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Bombs, Beards, Drones and the Clash of Civilizations

Bombs, beards, drones, Islamic extremism and Islamophobia are phenomena, which are manifest on the screen of current affairs. We also see suicide vests, rape and pillage and hear talks of carpet bombing. These are all our perceptions from the worm’s eye view, which does not allow us to see much. A bird’s eye view however, available to history philosophers like Ibn Khaldun, Spengler, Toynbee and others  would allow us to see much more in terms of cause and effect but if we have such people in our midst, their voices are muted or drowned in the noise of  irrelevance.

So, what do we need to see? Well! To begin with, let us put “clash of civilizations” in the perspective, although the term is inadequate since civilizations do not have discrete boundaries; they overlap and are sometimes diffused.

First let us begin from the dawn of the Islamic civilization, the bursting out of the spore sac of the Arabian Peninsula in the Seventh century of the Common Era. The desert dwellers of that time were full of raw energy, human material which was until then untouched by history, unexploited and unexplored. These marauding tribes, united by the simplest of theologies and a disciplinary set of rules burst into two adjacent civilizations, which were in disarray, exhausted by centuries of mutual wars and internal conflicts. Was it religious zeal which carried them over the edges of the desert? Yes but it was also the force of history, a global force, which, according to the laws of  physics, moves from high pressure to low, from high energy to low energy, that underlies the dynamics  of military conquests. The desert warriors carried the Qur’an under their arms but their actions were governed by hybridized tribal mores. Then as the dominions spread over three continents, a process of immense intellectual activities began giving rise to a glorious civilization, containing in its bosom a sophisticated array of natural and social sciences. What role did the Shariah play in the blossoming of this civilization --- whether it was applied rigidly or selectively --- is unclear. History doesn’t record how many hands were cut and how many adulteresses were stoned to death nor does it count taverns and brothels. What is clear however is that social tensions and governmental constraints in the urban centers must have been low to allow such creativity to flourish.

The same dynamics was on play when six centuries later hordes of nomads from the Gobi desert broke out of their arid lands and fell upon the now debilitated, sedentary and easygoing inhabitants of the Muslim world. This was no clash of ideologies or religious beliefs but simply the kinetics of pressure differential. We have to take it as an inflexion point in the Islamic history. However, by the time these horsemen had crossed the Danube and the Yangtze rivers they were exhausted and had settled down in the lands to enjoy the fruits of their conquests.

Another half a millennium later, Europe was waking up to the Renaissance --- spurred by catalyzing contact between the Cross and the Crescent, which the Crusades had provided. The apple was falling on Newton’s imagination; James Watt was perfecting his steam engine; Michael Faraday was introducing electric motors and blocked by the Ottomans in the Mediterranean Sea the Portuguese were building ocean liners to circumnavigate Africa in order to go to Asia and the Spaniards were sailing west for the same destination. The Dutch, the French and the British, the other maritime powers were hot on their heels thus ushering in the era of European colonialism. The Islamic civilization shocked and shuttered, stood in awe then receded into a shell of desolation and despair. Here was another point of inflexion!

History then turns a leaf. Greed, inherent militarism of the ruling aristocracies, blatant disregard of the lives of the subjects by the masters, the need to sell arms and for the bankers to make profits fuel two world wars decimating almost one-third of the population, giving a chance to the history philosophers to redefine civilization. Hitler blames the Jews for the catastrophes; others silently agree. The Jew is the persona non grata in Europe; must find a place for him elsewhere. The Soviet Union sets aside the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Siberia for the Jews in Russia to move there, a province in Canada is considered for the other Jews; Madagascar is also a possibility but none is thought to be suitable or accepted by the Diaspora. Finally, the search comes to rest at Palestine, the origin of the Jews. The country is already under the British mandate and the Arab population could be easily dispensed with. The Bible catches the eye. The Christian world could be made to believe that the Biblical prophecy was being fulfilled. The Jews are aware of the full implications of the Revelation in Zechariah 13/8 that Armageddon will spell death for two-third of all the Jews but disdainfully decide to ignore it. After all, the Bible is a book of fiction they believe, except for those parts which are favorable such as the Abraham’s Covenant. Herzl and Weizmann are offered the Balfour Declaration and the rest is history. The Arabs and the Muslim world are in turmoil and desirably unsettled, hopefully forever. The State of Israel is made to believe --- not without justification --- that it is fighting for survival and is armed to the teeth. The Arabs can breed their horses, sharpen their swords and make merry on the oil wealth. What else is important? Look no further for the illustration of the metaphor “killing of two birds with one stone” Jews and Muslims.
In the next phase there are Arab socialist republics all over the map, mixed with kingdoms and Sheikhdoms, with semblance of militaries left behind by the British and the French.  The Arab armies or the imitations of them attack Israel and are defeated. Then come Jamal Abdul Nasser, the Arab Socialist Union, the Baath party and the Palestine Liberation Organization, all of them socialistic and secular supported by the Soviet Union but fail to make a dent while Israeli army occupies the Sinai, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.
 People get disillusioned with socialism and secularism and the era of jihadism is born, heralded by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and countered by the C.I.A. led Jihad. Khomeini’s revolution is another factor. As the people turn to Islam for solution, the mullahs, who were until now looked upon as relics of the past, suddenly become relevant. They begin to occupy the center stage.  Fatwas flow in. Takfir is expanded.  Women are put in their place. The table of Halal and Haram is revisited. Suicide becomes Halal; homicide becomes Wajib and female slavery is made permissible in war. Is this real or is this illusion? If we come out of the worm’s eye view, we see the curtain lifting from our eyes. The drama begins to unfold on the world stage: a puppet show manipulated by a master puppeteer behind the scene. Nothing is real; nothing is valid; only a glare of costumes and the hubbub of actors. As the Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib has said:

