What’s next? No one knows. But the stakes could hardly be higher:
If the Islamists can defeat the Middle Eastern states that seek to reforms and work within the international system, we will be faced with another world war. Like the cold war, it will be a war launched by a revolutionary ideology that aims to destroy the international state system and replace it with one of its own.
Like what? This is where the Islamic “sharia state” comes in. “It is the opposite of the procedural Westphalian state; it is an idea of the sacred in political form. Pluralism is anathema to the Islamist state; its logical consequence would be a single al Nizam al-Islami, a single Islamist governing system for the world.”
Alarmist overstatement? Or sober description of the facts? I think the latter. But then I am one of those right-wing neanderthals who believe that “Islamophobia” is a stupid and meaningless coinage. A “phobia” is an unwarranted or irrational fear. What could be more rational, more deeply warranted, than to fear the intrusion of Islam into liberal Western society? Ask the journalist Daniel Pearl what he thinks about “Islamophobia.” Or the three thousand people who didn’t make it home from the World Trade Center on Septemeber 11, 2001. Or . . . the list could go on and on.
Charles Hill discerns “many profound voices” within Islam that have challenged the theocratic interpretation of Islam and asked whether Islam (not Islamism) “can be compatible and comfortable within the larger international state system for world order.” He senses a “slowly growing recognition that the authentic teachings of the Quran and Hadith have had to be manipulated by radical interpretations in order to provide a spurious theological cover for practices that are no more divinely decreed than was the practice of foot binding in pre-modern China.” I hope he is right. So far, I regret to say, the record has not been encouraging.
P.S. My friend Andrew Bostom writes to ask what we should call the “the 88% of ordinary Egyptian Muslims who favor killing ‘apostates’ from Islam? Are we to call them all ‘Islamists,’ whose ‘ideology’ is ‘Islamism’? Or simply pious, traditional Muslims abiding the normative, mainstream Sharia of Islam?” (See his post on why deposing Morsi won’t end the rejection of secularism in Egypt.) He suggests that we simply dispense with the “fig leaf” of the Islam/Islamism dichotomy — is there, he asks, really a difference? As I acknowledged above, the record is not encouraging, yet alongside that 88% in Egypt there are millions upon millions of Muslims outside the Mideast who have made their peace with modernity. Charles Hill provides some scraps, some intimations, of hope. ”A new mentality,” he says, “is emerging which begins to dissolve the conventional wisdom that a secular versus sacred confrontation is inevitable.” I hope he is right about that. But I know that he is right that “the first step is to recognize the problem and then try to develop ways to deal with the exploitation of asymmetries by the enemies of world order.”