July 30, 1990
The Christian Science Monitor

The New Cold War With Islam

by Mowahid H. Shah

The Bush-Gorbachev summit in Washington featured talk of a "long era of confrontation giving way to an era of enduring cooperation." But in the Muslim world fingers are being kept crossed. There are fears that the end of the cold war between the superpowers will encourage the emergence of a new cold war with the Muslim world.

Increasingly, Islam is presented as a force inherently hostile to the West.

A case in point is the 1990 Thomas Jefferson lecture delivered at the Smithsonian in May by Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus of Princeton University. The lecturer attempted to probe the reasons behind Muslim anger at the West.

What baffles a Muslim observer is the lecture's conclusion: that Muslim anger is not tied to recent political events, but is the culmination of a 1,400-year struggle with the West and a reaction against modernity, things the West can't change.

His 26-page address was remarkable for the absence of the word "Israel." Nor was any mention made of United States support of the Zionist state, which inflames Muslim passions worldwide. Any US diplomat who has served in a Muslim country or take even a cursory glance at Muslim media can verify this feeling.

It is simplistic to suggest that modernity itself is resented. More accurately, the benefits modernity brings and the hope it promises for a better world remain in Muslim societies mostly a privilege for the few rather than an expectation for all. In fact, it is the Muslim elites who have the most to fear (and the most to lose) from resurgent Islamic activism with its appeals to egalitarian reform, austere living, and an all-out assault on corruption.

Westerners, however; are told differently. This is no less than a clash of civilizations, said Lewis, a reaction against the Judeo-Christian heritage, the secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.

The frequent usage of the term "Judeo Christian heritage" is not bereft of political import. It assumes that, historically, Muslims were more hostile than were Christians toward the Jews. Even a critical piece on Islam, in the January 1990 issue of History Today, concedes that "Ironically, the Jewish people received their most tolerant treatment at the hands of Muslims in the Mahgreb, the Middle East, and Moorish Spain."

In further explaining Muslim anger, Lewis claims that Muslim authority was undermined by the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women. Lewis contends that Westerners were "first to break the consensus of acceptance of slavery." Lewis' assertion seems odd considering that, in America, only in 1964 was racial discrimination specifically outlawed by the Civil Rights Act. Until recently Western nations had difficulty disguising their empathy for South African apartheid -- arguably a de facto enslavement of the black majority by its white minority.

About the emancipation of women, the elevation of Benazir Bhutto to prime minister of Pakistan through a popular vote seems to have evaded Lewis' attention, as did the absence of a woman as a serious presidential contender in the 200-year constitutional history of the US.

Professor Lewis did not discuss the theory that the causes of Muslim anger against the West derive less from historical aud cultural differences than from specific acts and policies of Western nations which leave the perception that justice and fairness do not matter when the lives of Westerners are not at stake

For example, in 1989 the US government awarded the Legion of Merit to the captain and weapons officer of the cruiser USS Vincennes, which shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 civilians. More recently, the Presidential Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism examining the crash of Pan Am 103 (whose perpetrators' identities remain unclear) recommended preemptive or retaliatory strikes against nations supporting terrorism. The implications for certain Muslim states was unmistakable.

If the pattern remains one of condemnation nation rather than comprehension, then the 21st century may see the Christian West stumbling into a catastrophic show-down with the Muslim East.

Lewis predicts a "hard struggle" ahead about which the "West can do nothing." This means giving up. But the future is not without hope, at least for American Muslims, who number over 6 million, according to the 1990 World Almanac. When Jews and Christians can live with each other after a 2,000-year history of persecution, pogroms, and the holocaust, surely it is not entirely quixotic to envision the Christian West and the Muslim East finding their common humanity in the quest for a better tomorrow.

[Mowahid H. Shah is a member of the District of Columbia bar, former law partner of Sen. Abourezk, a writer on international affairs, and the editor of Eastern Times of Washington, D.C.]

Leon T. Hadar, "The Green Peril: Creating the Islamic Fundamentalist Threat," Cato Institute, August 27, 1992

[The biggest mistake of the United States has been to wage war on terrorism as a war against states, undermining the key strategies it needs to beat terrorism on the ground.--Editorial: "The war against terror continues: Islam must not be seen as the enemy," The Observer (UK), October 10, 2004]

The Bible and Anti-Semitism: John Shelby Spong, "The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love," HarperSanFrancisco (April 1, 2005). pages 193 - 210.

[Judith Miller is a New York Times reporter much in evidence on talk shows and seminars on the Middle East. She trades in "the Islamic threat" -- her particular mission has been to advance the millennial thesis that militant Islam is a danger to the West. The search for a post-Soviet foreign devil has come to rest, as it did beginning in the eighth century for European Christendom, on Islam, a religion whose physical proximity and unstilled challenge to the West seem as diabolical and violent now as they did then. Never mind that most Islamic countries today are too poverty-stricken, tyrannical and hopelessly inept militarily as well as scientifically to be much of a threat to anyone except their own citizens; and never mind that the most powerful of them -- like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Pa kistan -- are totally within the U.S. orbit. What matters to "experts" like Miller, Samuel Huntington, Martin Kramer, Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Barry Rubin, plus a whole battery of Israeli academics, is to make sure that the "threat" is kept before our eyes, the better to excoriate Islam for terror, despotism and violence, while assuring themselves profitable consultancies, frequent TV appearances and book contracts. The Islamic threat is made to seem disproportionately fearsome, lending support to the thesis (which is an interesting parallel to anti-Semitic paranoia) that there is a worldwide conspiracy behind every explosion.

Political Islam has generally been a failure wherever it has tried to take state power. Iran is a possible exception, but neither Sudan, already an Islamic state, nor Algeria, riven by the contest between Islamic groups and a brutal soldiery, has done anything but make itself poorer and more marginal on the world stage. Lurking beneath the discourse of Islamic peril in the West is, however, some measure of truth, which is that appeals to Islam among Muslims have fueled resistance (in the style of what Eric Hobsbawm has called primitive, pre-industrial rebellion) to the Pax Americana-Israelica throughout the Middle East.--Edward Said, "A Devil Theory of Islam," The Nation, August 12, 1996]

Nat Hentoff, "Federal Judge Removes U.S. Muslims from Constitution," Cato Institute, February 26, 2014

[Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria.--Glenn Greenwald, "How many Muslim countries has the U.S. bombed or occupied since 1980?,", November 6, 2014]

Copyright © 1990 The Christian Science Monitor and Mowahid H. Shah - All Rights Reserved
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