faith is reasonable, faith cannot be reasoned with. If someone told you murdering thousands of people was going to bring God glory and you believed him nobody else would be able to reason with you. The only way would be to prove to you that this someone is not to be believed.

It's the false teachers - humans - who are spreading these teachings, that need to be stopped. So Muslim scholars, religious leaders and teachers need to sit down together. Islam as a religion is undergoing emancipation. From the politics of man, from abuse, from subversion, from false teaching. They have their work cut out.

What can non-Muslims do in the meantime? Forgive. Strengthen security and be vigilant. But don't play into Osama's hand. Continue to be open-minded. Have interfaith dialog. Public awareness. Mutual understanding. Dispell misconceptions. Agree to disagree. React firmly but humanely. Show mercy to those who have been misled. For charity will overcome all evil, even if this charity may be at times used against us. Let Muslims understand that in this 'us versus them' - its the world versus some people who hijack religion for their own ends.

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