Foreign Policy Blogs

Islam’s Struggle for Space


“We see everything as this or that, plus or minus, on or off, black or white; and we fragment reality into an endless of either-ors. In a phrase we think the world apart” – Parker Palmer

Though in many social, professional, and academic circles, the sensationalized construct of Western and Islamic civilizational divide is steadily proven futile, in many policy circles and chambers of power it is perceived as perpetual dichotomy that could only be reconciled by blood and gore.

In that latter outlook, terrorism and counter-terrorism matter, while their causes and effects don’t. This dangerous fear-based viewpoint confines the human capacity to imagine better alternatives and strategize for mutual interest.

There are some pseudo-religious desperadoes, or violent extremists, among Muslims who give credence to the “they are out to get us” mendacity. By the same token, there are extremist hawks in the West who hide behind policies and institutions, who, in their hegemonic military-based imposition, give credence to the grievances often wielded by the likes of ISIS, al-Qaida, and al-Shabaab.

Unfortunately, these two groups have profound influence in how Islam and Muslims are ultimately defined and indeed perceived.

Through the Prism of Professional Bias

Routinely, the Western media projects the news as a hopeless saga of perpetual conflict and random acts of violent extremism that need no informed context to enable consumers to decipher and understand what is at issue or who is at fault. Within that subjective framework, Islam is often mischaracterized and demonized.

So, if ever you felt as though you were suffocating from thick pervasive smoke emanating from the wildfires raging deep inside a global political forest, you are not alone.

There are many conflicts around the world that active Muslims of various political views or interests are part of. These Muslims are referred to as Islamists — practicing Muslims with social, political and economic viewpoints.

A number of countries in the West and various other nations — including Muslim ones — have embraced the relentless demonization propaganda that routinely frame Islamists (violent and the non-violent) as not only as religiously-inspired villains, but as ticking bombs ready to explode in due course. This conviction has declared an open season on Islamists in ways that no other faith-inspired individuals and groups have experienced in contemporary history.

Though the sadistic CIA torture program made public by the U.S. Senate has been dominating the headlines, much worse crimes against humanity were committed against unarmed civilians by Egypt’s coup regime.

Ironically, beyond anyone’s expectation, UAE has designated 83 Muslim organizations — including prominent ones that are based and operate in the West — as terrorist organizations. Especially interesting about UAE terrorist list is that notorious violent extremist organizations such as al-Qaida and ISIS made number 14 and 17 in the list. Almost all top spots were reserved for non-violent organizations believed or are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since the Arab Spring of 2011 a number of political actors in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Yemen were believed either associated or inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood — an organization that promoted social, economic and political empowerment by way of democratic participation. The vast popularity of their model, including their strategic vision to reform the old order, their capacity to mobilize, and their technocratic aptitude, has sent shockwaves throughout the region.

Monarchies and emirates in the region have taken notes.

The Perfect Storm

What are the internal and external factors contributing to the flippant vilification of Islam and Muslims?

The intersection of three particular phenomena has exacerbated an already volatile situation. First, the assertive impatience of Muslim youth toward the post-colonial autocratic rulers installed to perpetuate exploitation. Second, the unveiling of global financial scams that almost collapsed the fragile Western banking system, thus triggering serious repercussions throughout the global financial system. And third, the projection of the imminent depletion of food, water and energy-related resources.

Today, one cannot ignore the fact that many Muslim countries are in existential turmoil. And anyone who connects these dots could easily find irrefutable evidence that they all have one thing in common – they are either rich in natural resources or have strategic geographical importance. The veteran British journalist, Robert Fisk, captured this reality very convincingly when he said: “If the major export of Iraq was asparagus, do you believe the 82nd Airborne would be in Mosul or the 3rd Infantry Division would be in Bagdad?”

Politics of Demographics

According to U.N. demographic projection, by the middle of this century the world population will reach as high as 9.5 billion. Most of this dramatic growth will be in Asia and Africa. The current world population is 7 billion. This means one in every five people is a Muslim. By mid-century, this ratio is projected to improve to one in every three of the world population to be a Muslim. This means 3.5 billion Muslims. However, should the current trend continue, this dramatic numerical increase is likely to come at a time when Islam is still set on auto pilot, aimlessly wandering between a hostile and desolate ideological plain.

In a study titled “The Muslim World After 9/11,” the RAND Corporation had the following policy recommendations in order to render issues such as the military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan futile and to offer options away from radicalization. Their recommendations included providing “moderate Muslims”—a phrase wholly abused by the neocons—platforms. Moreover, they recommend creating civil society institutions, and engaging “Islamists to participate in the political process, and strengthen relations with the military in Muslim nations.” Lastly, RAND recommended creating “economic opportunities in Muslim nations, particularly for young people…”

Over a decade later, it has become clear that so long as U.S. troops are present in the Islamic world and U.S. government continues its blind support of Israeli expansionist policy and systematic genocide of the Palestinian people, groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida would have reasons to exist.

Secularism and Political Islam

Political Islam still remains a loaded term that brings to mind other concepts and terms that are equally misunderstood (shariah, jihad, etc.) as such is seldom discussed rationally, though modernity prescribes “reason” as the commodity of human relations. One would be hard pressed to find a few well-reasoned debates that compare and contrast the merits and demerits of political Islam in the marketplace of ideas.

Had that been done, many would’ve realized that there is no one particular doctrine driving political Islam.

Meanwhile, by design or otherwise, there is wide consensus in certain circles to torpedo any government around the world that is led by independent-minded Islamists. Little over a year ago, the AK Party of Turkey and the Freedom and Justice Party of Egypt — two governments in two nations with historical capital and political clout — came under barrage of international and local media attacks; the former survived for now whereas the latter only had one year before it was overthrown by military.

Unity in Diversity

Contrary to common misconception, Muslims are neither homogeneous nor are their interpretation and implementation of the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad monolithic. Aside from the belief in the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad, there isn’t a whole lot that Muslims are united on. And such seemingly extraordinary reality is profoundly consistent with the prophecy of Prophet Muhammad which proclaimed that Muslims would, in due course, have more denominations than Jews and Christians.

Around the world flames of war are sporadically burning, wars of greed, privilege, domination and dogma. Generally speaking, we have embarked on a dangerous locomotive destined to the triangle of paradox: enlightened groupthink, dysfunctional order and never-lasting peace!

Before we can save anything or anyone, we must first figure out a safe way of disembarking and find a safe space conducive for clear thinking.

Whether operating in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or Kenya, the modus operandi of the counterterrorism forces is the same. Their ways, often facilitated by draconian decrees or repressive policies that condone torture and extrajudicial killings, often prove free exercise of sadistic powers that only result in more radicalization and perpetual hate.



Abukar Arman

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat, serving as Somalia's Special Envoy to the US. As a widely published analyst, he focuses on foreign policy, Islam, the Horn of Africa, extremism, and other topics.
Twitter: @Abukar_Arman
or reach him via e-mail: [email protected]