Religious Tolerance in Islam and an End to the War on Terror

Here is a good column on a point widely ignored in the debate over Islam’s relationship with the other two abrahamic monotheisms. C Hitchens at has been particularly good on this, but few have mentioned it, likely out of political correctness. The Islamic revival since 1967 has in included a powerful purifying zeal toward non-Muslim remnants in ‘Muslim’ lands. (That very expression of course is unhelpful in itself, as it suggests religious pluralism is somehow an imposition in Muslim-majority countries.) Today this is harshest in Africa, where strident Islamic insistence has generated tension across the Sahel, most notably in Nigeria and southern Sudan. Even as far away as Korea, when I teach the War on Terrorism, a lot of my Buddhist students remember the needless Taliban destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas. The Taliban were quite open in stating that Buddhism was irreligion and paganism. Of course, the Taliban are an extreme marker, but the wider issue of religious pluralism cuts both ways. If Muslims in the West enjoy religious freedom, citizenship, and all the rest, and if Muslim governments feel they can intervene in the West to ‘defend’ their co-religionsists (as the OIC did during the Muhammad cartoon flap), then eventually the question of those rights and privileges will be raised in the Middle East for non-Muslims. Without that reciprocity, the West will slide toward the idea that Muslim states are trying to export sharia to the West.

At some point this has to stop for the War on Terror to stop. If non-Muslims perceive that they will be the targets of harassment and recrimination in Muslim-majority states, the Muslim world’s isolation will only increase, FDI will never pick up, the war on terror will go on and on, Israel will remain recalcitrant on a permanent peace, etc, etc. And an intransigent monotheistic zeal and belligerence at home will certainly translate into foreign adventurism (think 9/11), and this will only encourage the clash of civilizations we all want to avoid.

Worse, thoroughgoing islamification will only worsen the problems of most of these states. The Arab/Muslim world seems to ache for a return to lost glories, but homogenization will only make that return even harder. Jeffery Herf wrote about ‘reactionary modernism’ – trying to find the future by rebuilding a romanticized past through cultural cleansing. But we know this doesn’t work. As Thomas Friedman notes again and again in his books and columns, the future belongs to open societies welcoming globalization and diversity. Ethnic/cultural cleansing reduces the pluralism that generates new ideas or visions, adds flexibility to cope with globalization’s traumas, enlivens cultural offerings from food to music, spurs artists and creators to to new innovations, keeps majorities from slipping into self-satisfied complacency, etc. (Koreans have learned this lesson, albeit with some difficulty, since the ROK’s opening with the ‘88 Olympics. They now realize the value of globalization, so markers, like good English speaking skills, have high social prestige.) It will make Muslim bridges to the rest of the world harder, not just because others will think them intolerant, but because the citizens of these homogenizing states will lack access to local others who can prepare them for globalization, travel, foreign imports and languages, etc. Closed monolithic states slip easily into paranoid xenophobia. (Watch the Russian film East-West on this; note how the ‘foreigner’ is so suspected in the USSR. Or consider Ahmadinejad’s laughable assertion, clearly bred in the isolated womb of a closed society, that Iran has no homosexuals.) The UN Arab Human Development Reports have already expressed great concern about the cultural sealing off of the Middle East. The Middle East is one of the least globalized parts of the world according to Foreign Policy/AT Kearney globalization index. Expurgating the remnants of difference will only accelerate that process, push the ME further and further behind the rest of the globalizing world (and so worsening its relative poverty, status grievances, and anger toward the rest of the world), and so drag out the end of the GWoT. 

2 thoughts on “Religious Tolerance in Islam and an End to the War on Terror

  1. Pingback: Islamic Homophobia Watch: Will Muslim Leaders Shake the New German Foreign Minister’s Hand? « Asian Security & US Politics Blog

  2. Pingback: The Delicious Irony of al Qaeda’s Looming Bankruptcy « Asian Security & US Politics Blog

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