Bazeechae atfal hai dunya mere aage  Hota hai shab o roz tamasha mere aage.
 (The entire world is a stage in my sight  whereupon dramas play day and night)  

If Afghanistan and Iran were the prologue of the play, Nine-eleven was its epilogue. If the causality of the act is not discernible, it is because the history philosophers are in hibernation; Arnold Toynbee and Bertrand Russell are dead. All we now have is a bunch of Huntingtonites, exacting revenge. Bush/Blair declaration lists seven Muslim countries to be taken out. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya are already down. Only the names remain in the almanac, not the countries. Some more are considered good candidates. The Bushes gave the world a New World Disorder, the world being such a small place that if you sow wind in one corner, you reap the whirlwind in another. You create disorder in the Middle East and the European Union comes apart at the seams as the refugees swarm in.

This is the global picture today. However history is still in the making and nobody knows what the future holds. The Jihadists episodes will continue in the world so long as there is political turmoil and the perception of injustice. There are reservoirs of suicide bombers in the ghettos of Britain, Belgium, France and Germany, unemployed, discriminated against and with no prospects. There are also criminal gangs in the West, who will go to Jihad in disguise without any political motives. America will keep bombing and flying drones. There is no cost in human lives for bombers; they are operating in areas with no air defenses. Drones have a great future. They are mocking at the nuclear-tipped missiles sitting in silos, destitute and forgotten. Drones are cheap, low tech and will soon be manufactured by criminal gangs. Welcome to the war of drones, the real one, not a Wells-Hitchcock fantasy!
While all this is being played out on the world stage, we the American Muslims are wondering what our role should be. Where do we fit in? Should we not have any concerns for our own safety and the future of our progeny? Dark clouds are gathering in the skies. Unscrupulous politicians seeking votes from the Christian Right and uneducated bigots are clamoring for our blood. We have no political leadership, no competent institutions, no short time or long time planning. Can the masjids which have been our sanctuaries so far shelter us from the impending disasters? Are the prayer leaders qualified enough to provide us with political leadership? My answer is: No.

What shall we do? First of all we have to disentangle our religion from the contemporary form of politics. We must emphatically, demonstratively and unequivocally disown the killing of the innocent, which is being carried out in our name. So far our protestations have been too meek and inaudible. We must condemn in strongest terms possible the abuse of human rights that is being perpetrated.

In doing so, we need not abandon our advocacy for justice and fair play in international politics. We should continue it from a non-religious platform and invite all fair-minded people to join us, regardless of religion, ethnicity and creed. We should support all social justice causes at home and expend charity accordingly.

We need to acquire cultural adaptability. Islam is not in dress but in good manners. Unfortunately the new Muslims adopt dress peculiarities, when they convert to Islam. Such straitjackets breed prejudice and place unwieldy social burdens on us. There is no need to create cultural patchwork in the western societies which will invite resentment.
What will eventually keep us safe is our social and economic status and professional contribution. We must increase emphasis on education. Some of us do not fulfill our civic responsibilities and are isolationists. This must end. We must open the doors of our masjids, community centers and all our institutions to non-Muslims. We should not be behind other communities in social welfare programs. Such actions will ameliorate the social tensions that we face in America today.

Waheeduddin Ahmed
April 2016


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