Sunday, October 24, 2010

Islam as a Mirror to the West

Here is a perspective on Islam in Europe from Alexandr Vondra, foreign minister of the Czech Republic, who is unusually blunt in his assessment of the potential danger to Europe from militant Islam. He does not mouth the usual platitudes about how Islam is a religion of peace and only a few marginal, insane terrorists distort the good reputation of Islam. He argues that the West has an important role to play in the internal struggle within Islam between radicals and moderates for the soul of Islam and for power.

His article in the Middle East Quarterly is entitled: "Radical Islam Poses a Major Challenge to Europe." Here is an excerpt:
"The role of Islam in Europe is crucial for Europe's future security and prosperity. On one hand, there are millions of Muslims who have become an integral part of European societies and who contribute to the continent's social and cultural diversity, but, on the other hand, there is a growing sentiment in the Muslim world, including Muslim communities in Europe, that is generally hostile to Western interests and values. I think we all find it most disturbing that, in recent years, these radical trends seem to be gaining strength.

The activities of radical Islam's followers and sympathizers in Europe pose a major challenge to our continent today. The challenge is not only the obvious physical threat these fundamentalist groups represent but rather the fact that the radical currents within Islam question virtually every single tenet of European society today and Western society in general.

At this point, you probably expect a common political disclaimer that is almost obligatory whenever anybody says anything about Islam these days—perhaps a few words about a great and generally peaceful religion that has little to do with a small number of thugs and terrorists. Well, I will not avoid such words completely, but allow me to rephrase it a little bit: I still believe that the majority of Muslims prefer peaceful means to terrorism and coexistence to war. But, unfortunately, the facts supporting these views are increasingly hard to find, not only with every new attack against values and interests that are perceived to be Western, but also increasingly with every new anti-Western statement from major Muslim opinion leaders, both within and outside Europe, many of whom have so far been viewed as moderate."

So what happens if the radicals win control of Islam?
If the militants in the end crush the moderate forces in the Muslim world, the West must be ready.

First of all, we should abandon the self-destructive debates about whether the West's policies in the Middle East are a legitimate raison d'ĂȘtre for radical Islam. Such debates are simply wrong. Radical Islamists challenge practically everything that our society claims to stand for, no matter what the Western policies were or are. These challenges include the concept of universal human rights and freedom of speech. That, however, does not discourage radical Muslims from using these basic principles against the West whenever they find it suitable.

The radicals, for instance, do not even theoretically admit that non-Muslims are entitled to the same rights as Muslims. Yet, simultaneously, they ferociously argue for human rights whenever the authorities might apply any pressure against them. In such a way, they corrupt the whole system and blur the difference between victim and perpetrator.

The same applies to freedom of speech: Everyone here remembers the upheaval surrounding the Danish cartoons. It seemed that virtually everybody in the Islamic universe who held any imaginable grudge against the West hopped on the bandwagon and joined often violent protests. Does it not surprise that the cartoons insulted those who have themselves depicted and drawn far worse attacks against our own values?

These days, the West does not seem quite ready to face the threat of radical Islam. The self-criticism and the tendency to blame ourselves for evil deeds of others are weakening us. The unity of the West we saw after the cowardly murder of some three thousand civilians on 9-11 has disintegrated.

What is the answer? How can the West get ready to face the threat of Islam?

The same could be said about our traditional system of values, our Western spirit, and our Western identity. Some have attempted to replace our original set of Judeo-Christian values with a fuzzy and amorphous moral mixture that would have all of humanity join in some kind of a brave new world as one global happy family. Theoretically, this could work nicely if everybody truly joined in, but, in practice, such a plan seems to be failing. Our partners in other parts of the world cherry-pick some of the benefits of the Western system while at the same time criticizing it for corruption and hypocrisy. As we became more open, other forces in the world began to identify themselves in opposition to us.

And then he writes an arresting sentence containing this striking image:

From this point of view, the threat represented by radical Islam provides us with a useful mirror. It might, after all, help us grasp the seriousness of our situation and the challenges we face.
Perhaps what he means is something like this: Islam is a threat to Europe but the more serious threat is the moral rot and the secularism that corrupts and weakens us. The threat from Islam forces us to behold our own visage in the mirror and what we see ought to frighten us far more than terrorists ever could.

1 comment:

mary said...

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