Can American Values Radicalize Muslims Both Here and Abroad?
Far from eliminating radicalization, there is reason to believe that Western values can actually exacerbate Islamist tendencies.
February 10, 2011 - 12:00 am
After all, the mainstream position, the only one evoked by politicians, maintains that all American sacrifices in the Muslim world (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) will pay off once Muslims discover how wonderful Western ways are, and happily slough off their Islamist veneer, which, as the theory goes, is a product of — you guessed it — a lack of democracy, liberty, prosperity, and freedom of expression. Yet here are American Muslims, immersed in the bounties of the West — and still do they turn to violent jihad. Why think their counterparts, who are born and raised in the Muslim world, where Islam permeates every aspect of life, will respond differently?
In fact, far from eliminating radicalization, there is reason to believe that Western values can actually exacerbate Islamist tendencies. It is already known that Western concessions to Islam — in the guise of multiculturalism, “cultural sensitivity,” political correctness, and self-censorship — only bring out the worst in Islamists. Yet even some of the most prized aspects of Western civilization — personal freedom, rule of law, human dignity—when articulated through an Islamist framework, have the capacity to “radicalize” Muslims.
Consider: the West’s unique stress on the law as supreme arbitrator in Islam becomes a stress to establish Islam’s law — sharia, the supreme arbitrator of human affairs; the West’s unwavering commitment to democracy in Islam becomes an unwavering commitment to theocracy, including an anxious impulse to resurrect the caliphate; Western notions of human dignity and pride, when articulated through an Islamist mindset (which sees fellow Muslims as the ultimate, if not only, representatives of humanity) induces rage when fellow Muslims — Palestinians, Afghanis, Iraqis, etc. — are seen under Western, infidel dominion; Western notions of autonomy and personal freedom have even helped “Westernize” the notion of jihad into an individual duty, though it has traditionally been held by sharia as a communal duty.
Nor should any of this be surprising: a set of noble principles articulated through a fascistic paradigm can lead to abominations. In this case, the better qualities of Western civilization are being devoured, absorbed, and regurgitated into something equally potent, though from the other end of the spectrum. Put differently, just as a stress on human freedom, human dignity, and universal justice produces good humans, rearticulating these same concepts through an Islamist framework that qualifies them with the word “Muslim” — Muslim freedom, Muslim dignity, and Muslim justice — leads to what is being called “radicalization.”