[Shemma Khan is the chair of CAIR-CAN.]
The mass murder of 9/11 jolted Americans to the reality that ignorance of
their government’s foreign policy is not bliss. Some asked, “Why do the
terrorists hate us?” Others blithely answered, “Because we love freedom.”
How to manage it? Call in Madison Avenue to “sell” America to skeptical
Muslims around the world. After all, image is everything. The campaign
failed miserably, especially once it was aided and abetted by the invasion
The 9/11 commission report is the latest study to examine the U.S. response
to threats posed by “Islamist terrorism.” Its authors point out that
military excursions, while important, will be secondary to the ideological
battle against the extremist interpretations of Islam espoused by al-Qaeda
and its ilk”¦
So how should America get involved in the war of ideas?
According to the commission, by doing a better job of selling American
values to Muslims worldwide through mass media and academic/cultural
exchanges. Incredibly, the commission’s report is silent on educating
Americans about Islam.
The report characterizes the roots of al-Qaeda’s ideology as “a long
tradition of extreme intolerance within a minority strain of Islam,”
suggesting that the faith has always been a source for extremism. It states
that the enemy is not Islam, but “Islamism” — a nebulous term that defies
exact definition. The distinction between Islam and Islamism will be lost
on most people, thus providing ample opportunity for exploitation by
Islamophobes. On Tuesday, Daniel Pipes did just that on this page.
The report points out the need for reformation within the Muslim world.
Throughout the 20th century, calls were made for Islamic reformation.
During their imperial dominance, both Britain and France took great
interest in the inner workings of Muslim institutions and authority,
seeking to influence them to their advantage. This interest was
understandable, given that both empires sought to exert control over large
numbers of Muslims.
Since 9/11, the call has been made with renewed vigour. The argument is
deceptively simple: The prime reason for violence in the name of Islam is
that Islam has not changed since its inception. To eliminate the threat of
terror, Islam must modernize itself so its adherents can join the ranks of
There are two problems with this approach, often presented by people like
The first is that it ignores centuries of solid scholarship within Islam
itself that seeks to ensure that principles of the faith are able to
address issues of modernity. We often hear that Islam divides the world
into the “House of Islam,” where Muslims dominate, and the “House of War,”
where Muslims want to dominate.
But too infrequently do we hear about Muslim scholars who have rejected
this binary world view, arguing, instead, that a genuine Islamic vision
supports a global co-operative model rather than a unilateral state-centric
one. Such scholarship sits squarely in the mainstream of Islam.
This leads to the second problem. The assumption underlying the argument
for reformation is that, once “reformed,” the new Islamic outlook will be
subservient to the wishes of the civilized West. Yet sovereign nations make
sovereign decisions, such as refusing to join in unjust wars and doing what
is best for their own economies rather than what is best for an alien power.
Given the stakes, it seems improbable that the United States will remain a
bystander in the reformation efforts.
Already, the Rand Corp. has issued a report on ways to engineer Islamic
reform by advocating the support of secularists, even though such leaders
are often autocratic and repressive, while using traditionalists to keep
the extremists in check.
This study tries to pigeonhole 1.2 billion Muslims into distinct groups
based on their degree of Islamic practice and interpretation of key Islamic
texts. The tone of this reductionist analysis is arrogant, making cultural
domination its final goal”¦
Council on American-Islamic Relations CANADA
P.O. Box 13219, Ottawa, ONT, K2K 1X4